SUFI PRINCIPAL BUTANI
By (Late) Professor Ram Panjwani (Translated into English by Shri Prem Matlani)
‘Soorat’ was his name. Graceful was he in face as well as in nature. Balanced in his life – both in the material world and the spiritual. Well versed in worldly knowledge and a sufi (mystic) to the hilt. I shall forever remain indebted to him. He is responsible for whatever I am today, so profound has been his influence on me. The way King Sapar Sakhi of Lasbela enriched the minstrel, he too filled my coffers.
I first met him in 1929 when he came to visit his old friend Prabhudas Tolani in Larkana. What a divine radiance on the face! The sparkle in his eyes! He met me with great love and affection. I sang a ‘Kalaam’ (typical devotional song). By way of praise he placed his hand on my forehead. The affectionate smile playing on his lips ha me hooked to him forever. He said “next year when you come to college we will meet regularly.” Later, he himself sang a ‘Kafi’ in a soft melodious voice and explained the significance of its lyrics. Was it an explanation or a lesson from a Sufi! His interpretation of the mystic song in simple language elevated me to a new high and from that very day developed within me ‘talab’ (the urge to seek God). ‘Talab’ is the first step of ‘Tassawuf’ (mysticism). ‘Ishq’ (love), ‘Wahdanyat’ (oneness), ‘Maarfat’ (help from His loved ones), ‘Beparwahi’ (detachment), ‘Hairat’ (bemusement), and ‘Fana’ (extinction) are the other steps in this direction. I instantly realized that this man was truly a Sufi Fakir (mystic).
Born in Sehwan and having been in the company of Naseer Fakir and Rochal, how could this man remain unaffected by mystic influences. In awe and dazed at that time, I remained silent, but when I got admission to the college in Karachi, he took me into his fold from the very first day, and treated me as his fourth son. He used to say playfully, “these three sons are for worldly affairs, you are for spiritual pursuits.” What words can I use to thank this man for giving a meaning to my life and providing an impetus to mature from an apprentice to a perfect human being. My father emphasized the need to be firm in one’s convictions, Saeen Bewas showed me the path to success on the stage of life through drama and this man through his exemplary lifestyle and spiritual knowledge brought purpose to my life.
Saeen Naseer Fakir had never been to school, yet during his discoursed it seemed the doors of knowledge were thrown open and a treasure house of poems, explanations on mysticism gushed down on the listeners, as if God had taken possession of his person to unravel the mysteries of the universe.
Himself a scholar, Principal Butani never uttered a word in the presence of his gurus – Saeen Naseer Fakir and Rochal. But in college he was the complete professor. He was professor of physics but his knowledge on subjects as diverse as Logic, English and Mathematics was intense. If the professor of ‘Persian’ did not turn up, without any preparation or hesitation he took the ‘Persian’ class. During those days even students of F.A. were taught science and mathematics. When at times he took classes in ‘Physics’ it seemed as if one was treated to an interesting story. For four years I had the opportunity of being with him. Although I had my room in the hostel, I stayed most of the time with him.
Once while I was in Senior B.A., I gave a lecture on Saeen “Bewas”, held under the auspices of Saraswati Mandal. I was known for my singing, but this was the first time I was giving a lecture. As soon as I started, Principal Butani entered the hall and took a chair. His presence enthused me and I thought to myself, “If he appreciates my lecture, a pat on the back, if not – well I am only a student.”
It was an impromptu lecture and I dwelt on the various poems of Saeen Bewas. Taj Mahal, Ghareeban-ji-Jhopdi, Porhyat and several other poems of Saeen were at the tip of my tongue and I made a judicious use of these. The applause from the audience indicated that I had done justice to the person and the poetry of Saeen Bewas. There was joy on the face of Principal Butani. His joining the applause made me proud. He didn’t stay back after the lecture but when later I reached his home, he told his wife “Kissi you should have listened to his lecture in the college today.” She smiled “He’s still studying, has he started giving lectures too?” He replied, “While he was delivering his lecture, one thought flashed across my mind, let him finish his studies – we’ll see!” His prophecy came true. The efforts of Principal Butani bore fruit and I realized my dream.
How he became Narain from Soorat is another story. He changed his name to please his mother. His mother was old. She desired that he take such a name which when uttered to call him during her last moments, would help here sail through the Almighty’s court. Soorat became Narain. S. B. Butani became N. B. Butani. What dedication!
The accidental meeting of 1929 changed my life altogether. Every moment has its importance. Who can tell when fortunes change? How can one not believe in ‘Karma’, rebirth? Why else was I born in one family, accepted by Saeen Bewas and became close to Principal Butani? If I had not caught the eye of Butani, what would have become of me? Once I even asked him about this. He replied “this was preordained in the drama of your life, in which different characters had to play different roles, and as destined I too had a role to play – then where is the question of favours and obligations.”
From the life of a person like Narain Butani, one can conclude that it is not difficult to attain humility, contentment, spiritual elevation, love for God at all times, while living a normal family life.
Once Dada and I had come to Bombay for a meeting at the Bombay University. There were four of us in all and we got ready to go in the car. The others sat in the rear while I sat with the driver in the front. Without looking at the rear, I shut the door without realizing that Dada had not yet got into the car. But his hand was in the car and I heard him say, “Open the door, my finger is caught.” I immediately opened the door and saw his finger bleeding profusely. I was terribly upset and said “Dada forgive me.” In his sweet tone he said, “the act was yours but the destiny was mine.” I inwardly saluted this man. A similar incident occurred later, with me at the receiving end. I too responded the way Dada had. The scar where my ring pierced my finger is still there. Often when I see it I remember Dada and his contentment. What I had done, was repeated by another without any deliberate intention. How could I blame him – “His action, my destiny.” I can never forget this lesson.
Another incident, another time, Dada and I visited someone and the host offered us “pakoras” (Sindhi snack). Dada was the first to pick one and picked a large one. Although I did not observe this, he himself later asked me, “Did you feel bad that I picked the larger one and didn’t give you the opportunity?” “No Dada – I didn’t even notice,” I replied. Whereupon Dada said, “Listen, I immediately took the larger “pakora” to prevent you from picking it. Such “pakoras” are generally half cooked and half cooked ‘besan’ brings about stomachache. I am used to eating such food in the company of Fakirs.” I bowed my head and said, “Dada every moment with you is a lesson.” He smiled and said, “Where there is love there is no self.” I just said, “Dada you are great, you are truly great.”
This was Principal Butani, first Soorat, then Narain – great souls that alter your life altogether. Today he is no more in this world but lives in my heart and will do so till my dying day.