Our Best Friends
She Sang Songs Of Nanak: Two Poems by AMARJIT SINGH CHANDAN, Translated from Punjabi by GURMEET KAUR
1944 - 2016
Samina Syed was born in Ferozpur (pre-Partition Punjab) where her father worked as a tax inspector. She had her formal education in Lahore at the Sacred Heart School and later at the College of Home Economics.
After her marriage in March 1968 to Najm Hosain Syed, she had classical music training under Chhotey Ghulam Ali Khan. She retired from Home Economics College as Professor of Music.
Without her the weekly sangat at their home in Lahore will never be the same where she sang Sufibani and Gurbani since the group’s inception in the mid-1970s.
The following are two tributes to Samina penned by renowned British poet Amarjit Singh Chandan in Punjabi, translated into English by Gumeet Kaur.
I SAMINA SINGS SONGS OF NANAK
Samina sings songs of Nanak
She first heard them in mother’s womb
And dreamt of them while asleep
When mother listened to kirtan at the Guru’s doorstep
As she sat hiding so no one could see
Who did the Gurus hear them from
The words of Nanak, as they sang
Sang enraptured Nanak
Sang the Rabab player the heavenly melody
Samina sings words of eternal Truth
Along sings her beloved husband
Sings with them their beautiful daughter
And along with them sings
The One from whom Nanak had first heard as He writ
The prophets sing the creator’s children sing
The Word converses with the instrument
The wind sings Time sings
The voice in their throats sings
Samina sings songs of Nanak.
[from 'Paintee', 2009]
II THE FIG TREE
Composed in memory of Samina Syed on September 17, 2016.
Samina’s wish was that her coffin be carried out from under the same tree that welcomed her when she arrived newly married.
The tree in your beloved’s yard
What a heavenly tree sprung on this earth
Its roots grew into the seven skies
It bears the sweet fruits of good deeds
Billions stars - its budding seeds
Its shade - a playground for your children
Underneath it you stepped out of the palanquin
As your nose ring and forehead jewels sparkled
With as many eyes as the leaves it wore
It witnessed a full life with an unending awe
Never uttering a word but knowing all in the heart
Under this tree today your coffin is raised
In the company of Nanak Shah Faqir's lovers
The palanquin returns for a long journey ahead
Of joys or sorrows it’s hard to tell
What a tree grew
In your beloved’s yard.
September 20, 2016
Conversation about this article
1: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), September 20, 2016, 8:35 AM.
I had the extraordinary pleasure and privilege of attending the sangat at Samina ji and Najm Sahib's home a few times. Each visit and the memories of the singings remain at the top of my favourite recollections of my trips to Lahore which were already loaded with incredible delights. My heartfelt condolences and prayers for Najm Sahib, his family, and the members of their sangat.
2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), September 20, 2016, 2:43 PM.
Sher ji, you are blessed too to have had a chance to have the sangat of Samina ji and her blessed family. Here is my vote to nominate her as a person of the year for sikhchic.com. Nanak was the beloved for whole humanity. It was such a loss when barchha wielding illiterates chased Rababis from Harmandar Sahib at the time of Partition. Hope Samina ji's recordings are available. They are the true inheritors of Bhai Mardana.
3: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), September 20, 2016, 8:13 PM.
Forgive me, in a hurry I forgot to acknowledge Amarjit Singh Chandan's compositions and Gurpreet Kaur ji's lyrical translations as a befitting tribute for Samina ji’s Songs of Nanak. “Sabhana sahurai vanjana subhe mukalavanhar" [GGS:160] - "Everyone shall go to their Husband, Waheguru. Everyone shall be given their ceremonial send off after their marriage." Guru Nanak would have surely heard Samina ji’s voice of her homecoming.
4: Jatinder Sethi (Gurgaon, India), September 21, 2016, 4:39 AM.
Sangat ji, how can I thank you to introduce me to Samina Syed. You have always said that Guru Granth Sahib is the most secular and inter-faith scripture in the world. So, Samina's singing gurbani and sufi songs comes as no surprise. The pity is that there are not enough Saminas and Sangat Singh in the world. The Fig Tree in the second poem reminds me of another old song: "meri galiyon ki peepal nishaani / saajan mohey yaad rakhna ..." Thanks for reminding me of my Biji. I miss her.
5: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), September 21, 2016, 7:41 AM.
Sangat Singh jJi - Right along what you say, Samina ji's wishes were for shehnai to be played at her funeral and so it was. Her music can be found on SoundCloud - just search for Samina Hasan Syed. Some equally beautiful tracks from her daughter, Risham, can be found there as well. I am thankful to Amarjit ji for introducing me to yet another lover of the Punjabi language.
6: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), September 21, 2016, 2:53 PM.
Gurmeet jio, what a blessed soul and its joyous homecoming. “Ghar ghar eho pahucha sadre nit pavann / sadanhaara simariye Nanak se dih avann” [GGS:12] - “Unto every home this summons is sent out, the call comes each and every day”. “Deh sajan aseessaria jeo hovai sahib seo male” - What an eye moistening moment to hear the shehnai in farewell.
7: Avtar Singh (India), October 04, 2016, 1:45 PM.
Which shabads from the Guru Granth Sahib did she sing?