Every day, I call my grandparents, Nani and Nana, in Pakistan to offer some solace during their increasingly isolated situation. With all their kids and grandkids living abroad and the fear of disease when leaving their house, my Nani and Nana are, quite literally, stuck. With a second COVID-19 Ramadan around the corner, a time they usually spend with us in Michigan, I’m surprised by their diligence and patience. In fact, they are the ones offering me advice on how to balance my life and combat feelings of isolation. Despite not seeing any of their children, they are remaining steadfast and strongly believing in the fact that we will all be reunited soon.
Yearly visits to Pakistan and being reunited with my family are something that I have been accustomed to since I was young. In March and April, Pakistanis celebrate the coming of spring and Pakistan Day on March 23. Patches of grass become bright green, planted with a variety of colorful flowers. Banners, billboards and streamers display the excitement for spring and the celebration of the country. I miss these comfortable sights, the culture and the community of my parents’ birthplace. I long to visit my grandparents and celebrate the oncoming of spring with them. In missing them, I have compiled a list of Urdu verses (or Shayari) that remind me of the times I have spent with my family in Pakistan. Each of these excerpts, whether from a song (Qawwal) or poem, connects my Pakistani identity to my American self. In the end, these are a reminder that this connection to my Pakistani and American self is present, and will always be present, regardless of the distance between or the barriers in our way.
- “Manalo food Ka Love with 7UP” from 7UP’s “Food Ka Love” campaign
For the Jashan e Baharan festival, or spring festival, in Lahore each year, 7Up contributes to the grandiose decoration, with lights and banners everywhere. A few years ago, 7Up launched a commercial campaign, which featured a catchy jingle promoting the spring spirit, love for food and of course, 7UP. The jingle immediately got stuck in all of the cousins’ heads. There was nonstop singing around the house of “Manalo food Ka Love with 7up,” which means “celebrate the love of food with 7Up.” The song lyrics themselves are not particularly deep and not technically considered Shayari, but for me, they are associated with delicious memories in Pakistan, from enjoying high tea at the Nishat Emporium restaurant to indulging at Peeru’s Cafe and puppet museum to eating on the high rooftops on Food Street, overlooking the Lahore Fort.
- “Saeen” by Sufi band Junoon
|“Zaahir har ik manzar mein Tu har pas-manzar mein tu Masjid mein tu Mandir mein tu Jeewan saagar mein tu”||You are manifest in all seen and unseen things In the mosque In the temple In the ocean of existence|
Sufi rock band “Junoon” is a popular Pakistani band from the 90s. My mom remembers attending their concerts in Pakistan, attracted to their unique sound, which combined folkloric Pakistani music elements, western rock and classic Sufi Shayari-style spiritual lyrics. Combining these contrasting elements results in a catchy song that encapsulates a deeply spiritual element. The lyrics describe the “Saeen,” which is an honorable title, acting as a reference to Allah. The song reminds the listener of the omnipotent presence of Allah in everything, even music. This song is a staple in long car rides, warranting discussion on the music of my parent’s youth and the versatility of the Urdu language.
- “Rashk E Qamar,” a Qawwal by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
|“Mere Rashk E Qamar Tu Ne Pehli NazarJab Nazar Se Milayi Maza Aa gaya”||O my envy of the moon, when your eyes first met mine, I was overjoyed||میرے رشکِ قمر تو نے پہلی نظر، جب نظر سے ملائی مزہ آ گیا|
Many Qawwals sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whose legacy renders him one of the greatest Qawwali singers of all time, are popular, in large part because of the power Khan’s voice carries. Each word is heard and echoed through the soul. This particular song has been remixed and covered by many, everywhere from Pakistani media to even Bollywood. In Urdu poetry, the metaphors can be expressed in love for the Dunya (material world) or Allah. In this case, the metaphor of visiting a lover in the moonlight is likened to the love one has for Allah, a common style in Sufi poetry and music, where the idea of Ishqi Shayari (a type of Urdu poetry that uses love or passion as a metaphor) is strung throughout. On one particular visit to Pakistan, I remember my younger cousins were obsessed with this song. I recall their tiny voices attempting to hit the difficult notes of the song, trying to stretch the words, to create the same impact. This song reminds me of that visit to Pakistan and makes me appreciative of all the good memories I have enjoyed.
- “Hamdardi” by Allama Iqbal
|“Allah Ne Di Hai Mujh Ko Mishal Chamka Ke Mujhay Diya Banaya Hain Log Wohi Jahan Mein Ache Aate Hain Jo Kaam Dusron Ke”||God has bestowed a torch on me He has given a shining lamp to me The good people are those who are Ready to be sympathetic and useful to others|
Allama Iqbal is known as the “spiritual father” of Pakistan, who inspired Quad e Azam Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League who eventually rallied for the partition of Pakistan and India. Iqbal wrote many pieces of poetry, following the Sufi tradition of instilling a connection between the reader, writer and Allah. His work questioned what it meant to be a Muslim in India, challenging the status quo and encouraging the reader to reflect on their spiritual state. This particular poem is meant for children, evoking “Hamdardi’” or sympathy. The poem follows a firefly who guides a nightingale in the dark of the night. Despite his small size, the firefly recognizes the blessing he has — his light — and uses his gift to help others around him.
These excerpts of songs and poetry are my connections to the Pakistani portion of my identity. With each verse, I cherish these memories, which encourage me to appreciate what I have and celebrate my connections to my ancestors’ home. Though I can’t visit my Nani and Nana in Pakistan, I know that I am still connected to them, and this connection cannot be broken. The oncoming of spring will always be celebrated, not only by those in Pakistan but also those outside Pakistan, like myself, who recall its gifts fondly.
MiC Columnist Zoha Khan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.