Friday, August 14, 2009

a morning prayer

Bahut kathin hai dagar panghat ki
Kaise maiN bhar laooN Jamna se matki?

The path to the water is very difficult
How do I bring water from the Jamuna?

I begin most mornings with these lines now, attributed to Amir Khusrau (d. 1325) disciple and companion of the famous Sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi. (On Khusrau and Nijam, more here.) I seem to have heard various recensions of these lines all my life (including this bizarre and disturbing variant), but never thought about them, never thought through them till one morning, when I felt I needed prayer like I had never needed prayer before, these were the lines that came to mind --

Bahut Kathin hai dagar panghat ki
Kaise maiN bhar laooN Jamna se matki?
Paniya bharan ko maiN jo gayee thee
Daud-jhapat mori matki patki
Khusrau Nijam pe bal bal jaooN
Laaj rakho more ghoonghat pat ki

The path to the water is very difficult
How do i bring water from the Jamna?
When I had gone to fill water
In the melee my pot fell and smashed
Khusrau gives his life to Nijam
Keep the honour of my veil

These brief six lines contain so much in the tripping staccato cadences of old Hindi/Hindavi. Like much of the Hindavi poetry attributed to Khusrau, this poetry is "anti-communal", non-sectarian, not identifiably Muslim or Hindu at all. Like in much the petry attributed to Khusrau, the world depicted here is a woman's world; for it is they who would traditionally bring water from the wells. The lines make me imagine the banks of the Yamuna, steep and slippery with mud, treacherously worn by the tracks of buffaloes and boats, and a dawn traffic jam of women fetching water for their households. Melees could ensue, particularly in summer, with the Yamuna a slow muddy trickle, and much tramping in swampy mud involved.

And yet, the image we have of women drawing water from wells and river-banks is that of perfect poise and balance. Women managing to walk gracefully straight-backed with many pots of water balanced on their heads, and still managing to keep their faces covered, veils demurely held between their teeth.

Like Khusrau once dressing as a woman to cheer a mourning Nijam, it is the image of those women, and this prayer, that brings peace to my mornings. In the shit-storm that is the world, I pray to be given the strength to carry my burdens with some measure of grace, to live in the world without the veil of my honour slipping; without succumbing to the anger and the lust often boiling underneath.
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