Ghalib / 24.01.2009

How do we decide whom to follow? Ghalib has some advice: laazim nahiiN ke kih Khizr kii ham pairavii kareN jaanaa kih ek buzurg hameN ham-safar mile it is not necessary that we follow in the footsteps of Khizr we consider that we have a venerable-elder as a fellow-traveler Hazrat Khizr is the most revered guide to the lost in Islamic folk tradition and Ghalib is saying that we do not need to follow in the footsteps of Khizr. Why? Ghalib has faith in the individual; he wants every human being to use his or her mind first. Ghalib is not rejecting advice but he wishes the advice to be just another input into our decision-making as we proceed on our journey through life. A knowledgeable fellow traveler is fine, but a leader to be followed blindly is not recommended. What do you think of the advice of Ghalib? Well, it is clear...

Ghalib / 10.01.2009

One would expect Ghalib to have a unique way of welcoming the New Year: dekhiiye paate haiN ushshaaq buton se kya faiz ik barahman ne kahaa hai kih yih saal achchhaa hai let’s see what favors lovers find from idols a Brahman has said that this year is good  This is indeed a very clever and witty she’r, as the interpretation at Mehr-e-Niimroz will make clear. The play is on the word but which in Urdu, in the context of the lover, signifies an extremely beautiful woman. But but also means ‘idol’, and that pairing with Brahmin is perfect in the second line. Who would be a better authority on the behavior of ‘idols’ than a Brahmin (who is an ‘idol-worshipper’ in the eye of a Muslim)? [A digression. Here is Marco Polo on his stop in India on the way back from China in 1292 AD describing the people:...

Ghalib / 25.12.2008

We need someone to shake us up at this time and Ghalib does it with panache: ka'be meN jaa bajaaeNge naaquus ab to baaNdhaa hai dayr meN iHraam we will go beat the gong in the Ka'bah we have tied the holy cloak in the temple The conventional associations between Ka’bah/iHraam and dayr/naaquus are obvious and Ghalib’s intention to provoke us into rethinking the conventions is also obvious in his iconoclastic mixing of the associations. The detailed interpretation of the sh’er can be found at Mehr-e-Niimroz. Here we raise some questions triggered by the images that came to mind on reading this verse. The image is of a Montessori where the teacher has given a class of six-year olds a set of four picture blocks to mix and match – Ka’bah, iHraam, dayr, naaquus. One would expect most children, home-schooled in their religious traditions, to make the obvious pairings. Now, the teacher mixes...

Ghalib / 14.12.2008

We wondered what Ghalib might have said post-Mumbai? ham muvahhid haiN hamaaraa kesh hai tark-e rusuum millateN jab miT gaiiN ajzaa-e iimaaN ho gaiiN we are monists, our religion is the renunciation of customs when communities are erased they become parts of the faith Remember that Ghalib lived in an age of decay, chaos and conflict – he must have been very alive to the issue of divisions. The Mutiny against the British was a united initiative of many communities; the punishments were meted our very selectively to sow the seeds of division. These divisions are still with us and we continue to pay a very heavy price for them. All the more reason to pay heed to Ghalib. The bottom line in this verse is that our fundamental humanity is common; our practices may differ. Only when we rise above the differences in our practices do we discover that deep...

Ghalib / 24.11.2008

Only Ghalib could pack so much meaning in a mere ten words: saltanat dast bah dast aaii hai jam-e mai khaatim-e Jamshed nahiiN the kingship has come from hand to hand the glass of wine; the seal of Jamshed is not Even the well-known Ghalib scholars have pondered over the many possible meanings as mentioned in A Desertful of Roses and in our companion blog Mehr-e-Niimroz. In this post, we use the verse as a mirror to reflect on the state of governance in South Asia today. Ghalib has tossed three balls in the air for us to ponder – the metaphors of kingship, the glass of wine, and the seal of Jamshed. If we translate dast bah dast as hand to hand, an interpretation would be that both kingship and the glass of wine are passed from hand to hand while the seal of Jamshed belongs to Jamshed alone. But it would...

