Monday 26 July 2010

The mirasin's mushaira

The mirasin's mushaira- extract from Samlee's daughter.

Actually, now I come to think of it, I have been a little harsh on the kotha singers. The fact is my sub-conscious was preoccupied, all during the concert, with Prof. Pushan’s debacle at the hands of Dr. Fuckface. Indeed, it is only now, re-reading something I wrote earlier, that I feel I have hit on the correct explanation for what happened.
Perhaps, Prof. Pushan felt intimidated by the foreign lady savant because, during the Cold War era, Western Academics turned out, more often than not, to be Intelligence agents. Thus, in speaking to them, the safer course was to appear very simple and rustic. In this way, they would feel contempt for you and spare you involvement in their conspiracies. Thus, Pushan Sahib hadn’t really let the side down. It was just that he was out of date. Western Indologist, nowadays, tend to be drawn, not from the Intelligence community, but from the ranks of the less varnishedly petty criminal or borderline psychotic. Thus, Placenta Fuckface hadn’t actually been a threat. Still, one can’t blame Prof. Pushan for playing it safe.
For my part, having clarified my psychological state at the time of the concert, and with Prof. Pushan’s example before me, I find I have misjudged the kotha women. The fact is, the items they presented to us were chosen with complex political considerations in mind. They couldn’t have guessed that Placenta Fuckface was just a crazy old biddy whom nobody took notice of anymore. Zohra and Cruella had grown up in the days of the British Raj when the fate of a Princely House depended on pandering to the prejudices of people of Placenta’s colour.
Historically, the function of the mirasin was to represent, to the guests of the Nawab, views they would find acceptable. Occasionally, they may have tested the waters a little. But, if they went too far- they were, after all, only women and so no very great offence could be taken. On the other hand- if a sentiment they expressed found favour- the impression was created that the Nawab’s subjects so enthusiastically endorsed it that even the kotha-waliswere on side.
Take the following Farsi verse for example-
You paced its pilgrim path, once knew a tender mood
Attain’d your own Somnath[1] yourself, your own Mahmud
Come, seal the pattern, shear the curls of Ayaz
For eye e’er is Saturn, whose sceptre be of Mars!
It was originally recited at the time of the first Afghan War. Perhaps, the Nawab of that period had some small martial exploit to his credit, which an avaricious marasin blew up into a Mahmud-of-Ghazni-like feat of arms. More plausibly, the sly purpose of this verse was to inveigle the then Nawab back into her bed by pretending to have been utterly undone by his supposed deflowering of her.
The verse could be read in two ways- either it supports the British, who claimed to be avenging the sacking of Somnath, but with this subtle caveat that the British should not, drunk with triumph, hurt the sensibilities of their humble native compradors whose love for them is utterly unmercenary- or else it is a conventional Sufi verse signifying everything, nothing, both, neither, and, daddy, could I borrow the car Saturday night?
This verse had, so to speak, been fossilised by popular approval and kept its place within the patch work quilt of a qawwali based on Attar’s ‘Parliament of the birds’ which had this refrain
Maujudul ism, mafqudul jism
Ta‘ir hai Ishq to Anqa qism!
(It has name not substance- how absurd!
But a phoenix rare were Love a bird.)
In typical qawwali fashion, the singers zigzagged between verses of the most heterogeneous origin and tendency. Thus, a conventional couplet like ‘my heart is the caged bird of Medina,’ might be followed by something shockingly radical- indeed, Kharijite- such as
Sunné kyoun hum kabooter-e-baam-e-haram?
Vaqt pé Abaabeel hi kuch karté karam!
(Why should we listen to the complacent cooing of the pigeons above the Ka’aba?
It was the humble sparrows who saved the sanctuary from Abraha![2])
Similarly- the following verse- quite a biting satire on the fundamentalists-
Aaj Rukh-e-Lailah pe kya? Hain hazaaron hijaab hi pe Majnoon!
Aur nikla Yaad-e-Shirin se mazbooth Mazhab ka besutoon!
