Ghalib – 24: On Deceivers and the Deceived

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 dhokaa yeh baaziigar khulaa

the stars/constellations are one thing and appear another
These conjurers/tricksters trick/fool us openly

At one level the meaning is obvious – things are not what they seem and we are being openly deceived. There are a few twists – Is Ghalib referring to the stars in the firmament or to the stars on earth and what exactly does the deception comprise of? These aspects are addressed in the companion commentary on Mehr-e-Niimroz.

Here we presume that Ghalib is referring to the stars on earth and explore a tangential thought – to what extent are we complicit in our deception?

This is a familiar trope in Urdu poetry when the reference is to the beloved – the lover revels in the deception, in agonizing over whether the No actually means Yes or the Yes, No. In fact, the lover would have it no other way – a predictable, honest-to-goodness beloved would be no fun at all. All the ecstasy of the lover actually resides in his pain.

So far, so good – we can understand this tortured relationship of the lover and the beloved. But how do we explain the same phenomenon in the realm of politics?

Take Pakistan, for example. Here are these leaders who have never ever spoken the truth, never ever come clean on anything (except when a gun is held to their heads). How can they continue to fool all the people all the time? How do people continue to have faith in their leadership?

Let us separate the population into two broad groups – the vast majority that lacks all power except the vote and those that belong to various segments of the power elite.

Of the first, let me try and capture a complex sociological phenomenon in an anecdote. I once asked a rural constituent why he was voting for a candidate whose rhetoric was in open contradiction with his criminal record. The answer was instantaneous: “Do you really believe a ‘decent’ man can provide us all the protection we need to survive here?” Let us leave it there for the moment and expand on the theme at another time.

What of the members of the power elite? It seems to me that often it suits many to go along with the deception and this is not unique to Pakistan or to South Asia. How many of the ‘best and the brightest’ went along with the lie that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction or was in league with Al-Qaeda?

There is a nice quote by C.V. Wedgewood that captures one aspect of this reality:

“Few men are so disinterested as to prefer to live in discomfort under a government which they hold to be right, rather than in comfort under one which they hold to be wrong.”

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  • Sohail Kizilbash
    Posted at 00:16h, 27 February Reply

    It is true most decent people in Pakistan do not get involved in politics which is a pity because then only rascals remain to govern you. Wedgewood’s quote is also so true. People accepted the rule of the Ummayyads rather then that of the Hashimites. And when a good ruler Umar bin Abdul Aziz of the Ummayyads, ascended the throne he was assasinated within 2 1/2 years.

    I don’t know how the situation will ever change. Perhaps education will.

  • Radhika
    Posted at 20:20h, 27 February Reply

    the stars/constellations are one thing and appear another
    These conjurers/tricksters trick/fool us openly

    A conjurer is also a magician who could delight us so the context of the beloved dithering and torturing the poet seems reasonable. But why do these conjurers fool us? Is it not because we put so much stock in their appearance? and how doe we know that we see them and not just their reflection? if the whole world were a mirror through which we see each other then we still see only reflections. And these reflections exist only because it is our mind that is wavering – not the other. it is the lens that we wear that determines the image we see. Could our beloved torture us if we didn’t think ourselves to be in love with them? We tolerate their behaviour because we have already assigned a value, a thought has arisen that we like them and we seek their approval. We often follow politicians in a similarly childlike way-they please us and we please them by voting for them. We tolerate their nonsense later because we are still attached to our previous thoughts about them even though the time has changed and we ourselves are not the same. We rarely look for the man or woman who will grow with us – our reflection has fooled us-we stay true to some initial thought about ourselves and the world. for example, Indians consider India to be secular and they reject any idea that they are bigoted or biased. That naive belief flies against the reality of a Narendra Modi but Indians often excuse him because he proved an able administrator even if by force. HOW??? it is because we cannot tolerate the idea that we have been wrong, that our thoughts were incomplete and that we did not sufficiently look at their motivation.

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 16:51h, 28 February Reply

    Sohail: No, education by itself is unlikely to change things. The spread of education has been increasing over the last 60 years yet the situation has been deteriorating. Look at the steep decline in the quality of leadership. Some aspects of this are covered in our post – Is Illiteracy the Cause of Poverty:

    Radhika: This is a very intriguing input. Intuitively it is appealing – we do have a tendency of misplaced loyalty be it to persons or ideologies or positions. We will have to square this with the evidence that voters in South Asia routinely throw out incumbents only to replace them with a new set of rascals. It is this choice of rascals, new or old, that needs to be explained. Our explanation is captured in the anecdote that was mentioned in the post.

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