Gar kiya vo mujhé nazar se raqibon mein shaamil
Hunooz zaban se karti vo ummidon ko baaTil!
(If her glance invites me into the company of my rivals
Her tongue cuts off Hope- both Death’s & Survival’s!)
It was a tawdry ghazal- and the Besura Begum singing it strained each note and marred every syllable. The two infirm and wasted tabalchis kept up accompaniment in desultory fashion, passing a joint back and forth to each other. The harsh, resinous, smell of charas mingled with the sickly-sweet fumes rising from the brazier.
Ki ho zaalim ki rassi daraaz hoon main ta’mil
Hua sabr-e-sitam se insaan kabhi kaamil?
(There’s this virtue in hemp- it gives the tyrant enough rope
Was patience with persecution beyond the Prophet’s scope?)
Arif was impatient to go. Coming here had been a bad idea. Iyer, on the other hand, being a first time visitor, was greatly taken with the place. He had been subdued earlier but, as the harsh liquor started to go down smoother, he was experiencing an alcoholic second wind.
Pehchan meeTi tabassum mein tajassum-e-filfil
Karta Ishq rooh faraaz to nafs ko fanaa’fil!
(See in sweet smiles the black essence of pepper
If Love exalts the soul, it makes the ego a leper!)
The pathetic aspect to it was that the Besura Begums were taking it all so seriously. Earlier, the men had been entertained by two or three elderly courtesans- witty enough in their way, though no very great virtuosos of their Art- but, as the hour grew late, these veterans had decorously withdrawn so as not to impede business.
Gar hui vo Saqi aur jaam mujhé haasil
Sharab aur tezaab main karé koun faasil?
(If she became the Saqi and I received some wine
Between alcohol and acid, who could draw the line?)
An exceptionally ugly Besura Begum was refilling Iyer’s glass and leering at him grotesquely. In truth, the liquor tasted more like acid than alcohol. Nevertheless, Iyer thought fit to set up a great clamour of appreciation. Indeed, and ludicrously, he went so far as to nudge his companion, and drunkenly repeat the couplet to him, as if it were a pearl of Ghalib’s piercing.
Hai jaama-zeb zaalim khudh khabar-e-haamil
Apni khagazi pairaahan mein zafar-e-a’dil!
(Now accoutred as accuser, now in judge’s clothes
Victory becomes her, whatever her clothes!)
Noticing Iyer’s animation, another of the Besura Begums- but one ludicrously miscast and costumed as a Bharat Natyam dancer- stirred hopefully. Iyer quickly averted his eyes. She had wanted to dance for him earlier but he had very vehemently insisted that it was against his religion to witness such spectacles outside the Temple. Nevertheless, she continued to eye him with dumb reproach- like a dog which hasn’t been taken for its evening walk.
Unpé is shér kahné gaya main Maah rukh ki mehfil
Par samné hua sham‘ma sirf Shams ko ai dil!
(I went to Selene’s salon where poets compete all night
But the Sun carried off the palm ’fore I could air my plight!)
With the ending of her ghazal, the Besura Begum had to pass the sham‘ma- in this case an aromatic candle in a, quite handsome, tinted-glass shield- to the next person whose turn it was to recite. Normally, this should have come as a relief because her sallow skin had looked terribly jaundiced by its flickering light.
Unfortunately, she chose to pass the sham‘ma to Iyer Sahib.
I’m sorry, I can’t go on.
Dwelling on what happens in brothels- especially when I’ve had the chance to depict the holy atmosphere of an Ashram during the course of the same narrative- is totally against my principles and character. However, in fairness to myself, I must point out that if such episodes do, quite unavoidably, arise in the course of my books then the blame must be placed, fairly and squarely, at the feet of Society rather than on any weakness or vice of my own.
Moreover, the fact is, due to extensive and intensive oppression of women throughout Classical and Romantic periods of Indian Cultural History, the activities of denizens of kothas represent the only free play of Feminine Intellect and Spirituality within the country. Hence, if this narrative is to give you a balanced picture, it is extremely essential to dwell on such matters. Indeed, the fact that, throughout the State, it was the prostitutes who were the first adult converts to the cause of Anti-Masturbation, is sufficient proof that India hasn’t really changed. Only place where women can throw off their ‘mind forg’d manacles’ is in the kotha. Other females are merely puppets of Patriarchy, mouthing slogans they can neither mean nor master. Feminism- even when represented by such Internationally acknowledged ‘Masters of those who Know’ as Gayatri Chakroboty Spivak, Daksha D’Souza Rice & Vagina Dentata Choothopadhyay- is nothing but an ‘Intermediate Technology’, or International AID package, recycling ideas which have passed their sell-by date and palming off pharmakons proved toxic in their own milieu of origin.
Hence, as a responsible observer and critic of Society- one, moreover, deeply committed to the Feminist cause- I simply have no choice. A few suggestive song and dance sequences in the kotha must be included so that this work can stand alongside such masterpieces of Socially Conscious reportage as John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ and Franz Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth’.
