By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah
27 Jun 2019
The Master on Life and Afterlife.
Ghalib is a sad angel,
Who from the intoxication of nearness
Has brought divine revelation
In the form of his Ghazals.
Yusuf Hussain’s translation
( Other translations here are from the same work Persian Ghazals of Ghalib)
Indeed Ghalib has bought a “revelation” that has been such a healing and joy and a fount of beauty. One must be thankful for the privilege of being born in a land and with a language of Ghalib.
Ghalib’s Islam as an “Answer” to Difficult Questions
Every Muslim in the subcontinent who can read poetry but is disturbed over routine disharmonies or complains about this or that issue in life would be required to answer one question on the Day of Judgment: Have you read Ghalib? Ghalib “answers” all our complaints we might conceive or imagine against Fate or providence or people or God. Since God created Ghalib, He has been largely relieved of entertaining many a question on wonder, love, beauty, betrayal, poverty, faith and infidelity. Let us read the Master on certain key questions of life that trouble us. What Ghalib said as an artist, as “the most intellectual poet”, as someone who sought to approximate a sage or Sufi metaphysician is important.
Ghalib’s chief strategy against key anxieties that trouble ordinary mortals is invitation to Islam understood as submission to Truth/Beauty through sacrificing the devil called ego. Few know about the depth of Ghalib’s commitment to essential tenets of Islam, to Sufism, to Muhammad (SAW). All great poetry is a product of vision. As an artist one can only be a Muslim – muslim/submitter to truth, the other, the given, that which is, that which lifts us up or transports to another dimension or depth dimension that constitutes the experiential referent of the concept of otherworld.
Islam: We have been fondly reared
In the merciful tavern of submission;
The raised head of our pride
Is laid low at thy feet.
Ghalib has put his faith in the Mystery/Wonder and the Question and thus dissolved all rationcinatory queries. He invites us to see how all answers supplied by ideologies and exotericists are not for the wise and one better celebrates God as Mystery (Gayyib) and life opens up its beauties. Ghalib is overawed by everything and loves to be drunk with the joy that is life lived at the plane of selflessnesss (bay-khudi) and has no time for debates and questions that wreck lesser minds.
Ghalib’s Religion: Faith of a Mystic
Since all great art has something to do with the mystical (understood, in Goethe’s terms, as dialogue with God/Reality) and mystics don’t argue about God but witness something of what is called God in the depths of their own being/life/ experience the question regarding belief in God/higher world/otherworld needn’t be asked. About Ghalib we know that one of the towering Sufi scholars would treasure his company for illuminating difficult questions of Sufi metaphysics and we find arguably one of the most succinct and irrefutable explications of Wahdat-ul-Wujud doctrine in Ghalib’s prose. Though he didn’t live the life of a Sufi, Ghalib was, nevertheless, the Master of Masters in explicating intellectual content of Sufism.
Ghalib was not indifferent to the call of religion or terrors of hell. His biographer, Hali, narrates ample evidence to the effect that he reminds us of passionately religious poets (such as Donne and Iqbal) when it comes to the question of facing God’s Judgment in the higher world. Though often perceived as proud man highly conscious of his stature, he considered himself too sinful and lowly to face God. People read a verse or two from him and attribute to him this or that belief regarding higher or deeper things. All great poetry is premised on faith in immortality, wrote Yeats. Such works as Last Things in Shakespeare and Shakespeare in the Light of Sacred Art explain how immortality has central place in the work of the greatest of English poet-playwrights. In fact great art is born in the fount of higher spiritual life or vision.
Islam as metaphysically understood by Ghalib called for humility though this isn’t incompatible with the sense of human dignity of which he was highly conscious. Prof. G R Malik, one of our very few Ghalib experts in Kashmir, often quotes “Dhampa Kafan Ne Daag-E-Ayob-E Barhangi/Main, Warna Her Libas Mein Nang-E- Wujood Tha.” Hali lists his extreme sense of failure – a mark of humility – as informing his conviction that he deserves worse than ordinary hell.