Ki tu badnam na ho, tawfiq ho, ye tauriyah rahe jaari
Tera ye joo-e-shir hai ki hoon jahil-o-junoon!
(Our young men have been driven mad! Let the poets all hail it!
Not by Lailah’s fair form- but the desire to veil it
To save Thy good name, grant this dissembling
Thy loaves & fishes, my fear & trembling!)
was followed by this utterly innocuous, and politically null, piece of Sufi piety-
Farhat anjam, ai Farhad, té hum bhi ho yaqin
Khuddi hai Khusrau, Mawt hi har Shirin
(Lo! Love has completed Farhad’s task I ween
Khusrau’s the Self & Death each Shirin[3].)
Sometimes the verses were ribald. Arif claimed to be scandalised by this Farsi duet which must have been composed in a less prudish age.
Cruella- Did it have the parrot’s dainty, or the mynah’s dissembling, Art
You’d disdain not the gift of the caged bird of my Heart!
In vain the indignance & scorn with which your lovely eye flashes
’Tis reborn, like the phoenix, tho’ you reduce it to ashes!
Zohra (eyelashes fluttering)- Well, the gift of a canary
is a bit airy fairy
But, ooo, what I could do
with a cockatoo!
Often, the women mocked their own material. Thus, even Attar’s great work- that qibla of the magpie minded- provoked this comment
Kya doondhna Simurgh ki nahin Aanqaa fariyaad
Sari Mantiq ut Ta‘ir sunaya Sayyaad!
(Why seek the Simurgh[4]? Let book worms make that howler
To hear the debate of the birds, just ask the fowler!)
Actually, the seed for this couplet can be found in Rumi. Indeed, writing this now, I am reminded of another hint from the Saint- very pertinent in putting down the pretensions of themirasins- commenting on Mother Nature, that cruellest of Muses, which I have versified as follows
Learn from the bulbul’s song, the peacock’s tail
How, for daughters strong, She endangers the male!
It was not in prosody alone that the mirasins did not come up to scratch. Their political comments lacked precision and follow through. Thus, in praising a local lad who had been martyred in the Siachen battle, they employed a very hackneyed image-
Hai Hubb al watan mab‘da mo‘as‘sir
Ki Yaad-e-Shaheed ho jaam-e-Kausar!
(Patriotism turns the memory of the martyr into a draught of Heaven’s spring!)
However, they were not able to keep to this exalted theme for very long. Soon they were lampooning the very notion of martyrdom-
Kaha khagaz-o-kalam se khoon-e-shaheed
“Iska mis’ra laga gar ban na mureed!”
Sad’qah-e-siyahi se ye kalaam-e-fareed
Diya jaazib ki gilaaee jawab-e-rasheed!
(The blood of the martyr challenged pen and ink to a verse-capping contest. The ink was upset and the blotter gave a fitting reply!)
Similarly, when commenting on our Prime Minister’s, forthcoming, visit to Pakistan, they presented him (not entirely inappropriately, for the man was a poet) as wooing his opposite number with these words
Ho yaari hamari us sakth miraath uj Jamal
Jaan jalayé nazar apni khud Ayn ul Kamal!
(Let our mutual loving kindness be as that diamond hard mirror of excellence in which the Eye of Perfection (i.e. the Evil Eye) burns itself up from jealousy!)
However, the mirasins true sentiments were not long in showing themselves,-
Lo! Aaj phir sun na hai un se baang-e-daraa
Khoon mein dubaya jin ne hamara har qafilah!
(Once again the leaders sound the same call to depart as before
They who drowned our each caravan in blood heretofore!)
Indeed, embedded in the crazy quilt patchwork of their qawwali, one could discern their true opinion of our Freedom Struggle. This couplet might date back to the their own youth.
…sad haif! Hubb ul Watan ka mutazaad
Hasharaat ul Hind hi hué Azaad!
(…for shame! This is the opposite of patriotism
Only the scum of India have gained Freedom!)
But, even here, they were not consistent. A little later, I heard them complain-
Sikhaya Mashahir-e-Azadi ko Maikhana-e-Angrez
Saqigari mush’tahar ho par kajdaar-o- marez!
