What is more overriding, love, lover or the loved? Love is a common aspiration cherished by the most but tolerated by few. Some of us are lovers and a few are loved. The strongest argument of love is patience and the best witness of patience is a smile. Love seeks sincerity, lover looks for rendezvous and the loved prides attention.
Not all ages and lands allowed love to roam free like today’s free world. In the era of clanism and male chauvinistic societies, love used to be a forbidden fruit. Females were covered and separated. It was indecent to look at the opposite sex and gender segregation was commonly observed. Education was scarce and certain professions were adopted by selected clans. Potters made pots and weavers produced cloth generation after generation. Instead of children going to school, they were taught ancestral crafts by parents and clans. There was no individualism at all; people lived by communal principles instead of any constitution. Communal rights were preferred over individual rights. Most clans lived under the supervision of their elderly leaders often chosen by the virtue of age. Only those leaders dealt with the governments on behalf of the clan. Youth accepted the authority of the elders and obeying parents was deeply venerated. It was almost the law of the land. People in general were very emotional and members of the clan were passionately bonded together. One man’s sorrow was the sadness of all. Inter clan marriages were unacceptable. Life partners were designated by elderly of the clan or the parents. In the name of the wedding of two individuals, two houses came together as family. From times immemorial others chose brides and grooms for the young ones. The husband and wife lived in the same house but not in the same room. Poor or rich, each house had two different quarters, one for ladies and the other for men.
It was an age like that when two crazy ones fell in love. This is a story that transpired in a delta of five famous rivers called Punjab. This unique piece of high-yielding land is the greatest gift of nature that is known as the food basket of the world. It is a mire soil where houses are made from mud and pottery from clay. Punjab is heavenly, fertile and naturally irrigated. It begins with the high mountains from the north and ends as a plain in the south. It was once the epicenter of the Indus valley civilization. It is a home of monsoon and the playing field of all four seasons: spring, autumn, winter, and summer. Nothing refuses to grow here. The flower of love is no exception. Despite strict taboos and curtailed norms, in the presence of curtains, covers, shawls, and burqas; love found its path to reach in the petals of a lover’s heart. Eyes played a vital role and became the beacon of beauty and affection. Pupils became the language of the heart and dreams provided the virtual rendezvous. Lovers sang the song of love in the guise of the folklores.
On the banks of river Chenab, there was a village namely Khewa adjacent to a town called Gujrat. There sat a palace, Rampyari Mehal. Underneath the palace was a great market for earthenware pots. Khewa was known for its unique clay and wonder potters. Pots were exported as far as merchants could take them safely.
In this tale a merchant boy descended from the snow tops of Uzbekistan. He was whiter than the avalanche and stronger than the peaks of Khazaret Sultan. He spoke a nonnative language and wore colorful woolen robes. His eyes were blue and radiated angelic currents. His name was Izzat Baig, a Turk name that means respect worthy. She on the other hand, was a fairy like daughter of a famous potter, more beautiful than the dreams of a poet.
She was tall, slim, and shaped like a cypress tree. Her hair touched her knees and her lips resembled a rose. She smiled through jasmine white gnashes and unfurl aromatic charm. Her artistic fingers needed no rings and her geometric curves dimmed stars. She was cuter than beauty and fresher than himalayan breeze. Their differences were immense, they spoke different languages but love knows no boundaries. It has a certain dialect that transmits through eyes. My pen lacks words to describe her anymore.
She translated her beauty in the art she drew on the neck of those carafes. The potter’s wife abruptly called her ‘Sohni’ the moment she saw her as an infant. Sohni, in Punjabi means very beautiful and she grew up to be so. He came to sell wool but traded his heart instead. He would return daily to buy those clay pots from her father. She would crave for his eyes inside the shop glossing her dreams into the art on the chest of the receptacles she made. He would find an excuse to return to her shop to evade his caravan fellows. Looking at each other fulfilled them both and they did not want to look elsewhere. The girls of Kiev are known as ‘Fairies of Kiev in Punjabi culture’ (“Koh Kaaf Ki Paryaan”). Izzat Baig, a noble of that vicinity could not survive the aura of Sohni’s charm. This itself is the proof of her magnificence.
