Gul chaman ko kahan dhoondu, dil deewana ho gaya, more man chaman ko kahan dhoondu, dil dewana ho gaya (Where do I search for the rose garden, my heart goes crazy. Where do I search for peace of mind, my heart goes crazy).
What does a Special Land Acquisition Officer have to do with Urdu folklore? Abdul Hameed has breathed new life into this hoary tradition that goes back 670 years in Karnataka since the rule of the Bahamani and the Adil Shahi dynasties. He has also found a wide range of folk songs demonstrating the secular nature of Tipu Sultan, which he claims demolishes the theory of the Mysore ruler being a religious bigot.
For the past 38 years, Hameed has been delving into Urdu folklore while working with the Karnataka Road Development Corporation Limited. Travelling across south India and by meeting the older generation, he has collected a huge repetoire of songs and rare manuscripts, made audio and video recordings and deciphered the folk songs, phonetically and linguistically.
When he was 21, Hameed visited the silk town of Molkalamuru in Chitradurga district for a relative’s wedding, where he heard the beautiful melody of a wedding song being sung by elderly ladies of the family. “Listening to the compositions and the meaning of each of the verses, I realised how this unique heritage, handed down from generation to generation, would dwindle away if the legacy was not recognised and preserved,” says Hameed.
He joined MA Urdu at Bangalore University. There, he showed his collection of 18-20 songs to Amina Khatoon, the head of the Urdu department. “It was due to her encouragement that I continued with my interest. It is surprising how Urdu folklore tradition has been completely neglected in south India. Compared to the support for Kannada Janapada tradition, Urdu folklore, derided as belonging to the illiterate masses, remains forgotten as the emphasis is more on ghazals and mushairas,” he says.
Between 1976-77, Hameed collected 300 songs from parts of Karnataka. “Visiting villages for settling old age pensions in Chitradurga, Raichur, Bidar, Bellary, Rayadurg, Gangavati and other places, I used to sit with old women after my working hours. I got a lot of songs mixed with the language spoken in that region. For example, Marathi in Belgaum, Telugu in Raichur, Tamil in Hosur, etc. I met these old women, still singing those old songs once heard in the royal family of Bahamani rulers. I recorded all the traditional songs,” he says.
The rich tradition of Urdu folklore include lullabyes, Chakki Namaa, Shahadat Namaa, Milad Namaa, Suhagan Namaa and religious songs propagated by Khwaja Bandhe Nawaz, the renowned Sufi saint of Gulbarga.
It took him nearly three decades to finish his doctorate as his official duties did not give him time to study. “My research on the importance of Urdu folk literature in the literary history has laid special emphasis on the evaluation of regional literature, which contributed immensely to the development of Urdu language and literature. This work will also give new information about the heritage of Urdu in Karnataka,” Hameed says.
In November 2012 during a conference of fakirs and dervishes in Bengaluru, he launched his book his book on Urdu folklore called Karnataka Mein Awami Adab Aur Lok Geeton Ki Riyayati. “Since most of the songs are devoted to the Sufi saint tradition of our country, my book was released at this conference,” he says.
With just 11 months left for his retirement, Hameed is planning to make a documentary, do post doctoral research and compile a book on Urdu folk tales.