In this context, I may mention- I should be played by either Shah Rukh Khan or Brad Pitt in the film version of ‘Samlee’s daughter’. I assure you, this is not at all because I hold the Actor’s profession in contempt. Why, then, you may wonder- given my overwhelming beauty and grace- do I want someone else to play me? The answer has to do with my own preparations for Stardom. Because I’m deeply Spiritual, I began my crash-fitness program by buying Kyrie Minorc’s ‘Patanjali’s Yoga-aerobics Sutra’ exercise Video. For the benefit of less Pop-savvy readers, I should explain, the diminutive Kiwi in question first attained fame because her face was perpetually frozen in an expression of orgasmic bliss. However, as the decades went by, and the novelty of this approach wore off, sales began to suffer and so Kyrie was re-launched by the Sekkupu Corporation as the possessor of the perfect bum. However, so as not to disappoint old fans, Kyrie mastered Yoga so as to be able to keep her orgasmic face always in frame and poised a few inches perpendicular to her pert and deliciously upthrust bum. My mistake, I feel, was in seeking to emulate this asana of hers too closely. Actually, I was able to maintain this posture all through my grocery shopping at Kwiksave, but then my disc slipped and so I’m having to spend some time in traction that’s all.
Anyway, returning to the theme of this section, I must tell you that verses like the following- on the Medieval theme of the mystic Rose- as sung by the mirasins, represent a tremendous treasure-trove of Spiritual knowledge and Soteriological insight.
Bear in mind, if you’re trying this mantra at home, a lot of wiggling and jiggling must also occur, throughout the recitation, to ensure its efficacy-
What, forever, Faith, the flower, proposes, must Truth, the thorn, oppose?
As when, Rose, I wooed with roses, but those roses wounded Rose
She said “I hope it won’t be broken, I know hearts are hard to fix”
“ But, tho’ thrilled with your love-token, I’m so tired of little pricks!”
(Chorus) “ tho’ thrilled with your love-token, I’m tired of little pricks!”
To fully grasp this verse, you should read Rumi, Leibniz, and the ‘Paradiso’ section of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Similarly- but this time performing a seductive hip grind- you may wish to ponder the esoteric underpinning to this melancholy shikva-
O say not Love’s song is sung
Nor to idle rue give tongue
Making phrases marks the fool
& a bad lover blames his tool!
(Chorus) & a bad lover blames his tool!
However, I should clarify, the chief literary importance of the kotha does not lie in the poetry typical of its denizens- rather, it arises out of the verses it inspires in its occasional patrons. Arif, for example, on being passed the sham’ma, and not wishing the mirasins to understand him, took a long swallow of his drink and then uttered this Farsi verse-
‘Hurled from Heaven- we’re not in Hell
While Pleiades, Seven, work their spell
Our crippled wings seem debonair
& Love, the soft name we call Despair!’
(Chorus) ‘& Love, the soft name we call Despair!’
Indeed, as the evening progressed, his responses darkened in mood. This was his Sindhi riposte to an (utterly crap) rendition of some stanzas from Shah Abdul Latif’s ‘Suhuni Mahiwal’-
‘Like Suhuni, who well knew, being a potter’s daughter
An unfired pot but melts in water
Yet, who trusted to one to cross Indus’ spate
Unfired by Love, still we mate!’
Similarly, he rejected, but this time in English, the Besura Begums’ Bihari overture of some sub-standard, Sufi, mishmash, derived from either Fariduddin Attar’s Mantiq ut Tayr- or, more deplorably yet, Ahmed Ghazali’s Savaanih- & which, for brevity, I translate-
Sultan Mahmud (played by a particularly obese & hirsute bull dyke)-
With God’s shadow to me, as to mine heart’s gold
Ah! for our trespasses free, ‘fore Love took hold!
Now a galley slave, I, by Thy mercy whipped
Yet, Thou the shore from whence I’m shipped!!
The slave, Ayaz, (a wizened & wall-eyed trull)-
To drink from the Sky, Eyes’ antelope fails
Only Dazzlement is, or yet Ego veils
For once your slave, your Sultan yet awhile
Union’s path is paced but single file!
‘Jacob’s loss is Zuleikha’s gain
& Farhad’s bliss were Khusroe’s bane
& if Ghazni’s Lord sweet Love beguiles
Which Attar physics Ayaz’s piles?
(Envoi)- Prince! If of the true mystic creed I speak a word
’Tis for crap is liefer talked than heard!’
Indeed, Arif’s poetry- it seemed to me- had taken on an uncharacteristically sour note. His response to this quatrain of mine-
‘For the veil that I wear is not the veil that you see’
In Shiduri’s tavern, said the Saqi to me
‘Let Politicians & Pundits mulct who they can
‘Make Sri Devi’s breasts your five year plan!’
showed a sceptical attitude to Religion- on the lines of Dharm-o-deen ki dekho har baat/ Baazaar-e-Haq mein hota baarjaat!- as shown by this verse
‘Since Truth’s a Saqi, casts no reflection
In Jamshed’s cup, or Christ’s resurrection
Worse than Death’s chill breath has us shiver
That barmaid’s face in Maryam’s mirror!’
