Vafa — Loyalty, Integrity and Everything In Between
A Sufi Celebration of Life, Inspired By Urdu
Previous Article : Uns — The Stages of Love and The Magic Called Infatuation
Ab Dilon Mein Koi Gunjaish Nahin Milti ‘Hayāt’
Bas Kitabon Mein Likhkha Harf-e-Vafa Rah Jaega
— Hayat Lakhnavi
There is no compassion, no scope of adjustment in people’s hearts
The tales of loyalty and faithfulness are now confined to books
Literally translated, Vafa means faithfulness, or loyalty with a dash of integrity.
For native Hindi speakers, Vafa also happens to be perhaps one of the most overused, overheard Urdu words courtesy Bollywood. Countless songs feature the idea of Vafa as a center piece, more often than not in reference to a Bevafa, that heartbreaking scum of earth who our hero or heroine fell in love with, head over heels, ass over kettle, only to be left heartbroken.
So, while Vafa, in its literal sense covers a broad spectrum of ideas about faithfulness and loyalty, as far as the popular culture is concerned, Vafa almost exclusively evokes emotions pertaining to love affairs and a singular devotion towards one’s object of affection.
In other words, Vafa as glorified in popular culture, stands for lifelong, monogamous bonds.
Put that way, the idea of Vafa does not seem half as romantic as it is made out to be. Perhaps because within this idea of Vafa or faithfulness, there is an element of compulsion, a sort of an enforced loyalty that one is supposed to have in a relationship or be deemed Bevafa — the evil heartbreaker.
These black and white distinctions and blanket expectations are great plot devices in fiction. They add drama and conflict and make the story gripping. Real life, however, does not have the benefit of the cleanly cut corners of a fictional world. Real life is messy and complicated and unpredictable — basically everything that fiction aspires to be, and usually ends up being a pale copy of.
So, what about Vafa then?
As an arduous obligation imposed upon anyone falling in love, I find Vafa problematic. This does not mean that I am advocating or supporting cheating in relationships, or am opposed to the idea of monogamy.
There have been researches to say that monogamy is not human nature. And I am pretty sure there are researches that will establish monogamy as one and only way to lead human life. After all, bare data rarely tells the whole story, and often means whatever we want it to mean. Point is, the idea of Vafa or faithfulness is intensely personal in nature. To say that someone devoutly monogamous has more Vafa than someone in a happy open marriage is reductive and problematic. Ultimately, it depends on the mutual understanding of a couple and how they choose to set (or not set) the boundaries of their relationship, and their Vafa is nothing more than an expression of their commitment to a happy and fulfilling relationship.
Of course, what is not acceptable is breaching the set boundaries of a relationship from an integrity standpoint; what is not acceptable is willfully cheating and lying on an unsuspecting partner without consideration for their feelings; what is not acceptable is not facing up to the facts when a relationship is not working and deal with it with dignity, and instead resorting to ethically questionable conduct. Vafa maybe flexible and adaptable, but it is still unimpeachable. However one defines Vafa in a relationship, one is obligated to stick to it as long as the relationship lasts (I wanted to say for life, but in the kind of times we live in where relationships have become volatile and fungible, that is perhaps too romantic a notion to assert)
But of course, relationships are complicated, and notions of morality and integrity tend to be extremely subjective. Humans are flawed and make a tonne of mistakes, and Vafa is perhaps a benchmark of what we can forgive in a relationship, and what we absolutely can’t, and how much that absolutely can stretch to accommodate. If life were like movies, it would be fairly simple to know the Bevafa, level the blame, crawl into a bottle, crawl out and move on. In life, however, it is sometimes impossible to separate Vafa from Bevafa, and a lot of other times, there is no Bevafa, but the Vafa, in the sense of loving devotion, is so long gone, neither one involved can remember what it looked or felt like.
Bichadnewale Me Sab Kuch Tha
Bevafai Na thi
The estranged beloved had all the flaws, but one
They were never disloyal
Relationship outlast instances of someone being Bevafa; and relationships crumble even when nobody has been Bevafa, and for reasons that are far deeper and more complex than stray instances of cheating. Movies and stories tend to look for the simplest, but most dramatic reasons; and hence love the dichotomy of Vafa and Bevafa. Real life, however, is far more subtle and understated. And the reasons why a relationship work or doesn’t work rarely come wrapped in neat one word boxes with a bow on top. Usually, there is an array of complex emotions and feelings and issues and history that drives the fate of a relationship — something that would be far too inconvenient for any fictional device, however complex, to convey.
Truth is stranger than fiction. It is also a far more tangled mess than fiction can afford to be.
The point behind this long winded discourse around Vafa is fairly simple. Romanticized ideas and expectations like Vafa, which are often artificially and passively acquired via fiction as well as the prevailing social narrative of what a relationship looks like, tend to burden our thought process, and in turn our relationships. It is great to take clues from fiction and society, but it helps to remember that most such clues and established ideas are based on convenient generalizations. What is essential is that all of us give ourselves a chance to explore and define our own personal expectations and ideas about a relationship. Each of us must define what Vafa is for us, and be fair in as much as remembering that in every relationship, what you expect is the thing you must readily give or else it would eventually devolve into something ugly and toxic.
Vafa is the foundation of a healthy relationship. But since every building has different architectural and design requirements, make sure you don’t end up putting a readymade, one size fits all model foundation at the base of your relationship. If you care for that building, make sure the foundation is a good fit.
Define your Vafa, and stick to it. But do remember that for all the metaphor about foundations and buildings, nothing about relationships is cast in stone, not even Vafa. Especially not Vafa.
Aazma Lo Ki Dil Ko Chain Aaye
Ye Na Kahna Kahin Vafa Hi Nahin
— Baqar Mehdi
Test it, so that this heart can rest in peace
Or else you don’t get to say there was no loyalty
Hey Guys! If you enjoyed reading this piece, please don’t forget to click on the little green ❤ below! Also, I am trying out this new newsletter thingie. You can sign up for my latest pieces and/or the ebook that may be coming very soon!