BOOK REVIEW: A compendium of mystic poetry and spiritual adages

A compendium of mystic poetry and spiritual adages
Syed Afsar Sajid
Titles: ‘Cobbler of the Soul’ ; ‘Gohar-i Kanzan’
Compiler: Dr. Shahzad Qaiser
Published by: Sohail Academy Lahore

Renowned scholar, philosopher, mystic, poet, and prose writer, and a well-reputed ex-
bureaucrat, Dr. Shahzad Qaiser, who has authored several books on metaphysics,
religion, philosophy, and literature besides a number of light essays (‘inhsaiyas’) in Urdu and numerous works of Punjabi verse in the genre of ‘kafi’, has now come out with a consolidated volume of mystic poetry, autobiography, and spiritual adages or aphorisms separately titled ‘Cobbler of the Soul’ and ‘Gohar-i Kanzan’, on its obverse and reverse.

The work is related to Baba Sufi Muhammad Tufayl, Dr. Shahzad Qaiser’s Murshid and spiritual mentor. The latter is also a recipient of a host of national/international literary, academic, and cultural awards, in recognition of his multi-faceted talent.

The obverse of the book bears the title ‘Cobbler of the Soul’ with a subtitle ‘Silsila-i Faqr –
Beholding God here and now’. The book is in two volumes. Volume 1 is comprised of three
parts.

The First Part is a collection of mystic poetry of Baba Sufi Muhammad Tufayl (‘Kanzan Makhfi’ – Hidden Treasure), rendered into English prose by the compiler/author. Dr. Shahzad Qaiser incidentally discovered the reverend Baba Sufi in the year 1987 through his brother-in-law.

He was an unlettered person who mended shoes of the needy on payment, on a roadside
pavement in Lahore. Instantly Dr. Shahzad felt enamoured of him and became his disciple by vowing spiritual allegiance to him and his Silsila-e Faqr. In this context the present book is a devotional homage to his Murshid and friend Baba Sufi Muhammad Tufayl.

The Second Part viz. ‘Dars: Doctrinal Sittings of Baba Sufi Muhammad Tufayl’s Tradition of
Faqr (Recollections, Reminiscences sand Recapitulations)’ deals with Baba Sufi’s traditional
poetry. It also includes the compiler’s/author’s excerpts on Baba Sufi published in English,
Urdu and Punjabi as Appendices, and contains proceedings of his frequent doctrinal sittings
with Baba Sufi, and his acts and sayings in different situations alongwith mystic tales of
wisdom and pieces of traditional mystic poetry quoted by him occasionally.

The Third Part titled on the reverse of the book as ‘Gohar-i Kanzan’ comprises Urdu and
Punjabi sections; the Urdu version is juxtaposed with the Punjabi version. Extracts from the
compiler’s/author’s interview and preface to his own book ‘Gal wich payum preet Mohar’
have been added as Appendices.

The Second Volume as espoused by the compiler/author is next on the cards, intended to
incorporate ‘Doctrinal Sittings: Baba Sufi’s Anecdotes, Mystic Tales of Wisdom and Reflecting Back’. The compiler/author is of the view that the book in hand ‘may attract readers who are interested in the path of mystic knowledge, love and wisdom’. Eminent philosopher and academic Dr. Abdul Khaliq has contributed an elucidatory prologue to the book highlighting its characteristic features with an insightful concluding remark: ‘Through preservation (in print) of the modes of his Murshid’s responsiveness to various day-to-day cognitive and behavioural situations and also through the mystical treasures of the latter’s poetic thought, he has made him very generously accessible for guidance to the seekers of Truth even now and for all times to come.’

As for the prosodic aspect of Baba Sufi’s Kalam which seems to be a spontaneous overflow of his mystical outpourings, he has himself disclaimed at the very outset that ‘It is not poetry, but doctrinal composition. Do read it reflectively. God has formed the heart of Sufi bursting with fortune.’ In fact his words woven into a quasi-harmonious verbal phraseology tend to indemnify his ‘couplets’ against any formative inadequacy. The epigrammatic structure of Baba Sufi’s Kalam seems to reinvest it with an aura of transcendental truths that might not be easily comprehensible to the average, uninitiated mind. Examples:
Sufi lives in the Unity of God. He remains in the state of realisation. God has said so clearly: I have made him happy.

There was nothing before ‘’Be’’, but only the Essence (God Himself). When He said: ‘’Be’’, all manifestation took place. I have not seen anything meaningful, if I have seen my destiny. If I have seen His Graciousness, then I have seen something so great.
The world has constrained me to remain alive. It kept me so near that it distanced me.
(Rendered in English from Urdu).

Someone said to the lost one. Do not weep in wilderness. Your face is shining. You are rare. The one, whom you are searching is yourself. If you had spent your time in remembrance of the Lord, you might have gone to the courtyard of the Sufi. Whatever Faqr sees it does not disclose. Whatever is seen is made by God from clay.
(Rendered in English from Punjabi)

Baba Sufi’s entire discourse was grounded in ‘contemplative tawhid’; ‘Oneness of Being’ was the quintessence of his discourses spanning a period of over fifty years. He endeavoured to evoke the love of God and His Prophet in the circle of his followers and listeners attending his doctrinal sittings. Thus he conceives that love leads to gnosis and union and enables its votary to do good and shun evil. The saint’s own averment would seem to further authenticate the notion: ‘I have cobbled shoes for forty years at the side of the road. I have got the lesson of love for the creation of God and service of them with core of my heart, from the spiritually enlightened ones.’

Syed Afsar Sajid
Syed Afsar Sajid
The writer is a Faisalabad based former bureaucrat, poet, literary and cultural analyst, and an academic. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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