(Of Liberation, our leaders learnt, at the English wine-shop
To most nobly tilt the bottle, but let fall not a drop!)
To be fair, they were equally scathing of the Jamaati supremacists who disguise their nihilistic power worship under the name of Jihad.
Gar farz-e-kifaayah hi ho farz
Jihaad hazm hai joo‘ul arz!
(If outward show is considered the only religious duty
Then Jihad is swallowed by lust for dominion!)
Indeed, they roundly condemned separatism-
Kya kuch paak bhi ta buniyaad-e-Pakistan mein?
Ya kuch khaalis bhi hai jang-e-Khalistan mein?
Ho Daakh ki dukhtar hi dukh farid
Kaho, Angoor ki beti se kya ummid?
(Was there anything paak[5] in the creation of Pakistan?
Is there anything khalis in the war for Khalistan?
If only the provenance of the grape poses grief
In wine, how hope to find relief?)
I recall a verse of theirs on our recent atomic tests. I didn’t manage to note down the exact wording, but I will have a little more to say about it. I think the quatrain went something like this
Hotha qabl az waqt koi asghar fatimah
Kya chahiye hamen bam-e-salimah?
Jihad ho tab aur us jihad mein hum
Hotha bewah yatim pe koi sitam!
(If unweaned babies cry in vain
No atom bomb, no aeroplane
For Jihad’s waging, Jihad needs
While widow cries, or orphan bleeds!)
The context for this verse, and the reason I mention it, is a sort of dhvani or echo of theStriparvan of the Mahabharata. Here we have, it seems to me, the true, pure, and very ancient female tradition of protesting conflict by focussing on the suffering caused to children and widows. I still have some vague memories of a therrukoothu performance of the Draupati Vastraharanam[6] in the precincts of a small Draupati Amma temple in my ancestral place. At that time, the trauma inflicted by the ’62 and ’65 wars (for which our Gandhian India was woefully unprepared) was still fresh. Thus, the episode of the disrobing of Draupati had a huge emotional impact. The performers would break off- because it was all simply too unbearable- to speak to the anguished audience. Their message was always this. National humiliation can be avoided by faith in ordinary people. Lord Krishna is in the hearts of ordinary people. Our devotion can prevent the country being stripped and humiliated in the eyes of the World. This is the true Dharma Yuddha. This is the true Jihad. I may mention, the notion that these two holy terms are mutually antagonistic is a filthy lie.
There were some good things in the mirasins’ repertoire. How had they got there? Ribena said they were adaptations of folk forms. We should view these traditional female verse forms as a substitute for therapy. Indeed, since the lives of ordinary women in this region were so much overshadowed by psychological calamities and bereavements, these types of songs were not some frill or adornment, rather, they were absolutely vital for the survival of the race.
Thus, when a child dies, there are traditional mourning songs. There is a praxis of bereavement. But, for the continued survival of the family, the woman has to return to her mundane chores. People have to, quite deliberately, harden their hearts and stop asking after her grief. This can cause the build up of dangerous chthonic forces within the psyche. Thus, a socially sanctioned- i.e. a religious- outlet is required. Since these women were (at least nominally) Shi’a Muslims- and death is no respecter of persons- it was during Mohurram that pent up emotions found release in couplets like this-
Ki dafan hua dil mera tere saath bil jabr hi
Na poochne vala koi raha na saval-e-qabr bhi!
(Because my heart was forcibly buried there with you, no one is left to ask after my grief, even in the tomb!)
The Shia’s believe that burial at Kerbala means the soul will be excused the ‘questioning in the tomb’ and, consequently, will sleep ‘like a bride in the bridal chamber’ until the Resurrection. In this couplet, the woman can express her anger at having to curtail her mourning, and the fact that no one mentions the matter anymore, in a manner that is socially acceptable.
What one must remember is, these mirasins were also mothers. Degraded though their profession, deplorable though their pretensions, nevertheless I can not wholly condemn, except on aesthetic grounds, verses such as this-
Hoon haal-e-dil pe be-khabar
Ki hua waan qatl-e-Shabbar
Ho Saqi khud pyaasa magar
Tishna na ho kisi Asghar!
