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  • Writer's pictureFolkloristan

Mast and Sammo

Some 200 years ago, in Kohlu Barkhaan, a Marri Jirga was underway. The tribe has fought several enemies in the past, but the battle looming ahead will be decisive. From the East to the West, the Sardar has invited everyone. A pile of weapons is lying in front of the Sardar. There are plenty of swords, bows, arrows, javelins and rifles. The warriors stand proud, ready and awaiting the Sardar's announcement of who from amongst them will lead them into battle. The Sardar looks past everyone, gazing meaningfully at his men. It is do or die for the tribe, a question of honour, the commander-in-chief must be someone who will guide the Marri's to victory. A hush falls over the crowd as the Sardar contemplates his decision. At last, he calls out a name, "Sohrab Khan."

Everyone in the crowd looks at each other surprised. Sohrab himself is stunned. Sardar then raises his hand and calls out, "You, oh Sohrab." Sohrab steps forward from amongst his tribesmen. Sohrab Khan: the handsome young boy, barely a man, with a moustache and beard which have only just sprung up, who has neither the blackness of revenge in his eyes, nor the redness of anger in his heart. Yes, what he does have is the honour of the tribe in his blood. He is courageous and brave, whilst he is in battle, he wears his life on his sleeve, but when he returns from war, he neither boasts about his valour, nor does he keep a count of the necks his sword fell on, or the chests his dagger has pierced. He is truly a soldier, but to lead, merely courage does not make it, one also needs experience.

Oh no, no, no, no! Everyone, including Sohrab himself, thought the Sardar must have made a mistake. It was only when the Sardar got up, and tied a scabbard around Sohrab's waist, along with the preciously engraved sword awarded to the warrior leading the charge, and patted Sohrab's back, did everyone realise that it would really be Sohrab leading his clansmen.

But now what of the war? The zeal of the tribesmen nosedived. On the other hand, the enemy recieved word that the Marri's have appointed a boy, lacking in experience, to lead the charge, and they began to play the victory drums before the battle had even begun.

On the eve before the battle, when Sohrab Khan drew up a battle plan, his comrades realised that the Sardar had made the right decision, for his strategy was flawless. The next day, when the war drums began to play, and the tribesmen rode behind Sohrab Khan into battle, at a valley between barren mountains, the battle commenced, and before sundown, the battle’s outcome had been decided. Sohrab Khan had upheld the honour of his tribe.

As the men returned home from war, and camped the night in the mountains, instead of celebrating with his clansmen, Sohrab Khan sat by himself, gazing at the stars, lost in his thoughts. The cloudy night was so dark that Sohrab could not see far enough to spot a straw hut a little way ahead of him where he was enjoying his solitude. He realised it when the clouds began to pour, and a woman, Sammo, who lived in the hut, came outside, trying to throw hay over her roof to keep her hut safe during the storm. Sohrab went and helped her.

When a bolt of lightning cracked across the skies, Sohrab saw her face…it was no ordinary face. It was a visual, living, breathing representation of passion, which he had set eyes upon in the throes of a storm. Sohrab’s feet refused to move, and it was as if he had stayed there for eternity. After that, he was no longer Sohrab Khan, he was Mast Tawakilli, Sammo’s Mast.

The next morning, when the tribesmen came looking for Sohrab, he entrusted the sword the Sardar had given to him. “Return this to the Sardar.” He told them. “Wars are cruel, they separate the loved from the beloved.” He continued. After that, the clansmen continued on their journey, and Sohrab Khan rode away on his horse.

After upholding the honour of his tribe, Sohrab Khan had vanished without a trace. He hadn’t stopped to tell anyone where he was headed too, when he would be back, or even if he would be back. His tribesmen tried to look for him, but he was nowhere to be found. Soon after, news of Sohrab Khan began to reach his tribe, that he had fallen in love with a woman named Sammo, and he goes around whispering and calling out her name everywhere he goes. He has gone mad in search of her. Sometimes he is found at the border with Punjab, other times, there is news of him from Sindh. He is seen in both, at the foot of the hills, and at mountaintops, wandering in forests, and traversing barrenland, near springs and streams, and in delirium from thirst. Sohrab Khan is seen and heard praising Allah and His Prophet (S), and crying his heart out for Sammo. If he stays as a guest anywhere, he orders an extra plate of food, for in his imagination, it is as if she is with him.

Mast’s poetry for Sammo became so well-known that her husband and her tribesmen were sure that he comes to see her every day. They prepared to entrap him, and hid around her hut, and even hunted for him nearby, night after night, but they neither found Mast Tawakili, nor did they find his footsteps. But his poetry tells everyone each day, of what is happening with Sammo – how she is, what she did, what she thought about, what she ate, what she wore…from the colour of her dupatta, to when she was down with a fever, to when, where and how much she injured herself when she misstemped and fell. Mast knew it all.

