Tuesday, 6 October 2009

HIS shadow's seditionist- Ghalib as Ghaddaar

The ghazals of Ghalib- less by their clamorous lushness of hot-house
emotions; less even by their coruscating lustre of cerebral
suggestiveness but more, indeed ever and increasingly more, by their
seemingly artless and perhaps, quite accidental, husn-e-tarteeb or
'beauty of arrangement'- hold sway- indeed, the as yet unmeasured
music of our Mirza's measures but burgeons in sovereignty!- like no
poet since, over the hearts of so many people all over the Indian
sub-continent because, with more than mortal perfection, they exhibit
a fractal amphiboly- a highly individualized signature of ambiguity,
self-similar irrespective of scale; every couplet, every line, every
syllable passionate only in affirming opposite allegiances; martyrdoms
achieved in the vanguard of both clashing armies; pilgrimages, arduous
and all the more arduous for simultaneous, but pilgrimages proceeding,
alas!, ever in contrary directions; and as for Tasawuf's Tawhid- if it
be not, entirely, the ironic Ithaca of mere Odysseys of the mirage-
the imminence of that Irfaani, the materialising of that ghost of
Gnosis,  hinges, it seems, not upon the Platonically Transcendent,
whose simulacrum is the Ptolemaic Heavens- that esoteric astrology
blithely illumined by Hafiz's 'Turk-i-Shirazi' and forever afterwards darkened

 in Bedil's hairat-e-aainah, the wilderness of the bewilderment of mirrors
- nor, indeed, can it be found  in all those Heavens piled upon Heavens by
 Angelic Doctors busy crowding  angels upon pin-points but, rather,  it turns out to reside,
 that too with no sense of incongruity, or impact on real estate values,
equally and in some sense reciprocally, in the inexhaustibly idiosyncratic, garrulous
and grotesque, unsublatable haecceity of something as mundane as
Passion's futile quotidian.

Consider the first couplet- traditionally an invocation of God- of
naqsh fariyadi, the ghazal with which Ghalib's published Divan
naqsh faryaadi hai kis ki shokhi-e -tahreer ka?
kaghazi hai pairahan har paikar-e-tasveer ka
Line one means-'The image is complaining against the mischievous
artfulness of which image-maker?
(The proscription on making images in Islam is related to the
inability of the image-maker to infuse his creation with life- that is
'agency', including the ability to complain against himself- &  hold 

him to account. Thus, if the image appears alive, it but
indicts the transgression of its creator but is its complaint that of
having or lacking agency? In the Bhaminivilasa, Pundit Jagganath tells
us that Love is the second Creation. What he doesn't mention is that
its God is Grief.)
Line two states- 'Every visage in the painting is wearing a paper robe'
(In India, when a subject of the King sought justice he would hold up
a torch by day- to signal that the darkness of injustice was upon the
land. Ghalib explains that, in Iran, the custom was for a wronged man
to appear in Court wearing a paper robe on which the details of his
complaint were written down. What is interesting (though not remarked
by any previous commentator) is that the first instance of this custom
is found in the Book of Job. Since some of Ghalib's friends at the
British sponsored Delhi College had converted to Christianity and were
well read in the Bible, it is entirely possible that Ghalib was aware
of this fact. The paradox here is that though Job, more than any
other, had a reason to complain to God- if only against the
tactlessness of his dogmatic comforters- yet he refrained from doing
so preferring to yearn passionately for oblivion. This gives a further
ironic twist to Ghalib's couplet read in its entirety. The meaning
thus becomes- every face in the world picture is the face of a Job.
However, as Hazrat Ali (p.b.uh), whom Ghalib revered, pointed out we
are in error in picturing God at all! Thus our 'Allah' is a Job
protesting against our mischievous artfulness of image-making- whereby
our picture of God seems more alive to us than that Truth Ever Alive;
every face going to destruction except that Face we hideously mask...
but mask but to limn- what is this but a calamity, a doomsday, a
Satanic Takwin experimentation? In this context, Abu Bakr ash Shibli has
stated 'Sufi Monism is an Idolatry because it is the guarding of the
heart from the vision of the Other & the Other does not exist."
However, those who quote Shibli- and other such Saintly authorities-
will appear like the Naasih of Urdu poetry, the prudent counsellor of
the love-maddened wretch, who, is unwittingly committing exactly the same sin

