Meteorological wisdom in Sindhi literature: exploration of human-nature interactions in Shah Jo Risalo – Pakistan

Time remains an essential component of the physical experiences of the environment, as well as the expressions of people’s emotions, in fact and in fiction.

</p><div dir="auto"><p>Weather stories and folklore are a road through which people have historically expressed their interactions with the environment.

Not only do they capture the ways in which people interact with their environments, but they also provide a force of imagination that affects understanding of the self, the universe, and wider perceptions of the human condition.

This article considers the stories that have been told about the weather in the context of South Asia. How have they shaped people’s involvement with their environments? How did the sensory experiences of time help? And what is the relevance of such stories in today’s climate-driven context?

The need for management

Of all the novelties experienced by the British during the colonization of South Asia, the changing climate was a particularly disconcerting concern. Beyond the obvious differences, the action of the weather in the South Asian context has become a major source of anxiety.

From Henry Pottinger’s narratives of Sindh’s “hottest weather” to early descriptions of South Asian climate as “aberrant”, “violent” and “hellish”, we get an idea of ​​the region’s climate – and particularly its heat. – as something that management needed.

In part, ideas about the “east” and the “tropics”, together with the emerging scientific categorizations of weather, have created a new means of controlling environmental processes that would otherwise have been thought to be chaotic.

As the meteorological sciences took hold in the late 19th century, the ability to predict weather patterns and behaviors greatly improved, making the weather less eccentric than previously thought.

Colonial conversations have moved away from perplexity about the action of time and its impacts, to define it as something rather mundane: time has become reserved as a topic of conversation for when there was nothing left to talk about.

Despite this, time remains an essential component of the physical experiences of the environment, as well as the expressions of people’s emotions, in fact and in fiction.

From proverbial references by garmi (warmth) to anger and passion, to the metaphorical joy of bahar (spring) and barsaat (rain), weather descriptions not only tell the perception that people have of their environments, but are crucial information on how they might feel as a result of interacting with those environments.

In what follows, we use the poem of Shah jo Risalo – a collection by Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai – to explore how time and environment are used as forces of the imagination and how they reflect a local ethic of human-nature interactions in Sindh, a province of modern Pakistan.

We also emphasize the difference between time and climate in relation to the environment: where the former engages with short-term experiences, the latter extends over a longer duration. We choose to focus on time and base our understanding on Camille Frazier’s definition of time as embodied experience and interactions with local environments.

Bhitai’s poetry

Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai was a scholar and saint, considered by many to be the greatest poet of the 17th century. Written in the form of ballads, his poem narrates the experience of individuals seeking God, emphasizing negotiations with the ego.

The Go back up contains 30 thematic chapters, called Sursome of which illustrate the life stories of widely known and culturally significant heroines: Suhni, Sasui, Lila, Momal, Marui, Nuri and Sorath.

Bhitai’s interest and attention to nature made these tales a fertile ground for exploring man-nature interactions and how they manifest in local realities.

From the 18th century, various manuscripts of Go back up emerged with slight differences in translation and analysis.

We focus on two translated versions of Go back up: the revised and annotated edition by Muhamad Yakoob Agha and the translations by Elsa Qazi for secondary analysis.

Our particular focus, Sur Sasuis among the longest series of SurIncluded Sur Abri, Sur Hussaini, Sur Kohyar, Sur Mazuri And Sur Desi, on the story of Sasui and Punhoo. We also refer to Sur Sarang (the monsoon), particularly in his notation of the value of water as a symbol of fertility during times of famine.

What makes it Sur Sasu particularly relevant for reflecting localized interactions with time is the significance it attributes to elements such as light and shadow, sun and water, heat and wind.

Such aspects of environmental interaction are not only essential in character development and as a means of exploring the character’s emotional states, but they are also crucial in defining the progression of the story, particularly its space-time location.

Atmospheric metaphors using scorching winds, intense sunlight, and pouring rain are often drawn to express the state of the beloved (the poet’s main subject) and the intensity of his circumstances.

As described in the verse:

Where time is conventionally understood as scientific, Risalo’s ability to express emotional capacities through various meteorological elements and his exploration of how those elements are associated with emotional states are telltale signs of locally rooted human-nature interactions, particularly such as this dichotomy. is understood. The anthropological study of time tends to establish clear boundaries between what is social and what is ecological, often focusing on human beings as subjects who actively interact with a dormant environment, that is, the object. However, when Bhitai writes:

And also, when it expresses:

Bhitai not only observes people’s receptivity to nature and vice versa, he constructs an image that considers human beings in nature, giving up the ideas of defining the two in terms of objectivity and subjectivity, and instead focusing on building exchanges and dialogues between the two.