This was the final trade for the merchant and she wanted to paint no more pots. Fragrance can’t be seen but one cannot hide it. No one can veil love and nothing can camouflage it. Love is revealed before it is concealed. Her father saw the spark before it could inflame his reputation in his clan. Imagine a father in a closed door society like that who’s daughter fell in love with a stranger from distant mountains. The dissimilarities between the couple of lovers were more exhaustive than the journey of the outlander merchant. Her father’s intolerance to her affection was heavier than currents of the Chenab. Soon Izzat spent all his money living in a foreign land and ended up broke. He took a job of water buffalo herder nearby. That’s why people called him ‘Mahiwal’ (buffalo herder).
Punjabi parents know only one cure to the infectious disease of love. That is to marry the lover to someone else. So did Sohni’s father. He forcefully married her to his neighbor’s son. Again a family marriage blessed by the elders of the clan. Izzat was prohibited from entering Khawa. He moved across the river and built himself a hut on the southern bank of Chenab. This marriage was not truly acceptable to Sohni; her heart was already with her lover. She was already craving to follow her heart. Her husband was a trader of earthenware pottery so he was traveling most of the time. She used to sit nights after nights on the north side of the river bank conceiving poems of separation awaiting Mahiwal, while he was singing songs for a darling across the river. She was growing impatient by the hour, cursing herself for not having learned swimming. One night she had an idea to cross the river. She knew as a potter that a baked pitcher can keep her afloat on water. The clay water receptacle became her regular mode of nocturnal floats across the river.
Night riders can not hide from the eyes of self proclaimed patrollers. Sohni’s sister in law became aware of her love adventures and decided to put an end to it before the rest of the clan found out. She saw her hiding a earthenware receptacle under bushes near her window. She was aghested by her unsolicited meeting with the lover across the river. One night she replaced the baked pot with an unbaked one with the intent to drown her in the violent currents of the mad Chenab. The container was a kind of life jacket for the swimming lover.
Mahiwal, completely absorbed by the love of his fairy, was destitute and aloof from worldly affairs. That night he didn’t have anything to offer his beloved so he took a piece of his thighs and cooked it for her. Turk hospitality does not make you a proper host without some sort of meat. He waited anxiously limping on that side of the river. She sailed on the receptacle her sister in law hid unaware of the incapacity of the pitcher on water. It began to dissolve quickly in the fast running currents of the river. She cried for help and Mahiwal jumped with his wounded leg. He swam towards her to save her; she was already drowning and he bled too much; both died hand in hand, disappearing in the south bound river never to return to the shore of life. Finally they were in each other’s arms embraced by the angel of death.
Sohni’s father Tullah who was trying to hide her love from his clan, failed to put a lid on it. Today it is one of the most sung love stories in Punjab. Sohni’s dialogue with an unbaked pitcher has become idiomatic in an amazing manner. Although their story goes through love end to dead end but it never comes to “The End.”
This story is a clandestine honor killing that surfaced later to become an eternal folktale of two innocent and beautiful lovers. As this story continues to shine in our beautiful land of five rivers, so does honor killing one way or the other.
Most of the novels, movies, tv dramas, and other modes of communication and entertainment strongly advocate love and portray lovers as heroes. When someone close to us, especially females, shows any signs of affection towards anyone, we try to ‘nip the evil in the bud.’ Our secular and religious laws do permit love marriage. It is the social and peer pressure that leads us to adopt methods of strictness and oppression towards lovers in our family. We’ve got to change either civil laws or the social norms to take one approach. Either we can completely ban love from our society socially and legally or we can allow it socially as our laws do. Hanging in the middle is the main cause for forced marriages or in some cases honor killings.
Law of the land, law of the community and law of the heart should coincide and combine in order to promote harmony and peace in a house, clan, guild, community, city, and society.
-Sohni Mahiwal (poem), Fazal Shah Sayyad.
Golfer, Author, Poet, Blogger, Entrepreneur, Wanderer