By Anjum Altaf
For many years, I sat with a teacher of Hindustani classical music, not learning myself, but watching him explain the complexities of the art to others. When guiding a student through the vilambit phase of a raga, the teacher instructed him to envision a child asleep: the singer should aspire to pouring honey into the child’s ear, to give it the sweetest possible dreams without waking it up. (Translating this instruction into English deprives it of much of its charm, unfortunately.) Once the student began the drut phase, the instructions underwent a dramatic change. In the drut, the listener must be kept awake and engaged, unable to turn away from the music. Instead of vilambit-style vistaars, the singer was told to use sargams and taans, to be like a firecracker. The two parts of the raga are completely different, as are the pleasures they offer the listener.
Here we have another example of the ability of Ghalib to couch a very modern thought in a very traditional idiom while simultaneously subverting the intent of the tradition:
go vaaN nahiiN pah vaaN ke nikaale hue to haiN
kaabe se in butoN ko bhii nisbat hai duur ki
though they are not there, still that is where they were expelled from
these idols too have a distant kinship with the ka’bah
This is modern evolutionary biology – whatever our differences, we are descended from a common gene.
We resume the series with a she’r that illustrates well some of the underlying beliefs of The South Asian Idea:
nah thaa kuchh to khudaa thaa kuchh nah hotaa to khudaa hotaa
Duboyaa mujh ko hone ne nah hotaa maiN to kyaa hotaa
1a) when there was nothing, then God existed; if nothing existed, then God would exist
1b) when I was nothing, then God existed; if I were nothing, then God would exist
1c) when I was nothing, then I was God; if I were nothing, then I would be God
2a) 'being' drowned me; if I were not I, then what would I be?
2b) 'being' drowned me; if I did not exist, then what would I be?
2c) 'being' drowned me; if I were not I, then what would exist?
2d) 'being' drowned me; if I did not exist, then what would exist?
2e) 'being' drowned me; if I were not I, then so what?
2f) 'being' drowned me; if I did not exist, then so what?