(What is happening in my own heart, I am not aware, because, it seems, Shabbar (Hazrat Husayn) was murdered right there! Let the Saqi remain thirsty, but suffer not a baby’s lips to become parched!)
I wonder whether the fact that heresy, not to say blasphemy, was the ever present shadow of the mirasin’s lucubrations, was not- rather than a reflection of their demoralising occupation- a specifically female psychological phenomenon. The word metre is related to mater- the womb. Poetry- or more precisely mousiké[7]- begins when the mother-to-be sings to the child in her rahum. But, when any womb’s fruit is untimely cut off, might not the mother launch an indictment against Rahim[8]? Is it not the husband’s duty, the son’s duty, then, for the sake of the family, to listen and parry, with a reasoned Theology, a loving Theodicy, an anger that could raze the future of the race?
Think of Annie Besant. She is the wife of an Anglican Clergyman. She is a hard working, lower middle-class, wife and mother. Then, her little baby daughter falls ill with a sickness unto death. What good is it to say to her- don’t worry, baby will go to Heaven because we sprinkled some drops of holy water on her? Or, instead, baby is doomed to Hell for all eternity- along with the wogs, spics, yids etc.- because current best practice in Canon Law is to give God the benefit of the doubt and postpone, till Confirmation, the pronouncement that a particular brand has really been snatched from burning?

Annie Besant was lucky. True, she lost her faith and, hence, custody of her children (though, once grown up, of their own volition, they joined her in India), and had to make her way alone to London where she could have easily fallen prey to the sort of, fanatically Feminist, Marxist masher, as did for Eleanor Marx or Edith Nesbit. But, it didn’t happen. Why? Championing the cause of the Byrant & May matchgirls- previously condemned to hideous death by phosphorous poisoning- Annie Besant found the one true Feminism- the dialectic of mutual mothering- and in revolutionising British politics by Unionising the masses (and thus making Labour’s displacement of the Liberal Party inevitable) she had an enormous impact on Indian history even before she converted to Theosophy[9] and came to settle in Madras.
Yet, it is precisely because of the huge shadow Annie Besant Amma still throws over the history of my two countries, that I trace the aetiology of a malaise common to both to the heart’s hysterisis of that mother’s grief in such anomie annealed.
I have said that it is the husband’s duty, the son’s duty, to listen to the complaint against Heaven of the bereaved mother. To do less is to reduce what is human to the level of a machine. Theology has a duty, Theodicy has a purpose. But men neglected that duty, men forgot that purpose. Instead, taking Theodicy as their intellectual plaything, they finally ended up proclaiming ‘the death of God’. Of course, I know very well, there are hordes of rabid, tenure craving, ‘Feminist’ hacks who have since piled onto that particular bandwagon. But then, though uninhibited in denouncing the ‘Dead White Male’, those harpies only get by cashing his pension cheques.
Meanwhile, what is supposed to happen to the grieving mother? Or, if what you are really telling me is that all untimely death is redeemed in the spurring on of the God of Science, the God of ‘Progress’- then what about those Science doesn’t reach, has no interest in reaching- what about mothers unmothered by the Moloch of Progress, what about mothers in the Third World’s own Third World?
Think about Christ on the Cross. In the absence of the Father, it is His duty to console the Mother. She had a right to expect something better for Him. But to console Her, He has to empathise with Her- to enter into Her anger and Her grief. Hence His choice of the twenty second psalm. He is not saying ‘God has forsaken me. God is no longer Rahim’. Rather, He is singing a song well known to His mother- ‘thou art my God from my mother’s rahum;Thou didst make me hope when I was upon my Mother’s breast!’ This is a song from thezaboor of Her own family- the family of Ruth.
The Old Testament ends with the admonition that ‘the hearts of the fathers should be turned towards the children. The hearts of the children should be turned towards the fathers.’ Mothers are not mentioned. There was no need. However, times change. With urbanisation, colonialism, technological progress, women too become deracinated. They too may, debauched by some Derrida, pawn their own streedhan- i.e. the folk ways that succoured them in their travail. Christ points the way to the new duty of the new man- the man who would truly be a Post-Colonial man- he must, while embracing empathy, yet defend God and distil the sweetness of Creation, when it is ordained that the Mothers call upon the All-forgiving to submit to this most terrible of indictments.
