Ghalib / 26.09.2008

We keep discovering that Ghalib was ahead of his time. Here he is showing us how to do participant-observer research: banaa kar faqiiroN kaa ham bhes Ghalib tamaashaa-e ahl-e karam dekhte haiN having put on the guise of faqirs, Ghalib we observe the spectacle of the people of generosity The meaning is clear: Ghalib is not in need of alms himself; he is disguising himself as an alms-seeker in order to observe and understand the behavior of alms-givers. (For a more detailed interpretation see Mehr-e-Niimroz.) The question is: Why does Ghalib wish to undertake this exercise? Presumably, because he feels that the motivations of alms-givers are complex and all is not what it seems on the surface. Let us explore this subject in the context of our times and in the context of South Asia. In a number of posts on The South Asian Idea we have remarked on the fact that South...

Ghalib / 18.09.2008

With reference to the politics of Pakistan we had explored the topic of impeachment in an earlier verse. This week we lean on Ghalib to talk about the new leadership. chaltaa huuN thoRii duur har ik tez-rau ke saath pahchaantaa nahiiN huuN abhii raahbar ko maiN I go along a little way with every single swift walker I do not yet recognize the guide For our purpose, the interpretation of CM Naim is most appropriate: “The world is full of false leaders. I still do not know who the real leader is. I get deceived by every appearance of rapidity and movement. Every time I see someone proceeding with rapidity I think him to be the guide and walk after him a little way. But that little experience tells me that the man is not the guide I seek. Or is it that I am restless and get quickly drawn to...

Ghalib / 14.09.2008

This week we have just the right she’r to address the issue of the ‘Other.’ I was about to say it hits the nail on the head when my head made me re-think the sentiment from the perspective of the nail. I wonder how the corn feels about the corny joke? In any case – Onwards, Christian soldiers  (for a clue to the allusion, see Ghalib and Jesus on stone throwing on Mehr-e-Niimroz). maiN ne majnuuN pe laRakpan meN ‘asad’ sang uThaayaa thaa ke sar yaad aayaa Against Majnun, in boyhood/childishness, Asad I had picked up a stone – when the head came to mind Majnun is the archetypal mad lover at whom children pelt stones. The poet is about to join this torment, either as a child or in a state of childishness, when he puts himself in the shoes of the ‘Other’ – his head makes him realize...

Ghalib / 03.09.2008

It is the month of Ramzan and Ghalib has his share of quotes for the season. Ghalib was known for his wit: when asked how many fasts he had kept he is reported to have replied ek na rakha (I did not keep one). Typical Ghalib. But in his tongue-in-cheek manner Ghalib also pushes his readers to think of many other aspects of a situation than the one that seems obvious on the surface. Our choice this week reflects this quality of Ghalib: iftaar-e-saum kii jise kuch dast.gaah ho us shakhs ko zaroor hai rozaa rakha kare jis paas roza khol ke khaane ko kuch na ho roza agar na khaaye to naachaar kya kare the one who has the wherewithal to break his fast that person should indeed keep the fast the one who has nothing to break his fast with what else can he do but be constrained to ‘eat the fast’ The Ghalib...

Ghalib / 28.08.2008

The selection this week: bandagii meN bhii vuh aazaadah-o khud-biin haiN kih ham ulTe phir aaye dar-e ka’bah agar va na huaa even in servitude we are so free and self-regarding that we turned and came back if the door of the Ka’bah did not open This is an expression of pride in one’s being. The poet is saying that we may be indebted to you but you still have to treat us with respect. The point is made by exaggeration – we are servants of God but even God has to come and meet us halfway. A detailed interpretation is available at Mehr-e-Niimroz. Once again we are treated to Ghalib’s ability to think far ahead of his times. Remember, he lived in the age of patronage; artists especially were almost completely dependent on their patrons for their livelihoods. And the patrons were quite willful, withdrawing their stipends at the slightest...

