Ghalib – 22: Against Indifference

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 how would we deceive ourselves?

In last week’s selection (Heaven Unto Hell), the word laag had appeared in one guise. This week Ghalib uses it in a completely contrary meaning and then pairs it with lagaao to create the beauty of opposites. One can’t resist the temptation to say: lage raho Munnabhai!

Mehr-i-Niimroz will delve further into this intricate facility with words. The meaning, on the other hand, is quite clear: any kind of relationship is better than indifference; even enmity from the beloved is preferable to no relationship at all.

What interpretation can one extract from this in the social context?

We can do no better than to urge the reader to listen to the first few minutes of this interview with Noam Chomsky, one of the leading intellectuals on the left side of the political spectrum.

For those who are unable to view the video, here is a summary of Chomsky’s observation. Chomsky is commenting on the remarkable occurrence in American politics whereby the two leading presidential candidates of the Democratic Party were a non-white male and a woman – an occurrence that would have been unthinkable 50 years ago.

And here is Chomsky’s explanation: it was the activism of the young in the 1960s that changed and civilized America – the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movement, the anti-war movement; all were the products of that activism.

Chomsky notes that the conservative forces of today portray that generation of activists in a negative light – as immoral hippies and irresponsible dropouts – to preclude any recurrence. But he warns that without a resumption of that activism, very few of the dreams associated with the election of Obama would come to pass.

And from this we derive the political lesson that goes with Ghalib’s she’r: love your society or be deeply angry with it; either way, be involved. Praise where praise is due and raise your voice where it needs to be raised especially when the rights of the weakest sections in society are trampled and violated. The worst thing you can do is to remain uninvolved when human beings, all human beings not just those that look like you, are treated as less than humans.

Let us civilize South Asia.

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