I know not what I am (but I know what I am not)

A poem from Bulleh Shah, written in the 18th century, and my attempt at translating it in English.

First the original Punjabi version:

Bulla ki jaana main kaun

Bulla ki jaana main kaun

Na main moman vich maseetan

Na main vich kufar dian reetan

Na main pakan vich paleetan

Na main andar bed kitaban

Na main rehnda phaang sharaban

Na main rehnda mast kharaban

Na main shadi na ghamnaki

Na main vich paleetan pakeen

Na main aaabi na main khaki

Na main aatish na main paun

Bulla ki jana main kaun

Na main arabi na lahori

Na main hindi shehar Nagaori

Na hindu na turk pashauri

Na main bhet mazhab de paya

Na main aadam hawwa jaya

Na koi apna naam dharaya

Avval aakhar aap nu jana

Na koi dooja hor pacchana

Mai ton na koi hor syana

Bulle shah kharha hai kaun

Bulla ki jaana main kaun

Na main moosa na pharoah

Na main jagan na vich saun

Na main aatish na main paun

Na main rahnda vich Nadaun

Na main baitthan na vich bhaun

Bulle shah kharha hai kaun

Bulla Ki jaana main kaun

Now the translation:

I know not what I am (but I know what I am not)

I am not the pious in the mosque

Nor pursuing rituals of the lost

Nor the impure among the rocks

I am not in many books that remained

Nor do I live wrecked and ruined

Neither elated, nor stained

I know no pleasure, nor any fear

Among the surreal, I am not real

Neither aquatic, nor terrestrial

I am neither made of fire, nor of air knot

I know not what I am (but I know what I am not)

I am not an Arab, nor from Lahore

Neither from the city called Nagour

Nor Indian or a Turk from Peshour

I didn’t deny any spiritual upheave

Unlike many coming from Adam and Eve

My name was among the first to leave

Besides my own self, I don’t know much

But can’t comprehend myself, or anyone as such

And I am the one with a wisdom touch

So who am I standing in the jam?

I know not what I am

I am not Moses, and Pharaoh I am not

Neither fully awake, nor among the rot

Neither made of fire, nor of air knot

Don’t even live in a simpleton slot

Neither sitting idle, nor in a trot

I know not what I am (but I know what I am not)

One thought on “I know not what I am (but I know what I am not)

  1. Love your translation so much! Without them I miss the beautiful part of world heritage culture! Thanks a lot!

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