The Nightingale & The Traveler: Love & Wisdom – Fragrance of Bhai Vir Singh

Many have come into my life and have barely left a trace. Less than a handful have entered my cautious heart. These amazing beings have lifted my consciousness, enabling me to rise. It is as if fate had a hand in bringing us together. My life is richer because of them, I cherish their friendship.

 

And then there are relationships that defy time, space and logic. Such is my relationship with Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957). I have never met him, yet there is a nearness so intense that I address him as “my Pita ji.” How did that happen? Well, it was through his writings. He enabled me to see Guru Nanak Sahib and I fell in love. 

Pita ji now ebbs and flows in my consciousness. His writings open vistas within me, transporting me to another realm. What transpires while translating his works cannot be put into words. Some things are best left unsaid.

 

In translating his poem “The Nightingale and The Traveler,” I have taken many liberties. The purists will scream: “She has sinned. She must be excommunicated.” The lovers will say: “She has loved. We embrace her.”

 

I leave it in your hands to judge: Have I sinned or have I loved?

 

The Nightingale & The Traveler: Love & Wisdom  

 

 

1. The Nightingale

 

My luminous day has turned dark.

Deserted is the home of my love.

 

My garden, once full of life,

lies barren today.

 

No flowers,

No fruits,

No seeds,

No bees.

 

Gloom amplifies.

 

O, God!

Why this cruelty?

 

Trampled rosebushes,

Naked boughs,

Frayed vines,

Torn trees.

 

A cemetery.

 

The eyes of the trees are shut,

The doors of their souls closed.

 

Tall, they once stood.

Broken, they lie today.

 

Omnipresent beauty,

Sweet fragrance,

Perfect harmony…

All gone.

 

I scream ...

 

Who has stolen

the life of this beauty?

 

Brother Traveler…

Wait!

 

Tell me why

my beloved garden

lies desolate.

 

Where is my love?

 

II.  The Traveler

 

Eons ago,

abundant flowers

lay at the feet of the trees.

 

The gardener reaped

the harvest of thy rose.

 

The flower sellers

and the perfumers thronged.

 

In the open market,

thy love was sold.

 

The glory of the garden

traveled to city streets.

 

Flowers were donned

in a thousand forms.

 

Delicate maidens

jeweled their ears.

 

Sinuous necks

were adorned in love garlands.

 

Veils of flowers

concealed blushing brides.

 

Lovers’ beds

were strewn with roses.

 

Sherbet was scented

with petals of thy rose.

 

The fragrance of thy rose

was locked in crystal glasses.

 

Thy rose, in decorated vases,

traveled from palace to palace.

 

Thy rose,

your rose, is gone.

 

Wings cannot take you to him.

Nor can he come to you.

 

Vain is your pain.

Vain is your longing.

 

But

where have you been

tormented young bird?

 

III.  The Nightingale

 

Spring was in splendor.

Foliage was chaste.

 

My eyes reflected

the love of my life.

 

I sang joyfully

and perched on him.

 

I flew in bliss

bough to bough.

 

Suddenly,

the wily gardener caught me.

 

Instantly,

I became a prisoner.

 

The prison walls

were strong and high.

Its iron bars

were bolted tight.

 

Pain entered my soul.

 

Removed from my beloved,

my soul darkened.

 

Torn from my ancestors,

Torn from my forest,

Torn from hills and dales,

Torn from the waterways.

 

Gone was my home,

Gone was my freedom,

Gone was my laughter,

Gone was my being.

 

This was fate’s

cruel hand at work.

 

I wonder:

Was it because I loved

that I lost my freedom?

 

In anguish,

I fluttered.

 

But

the prison walls

struck me down.

 

This was

Heaven’s answer

to my prayers.

 

I screamed,

“O, God!

Have mercy.

 

“Open this door!

Let me see the light.

 

“Let me see my love

just once more.”

 

IV.  

But the jailer

felt no compassion.

 

With his children,

he encircled my cage.

 

They clapped and laughed

at the sight of me.

 

“What a beautiful warbler!”

they screamed with delight.

 

I wailed:

“Does anyone know

the agony of a caged soul

whose freedom lies

in the will of another?

 

“It’s better to die

than to live caged.

 

“Cease my life!

Free my soul.”

 

V.

In captivity,

I realized

why men fight

for freedom’s sake.

 

Noble are they

who die in battle,

defending freedom

for you and me.

 

But

the life of

birds and bees

and fakirs and yogis

is at the mercy of others.

 

Even when betrayed

they smile.

 

Days elapsed.

 

My hope

never waned:

To be free

one day,

to see my love

once again.

 

Today,

The jailer’s child

left my door ajar.

