Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


Ghee & Sugar in Your Mouth.

1 Apr 2010

That title is an example of what debauchery literal translations can be on a beautiful language. Aap ke mun main ghee shakkar, is an Urdu phrase used to express happiness when someone says something, usually when it’s what one was going to say himself.

Pakistan is obsessed with food. Sweets especially. “When in doubt, eat” is the mantra of bored citizens all over. And boy do we like talking about it. But back to the point.

In this case a sweet tooth must be presented to Irfan Hussain, columnist for Dawn. As he visits from the UK, he leaves Pakistan with this:

I attended the second and last evening of the seventh All Pakistan Music Conference at the Indus Valley School, and was very glad I did. A young sitar player called Turab Ali gave a dazzling performance that blew the audience away. Playing the raga Rageshri, the 19-year-old displayed skills and maturity far beyond his years. Improvising with great self-confidence and fluency, he mesmerised the knowledgeable audience.

During my all-too-brief stay in Pakistan, I was greatly heartened to see so much cultural activity that dispelled the earlier prophecies of Pakistan being on the verge of collapse.

The arts can do as much to counter the Taliban as military might.

Pakistani music has made headlines for its progressiveness, maturity, and just plain awesome-ness. Perhaps one of the more significant cultural movements of recent times has been Coke Studio (, a yearly series of television and radio broadcast live studio recordings of Pakistan’s best musicians. The songs speak louder than words and my favorite is presented below:

This is Aik Alif, meaning ‘one syllable’ (Alif is the first letter of the Arabic Script used by Urdu). It draws on verses from Bulleh Shah, reknowned Sufi Poet of the Punjab, now buried in Kasur, about 30km from Lahore. It then draws on more modern verses, compiled and added to, on the whole talking about self reflection, introspection, and a need to fix one’s self.

Some lyrics and retrospect after the break.

Here are the lyrics and some translation:

Lyrics to Saeen Zahoor’s part

Parh parh ilm te faazil hoya
Te kaday apnay aap nu parhiya naaee
Bhaj bhaj warna ai mandar maseeti
Ve kadi mun apnay wich warya naaee
Larna ay roz shaitaan de naal
Ve kadaay nafs apnay naal larya naaee
Bulleh Shah, asmaani ud-diyaan pharonda ay
Te jera ghar bheta unoo pharya naaee
Buss kareen o yaar
Ilmon buss kareen o yaar
Ik Alif teray darkar
Buss kareen o yaar
Allah… Sayaan…

Lyrics to the noori part of the song:

Ni mein jaana jogi de naal…

Jo na jaanay Haq ki Taaqat
Rabb na devay uss ko Himmat
Hum mun ke dariya mein doobay
Kesi nayya, kya manjhdhaar
Bass kareen o yaar…

Translation: [Updated thanks to Feroze’s Comment]

Lyrics to Saeen Zahoor’s part

You have read and studied to become knowledgeable
But have never read yourself
You run into mosques and temples
But have never been inside your heart
Fight every day with Satan
But have never fought with your conscience
Bulleh Shah, you try catching conversations in the air
But have never got hold of he that sits in your house
Enough my friend,
All that knowledge, get done with it
One syllable is all that is required of you
Enough my friend,
Allah… Sayaan…

Lyrics to the noori part of the song:

I’m following my companion

He who knows not the power of truth
Is granted no strength from God
We drown in the river of heart
What boat, what navigator?
Enough my friend…

The words and the music is a modern form of Sufi music, inspired by Sufi poetry, usually happy sounding, peaceful and introspective. Many have talked about Sufism as Pakistan’s way to find piece, and the singer, Saein Zahoor (in colorful clothing) is a Sufi troubadour himself. His music attracted the mainstream media and he is now a respected figure all over. Noori, the band of brothers that sing after him, came to the scene in 2003 as a rock revelation, and with Coke Studio have gained even more footing in the industry.