Ghalib – 13: On the Reality of Paradise

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 reality of Paradise,” he does not specify what that reality is. And, if it is an imagined reality, we are free to imagine it in a way that keeps our heart happy.

This is a happy situation because our imaginations are personal and they do not have to conform to any one ‘prescribed’ description of our home in the next world. It serves us well, for example, in a melting pot like the US where people of many different religions and cultures live in close proximity.

On the other hand, if we think of it as a well-defined ‘reality’ it can keep our heart happy while simultaneously wanting us to kill those who do not subscribe to that description of reality. This would smooth our path to ‘our’ heaven while sending the non-believers to ‘our’ hell. These notions of personal bliss and social viciousness do not hang well together.

Of course, one need not subscribe to this conceptualization of a ‘home after death’ at all. One might think in terms of coming back to the same world in a better or worse form depending upon our deeds in the previous life. There is only one home in that alternative conceptualization.

Which suggests that we might be better off thinking of paradise as an imagined reality leaving the details of the reality to the needs of our imaginations. This is one possible interpretation of Ghalib’s she’r.

We do know that Ghalib did not have a high opinion of people who thought they would go to paradise. He felt they were too dry and took themselves way too seriously. We will pick up on this theme in a subsequent post.

This she’r showcases an essential quality of Ghalib – every word is exceedingly simple, yet the verse is so rich in its multiple meanings (see the interpretations at Mehr-e-Niimroz).

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