In the words of Dard, Ghalib so much admired-
This too you could not bear to look upon- Cruel Sky!
Though to look upon each other was our only joy.’
In high poetic terms, Massignon has spoken of Islam as sprung from the seed of Ishmael- holding within itself balm for Hagar’s tears. We are all children of Abraham- his original name was ‘Abram’ which means winning with Ram, winning with the Father- but, not all children have an equal start. Kausalya and Kunti, too, were less favoured wives. But, what happens to this Hagar, all too common in Hindh, who runs sa‘y[10], who runs sa‘y, but for whom the Zam Zam spring is dry?
Kya sa‘y doudoon, kya lagaoon aas?
Abh Asghar ki bhujayi Kausar pyaas!
(O Hagar heart! Thy seed is curst
Must Heaven’s spring quench Asghar’s thirst?)
Where is there comfort? Where is the consoler? Who is the protector of the orphan and the widow? Actually, nowadays, these so-clever consolers drive one mad! The mutual cursing of Religions- like a couple in the divorce court- turns those it orphans into cynics and atheists! Where is there the loving kindness- such as that practised by the Prophet- which will save us from this promise of Heaven, which, now, in our grief, is the worst taunting of Hell!
Jab taskin-e-Qais se hai khud Lailah majnoon
Aur yaad-e-Mustapha se bewa ko tishna-e-joon
Aur le’aan-e-deen se yatim munkirin
Jannath bhi kya ho Ishq-e-masnoon!
I quote one final verse from the mirasins. It combines Hindu and Muslim phraseology and even includes Christian imagery. But, what makes it affecting, at least to me, is it shows women being first denuded and then abandoned to their grief by a muscle-bound, male, hypertrophy of Theism, which, insisting on an impassable Deity, crowds out catharsis, and leaves nothing but sophistry and, nowadays, the prospect of a clerkship, in its place. Not God has absconded but, Men have played truant and women- grieving mothers- are left no recourse but some second rate advocacy supported on the twin props of shrillness and vulgarity. Against this background, the irony, though grotesque, is not without its pathetic element that even such mirasins[11] as these cast lots for the mantle of the Pir and the Paraclete-
Cruella- Khush hoon main is kufr mein ki Khuda hi kufr data!
(In this heresy I am happy, that this heresy, too, is His!)
Zohra- Manzoor mujhé is matam sara, muskuravé Mata!
(To make the World Mother smile, I accept all that is!)
The Besura Begums- Kyoun marna har chand ki koi mané Masiha?
Ho Ishq woh Saqi jo thorr dé shisha!
(Would this cup from me would pass
Or Love- the Saqi that breaks the glass!)

[1] Somnath- A famous Hindu temple. Some Persian poets equated it with the Khanqah (Sufi monastery) as the refuge of mystical religion against the narrow-minded orthopraxy enforced by Sultans and Mullahs. Mahmud of Ghazni- who never went on Hajj- plundered Somnath and cruelly persecuted non-Sunni Muslims . He once got drunk and cut off the hair of his favorite slave Ayaz- known to History as the conqueror’s first native Governor of Lahore- but who is also the emblem of humility and faithful love in Sufi poetry. In Oriental astrology, Saturn is a baleful influence.
[2] Abraha- an Ethiopian (Christian) General who attacked Mecca in the time of the Prophet’s grandfather. His elephants were driven back by a host of small birds who dropped stones upon them. The pigeons above the Ka’bah are, proverbially, unaware of the troubles of ordinary folk.
[3] Farhad loved Shirin, King Khusrau (Greek- Chosroes, but ultimately derived from the old Iranian Kuru) agreed to let him marry her provided he could tunnel through the Behistun mountain- a Herculean task. Khusrau was in love with Shirin and so, when Farhad was successful, he told him Shirin was already dead, hearing which the young man gave up the ghost.