When Mast was nowhere to be found, Sammo’s husband, Beebarg, went to see his Sardar. He believed that his honour was being tainted. The Sardar dispatched a large party of men in search of Mast, and eventually, they found Mast, living in a makeshift woodhouse on a mountaintop. Mast told travellers passing by that this is Sammo’s house, in which he now lives. The Sardar’s men took him into custody, and brought him along to present him to the Sardar.

Mast appeared before the Sardar. Now, to the Sardar, Mast was the very same Sohrab Khan who had won him a war in his youth. To the Sardar’s dismay, Mast did not have the sparkle of Sohrab’s eyes. Furious, the Sardar scolded Mast. “Oh Sohrab! How dare you utter the name of a married woman?” How? How can you toy with someone’s respect and honour like this, Tawakili? Your poetry is famous from the East to the West, and in your verses, after Allah and Rasulullah (S), there is Sammo’s name. Have you ever thought what people will think of Sammo?”

Mast listened to the Sardar, and then responded calmly. “My relationship is with Sammo’s soul, I am a stranger to her body, I have never had anything to do with her physical existence. And as for the soul, it is neither anyone’s wife, nor can it be owned by anyone. The soul has no tribe, and no ethnicity, no one can make claims of respect, or honour, on it.

There was no reason to punish Mast, there was nothing he could be held accountable for. No one had seen him near Sammo. The Sardar thought hard, and decided to put Mast to test. The Sardar sent word for Sammo. When she arrived in his presence, the Sardar got up, and presented to Sammo his dagger. “If he tries to reach out to you, do not worry, I have put archers in place. “ He told her, “Take my dagger, and walk up to him. Look at him in the eye. If you see even the slightest hint of lust in his gaze, plunge it into his chest.”

Mast was sent to sit beneath a tree at a mountaintop. Now it was Sammo’s call to make. The decision was hers, and hers alone. It was not in the hands of her husband, and certainly not in the hands of the tribe. And Sammo was no ordinary woman, she was most respected, and rightfully so. After all, she was the strongest and the bravest of women of her tribe, with the strongest of characters.

Hiding the dagger in her dupatta, she slowly hiked towards the mountaintop. She saw Mast sitting beneath the tree. He stood up silently to greet her. In his eyes, let alone lust, Sammo did not even see remote signs of emotion, or a wish to gaze at her, for Mast’s eyes were fixed on the ground. As soon as he lifted his chin to look towards Sammo, Mast felt his head spinning, and he collapsed. Sammo threw aside the dragger, and kneeled beside him, wiping his face with her dupatta. She returned to the Sardar and said, “I swear to god, his gaze is pure, it is as pure as the light of the sun and the moon, it is as clean as springwater, and as clear as the first drop of rain. The innocence in his eyes is like that of a child’s gaze, and the shyness in them is like that which you see in the gaze of a modest woman.”

Mast and Sammo’s relationship was certainly against the norms of their tribe. However, the Sardar understood that Mast is no ordinary man, and no ordinary lover. The Sardar not only decided to not punish Mast, but also declared, “From today onwards, Mast Tawakili is under my protection. Where ever he goes, and wherever he lives, let it be known that it is I who has offered Mast refuge.”

But alas! How could it be? Customs do not pay heed to circumstances. Those who bow down their heads to the ideas of respect and honour, shall never in a thousand years, understand what it means to worship in love. Some young men from Sammo’s tribe swore to silence Mast Tawakili, and began to follow him discreetly. One day, as Mast was lost in thought, gazing at the horizon, standing at a mountaintop, they found their chance. They pounced upon mast, and pushed him down.

Mast stumbled face-first, from a height so high, that the one who had fallen would have quite literally been broken into pieces down to the bone. When the Sardar heard of how these young men had treated Mast, he declared that they would be put to the sword as punishment.

Now, Sammo’s clansmen also gathered, for something had to be done to protect the young men from the Sardar. Both tribes began to prepare for war. The day finally came, when the war drums were played, and both the tribes stood facing one other in the battlefield. However, before a single sword had been swung, a figure appeared in the distance, and as it got closer, the people saw that it none other than Mast Tawakili himself. Everyone exchanged glances, shocked to see him alive.

He walked towards the tribe, and stood infront of Sammo’s straw-hut, and declared. “I was an ordinary Marri from Kahan, a man of the mountains, until Allah was pleased with me, and He then made Sammo as my way to Him.”

Upon hearing this, all swords were sheathed. Both clans bowed their heads in respect of Mast Tawakili, and accepted him as their Saint. And till today, their heads have been bowed in front of Mast’s ishq.


Source: Translated by Team Folkloristan from Warda Shehzadi's Urdu retelling.

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