I found Amir Khusro a bit difficult to comprehend as a student. In later years, I would seek the meaning of the poetry of Khusro. One such difficult piece is this one: kheer pakaayee jatan se, charkha diyaa chalaaye, aayaa kukar khaa gaya, tu baithee dhol bajaa, laa paani pilaa. Even creative writers of Hindi tended to avoid any discussion on the subject. It is so because the parts seem to be so unrelated to each other. But that was the style of the poet. Legend has it that once Khusro felt thirsty and so approached the paniharin or the water maiden to get some water at the drinking water well. Because he was a known poet, the maiden insisted he composed a couplet then and there for her before she could allow him to drink and quench his thirst. When she was adamant, the poet composed the couplet and ended it by saying that she now serve him water/ offer him water to drink/allow him to drink.
No ordinary reader of the couplet will make any sense out of it. Some said it meant Khusro telling the maiden she had put on the cooking fire kheer or a milk preparation but in her absence a dog came and eaten of it, so now you beat the drum. In this interpretation, the meaning of the spinning wheel being run makes no sense. If the meaning is that the maiden was working the spinning wheel and preparing the sweet dish of kheer but the dog ate of it when she came to fetch water from the well, it doesn’t sound poetic at all. Certainly the maiden would not have appreciated such a piece of composition as poetry. We can safely assume that she understood and enjoyed good poetry. Now, everyone would not dare to ask a poet of Khusro’s stature to compose extempore a couplet before he could be allowed to drink water to his heart’s full content. The poet seems to be very thirsty as he asks the maiden to pour water for him to drink. Indeed, it is a jewel of poetry, a wonderful piece, an ocean in a pitcher of water.
Consider this: paneehaarin, panghat, paanee, pyaas, kheer, jatan, pakaanaa, charkhaa, kukar or kuttaa, dhol. These are all symbolic words. They encompass the life cycle of an average human being. Kheer pakaanaa is an idiom also. So first the annotations: Kheer is a sweet dish made of milk and rice, cooked on dim fire and sweetened. However, when used idiomatically it may mean what is cooking up. It may mean the machinations, manipulations, wire pullings, influencing, networking etc. Jatan means with great effort, maneuvering, pulls, references etc. Charkha or the spinning wheel refers to the cycle of time with capital T. Kukar or kuttaa means dog, but refers to the system, order, government, society, community, oversight agency, administration. Dhol or the drum is beaten on two prominent occasions: one when there is some happy celebration and two when there is death in some places and communities. Pyaas or thirst is for getting admitted to His Grace. Water is the medium of quenching the thirst. This water is knowledge, especially knowledge about God, which is given by the Guru or teacher to his disciple. The Guru or teacher is symbolized by the paneehaarin or the water maiden. In fact, even the path to the well is also considered full of difficulties in the mystic Hindi poetic rhetoric.
The picture now falls in place. Here was a poet, who felt thirsty and asked for drinking water from the maiden. But she demanded something in return for it. It activated the poetic inspiration. The poet says that life means making every effort to make it sweet and enjoyable. Making kheer is a special skill. Every household, every house lady makes something different. All kheers don’t taste the same. There lies the proof of the “effort or jatan” that goes into making it. To achieve that level of success in life one keeps on making jatan or skillful efforts. It is a pursuit one devotes his/her whole life to achieve a degree of happiness. But in the process time also moves on as God has activated the spinning wheel or time meter. No one is secure in success, because there are so many spoilers (dog or kuttaa). Nobody enjoys uninhibited happiness. Even the richest and the mightiest do not enjoy such privilege. In other words, happiness and pain go side by side. One may beat the drum in moments of happiness in achievements in life or in moments of loss. Life is like that. The cycle of life is making efforts all the time to accumulate wealth but in the end there is emptiness as in the drum. So we only drum our hollowness as time moves according to its own cycle. In the process (wo)man remains thirsty for true meaning of life, its purpose and yearns for more knowledge about whatever he sees or feels. When he comes across a guru or teacher, he can quench his thirst.
So this complex weave of superb poetry got unraveled for me almost accidentally one fine morning. It was on conclusions of the commonwealth games. Immediately thereafter the Prime Minister of India had ordered an inquiry into the accusations of large scale corruption. That day the target of inquiry appeared to be only one person, the chairman of the organizing committee (OC). I do not know how I pitied the guy that morning saying to myself: what a fall! This man was busy with the preparations for more than five years. In these five years, what had he not done; he cooked a lot of kheer. He thought he was above scrutiny and went on weaving any number of webs to cause gigantic financial losses to the exchequer but lining his deep pockets. He was expecting improvements in his political fortunes, but here was he under the lens of the central vigilance commission, the income tax department, enforcement directorate and the CBI. It was at that moment that this beautiful couplet of Khusro flashed into the mind and revealed its meaning in lightning moment. It said life is hollow. It is no use indulging in machinations of every kind to accumulate wealth, as you may not have enough time to enjoy your life’s earnings. Besides, there is no dearth of spoilers and if the wealth has been accumulated through illegal means, it is bound to bring you misery sooner or later. It has happened in the past with people who thought nothing would happen to them, it is happening now even when corruption is at an unprecedented level in India and it shall happen in the future also. Better, therefore, to seek the wealth of His Grace, establish communication with Him when He asks you to say your say to see how you say your say and admit you to His Grace, which alone shall quench your thirst for everything. Otherwise, we will waste our precious life in accumulating wealth by hook or crook throughout our life, without being aware that we have emptied our entire bank credit balance of time and missed the opportunity of finding the true meaning and purpose of life. Poetry says in few words what prose takes volumes to explain.