The Subject Tonight is Love: By Aparna Sharma

The subject tonight is Love

And for tomorrow night as well,

As a matter of fact

I know of no better topic

For us to discuss

Until we all

Die!

Hafiz is not a name, he is a Legend…. One of  greatest spiritual poets to have emerged from Iran. Also called Hafiz of Shiraz, he had memorized the Koran while still in his teens. His father died early, leaving him and his mother with much debt. Hafiz and his mother went to live with his uncle. Because of their poverty, he had to leave school to work in a drapery shop and later in a bakery.

Here is where the story begins.

In 1341, Hafiz was 21 and still working at the bakery. Working by the day and marveling at the works of  Saadi,  Farid ad-Din Attar, Rumi or Nizami by the night, he had learnt to get by with little sleep.

Early one morning at the bakery a worker who delivered the bread was sick, and he had to deliver to a certain quarter of Shiraz where the rich, Turkish ruling class lived. At a mansion, Hafiz happened to see a young woman of delicate beauty standing on the balcony. Her name was ‘Shakh-e-Nabat’ (meaning ‘Branch of Sugarcane’). Nabat’s unique beauty immediately intoxicated Hafiz and he fell hopelessly in love with her. This single encounter had such a profound effect on him that he almost lost most human consciousness. Sleep, hunger and other urges left him and Nabat seemed to colour his poetry in hues of her name.

Love has

Befriended Hafiz so completely

It has turned to ash

And freed

Me

Of every concept and image

my mind has ever known.

Hafiz realized the futility of his longing when heard that she had been promised in marriage to the king’s brother. His love was destined to be hopeless, yet the vision of her beauty filled his heart and his being. A state wherein the thought of the Beloved is constantly with you, like a soft background score to every scene. His thoughts were constantly with her.

Then one day he remembered the famous ‘promise of Baba Kuhi.’ Baba Kuhi was a Perfect Master-Poet who had died in Shiraz in 1050 and had been buried four miles from Shiraz on a hill named after him. Baba Kuhi had composed a ruba’i that held some hope

Wherever a heart has blood flowing from it, I see it.
Crazy for hair of moon-faced ones? I admit I see it!

That particular Essence … the same in both worlds,
in moon-faced ones looks, pure, exquisite … I see it.

 

The promise that Baba Kuhi gave was that if anyone could stay awake for forty consecutive nights at his tomb he would grant them the gift of poetry, immortality, and their heart’s desire. Hafiz, most keen on the third, vowed to keep this vigil. He had plenty of practice in not sleeping.

Every day Hafiz would go to work at the bakery, eat his day’s meal and then walk past the house of Nabat. By now even she had come across some of the poems Hafiz had composed for her.

You should come close to me tonight wayfarer

For I will be celebrating you……….

She had noticed him passing, each day more weary, but with fire in his eyes. Hafiz was in a kind of trance. The only thing that kept him going was the love in his heart and his determination to keep the lonely vigil.

As Hafiz’s love increased for this ‘Beloved’, so also increased his desire for ‘That’ Beloved- God. He saw the Divine as her Higher self…. And it was to this Higher self that he now composed his ghazals. Hafiz, was by and by getting to love the actual flame of which Nabat was a reflection.

Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly
let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
as few human or even divine ingredients can
Something missing in my heart tonight
has made my eyes so soft
my voice so tender
my need of god
absolutely clear.

 

The days passed, as if in a frenzy, Hafiz going about his grueling life and then keeping an all night vigil on the dargah, night after night after night. The moon smiled at the earth

They say that there is a promise of fulfillment in every deep yearning. On the fortieth day she ran out and threw herself in the dust at his feet, declaring that she had lost her heart to him. That she would no longer marry the prince. That she loved him…… but  Hafiz stumbled on, single-mindedly towards his quest

Finally, utterly exhausted, Hafiz saw a radiant angel who asked him what he desired most. Some say this was Angel Gabriel, who gave Hafiz a cup of Water of Immortality and the gift of poetry and asked him his heart’s desire.

Hafiz could not take his eyes off Gabriel. So great was the divine beauty of this messenger of God, that Hafiz had forgotten his muse. The flame which burnt in him, was now all around him in this dazzling brilliance of the Angel’s light and Hafiz knew, that if the messenger is so beautiful, then how much more beautiful The Divine must be.

And at the hour of the boon, beholding the Angel of God, the cup of immortality in his hand, Hafiz declared: “I want God.”

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