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 commences- 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 ghazal. 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. FrancesPritchett'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 out. 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 FrancesPritchett 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 contemplation. 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.