 as Job's self-righteous comforters, thus bringing down God's undying wrath upon
 his own unoffending head.
In the book of Job, Elihu- an impetuous Rabbinical sort of young man-
offers himself as the mediator (Hebrew- mokhiah) or intercessor that
Job had wanted. But, the irony is that the intercessor becomes the
advocate- if not the bailiff or executioner- of the opposite party!
Ghalib drives the point home with the first couplet of his next
jaraa;hat tu;hfah almaas armu;Gaa;N daa;G-e jigar hadyah
mubaarak baad asad ;Gam-;xvaar-e jaan-e dard-mand aayaa
Bringing back gifts that deal me wounds mortal but unearned
Congratulations Ghalib! Your confidante has returned
But we are getting ahead of ourselves here. The actual second couplet
of the first ghazal is
kaav-kaav-e -sakht-jaaneeha-e- tanhai na poochh
Subh karna shaam ka laana hai joo-e sheer ka
But why translate this? Look up the whole on Prof. Frances Pritchett's
web-site ' a desertful of roses'
But mentioning Pritchett's wonderful website, I lose patience with my
own essay, or of this ghazal further, more fatuous, assay; and now
incontinently blurt out my own trans-creation of its essence-

That the complaint of the cartoon turns cartoonish when
Manumitted by the mischief of Mastery's pen
Rendering thankless the rock Farhad last split...
Must Loneliness, to mock, so task my wit?

(Farhad fell in love with Shirin. Khusrou, the King, himself in love
with Shirin, told Farhad he could have her if he tunnelled through the
Behistun mountain and brought forth a canal of milk. Farhad's pickaxe
was successful against the rocks. However, to prevent him from
attaining his goal, Khusrou told him that Shirin was dead. Farhad
killed himself by splitting his own head with his axe. Farhat anjam
te, Farhad, hum bhi ho yaqeen/ Khuddi hai Khusrou aur Mawt har Shirin-
Lo! Love has completed Farhad's task I ween/ Khusrou is the Self and
Death each Shirin!)
Do, if you don't already know it, read the remainder of Ghalib's
ghazal for yourself. Each succeeding couplet deforms the meaning we
had received before- it is a vertiginous task to keep track of the
ironies of injustice each accretion of complaint burdens our forensic
hermeneutic with!- we become either poets or madmen or (in my case)
mad-men who think they are poets- and and and what is there left to
say? Kuch na samjhe Khuda kare koi!
Ghalib's relationship with the 'Shadow of God'- that is the Mughal
Emperor, or rather the shadow of that Empery propped up by the East
India Company- includes but reverses, reverses but includes the
traditional Ustad/Shagird relationship of Master and Disciple. When
Ghalib cunningly hints that he'd welcome a present of the Emperor's
mangoes- the effect is that of 'Khirqa maangna'- the Sufi mantle
demanded from the Pir (Saint) being considered higher than that which
is but, unprompted, bestowed. Thus Ghalib, like Gokhale to Curzon or,
indeed, Gandhi to us now, is a Ghaddaar in God's Shadow- a loyal
seditionist- unlike Ayaz who sheltered in the shadow of Mahmud when
the shadow of Huma flitted across the battlefield- but which God? That
of Shah Zafar or that of the Hon'ble Company? Both, neither- I don't
know. Which of us does? Whom do we serve actually? After all,
Sociologically speaking, the only reason I'm writing, in English,
about Urdu and Persian rather than in Tamil about Sanskrit or Russian

