Beyond flesh and mortality….

Each story begins as a perfect example of ‘romantic love’ between a man and a woman, transcending into ‘intense passion’ before culminating into ‘spiritual ecstasy’.
As much a part of folk literature as of contemporary rendering, the love stories from the land of five rivers continue to linger. From Heer-Ranjha to Sohni-Mahiwal and from Sassi-Punnu to Mirza-Sahiban, the heart rendering stories of immortal love continue to get told and retold, frequently captured on celluloid, for their ever-lasting appeal in a world that is increasingly been torn apart by hatred and violence.The broad outline of the stories is no secret, but the essences lies in their effervescence – these stories of love stretch beyond flesh and mortality and grow upwards to attain spiritual bliss. The enduring appeal of these legendary stories has been captured by Harish Dhillon in the updated version of the book, published nearly two decades after its first edition. An exposition of Sufi philosophy, each story begins as a perfect example of ‘romantic love’ between a man and a woman, transcending into ‘intense passion’ before culminating into ‘spiritual ecstasy’.
In his near poetic rendition, the author makes the characters come alive to share their unfettered emotions. Mirza’s emotions are laced with nuggets of wisdom: ‘The beauty of the body is but for a day – it is the beauty of the mind and the spirit that will remain long after the beauty of the body has passed by.’ Each story has a sad ending though, but in the words of Shelly, ‘our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought’. Profound and touching in its own way, each story speaks of the search of the soul. Part of its rich cultural and literary heritage, these engrossing stories have shaped the mindscape of people of Punjab. How true are the prophetic words of Mahiwal which personify the essential character of people living in the land of five rivers: ‘the only measure of immortality that we can ever gain is in the way we affect the lives of others.’
The stories are all but known but it is the depth of research and reflection that lends freshness of purpose to each story. Why the action of almost all the stories took place along the banks of river Chenab? Was there something magical and unique about the waters of the Chenab? It is assumed that with Multan being a great centre of Sufi learning, it was natural for its influence to flow along the river. It further reflects that rivers not only provide heart-soothing serenity but heart-pounding excitement for romance to flourish and attain dizzy heights along its banks. One might wonder if the present decline in quality of love is manifest in the deterioration of our rivers!
Harish Dhillon may be modest in admitting that the strength of the narrative lies in the mystical appeal of the stories, he nonetheless leaves an indelible mark in narrating the drama, romance and tragedy in the historical backdrop of each story. Not much has changed since the tragic end of these love stories though. The world has become more intolerant, where love between young souls is still forbidden.
Love Stories from Pnnjab
by Harish Dhillon
Hay House, New Delhi
Extent: 272, Price: Rs 350
(Dr. Sudhirendar Sharma is the DirectorofEcological Foundation, New Delhi)