The Within Reach series of the MASTERWORKS OF PUNJAABI SUFI POETRY, published by Ferozsons, is an attempt to bring the outstanding verse of major Punjaabi Sufi poets to an English reading public.

The origin of the tale Heer-Raanjha is uncertain. Whether it has some foundation on real happenings is no more than conjecture. The tale has been around for a long time. References to Heer are found in Persian literature of the thirteenth century. It is certainly a tale which caught the imagination of the Punjaabi public. Poets from Shah Husayn (1538-99) to Khwaaja Ghulaam Fareed (1839-1901) used its characters as archetypes. This continues even today.

The Heer of Damodar may be the oldest available tale of Heer-Raanjha in Punjaabi. Some scholars believe that it pre-dates the more famous Heer of Waaris Shah by two hundred years.

It is possible that Heer-Damodar has been located in the times of Akbar, the Mughal king, by the poet, but he is not from that time. Damodar uses the historical background and plays with it. Akbar is mentioned seventeen times in his Heer and this spreads an inferential light on the times. It may be mentioned here that Haafiz Barkhurdar, who is positioned by scholars in the late eighteenth century, also placed his Mirza-Saahiban in the times of Akbar. Historical tales are a recognised genre.

HEER DAMODAR is written as a fast-paced screenplay. Its language is powerful and full of humour. Damodar inverts gender stereotypes and plays with verisimilitude to an exceptional level. He handles the clash between individual love/ardent choice, and societically forbidden love with enthralling style and flair.

Muzaffar A. Ghaffaar’s rhymed and metered translation of this ‘unutterable’ tale is brilliant. It rivals the superb original.

Muzaffar Ghaffaar’s work is in three areas. (i) He is President of Lahore Arts Forum, which is arguably the most active cultural organisation in Pakistan (2400+ programmes held). (ii) He has devised and taught a History & Heritage programme and another entitled Poetry and the Sufi Tradition. He has six collections of fine English verse to his credit and is considered a poet of high artistic worth – ANOTHER VOICE, MARYAM & OTHERS, INSCAPE, YESTERDAYS, ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE and MOONDARK. He has published three volumes of non-Fiction – HOW GOVERNMENTS WORK (and its Urdu translation, UNITY IN DIVERSITY – A vision for Pakistan, and THE BRAIN, THE BODY, THE SOUL, THE MIND.

Muzaffar Ghaffaar’s main body of work is under the umbrella name MASTERWORKS OF PUNJAABI SUFI POETRY, the Within Reach series, in 25+ volumes. Books on BAABA FAREED GANJSHAKAR, BAABA NAANAK, SHAH HUSAYN (3 volumes), BULLEH SHAH (2 volumes – Pakistan’s first book which includes 8 CDs with 55 Kaafis sung to original music), SACHAL SARMAST and KHWAAJA GHULAAM FAREED have been published, all by Ferozsons. With HEER DAMODAR the ‘Within Reach’ series has shifted to qissas, and several are on the way.

The blurb by the publisher says on the cover of Heer Damodar – “Text in Nastaliq; Gurmukhi; Roman. Extensive glossary; poetic translation; line-by-line discourse (which are a marvel of poetics, culture, history and literary criticism). The glossary offers a more complete meanings of words than found in any single source.

Some excerpts:

l  First we take the name of the Master, who this world created. / Detached the earth and sky, heavens with force subjugated. / Yoked revolutions of moon and sun, everywhere the same shade dilated. / Name Damodar, caste Gulhaati, this tale formulated.

l  Heer a daughter is born O folks, in her face faults none can see. / Silk-wrapped, bred in butter, on the maid’s bosom bred was she. / Whoever saw her became joyful, in her face such beauty. / Speak Damodar in Chuchak’s home, damsels Heer’s nativity.

l  Brothers, father resolved this plan, damsel Heer somewhere let’s give away. / One, give her where Pathaans originate, beyond Sindh extend our sway. / Or give her to conqueror Akbar, then measure lands, tax as we may. / Speak Damodar caste Gulhaati, on this very plan we’ll stay.

l  Six years old the girl became, good works began to do. / Eight years old the girl became, to every door her fame grew. / Ten years old the girl became, all four rivers commanded too. / Twelve years old the girl became, with Raanjha locked eyes true.

l  Heer captured along with Raanjha is presented in court for flouting established norms. Advocating her cause (self-choice, versus arranged marriage), she debates with the qaazi, “Listen to our petition judge, unutterable this tale to recite, / Stone tablets, empyrean throne, no canopy in sight. / Space, time, moon or sun, light in a body of light, / If anyone was from then, as witness I’d invite.”

Masterfully crafted, with remarkable pace, HEER DAMODAR is one of the great tales of world literature which has been translated with great panache and verve by Muzaffar A. Ghaffaar. It offers one of the great translations in world literature and should be read, at least twice, both in Punjaabi and in English translation by all lovers of literature.