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Here we have another example of the ability of Ghalib to couch a very modern thought in a very traditional idiom while simultaneously subverting the intent of the tradition: go vaaN nahiiN pah vaaN ke nikaale hue to haiN kaabe se in butoN ko bhii nisbat hai duur ki though they are not there, still that is where they were expelled from these idols too have a distant kinship with the ka’bah This is modern evolutionary biology – whatever our differences, we are descended from a common gene.
Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant. We have been struggling with the notion of modernity in South Asia and wondering how “modern” modern South Asians are. And here is Ghalib providing an excellent illustration of what being modern might, at least in part, entail: kyaa farz hai kih sab ko mile ek-saa javaab aa’o nah ham bhii sair kareN koh-e tuur kii Is it necessary that everyone would get the same answer? Come! Why don’t we too go for an excursion to Mount Sinai The first thing to note is that being modern does not been mean being ignorant of tradition or history. Ghalib motivates his argument by leveraging the story of Moses going to Mount Sinai and asking to see God; and God responding to Moses that you would not have the strength to withstand the vision.
We resume the series with a she’r that illustrates well some of the underlying beliefs of The South Asian Idea: nah thaa kuchh to khudaa thaa kuchh nah hotaa to khudaa hotaa Duboyaa mujh ko hone ne nah hotaa maiN to kyaa hotaa 1a) when there was nothing, then God existed; if nothing existed, then God would exist 1b) when I was nothing, then God existed; if I were nothing, then God would exist 1c) when I was nothing, then I was God; if I were nothing, then I would be God 2a) 'being' drowned me; if I were not I, then what would I be? 2b) 'being' drowned me; if I did not exist, then what would I be? 2c) 'being' drowned me; if I were not I, then what would exist? 2d) 'being' drowned me; if I did not exist, then what would exist? 2e) 'being' drowned me; if I were not I, then so what? 2f) 'being' drowned me; if I did not exist, then so what?

From resignation and withdrawal, Ghalib is rousing himself:

huuN giriftaar-e ulfat-e sayyaad varnah baaqii hai taaqat-e parvaaz

I am captured by love of the Hunter otherwise, strength for flight is still left

How appropriate then the ambivalence: Does the protagonist really have the strength for flight or is he deluding himself?

I suppose the reality of becoming captive is a gradual process. To start with, the feeling that one can resist can be quite strong and real. Over time, as one becomes enmeshed in the web, it can turn into a delusion.

Last week’s selection is nicely followed up by the following couplet: baaziichah-e atfaal hai dunyaa mire aage hotaa hai shab-o-roz tamaashaa mire aage the world is a game/plaything of children, before me night and day, a spectacle occurs before me From resignation (ho rahega kuchh nah kuchh ghabraayeN kyaa) to...

Ghalib says in his letters that in moments of despair he was given to reciting this she’r: raat din gardish meiN haiN saat aasmaaN ho rahega kuchh nah kuchh ghabraayeN kyaa night and day the seven heavens are revolving something or the other will happen – why should we...

Readers would be well aware by now that there is always more to Ghalib than comes across at the first encounter – therein lies one aspect of his genius. In this week’s selection Ghalib addresses the issue explicitly: haiN kawakib kuchh nazar aatey haiN kuchh detey haiN...

This week we engage with a complex she’r by Ghalib in an attempt to understand how we know what we know:   az mihr taa bah zarrah dil o dil hai aaiinah tuutii ko shash jihat se muqabil hai aaiinah   from sun to sand grain, all are hearts; and...

The beauty of language and the art of wordplay determine this week’s selection from Ghalib:   laag ho to us ko ham samjheN lagaao jab nah ho kuchh bhii to dhokaa khaaeN kyaa   if enmity would exist, then we would consider it affection when nothing at all would exist, then...

Even as I was writing about Pascal’s wager (On God: Existence and Nature), Ghalib’s words were echoing in my mind: taa’at meN taa rahe nah mai-o-angabiiN kii laag dozaakh meN Daal do koii le kar bihisht ko so that in obedience, the desire of wine and honey may...