Of Life, Happiness and Baba Bulleh Shah


It is strange that you can hear something a million times and yet remain aloof to its true meaning. And then one day, just like that the same thing begins to touch your heart and make a lot of sense.

Over the weekend I came across Pakistani sufi singer, Arieb Azhar’s rendition of Baba Bulleh Shah’s kalam. As the singer reminisces words of the iconic mystic from Punjab, I too unconsciously embarked on a journey of self-reflection.

I had heard the rendition before but never did it make a difference to me the way it touched my heart this time. Maybe, because only a few weeks back I had experienced something rather unsettling.

On the first day of Eid-ul-Adha I was performing ablution when I realized that my legs and hands were tingling and that it made it difficult for me to maintain balance. I had been feeling slight pain in the joints for the last few weeks but had never experienced anything so uncomfortable. Since I had not slept well during the past few days, I ignored the condition hoping for it to become better with some good sleep over the next 48 hours. The condition began to improve within 24 hours however, there was this persistent pain in the joints and then from nowhere came a burning sensation in my right foot and right hand. Even when adequate rest didn’t make a difference I decided to see a doctor.

Eventually, I was diagnosed with a condition called Neuropathy. I was told that my stomach had malfunctioned and was not absorbing Vitamin B12 at all. The Vitamin B12 reserves in my body were depleting fast and the levels were extremely low. The deficiency had caused damage to my motor and sensory nerves.

Owing to the fact that I am still in my early 30’s the doctor seemed optimistic of a speedy recovery and hoped for the condition to reverse within a couple of months following a Vitamin B12 injection course. Nevertheless, like most patients I inquired if there was a possibility of any permanent damage and I was told that such a prospect could not be completely ruled out and that only after the initial treatment and further testing would the doctor be able to come up with a conclusive answer.

Moreover, I was also told that I had been fortunate to have seen the doctor in time. Any further delay could have had serious consequences. Therefore, it is only obvious that the first ten days following the diagnosis were extremely stressful. However, with the passing weeks I realized that the ailment was in fact a blessing in disguise – something for which I remain grateful to Allah Almighty.

I say this because the entire episode has allowed me to recognize the fact that the journey will not go on forever and that there was a need to ensure maximum utilization of the time that is available for me on this planet.

The realization then made way for certain questions that I had never asked myself before. I began to wonder what happens if, God forbid, something was to go wrong and what was there that I can do to handle things better? After hours of self-deliberation I finally reached a conclusion that helped to calm me down.

I had no control over how the universe functioned or when the sun should shine or how brightly. The universe and all that lies within it has been in constant motion for millions of years and it will continue as even after i ceased to exist. And so hours of mental frenzy revealed the simplest of all truths: I am but a mortal, destined to perish. And so, instead of focusing so much on self-importance, it would be a good idea to adopt humility and make friends with the helplessness that encompasses my temporary existence.

So when Baba Bulleh Shah asks, “But have you ever studied your own self?” I finally understand – to a certain degree – the significance of his query. The question eventually, leads towards humility, which perhaps is the best gift knowledge can give. Humility then leads towards selflessness, which I have no doubt in mind is the basis of HAPPINESS.

Is it not true that almost with every action of ours we seek pleasure and even though possessions do make us happy for a little while the feeling of fulfillment only comes by being selfless and by being of some help to those who can be of no benefit to us?

HAPPINESS is therefore, to me, a wonderful state of mind that consciously or unconsciously we all pursue but can only attain and sustain through the sacrifice of what Bulleh Shah calls the “I” (or the false ego and the desire to achieve superiority).

Nearly a month following the treatment the road to recovery with the grace of Allah seems good. The pain and the stress that came with the ailment was obviously nothing to be happy about, yet, I wonder if I would ever have been able to question my existence without this experience? As I write, I also wonder if I will be able to sustain this feeling of humility and my current state of happiness without painful experiences?

After all in the words of Bulleh “…Milk will not yield curd unless it is cultured… You can keep boiling it forever!”