is because I come from a 'Service' family. Whose Service? Frankly, I'm afraid to find
Still, the fact is Ghalib is special. But what makes him special? His
eyes witnessed the holocaust of the pre-Copernican Heavens; his vision
is the bleeding martyr of the cause of all highly correlated systems;
his is the death of the didactic univocity of what (the Harvard
Indologist) Michael Witzel calls the (Shastric) layered text.
In other words, this meat-eating Mussulman- this wine bibbing Kaffir-
yet is Valmiki, Vyasa every effing Indian since the birth of Bhakti-
that second birth of Vak.
Why? How so? Surely, Ghalib was ethnically a Trans-Oxian Turk- like
the Uzbek Bedil- but, unlike Bedil, he hadn't actually memorised the
whole Mahabharata. The other point is the guy was kind of English- he
had a gentlemanly English shagird- put him down today in the Royal
enclosure at Ascot and he'd be more at home than yours truly- so how
is it that this louche character ends up defining, for me, what it
means to be Indian- indeed, to be Hindu- and why should I share this
universal sub-contintental illusion that though all are addressed only
I understand him?
Is it that Ghalib's intense engagement with 'ma'ni aafirini'
(discrimination of meaning, or 'meaning-creation' as Frances Pritchett
puts it) and thus with the philosophy of language, assimilates him to
some hypothetical, or strategically misplaced, uniquely Indian
Adi-Mimamsa subconscious hermeneutics which enables us to behave like
Indians, think like Indians, but talk like gobshites and act- never
act except to act that role?
Would it be too much to say that Ghalib has an affinity with the
'mantrodhara' tradition in that his gnomic, highly allusive and
compressed, style functions like a magical formula raising the
poet-as-thaumaturge to the level of the Deity he invokes to make his
ritual effective?
Perhaps it is too much- save for me for I- true reader of Ghalib- am,
tat tvam asi!, verily, that gobshite.
Thus, I conclude with this essay with the entirely gobshitical bromide
that Ghalib's ghazals- like Lev Shestov's despairing existentialism-
rather than being an appeal to the basic affinity between higher and
lower, a visualization of the macrocosm in the microcosm- is a ghadaar
breaking of faith with a faith that denies reciprocity; an Indian
Mutiny against that disparity in status wherein weakness is founded in
alterity; a ceaseless trench war where all are ultimately conscripted
by each to be willing cannon fodder, in a war to end war, filling up
with their own corpses that trench which is also the infinite
ontological gulf between the Particular and the Universal- such,
indeed, is Ghalib's wholly uncommunal manifesto that raises up the
condition of the subject and puts it upon a level- not of superiority,
as with the Rishis, nor of mystic identity, as with the Sufis- but of
irreconcilable agon- conflict, but conflict that engenders complexity,
conflict which meaningfully deepens difference- Love against Love &
nothing but that Love! with respect to the object of its
But, gobshites- especially gobshites named Vivek Iyer- don't end
essays- especially on Ghalib- this way. Here's how.
"In other words, Ghalib's passion for symmetry, his insistence on free
reciprocity, engenders a lyricism that is the precise opposite of that
of Theistic Monism in that it is a technique for increasing
individuation, involving a sort of hypertrophy of haecceity,
increasing difference, widening the gulf between everything, and
apotheosizing the loneliness and desolation that results.
"Bhakti poetry that protests the Deity's indifference, injustice,
faithlessness and so on, may, at first sight, appear similar to
Ghalib's endless litany of complaint- indeed, blasphemously so!
However, this sort of Bhakti poetry is wholly orthodox and in line
with Brahma Sutra 3.3.37- vyatiharah vishimshanti hitaravat- Scripture
prescribes reciprocity in meditation on the Divine, not just in terms
of raising the individual to the level of the Universal but also by
visualizing the Absolute as having form, intention, etc. However,
Hindu thought is so thoroughly Monistic that though bhavas (emotions,
modes of being) and rasas (bhavas engendered aesthetically) are evoked
with great psychological verisimilitude, the effect is of lila (play)
which uniquely, in Hinduism, functions as a Theodicy (a justification
of God's ways to man). Now, in any other literary tradition, this
would render Hindu poetry uninteresting for devoid of real conflict.
However, Hinduism vigorously maintains an apparent polytheism which
enables its votaries to recast what would otherwise be a boring
literary exercise into a cosmic agon, an epic conflict, between not
Deities who represent different principles but appearances- hypostases
of haecceity- which do.
"In the Sufi tradition, the fool-for-God can utter biting complaints
against the All Merciful without incurring any sin. A twist is given
to this by Shaheed Shurawardy who introduces the notion of 'gharbi
ghurbat' – Western exile from the Lux Orientalis, the Light from the
East- which in Christianity is referred to as the Dark Night of the
Soul. The via negativa- the path of negation- is well recognized in
Islam and assimilated to the "Haal" stages of Spiritual development.
However, at bottom, we all know that when Sarmad says 'There is no
God', it is only because he is on the penultimate 'Haal'. In other
words, though his words sound blasphemous, they are actually perfectly
orthodox and so there is less conflict here than meets the eye.
Everything has a happy ending with the majazi distinction between
individual and Universal- which only persisted because of our
epistemological error- being utterly erased as, in fact, it had always
been to the eye of Truth.
"Again, we may say this is nothing new. In Sanskrit and vernacular
Puranic literature we have the concept of virodha-bhakti, or samrambha
yoga, where hatred is more effective than devotion in raising one to
the level of the higher being. However, Ghalib- unlike Iqbal in some
of his rhetorical flights- has no interest in raising his own
condition. Rather protest is valorised because of the ironic type of
knowledge that it unlocks."