The human-nature synergies in Bhitai’s text therefore play an active role in breaking down the rails, suggesting more nuanced approaches to understanding how people position themselves in relation to nature.

In Risalo’s meteorological stories, we find descriptions of wholesome seasonal rains, intense winds during summers and agonizing droughts, all expanded through narrative arcs of characters like Sassi and Punhoo, and how their internal states paralleled the environments they inhabited – something which Anderson (2005) described as “meteorological wisdom”.

The characters of Sasui and Punhoo also manifest themselves through descriptions of light and shadow, darkness and cloudy clouds, and most importantly, the sun.

In many ways, shadow refers to darkness and light refers to the sun. Sasui’s emotional state during his struggle to find Punhoo is articulated through the intensity of time leading to the destruction of the mountains and the burning of trees, making the environment uninhabitable.

Among the most important themes that emerge in that of Risalo the text is that of struggle and difficulties, and how these are negotiated using metaphors of heat.

Sasui’s character, in particular, embodies the struggle, particularly in her quest to find her love Punhoo.

Bhitai elaborates its agony through descriptions of the prevailing topography of Sindh in the 17th century: the resounding echo of the arid Baloch mountains; the dry, hot and sandy air that hovers in the Thar desert; and the choking smoke in the city of Bhombore, which he likens to hell.

Sasui’s general emotional state during her contests is processed through her perceptions of the weather around her, characterized by the harshness of the sun as it tenses her body, blurring the distinctions between internal and external perceptions:

As the journey of difficulty continues, Sasui gathers his strength through his connection with time. As his torturous expedition continues, he fortifies himself with the thought: “You have to keep moving all the time, be it bitter cold or scorching heat.”

In Sur Sasu, the sun is shown as a significant source of discomfort; the heat of the sun exacerbates the beloved’s experiences making her extremely sweaty.

From the heat released by the burning ground, to the suffocating sensation resulting from the hot winds, in order for Sasui to cope with the loss of Punhoo, she must prevail through the anguish she is subjected to from her environment. Her struggles of love are inseparable from her struggles with the heat.

Sasui lies down in the grove and waits for the sweat to dry, just as he tries to remain patient in his search.

About her struggle, writes Agha in her analysis of Shah jo Risalo: “Sasui feels that life without the beloved is free. No, it’s a prison worse than hell. He must, therefore, seek reunion with his beloved Punhoo. She is undoubtedly oppressed by the fire of love, by the heat of the sun, by the arduous and dangerous journey ”.

Sasui expresses:

In addition to expressing emotional states through metaphors of heat and weather, Bhitai’s poem assiduously discusses the economic implications of weather patterns, placing particular emphasis on monsoon rains, a long-standing symbol of hope and prosperity in Sindh.

Aside from experiential understandings, time has established itself as a geographical agent, binding spaces across continents under its directional and non-directional movement.

Bhitai particularly considers the unambiguous importance of water in his descriptions of economic security:

Rather than making forced attempts to define and protect time, these descriptions offer ground-based interactions with the environment that were common in the region. In terms of everyday human experience, time is expressed through practices, habits, routines and conversations.

In particular, the only reference to fear in Sur Sarang it is made in reference to rain, and it is from the point of view of widowed women.

The helplessness of widowed women during the rain is aggravated by the lack of help and support from male guardians.

Risalo’s involvement with the gender implications of monsoon rains shows the use of the meteorological imagination to address broader cultural norms and concerns, while complicating the role the season plays as an engine of prosperity:

The way we talk about the weather has evolved dramatically, not only in terms of long-lasting atmospheric changes, but also in the way people position themselves in their environments, swinging between conversations about its mystique and worldliness.

It is curious that a strong interest in time has only now re-emerged – under talk of fear and disasters – in the age of the Anthropocene.

Reviving stories and narratives of time centered on embodied experiences of atmospheric conditions could, we propose, be a starting point for reexamining our fears and understanding where we are now, in our altered environments.


Thanks: This blog is the result of a 3 year project, Fantastic Infrastructure: Life with heat in the off-grid city, funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) under the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). The publication can be accessed through the Edinburgh Research Archive. We thank Professor Nausheen H Anwar and Professor Jamie Cross for their suggestions and comments which helped improve the blog.

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