Opening this book is like flying on a magic carpet across fabled lands and landscapes. It is a compilation of five legends drawn from the main regions of the Indus Valley, spanning the Himalayas to the desert sands of the Arabian Sea, in what is now Pakistan, encompassing Khyber, Pakhtunkwa, Punjab, Baluchistan, and Sindh, embracing a plural culture.
The format of the book itself is an exercise in aesthetics. There is a preface by the author’s daughter, Sadia Shepard, and an evocative prologue by the author, essays by Annemarie Schimmel, the author’s mentor, and Professor Ali S. Asani, one of the leading experts on Islamic literature and mysticism, whose research focuses on Shia and Sunni devotional traditions in the region. This is followed by an in-depth introduction by the author. The five legends are interspersed with Sufi poems by Annemarie Schimmel, and illustrated by paintings from the Lahore Museum.
What makes this book different is the Sufi mystical interpretation of time-honoured legends and stories—the concept of the soul’s re-unification with the divine. As Annemarie Schimmel puts it, ‘It is the story of the soul who never forgets her primordial home in God.’ This idea is reinforced by Professor Ali S. Asani, who speaks of the ‘mystical allegory within the frame-work of Islamic mysticism, depicting various stages of transformation of the ego until finally, through yearning, the self becomes one with the Divine Beloved.’ It is a telling commentary that poets like Waris Shah, and Bulleh Shah created mystical epics based on folk-legends.