Yup that's how gobshites write sure enough.
Kya kiya Khizr Sikandar se?
Ab kis ki raah numa kare koi?

A corespondent asked why a South Indian might be interested in Urdu-
that too Ghalib's sort- and whether this might bode will for that language
in theSouth.
 My blunt response-
'The reason the Urdu of Ghalib has appeal is because it has
1) no homely references to buffaloes or any other such embarrassing
reminders of rustic life
2) no sex and no slavering over the female form- especially of the
over-ripe Sanskrit sort.
3) no fixed meaning;- no purely sectarian or political agenda.

Indian middle classes in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century invested
heavily in the development of Vernacular literature. However, from the
late ''60's onwards, it was realized that the great living authors
were utter fools and that only the Soviet Union had an interest in
pretending they were worth paying attention to.
Dalit and Naxal literature threw down a challenge to the State
supported Establishment writers. However. whereas previous vernacular
literature shored up middle class values, the new type of literature
was nihilistic. Thus Grannies- brought up in the vernacular tradition-
themselves began to discourage children of my generation from reading
regional language, as opposed to English, magazines.
In other words, since vernacular literature was now attacking the
ethos of the middle class- in particular with reference to caste
attitudes and sexual mores- a market was created for something
'Indian', to set along side English, which had no context-specific
meaning or inter-subjective message whatsoever .
This "Indian" thing couldn't be in Sanskrit or Tamil or any language
derived from them because currently unresolved issues regarding
sexuality and caste are too tightly interwoven with their vocabulary
and literary topos.
Ghalib's Urdu, especially for Hindus, was ideal because it offered
some little scope for the sort of un-taxing cerebral activity
Engineers and I.T professionals excel at, and because it meant nothing
at all- less than origami- and could not become a spur to actual
poetic creativity- or anything dangerous of that sort- in their hands.
In other words, no South Indian Hindu, dabbling in Ghalib's Urdu could
inherit the fate of a Majaz. It was safe.

Freud, in a letter to Sabina Speilren, pointed out that when Jung
referred to things like 'professional probity', 'integrity' and so on,
he did so by writing the terms in English, with quotation marks'
rather than in German. This showed that, for Jung, talk of moral and
professional integrity was indeed 'a foreign language'.
The point I make in my book Samlee's daughter is that for middle class
South Indian Hindus, 'Love" is a foreign language- and thus Urdu
suddenly becomes relevant.
The protagonist, in my novel, is seeking to woo a girl he met on a
Web-site who, he believes, works in an I.T company in Chennai or
Hyderabad. He can't woo her with Tamil poetry because its language
tends to be gender and caste specific- thus opening up a whole can of
worms. After all, the guy just wants to get married- not solve all the
complex problems of South Indian Society! So, in this context, Urdu
poetry is just what the Doctor ordered.
I am sorry to disappoint you, if I raised your hopes that South
Indians might be engaging creatively with Urdu, or that there might be
a Renaissance for Urdu on the horizon.


  1. warra loada crap!

  2. Dear Anon,
    Okay, the truth is that Ghalib discovered the takvin-e-kimmiya of Imam Jafer as Sadiq and Geber and so on.
    Furthermore, by the interconnected machinations of the Illuminati, Opus Dei, Captain Nemo and the Thuggeee cult- Ghalib came to realize that an artificial man, exempt from the seal on Prophesy, had actually been created at the time of the occultation of the Mahdi.
    Man as God's Viceregent had been fatally infected by a false Reality propagated by the race of artificial human beings.
    Mary Shelley, secretly in the pay of Lord Castlereagh and the Holy Alliance, wrote her novel 'Frankenstein's monster' as part of an elaborate plot to hide the truth that an increasing proportion of Humanity- at least its hidden leaders- are actually descended from a test-tube and have no souls as such.
    Not all of them know this about themselves.
    One way of distinguishing them is their use of the expression 'warra loada crap'.