• Patan dhoka, Lalitpur, Nepal
  • Shah Latif’s Gujarat


    Chintan Girish Modi

    While our work on love legends is focused on stories from the Punjab, we are always eager to hear about similar stories from other regions. One such opportunity presented itself at a screening of the film So Heddan So Hoddan (Like Here, Like There) based on filmmakers Anjali Monteiro and K P Jayasankar’s interactions with the Fakirani Jats of Kutch who sing the Sindhi Sufi verse of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai. Bhitai has immortalized the love legends of Sassi-Punhoon, Sohni-Mahiwal, Umar-Marui, Leela-Chanesar and Moomal-Rano.

    The film screening was organized under the aegis of the Godrej India Culture Lab, and was attended by various young professionals from artistic and corporate backgrounds. The filmmakers who are also professors at the Centre for Media and Cultural Studies at Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences were invited to interact with the audience.The film screening happened on 1st March, 2013.

    Anjali spoke about how she and her husband and co-traveller Jayasankar have been documenting the music of pastoral communities in Kutch since 2008. Their last film was titled Do Din Ka Mela, and it revolved around folk singers who sing the poetry of Kabir, the 15th century mystic poet. “These communities are poor, on the margins, and trying to cope with the changing reality of Gujarat and its new language of development,” she says. Jayasankar mentions that Kutch, to them, represents a very different kind of Gujarat, quite unlike “the Gujarat of Narendra Modi.” He underlines the idea that Kutch is a fairly multicultural space, inhabited by Hindu and Muslim communities, without the kind of communal tensions experienced in, say, Ahmedabad or Vadodara.

    I find this worth pondering, especially since the love legends in Shah Latif’s poetry invoke men and women who dared to love across social boundaries. These are stories of transgression, loyalty, courage and intensity. I am a bit disappointed to learn that the protagonists in this film interpret the love legends only as spiritual allegories, the heroines representing the human soul and the heroes representing the divine beloved. This is certainly a meaningful way of understanding these stories, but I cannot help wonder whether the communities that narrate and sing these stories are not at all interested in the social aspect of transgressive love.

    I asked the filmmakers about this but was told that they primarily interviewed older people from the community who felt that the younger generation was not able to relate much to the poetry of Shah Latif. Anjali also expressed a measure of anguish about recent attempts “to establish a pan-Gujarati and pan-Indian identity because of which other modes of expression are getting obliterated.”

    Read more about the filmmakers’ journey in their article in Himal Southasian.

    To read more about the film, visit http://likeherelikethere.wordpress.com/

    K P Jayasankar and Anjali Monteiro
    Image Courtesy: http://likeherelikethere.wordpress.com

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