[4] In Attar’s parable, the birds journey to China to become the disciples of the Simurgh. At the end of their arduous journey they find that they themselves are the Simurgh they sought. The phrase, Mantiq ut Ta’ir,(language of the birds) occurs in the Quran in connection with Solomon who learnt that language. Popular Islamic belief associates ‘green birds of Paradise’ with the souls of martyrs who frequent the tombs of great Sufi saints & are an outward & visible sign of ongoing intercession between Human & Divine.
[5] Pak ‘pure’- thus the creation of an ethnically cleansed Pakistan for Muslims. Khalis ‘pure’- thus the demand for an ethnically cleansed Khalistan for Sikhs.
[6] When a villainous crook of a politician seeks to disrobe Draupati, she prays to Lord Krishna. He performs a miracle whereby her sari is infinitely lengthened. Since Lord Krishna is most famous for stealing the saris of the milk-maids (actually Sages who, longing for physical Union with the Divine, were reincarnated in human form), the episode is highly suggestive from the Theistic point of view. Equally, since Draupati is truly clothed only in devotion to the Lord - He needn’t exist. In music, (or even in simply reading, or trying to translate, Sama Veda) anāhata- the unstruck note- or, as in Elgar’s Enigma, the unexpressed theme, can give the key, or generate the affect, of the composition.
[7] Mousike- music (Urdu) from the Greek. Socrates said, after his trial, that he ought to have cultivatedmousike rather than philosophy (hence the term for intellectual- mousikoi andros- in the time of St.Augustine) By this Socrates meant verse set to music- like our Qawwalis and Bhajans. Madam Montessori noticed that introduction of Music enabled self-evolution of order & morality amongst children at play. Hence the singular success of both the Montessori method & traditional Indian approach to elementary education. Incidentally, I wonder whether the Urdu word muzhik (ludicrous, absurd) is at all related to the Russian moujhik (peasant).
[8] Rahim- The compassionate, the merciful. Quranic appellation of God. Kabir and other Hindustani saints equate Ram and Rahim. Etymologically, the word derives from, as in the Hebrew, rahum (womb). Hence, God’s changing the name of Abram (winning with the father) to Abraham (father of multitudes).
[9] The Theosophical Society was founded by Madam Blavatsky (Russian), Col. Olcott (American) & drew upon both Western & Eastern Spiritual & Mystical traditions. Thus, respecting karma, their literature (vide ‘letters from Master Serapis’) upheld exotic or hybrid doctrines- eg. that though life-enjoyment was fixed by karma, time of death was not & could be affected by Social action/inaction. Such souls, untimely cut off, may live in a Swedenborgian (i.e. illusory) limbo where they could continue to receive loving ministrations of mother etc. Furthermore, mother’s continued transferal of her meritorious karma to children, avoidably lost, was not ruled out. Though Theosophy was rather an odd mixture of doctrines & eccentrically expressed- its heart was in the right place, & under Annie Besant, it inspired useful Social, Political & Cultural work. Thus, expounders of orthodoxy- be they Calvinist, Kantian or Crap-Knows-What- should kindly not play sweet Sweeney Todd with Occam’s razor- because the true doctrine of Destiny- like modern particle physics- is actually paradox piled on paradox, wonder piled on wonders. God alone is great. See (Bharat Ratna) Dr. Bhagwan Das’s unbeatableLoci Communes of Theism- “Essential Unity of all Religions” (Published by Bharati Vidya Bhawan). Incidentally, the book provides both an economic as well as an aesthetic rationale for the typically Indglish elision of the definite article.
[10] Sa‘y- Hagar ran to get water for baby Ishmael from the Zam Zam spring. This is commemorated by Muslims in the running of sa‘y during the pilgrimage to Mecca. Baby Asghar- the great-grandson of the Prophet (s.a.w)- was refused water, despite the piteous entreaties of, his father, the impeccable Hazrat Husayn, and thus died of thirst at Kerbala.
[11] Mirasins- lit. ‘inheritors’. Sing-song girls. Prostitutes.

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