Ghalib / 09.11.2008

This week’s verse requires us to remind readers that on The South Asian Idea we do not aim to provide an interpretation of the selected she’r. Rather, we use it as a point of departure to discuss the contemporary relevance of issues suggested by the verse. Of course, for the sake of completeness, we do provide links to the most complete and accessible literary interpretations at A Desertful of Roses and to ones that explore related themes on Mehr-e-Niimroz, our companion blog in the Ghalib Project. This week’s choice is the following: kyuuN nah chiikhuuN kih yaad karte haiN mirii aavaaz gar nahiiN aatii why should I not scream because I am only remembered if my voice is not heard Let us use this to explore relations between the rulers and the ruled in our land today. The majority of the ruled are voiceless. When they do raise their voices, they are either...

Ghalib / 31.10.2008

Last week we left off with the comment that Ghalib did not have a high opinion of people who thought they would go to heaven. Here is the she’r we had in mind: kam nahiiN jalvah-garii meN tire kuuche se bihisht yihii naqshah hai vale is qadar aabaad nahiiN it’s not less in splendor than your street, paradise – the layout is the same, but it is not as flourishing The following interpretation by Faruqi explains it best: “Those who long for paradise, and those who enter it -- the poor things are dried-out ascetics. Little do they know that paradise is present in the world itself. Only a handful of fools follow them on the road to paradise. The axis of the people is the beloved's street.” The underlying question is: Who goes to heaven? Ghalib is quite consistent in voicing his opinion that those who are absolutely sure they would go...

Ghalib / 25.10.2008

This week we use a popular she’r by Ghalib to explore some ideas about paradise: ham ko ma’luum hai jannat kii haqiiqat lekin dil ke khush rakhne ko Ghalib yih khayaal achchhaa hai we know the reality of Paradise, but to keep the heart happy, Ghalib, this idea is good  The tension in the verse is created by the play between haqiiqat and khayaal, between reality and imagination. The fundamental question being asked is: What is Paradise? One can think of paradise as a home – one of the possible homes after death. Just as the feeling of being without a home on earth can be very unsettling, the thought of being without one after death could be equally so. Thus it is not a surprise that it could be comforting to imagine a home after death. Is paradise then an imagined reality? Or is it a reality? When Ghalib says, “we know the...

Ghalib / 12.10.2008

Religion was supposed to fade away in the 1960s and yet religion, radical religion, is all around us now. The fading away of religion did not take us to a more humane society and the return of religion does not seem to be doing any better. Let us turn to Ghalib for guidance: hai pare sarhad-e idraak se apnaa masjuud qible ko ahl-e nazar qiblah-numaa kahte haiN beyond the limit of the senses is the object of our worship people of vision call the Qiblah, the ‘Qiblah-pointer’ At the very least, Ghalib is saying that we should not take the rituals of religion too literally. We should look beyond the rituals and try and envision the real purpose of worship. What should the act of worship be pointing us towards? Is it an end in itself or a means to an end? If the latter, what exactly is the end? Should...

Ghalib / 03.10.2008

Justice delayed is justice denied: ham ne maanaa kih taghaaful nah karoge lekin khaak ho jaaeNge ham tum ko khabar hote tak we accept that you will not show negligence, but we will become dust by the time of the news reaching you In the conventional reading, the lover (ham) is addressing the beloved (tum) and a number of ways of interpreting the text are possible as described by Frances Pritchett in A Desertful of Roses. We will transpose the domain of the verse and let ham represent the citizen and tum the state. What does that yield us? Well, for one, we can explore the entire gamut of the relationship between the citizen and the state in South Asia in modern times. Does the citizen (really) believe that the state acts in his or her interest? Does the citizen believe that the state knows what his or her interests really are? Does the citizen...