(The Love Story of Sohni and Mahinwal “Izzat Beg”)
There was once a rich potter named Tulla, who lived in the city of Gujrat on the banks of the River Chenab. His shop was famous for its pottery and merchants from distant lands came on their camels to buy it. On his potter’s wheel he made water pots and beautiful jugs and bowls with lovely patterns and rich colours. Everyone came to Tulla’s shop, and few people went away without buying a pot to take home.
Working in the shop with Tulla was Sohni, his daughter. ‘Sohni’ means beautiful and Sohni was both beautiful and clever. She kept her father’s shop clean and tidy and helped him serve the people who came to buy his pots. Everyone who saw her said, ‘What a beautiful daughter Tulla the potter has! And how helpful she is to her father in the shop!” Those who heard of her beauty came to see sohni for themselves, and you may be sure that she sold them a pot whether they really wanted one or not.
One day a wonderful caravan of rich merchants came riding into the city of Gujrat on their camels. The merchants had traveled all the way from Balkh, a great city in Turkistan, to visit the court of Shah Jehan, the great Moghul king, at Delhi. Now they were on their way home, laden with gold and silver and rich jewels.
One of the merchants in the caravan was a handsome, rich, young man called Izzat Beg. His father, wealthy merchant in Balkh, had tried to persuade his son not to join the caravan, but Izzat Beg could not rest until he had seen the famous city of Delhi.
After spending the night in their tents, the travelers set out to see the city of Gujrat. When they came to Tulla’s shop, they stopped to admire the fine pottery. Then they went in to buy some bowls. Izzat was with them.
Tulla saw that the merchants were rich men, so he called Sohni to serve them. The beautiful Sohni came into the shop, carrying some of her father’s best pottery. The merchants were very surprised by her beauty and looked at her admiringly.
‘What a beautiful girl!’ said one.
‘Ah! Beware of the women of the Punjab!’ said another.
‘People say they make men their slaves by their beauty.’
Of course Tulla and Sohni did not understand what the merchants were saying, for they were speaking in the language of Turkistan. Izzat Beg said nothing. He could only look at the beautiful Sohni.
When the merchants had chosen the bowls they wanted, and paid for them, they left the shop and returned to their camp. Izzat Beg thought only of Sohni. He did not want the company of his friends. He set alone in his tent. He had neither food to eat nor water to drink, and when night came, he could not sleep.
Next morning, he went alone to the potter’s shop, but when Tulla came forward, Izzat Beg only pointed to a piece of pottery and showed by signs that he wished to buy it. When he had bought it, he gave Sohni a long, loving look and left the shop.
Now the merchants who had traveled with Izzat Beg liked the city so much that they decided to stay in Gujrat a few days longer. None was more pleased than Izzat Beg, for he longed to see the potter’s daughter again.
Every day Izzat went to the potter’s shop to buy something. Sohni showed him the pots and bowls, and he always spent a long time deciding what to buy, or he really came to see Sohni.
At first Sohni did not notice Izzat’s loving looks. But as the days went by, she began to know that the rich young merchant from Turkistan was in love with her.
After some days the caravan prepared to leave Gujrat. The merchants took down their tents and packed their goods on the backs of their camels.
But Izzat Beg could not leave the city where Sohni lived. When all was ready for the caravan to start on its journey home again, Izzat Beg could not be found. So the caravan left without him.
Izzat now came to Tulla’s shop every day, and every day he bought a piece of pottery. Soon he had so much pottery that he had to buy a small house in the city, in which he could store the pots, bowls and jugs he had bought.
Sohni knew that the young man was not really interested in the things he bought in her father’s shop. She began to feel very shy, and she blushed when he came in. She knew that if he bought something everyday, he would soon have no money left to spend. She worried about him.
When he was not with Sohni, in order to make the time pass more quickly, Izzat began to learn the language of the country. If he could learn the language of Gujrat, he would be able to talk with Sohni.
So the days went by, and soon Izzat had so much pottery that he did not know what to do with it. Then he had an idea, ‘I shall open a shop myself!’ he thought. ‘I can buy pots from Tulla’s shop, and sell the pots again to other people. Then I shall be able to visit Sohni every day.’
So Izzat opened a shop not far from Tulla’s. But alas! He knew little about pottery. Many people came to his shop because he sold his goods at a very low price, but he soon found that he had not enough money to buy pots from Tulla’s shop. In the past his father had always given him all the money he needed, and he had never had to work for his own living.
‘I know what I will do!’ he said. ‘I will go to Tulla and ask him to let me work for him. Then I shall see my Sohni every day.’
So he went to Tulla and said, ‘I have been very foolish. I am such a bad trader that I have lost all my money. I am a stranger in this city. You are the only person who knows me. Will you let me work for you? You need not pay me. Give me food and I shall serve you well.’