Ghalib / 21.08.2008

This week’s shai’r is the following: bachte nahiiN mu’aakhazah-e roz-e hashr se qatil agar raqiib hai to tum gavaah ho there is no escape from the reckoning of the Day of Judgment if the rival is the murderer, you are a witness too The shai’r illustrates nicely why Ghalib remains relevant to us today and how he is able to look beyond the partial view to bring the broader context to our attention. The conventional interpretation is in the context of the lover and the beloved. The rival has murdered the lover in connivance with the beloved. Ghalib addresses the beloved to say that you may escape punishment in this world but since you knew about the crime and remained silent you will be charged whenever there is a fuller accounting as on the Day of Judgment. (A detailed interpretation is posted on Mehr-e-Niimroz.) We can lean on this shai’r to reflect...

Ghalib / 07.08.2008

This week’s she’r is the following: shar'a-o-aaiin par madaar sahii aise qaatil kaa kyaa kare koii Even on the basis of religious law and secular law What can anyone do with such a killer? An earlier she’r in this series on the subject of faith and faithfulness (Ghalib Says – 2) prompted a reader to refer to the Shah Bano case – was it right to be unjust while claiming to be faithful to a set of beliefs? We referred the issue to the scholar Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer who pointed out the distinction between Diin and Sharia’h – faith and law. In secular matters, it is law that should govern and the law should be in harmony with the changing times (see comments on Ghalib Says – 2). This exchange led us quite naturally to the she’r under discussion this week which refers to religious and secular law – shar’a-o-aaiin....

Education, Ghalib / 30.07.2008

In our collaborative blogoshpere project with Mehr-e-Niimroz on Ghalib, we have selected the following she’r this week: baske dushvaar hai har kaam ka aasaaN hona aadmii ko bhii muyassar nahiiN insaaN hona 1a) it's difficult to such an extent for every task to be easy 1b) although it's difficult for every task to be easy 2) even/also for a descendant of Adam, it's not attainable/attained/easy to become human/humane The detailed interpretation is presented on Mehr-e-Niimroz. The straightforward meaning is that just as it is difficult for every task to be easy, it is difficult for a descendant of Adam to reach the status of a human being. Let us first address the gender issue raised in the commentary pertaining to the interpretation of aadmi as man. Phyllis Trible, a Professor of Scared Literature, became prominent in the 1970s for her analyses of the stories of the Creation. In Trible’s view it...

Ghalib / 25.07.2008

One thing sometimes does lead to another. Our post on Milton and Ghalib has culminated in a partnership with the blog Mehr-i-Niimroz (the noonday sun). Every week or so we will together select a couplet from Ghalib: Mehr-i-Niimroz will provide a translation and commentary; The South Asian Idea will use the couplet to pose questions and start a discussion. The objective will be to explore how much we can learn from Ghalib about the world we live in. We launched this series with the following couplet: vafaadaarii ba shart-e-ustuvaarii asl-e-iimaaN hai marey butkhaane meN to kaabe meN gaaRho barahmin ko Faithfulness, as long as it is firm, is the essence/root of religion/faith If he dies in the temple (idol-house) bury the Brahmin in the Ka’ba The commentary is HERE and the questions HERE. This week’s couplet is the following (note the common word vafaadaarii – faithfulness): nahiiN kuchh subbha-o zunnaar ke phanday meN...

Education, Fundamentalism, Ghalib, Politics, Religion / 19.07.2008

Today if you tell me some things are fated I would be inclined to believe you. The last three posts just sort of happened – there was no grand design involved, just the order in which we happened to chance upon things. There was a BBC story on syncretic communities under threat and that led to Hindu-Muslim or Muslim-Hindu? Then there was a column on the usefulness of Milton by Stanley Fish that led to Milton and Ghalib. And finally, an essay by Mark Lilla that a reader had sent last year popped out of a randomly opened file and led to The Politics of God. In retrospect, you can see the threads that link. The threat to syncretic communities could be attributed to the politics of God (as some readers have already done in their comments) and one could use Milton or Ghalib to think about...