 

Against

all odds,

I flew out.

 

Free at last,

I soared

and rushed

to my love,

only to find

my garden in comatose state.

 

Brother Traveler:

My heart hemorrhages

and a thousand streams

spurt blood

listening to your narrative

about my beloved.

 

 

VI.  The Traveler

 

Tragic is your tale.

I feel your grief.

 

But

no one can

lighten your pain.

 

However,

I’m mystified

that you claim

this garden as yours.

 

The gardener,

with his bare hands

planted all.

 

He sowed,

He weeded,

He watered.

 

His praying eyes

watched over it

day and night.

 

By every law,

by human right,

it all belongs to him.

 

He is the true owner;

Blame him not.

 

Nor say another word,

for you have no claim.

 

You are caught

in an illusion:

You cannot have

what is not yours.

 

Renounce this

foolish fantasy.

 

Be wise,

forget your pain,

and start to sing.

 

There is still a song

in your tiny throat.

 

A song that heals

wounds of woe.

 

Why not sing

and heal yourself?

 

 

VII.  The Nightingale

 

You’re wise

but

empty inside.

 

No pangs of love,

no wounds of life

have touched you.

 

Your heart is whole

You are free of pain.

 

But

let me tell you:

The pain of love

is colossal.

 

When love chooses

to pierce the heart,

no being can heal

this sweet ailment.

 

No song can soothe

the heat of this pain!

 

A true song

amplifies this pain.

 

All prescribed cures

intensify this pain.

 

Your words

are full of wisdom.

 

The fruits and flowers

are truly the gardeners.

 

But

can wisdom

give me back

what I’ve lost?

 

Can it take me to

the place where

my love and I

lived in harmony?

 

I lived in him.

He lived in me.

 

My life

and his life

were one.

 

They made a garden

out of my forest.

 

Then they plucked

my rose.

 

My fervent pleas

went unheeded.

 

My tender wings

could not battle.

 

The hand of might

removed my beloved

from his primal home.

 

Wise traveler,

you talk about justice,

you talk about right.

 

Let me tell you:

Might is right

on this earth.

 

Brother Traveler,

truly contemplate:

Who loves the rose?

 

The crafty gardener

or I?

 

Beneath his

seeding, weeding,

caring, watching

lies an ulterior motive.

 

You said:

“The gardener sold

my beloved rose

in the open market.”

 

Gold rolled

into his home

while suffering

descended on my rose.

 

Tell me:

Did the gardener feel any pain?

 

Nay!

His pain is only for his gold.

 

My heart is clean.

My love is pure.

 

His love held me

in my captivity.

 

I longed

to bathe in his nectar.

 

I longed

to sing his divine praise.

 

Love-bound, I returned,

flying over foreign lands

just for his sight,

just for his touch.

 

My life has been thrown

into a thousand fires.

 

I lost my home

planted by the Divine.

For a nest

in the garden of man.

 

Brother Traveler,

as a fledgling,

I learned

the laws of beauty.

 

I know

beauty is a rising joy

when we

surrender to it.

 

Deluded are those

who fault beauty.

 

The eye of their soul

wanes day by day.

 

If that eye

becomes bright,

if that eye

becomes chaste,

their soul would gleam

in eternal glances.

 

Glory in the soul.

The soul in glory.

 

Brother Traveler,

I know of a life

above this life.

 

A life of bliss

emanating from

the lips of my rose.

 

A sweet subtle feeling.

Unbalanced and balanced joy.

Unconscious and conscious love.

 

A soft reeling,

A slow breeze,

A heart of glory,

A life of peace.

 

Tell me:

Which is right?

Which is wrong?

 

Love seems frail.

Might seems strong.

 

 

VIII.  The Traveler

 

Your reasoning is noble.

 

But

who loves right

for its own sake?

 

Might reigns,

for

right asserts not.

 

Selfishness sways humanity.

Dearer to man is Self.

No one seems willing to love truth.

 

They’d rather close their eyes

and see not its intense light.

 

Beautiful bird,

you are so frail

you are so weak.

 

To cry for your rose

in this jungle of noise is vain.

 

The drums of ego

and desire beat loud.

 

Yet, deafening is

the voice of man.

 

In this tempest of noise,

who will listen to your

sweet, subtle voice?

 

Little bird:

If your voice was heard,

this world

would be a garden of roses.

Its dust

would shine as particles of gold.

 

None would hurt another,

each enlightened within.

 

Humanity bound

in love and service.

 

Blossoming in

the harmony of living

 

A paradise

this would be.

 

But

this is not paradise.

 

Find another way

to heal your pain.

 

Recuperate,

little bird

Recuperate!