Now Tulla needed a man to help him with the work, because his trade had become so great. Also he felt sorry for the young man. So he said, ‘Very well, I will try you and we shall see if you can be of any use to me.’
Sohni was very sad to see Izzat working as a servant. She knew that it was because of her that he had acted so foolishly and lost all his money.
One day he said to her in her own language, ‘Sohni, you know why I am here. Do not be sad because of me. Though I am now very poor I am quite happy. I am only happy when I am with you, for my love for you is all that I live for.’
Tears came to Sohni’s eyes. ‘Oh, Izzat!’ she said. ‘Your love for me will only bring unhappiness for both of us. I love you, but my father will never let me marry a beggar.’
Days and weeks went by, and Izzat and Sohni thought only of each other and their love. Tulla noticed that they were wasting time in the shop and that his trade was getting less. Sohni was always sad, and the people who came to the shop were not so pleased with the way she served them.
Tulla said to his wife, ‘That young man is becoming lazy. He is not much use in the shop. I shall send him into the fields to look after the buffaloes.’
Poor Izzat! He now had to work hard in the fields. People called him ‘Mahinwal’-the herdsman. But still he was content, for often when his work was done he saw Sohni. She brought him his food when her mother was too busy in the house. When they were together Izzat was happy, but Sohni was sad.
One evening, she whispered to him, ‘You must go back to your country. There you can live in comfort with your father. You must not live like a poor herdsman because of your love for me.’
‘Unless I see you every day I cannot live,’ said Izzat. ‘I cannot go away. I cannot leave you.’
Sohni’s mother saw that her daughter and the herdsman were often together in the evening. She followed her daughter to the fields one night and heard their words of love. She was so angry that she went to her husband and asked him to send ‘Mahinwal’, the herdsman, away from their house at once.
‘Tomorrow I shall tell him to go,’ said Tulla. ‘We must find a good husband for our daughter. Let us marry Sohni to Dam, the potter’s son.’
So the beautiful Sohni became the wife of a man she did not love.
Poor Izzat was broken-hearted. He had no home and no work. He knew he must leave Gujrat, because if he tried to see Sohni, Tulla would kill him. So he decided to go and live on the far bank of the River Chenab. Some kind herdsmen found him and pitied him. If they had not given Izzat food and somewhere to sleep, he would have died.
Sohni was very unhappy too. She had lost her true lover and was married to a man whom she could never love. Dam’s parents were very angry with her, but they said, ‘We must wait. Perhaps Sohni will soon forget Mahinwal the herdsman, and learn to love our son.’
One day, when Sohni and her mother-in-law were busy in the house, they heard the cry of a beggar in the street.
‘Go and give him a handful of flour,’ said Sohni’s mother-in-law to her.
When Sohni went to the door, she saw that the beggar was her lover, Izzat.
‘Oh! Why have you come?’ she whispered. ‘They will kill you if they find you! Go away now. Tonight I shall come to you on the other bank of the river.’
That night, when everyone else was asleep, Sohni went to the bank of the River Chenab. She carried an empty pot in her hand. Holding the pot in her arms, she went into the water. The empty pot floated along, taking Sohni with it. By paddling with one arm and moving her legs she managed to reach the far bank.
Izzat had been watching and waiting, and soon he was holding his beloved Sohni in his arms again. All that night they stayed together, but when day came they had to part.
‘My love, my love, I shall come to you every night,’ said Sohni. Then she swam back across the river to the other bank and hid the pot under some bushes.
Every night Sohni crossed the mighty River Chenab with the pot in her arms. And every night Izzat held his true love in his arms.
But one night, when Sohni was leaving the house, her husband’s sister was awake and saw her go. She followed Sohni and saw her take the pot from the bushes and go into the water.
Looking through the darkness, she could just see a shadow on the opposite bank. Another shadow joined it and then both were lost in darkness.
‘Oh, the wicked girl!’ said Sohni’s sister-in-law. ‘So this is what she does at night when everyone is asleep!’
She went back home, very angry. All night she lay awake, trying to think of a way to punish Sohni.
The next night was stormy. The thunder crashed and the lightning flashed in the sky. But Sohni was not afraid. She took the pot from the bushes and went into the stormy waters of the great river.
Suddenly above the noise of the thunder, a cry was heard, ‘Help me Izzat! Help me! I am drowning!’ For the pot Sohni had taken from the bushes was not the pot she had used before. Her sister-in-law had put a broken pot under the bushes, and now it was filling with water and Sohni was drowning.
On the far bank, Izzat heard Sohni’s cry for help. When the lightning lit up the sky, he saw the beautiful Sohni struggling in the waters of the great river.
‘I am coming, Sohni, my love!’ he called, and he jumped into the swiftly-moving water. The stormy waves seized him, and both Izzat and Sohni were swept away into the night.
Next Morning, when the storm had died down, the people of Gujrat found their bodies on the banks of the River Chenab, and the sad story of Sohni and Izzat became known.