Saturday, March 18, 2006

Love is like baldness*

and other insights from and thoughts on The Adventures of Hir and Ranjha by Waris Shah (transl. Usborne)

*Love is like baldness. You cannot get rid of it even in twelve years.

Introduction, Note 14,: The Chenab is the most romantic of all punjab rivers, and one of the most romantic anywhere. The romances of Hir and Ranjha, Sohni and Mahiwal and Mirza and Sahiban are all associated with the Chenab. Incidentally all of them are tragedies, the story in each case ending in the death of both lover and sweetheart. [note to self - avoid meeting girl near Chenab] The idea of 'getting married and living happily ever afterwards', so popular in Europe, seems to be alien to punjabi tradition [wonderful. what I thought was bad luck turns out to be a proud cultural tradition], where great love affairs are concerned. To the average punjabi, it might even appear cheap and vulgar.


Chapter 1:
We are introduced to Ranjha. He doesn't do any work, preferring to spend his days admiring his reflection, putting yoghurt in his long hair, singing and playing the flute. He is his father's favourite child, who may have thought Ranjha was his daughter.

His father dies, and Ranjha finds that 'evil days have fallen upon me'! He has to work for a living now, you see. He decides to leave the village.


Chapter 5: Ranjha sees the beautiful Hir for the first time. His chat-up line is: 'Be gentle with me, sweet heart.' Hir is so impressed, she goes and sits in his lap before another word is exchanged.

Small talk follows [what is your name and caste? how much is your salary? may I be a leper
and lose my sight and limbs if i seek any husband save Ranjha]

Hir decides that she must convince her father to hire Ranjha as a cowherd. Cowherding may not be a glamorous profession, but Hir knows it offers opportunities to the young lovers for discreet and frequent romantic liaisons.


Chapter 7: 'Their soft eyes were lotus buds and their teeth like rows of pearls.' Ranjha finds himself in charge of a very attractive herd of buffaloes.


Chapter 8: Hir goes to see Ranjha in the 'forest', where he has taken the buffaloes for grazing. There they exchange sweet-nothings:

Ranjha: 'The word of women, boys, hemp smokers and bhang smokers cannot be trusted,'
Hir: 'I am yours to do with as you will. You may sell me in the bazaar if it so pleases you.'

Their relationship is blossoming. Hir begins to visit Ranjha every day.


Chapter 9: Hir's mother Milka knows what is going on, and she disapproves: 'Daughters who are disobedient to their parents are not daughters but prostitutes' she sniffs.

While Hir did tell Ranjha in the previous chapter that he could pimp her if he liked, we feel Milka is exaggerating matters. But as we will see throughout the story, Hir's family like to exaggerate a lot.

Note 2 for the chapter states: The expression [daughters who are...] is by no means unfamiliar in the punjab villages even now. [now = ?]


Chapter 9 cont.d: Hir's family have now all learnt of the affair. They have lots of creative ideas to set things right.

Kaidu, Hir's uncle:
'Marry a naughty girl as soon as you can. Or else break her head and cut her into small pieces'

Milki, Hir's mother:
'You bad girl, you should be drowned in the deep stream for causing such a scandal'

Chuckak, Hir's father: 'Why did you not suffocate her when she was born, Milki, or poison her when she was a baby?'


Chapter 10: doesn't make any sense to me. First Ranjha gets fired, then the romantically inclined buffaloes refuse to eat and generally get in trouble, then Ranjha is asked to come back, and so we are back to where we started.

But one must also find time to admire the neat sexual double-standards. While Hir was previously called a hussy and a prostitute and threatened with murder by her own family, Ranjha is called friend by Hir's father and merely relieved of his job.

Then there's the offer Hir's mother makes to Ranjha to return to his job. Come back and milk our buffaloes and spread Hir's couch. They don't mean he is to be the domestic help either. Our cattle, our wealth...and Hir are all yours

It seems that family honour and scandal and a daughter's chastity are all subordinate to the welfare of the family buffaloes. This is good news for our lovers.

Meanwhile, I have the uneasy suspicion that Hir is not the only one in love with Ranjha. I am thinking of course of the buffaloes.


Chapter 11: Hir's family don't know what to make of chapter 1O either. So they pretend it never happened and continue where chapter 9 left off:

Chuchak, Hir's father: 'Rip open her belly with a sickle, pierce her eyes with a needle, and smash her head with a milking stool' By now he is just showing off.

Your correspondents feels too ill to eavesdrop further on this family conversation, and withdraws.


Chapter 12: This chapter's highlight is a passage of great ethnological interest - a comparison of emotional amorant characteristics of various womenfolk of Desh. This stuff is pure gold.

...the love of a sikh woman is as violent as the current of the chenab...the bengali woman's love is fitful. the hindustani's is childish...the love of a khatri woman is as soft as dough. The hill woman loves openly but the peshawar woman in secret.

The young men of Desh who find this useful may also wish to refer to the Kamasutra, which provides a similar comparison in respect of the physical amorant preferences of the women of Desh.

A word of caution: The information provided in the texts may be out of date, and any attempt to rely on or apply it to contemporary Desi women is done at your own risk.


end of part one