 

May the Divine 

restore you again.

 

I say this with love:

True, you surrendered

to the beauty of the rose.

True, your love

is deep and pure.

True, your soul

mirrors the light of the rose…

 

But

 

Why did you not know

that one day,

the garden, the blossoms

all would die.

 

Spring dies.

Autumn emerges.

 

Foliage falls.

Dust reigns.

 

Little bird,

Your rose was

destined to die.

 

The gardener merely toiled.

 

False was the

voice of spring

if it promised you eternity.

 

The dark day

that troubles you was inevitable.

 

Your love, your joy,

is coupled with spring.

Why blame anyone?

 

This lack of wisdom

makes you sorrowful.

 

Vain is your grief.

Vain is your longing.

 

IX.  The Nightingale cries

 

O’ love! Dear love,

if death was inevitable,

why the promises?


Why this life?

Why has death ceased me not?

 

Futile is life

without you,

as futile as the sunlight

without the sun.

 

Existing without existing.

Living of the not living.

 

Why am I not dead?

 

Compassionate brother:

I am exhausted.

Take pity!

End my life.

 

Darkness spreads around me.

Emptiness seizes my soul. 

 

This moment, for me, is

the moment of all death.

 

My mind is dark,

the flame extinguished.

 

Brother Traveler:

Have mercy!

end my life.

 

X.   The Traveler

 

Gentle,

passionate bird

Gentle!

I’m grieved my words

have caused you pain.

 

It seems

I almost killed you.

 

You weep for the past

and now

you wish to die for no reason.

 

Know you not,

The wheel of change revolves;

It marches incessantly. 

 

No halting

No stopping.


Continuous is the march

of this divine caravan.

 

Spring blooms,

Autumn withers,

Spring re-emerges.


Time rolls,

Zephyr blows,

Buds materialize,

Leaves protrude.

 

Flora will dance,

Bees will hum,

Birds will sing.

 

Why cry now?

Why wish for death?

 

Wait a while.

Your sorrow will soon end.

 

 

XI.    The Nightingale

 

If beauty lasts not forever

then

what worth is beauty? 

 

If my garden sways not forever,

then

what worth is my garden?

 

Is all a play of time?

 

Time conceals my love

and reveals him at its will

and conceals him once again.

 

Is love my own

or is it time’s?

 

If time is supreme,

is my heart a puppet

in the hand of time?

 

Then

to thirst for love,

to live in love,

to hope in love,

to crumble in love,

to reunite in love,

is an illusion?

 

If the lightning flash of love

reveals itself

only to kill me

then where is love?

 

If all is changing

and there is nothing

except waiting, thirsting

for nothing to be… 

 

If this is the eternal law,

if I am just a passive ball

which destiny mocks,

then this life is too sad.

 

Let me tear my robe

and

wear the shroud of sadness.

Let me shatter my heart

for

to be sad is my calling.

 

 

XII.  The Traveler

 

Hush!

Beautiful bird

Hush!

 

The rose you love

still perfumes

your tender heart.

 

If you wish

to see undying glory.

If you long

eternity with your rose

then

turn your gaze within.

 

In this visible world of change,

your search is futile. 

 

Eternal Spring exists for those

who have entered within.

 

If you wish to dwell

in the timeless gaze of your love,

then

be at peace with yourself.

 

Let the flame of your heart

Burn slow and steady.

Let your mind become still

like a transparent lake.

 

Then journey

into the being

of your beloved,

your true abode.

 

Encounter

the eternal fountain

radiating within.

 

There blossoms your rose.

 

Where the hand of might

cannot strike.

 

Let your heart not quiver. 

Let your heart not falter.

 

Let your soul drink

from this eternal fountain.

 

All worlds are within;

This is ancient wisdom.

 

This is the law of beauty

that fledglings learn.

 

This is the law of true life;

A life above this life.

 

This is the life of bliss

emanating from

the lips of the rose.

 

The rose that blossoms within,

where eternal spring rolls.

 

As you have said:

Only there is

a sweet subtle feeling:

Unbalanced and balanced joy,

unconscious and conscious love.

 

A soft reeling,

A slow breeze,

A heart of glory,

A life of peace.


Within that

Golden Land,

there is neither

right nor wrong. 

 

Where

might is frail

and

love is strong.

 

Goodbye,

beautiful bird!

Goodbye.

 

Find your

beloved within.

 

 


 

The translator Inni Kaur is the CEO of the Sikh Research Institute. She is also the author of ‘Journey with the Gurus’ series, ‘Sakhi-Time with Nani ji’, ‘Thank You, Vahiguru.,’ and ‘Daddy’s Turban.

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