‘Inspired by the life and poetry of Shah Hussain, Sarbpreet Singh has written a miraculous, spell-binding novel which digs deep into the oral history of an amazing poet whose writings shimmer with the pain of separation, and intense love.’
—Zubair Ahmad, author of Kabootar, Banarey Te Galian, winner of the Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature
‘The Sufi’s Nightingale is a beautiful retelling of the famous 16th-century Sufi pir-mureed known by their composite name, Madho Lal Hussain. Singh’s involvement and investment in the story can be felt in each word, soaked in the ethos of that era… The elegant text intoxicates and instructs by turns and takes the reader into a world where love flourished and overcame the jealousy and intolerance that crossed its path.’
—Rana Safvi, author of In Search of the Divine: Living Histories of Sufism in India and Where Stones Speak
‘A moving, very human retelling of Madho Lal Hussain’s remarkable tale. In Sarbpreet Singh’s hands, the poet’s life and world come alive with a charming subtlety and elegance… This is historical fiction at its finest. Steering clear of the loud and theatrical, Singh quietly immerses us in the period, till, by the end, one can almost feel the Sufi’s breath through the pages.’
—Manu Pillai, author of The Ivory Throne and Rebel Sultans
‘A raqs of elemental forces; this is a tale of transcendental love woven around poetry and prose with confidence and tenderness.’
—Farah Bashir, author of Rumours of Spring
In a small house beneath a mosque in the Bazaar e Husn, home to the pleasure houses of sixteenth-century Lahore, lives an unusual band of Sufis. Known all over the city for their startling red robes and shaven faces, they are seen singing and dancing wantonly every evening as they make their way through the streets to a maikhana, their favourite tavern. Their master, a former Islamic scholar now disowned by the clergy, is Lal Hussain, whose exquisite poems— sung by his dearest disciple Maqbool, a young man from the oppressed Marassi community—have begun to win the hearts of thousands of ordinary Lahoris, despite his notoriety.
Into this world strides Madho, a handsome Brahmin boy from Shahdara, across the Ravi River, who comes to seek the favours of Amba, the most famous courtesan of Lahore. Lal Hussain is smitten the moment he lays eyes on Madho, and this sets in motion a saga of passionate love, heartbreak, scandal, mystical experience and, ultimately, spiritual triumph, as Lal Hussain becomes Shah Hussain, the king of faqirs.
The Sufi’s Nightingale is a fictionalized retelling of the life of the sixteenth-century mystic and poet of Punjab, Shah Hussain, who was a malamati—a Sufi who actively debased himself, choosing a lifestyle that would earn him rejection and abuse, as a means of conquering his ego. Over time, the very identities of Hussain and Madho merged, and today the great Sufi is known as Madho Lal Hussain. Hussain and Madho lie in the same mausoleum outside Lahore, which is the site of the annual Mela Chiragan during which thousands gather to revel in song, dance and worship.
Told in the voices of Hussain and his bulbul, Maqbool, The Sufi’s Nightingale is among the most moving and beautiful novels about the wonders and mysteries of love and faith that you will read.