Speaking for myself, and pausing to place on record my deep distress at Arif’s debauching of the English language, I must tell you, quatrains like the following chronicle my own opinion of illicit sex- be it mercenary or hedonistic.
‘Recking not reciprocity, the Other each enters
For the reverse were atrocity & each Self-centres
Together they hunt, what hounds them apart
For, ‘I haven’t a cunt & she hasn’t a heart!’
You may well protest at my use of four letter words. Indeed, so chastened is my usual English prosody, you may consider it ‘a blemish on white jade.’ However, let me assure you, bad language is an aesthetic necessity because-
Tho’ Pan you reave- so a reed might write
Be ruled, Poet, by what I, rude, indite
Only old maids read & School boys recite
So variegate your verse with ‘fuck’ & ‘shite’!
Moreover, as Kulapati K.M Munshi once said- though perhaps as a mere obiter dicta on Heidegger’s Holwege & the inevitable Nuremberg to which must tend all Black Forest no-paths nonetheless blackened by too frequent ‘Shepherds of Being establishing Meaning by means of the Word’- not that it could be otherwise for, to finally & perhaps fatally quote the aforementioned words of the late great founder of the till lately great Bhatratiya Vidhya Bhavan- “Inspiration is like a tramp in the Woods- it wont come unless you talk dirty to it!”
In this context, and broaching a cellar’d vintage of deeper delved metaphysics, you may wish to savour the following more melancholy quatrain on the signally vacuous but soverignly unvanquishable theme of ‘each mind holding in confinement its mere solitary dream of a world’-
Odd that an old lag like me should so fondly dwell
On the little hole in each prison cell
We blundered through when we were small
Or that, humping you, I kissed the wall!
In this context, I have something to confess to you. The fact is, shocking as this might seem, my virginity is not entirely unspotted. I haven’t always looked upon all women as mothers, sisters, grannies, etc. Indeed, I think I’ve hinted to you that, when I was employed as an Economics teacher, my relationship with female students left something to be desired.
However, in fairness to myself, I am obliged to observe, blame should not at all be pitched upon me but, rather, must fasten upon this totally Evil and Materialistic Consumer Society in which, due to ‘fast-food’ and other such godlessness, people are not able to maintain a proper sattvic diet and hence become contaminated by lust and promiscuity due to passional rajsic, and sensual tamsic, additives and ingredients in processed food products. Indeed, I should clarify, my anti-Masturbation commitment does not arise from laziness, lack of dexterity, or traditional Brahminical disdain for manual labour- rather, it is because my personality is naturally sattvic, free from blemishes, and thus eminently suited to being entrusted with large sums of money for philanthropic purposes- that’s all.
In this context I may quote the following words of Bhim Singh to indicate the purely majazi, or illusory, nature of any vices- be they ‘wine, women or song’- that might otherwise be attributed to me. Here is an extract from Bhim’s précis of my personal history-
‘…unable to bear the brilliance of his tejas, Iyer-wife, like Saranyu quitting Surya’s side, speedily departed leaving a shadow in her place, who, however, being a Saqi by profession, bore him but sickly children- some of whom became poems, while others- more horribly- became ‘humorous’ novels &c….’
Actually, that wasn’t the extract I was thinking off. Can’t think where it’s wandered off to. Anyway, fuck it, just take my word for it already.
 Vagina Dentata Choothopadyay- a registered trademark of the Sekkupu Corporation. Probably the most virulent Virtual Feminist of the mid Nineties- Vagina first appeared in the Feminist ‘Womb Raider’ M.U.D (Since bought out by the Sekkupu Conglomerate). She organised the planet’s post-holocaust women into a human chain- all sullenly fisting each other- circling the last surviving forest, thus protecting it, and their own eggs, from evil, technology-obsessed, male ‘Womb Raiders’ intent on genetically modifying the last surviving strands of Gaia’s original mitochondrial D.N.A.
 Ghazni’s Lord. The perfect love between ,‘The Shadow of God’, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni and his faithful slave Ayaz is a fertile subject for Sufi poetry. Once when Huma, the bird of fortune whose shadow’s touch confers Empery, appeared in the Sky, all Mahmud’s soldiers went running hither & thither in the hope that the shadow would fall upon them. Ayaz however went & stood in Mahmud’s own shadow. Later, so Ahmed Ghazali (brother of the theologian) tells us, the Master /Slave relationship was reversed but in a manner more profound than that outlined by Hegel. Thus, Mahmud complains that veil upon veil has fallen between him & his beloved. In the mirasin’s version of the story, Mahmud is like the Indian antelope, which gallops through the drought stricken forest, hoping to quench its thirst in the blue waters of the sky. Incidentally, I should mention, sodomy is heavily condemned in Islam. Fariduddin Attar was a pharmacist by profession.