Tragic Sense of Life
Poetry is born when Adam is expelled and mourns his separation for Eve and lost paradise. (This happens, on mystical and existentialist theological readings, daily, to each one of us.) Poetry is nostalgia. Nietzsche also noted that the essential pain of Homeric men was “separation from that sunlight” that gods embody. Man announces his birth with a cry of grief and we are told in traditions that a child is really mourning the warmth of heavenly angelic presence he/she was bathed in in the womb – and psychoanalysis, in its own secularized way, has affirmed this. Birth is given “astride of a grave.” Schopenhaur had proposed a universal greeting “O! fellow sufferer.” There is no greater sin than that of your existence or your very existence is a sin, is a point that Maari and many Sufis have reiterated and some even claim it to be traceable to the Holy Prophet (SAW). “Sarvum Dukkham,” the first noble truth of the Awakened one, finds expression in Ghalib in scores of verses: Here is one example:
In the composition of man,
The original element is anguish of the heart;
The root of every hair in every living being
Is smeared with blood.
Heaven and Hell
Heaven/God is really a state of love or attachment to the Absolute as manifested in Beauty/Joy:
In our drunkenness we were searching
The flower-garden of paradise;
Our surmise found its way through the dust
Raised by thy graceful walking.
Anyone who has really loved the graceful gestures and coquetry of children or spouses or friends (and blessed are those who, as Ibn Taymiyyah points out on his Uboodiyyah, can love all things in God or love God above everything or love everything for the sake of God the Beauty, the Most Loving or, with Abu Yazid Bistami, see God first and beloved object later in every encounter with anything) can understand Ghalib’s point.
By melting down our whole existence
We have drunk our morning draught;
The sun of Doomsday’s morning
Is our brimful goblet
In paradise there is a stream of wine
And a stream of honey,
But thy ruby lips are for me
Both the one and the other
Those who have been blessed with a loving heart have entered paradise of a sort here and now and since there is a stamp of eternity on every experience of love it reverberates in every new world.
In this world one should not be absorbed
By the relishing of pleasure;
Our fly sits on sugar-candy,
And not on honey.
Thy loving beauty, in the ways
Of heart-ravishing, has as its attributes
The waving ringlets and hair-thin waist
Of the phenomenal world.
Ghalib has called the divine displeasure a stream of honey with the quality of wine. Since “the taste of wine is bitter to non-drunkards and sweet and agreeable [this , incidentally is the literal meaning of azb, the root word for Azab, as especially emphasized in Ibn Arabi] to drunkards so is the beloved’s anger, disagreeable to non-lovers and agreeable to lovers.”
If any Muslim living in the subcontinent has a choice to read only one book of poetry it should be Deewan e Ghalib. Ghalib’s Deewan is a Wazeefa that comes handy on almost every sweet and bitter occasion.
Most Muslims can’t fail to taunt or pity Ghalib for his addiction to drinking. Let us see what Ghalib has to say:
Wine may be prohibited, but witty speech
Is not against the Divine Law;
If thou dost not appreciate the good in us,
At least don’t taunt us for the bad.
He who drinks wine with the friend, in privacy,
Knows full well what is the houri,
What Kousar and what Darsssalam
Our heart bears the wounds of affliction,
And wine is the only cure;
For those who are wounded, what is this talk
Of lawful and unlawful?
Who, amongst us lesser mortals, has not some limitations and has not committed some sins and isn’t it best to leave the judgment to God as we all want to be spared the gaze or taunt of others? When we examine the case of humans we find they are mostly drunk with some idea or thing – love, beauty, wonder, music, art, ideology, smoking, alcohol. Along with Ghalib, “We are devoid of wisdom and good deeds” but could perhaps claim “But yet are filled with Thy love;/Our intoxication is perpetual/Since we break our fast with wine.” I know of none who isn’t afflicted with the affliction of love we are all yearning, longing for Home/the Beloved who is Repose.
One needs to note that God creates each one of us with an eye on what good could come out of us and as Tagore and others have noted, the fact that new children are born daily means God has not been disappointed from human race. See what great good has flown from the pen of Ghalib – if there were some law necessitating paying homage or royalty to the poet for every verse we chant, Ghalib’s posthumous estate would be the biggest in the subcontinent and almost every day we would need to pay something as Ghalib comes handy on almost every occasion.
Reading Ghalib is not easy as it is not easy to read scripture or generality of great works because life itself is not easy read or adventure and poets present life at its most intense, sublime, profound and elusive plane.
The secret that is hidden in our breast
Is not an exhortation;
It can be told on the gallows,
But not proclaimed from the pulpit.
What is this secret exposing which costs gallows? The poet belongs to the tribe of Mansoor and Socrates. The charge against Mansoor was he spoke truth and nothing but truth stripping all the guises that it has traditionally worn to help lesser mortals gaze at it that otherwise consumes one. The charge against Socrates is charge of the naïve, cocksure closed minds/fundamentalists against ironists. For Ghalib life throws questions and challenges too big for oftenly rehearsed theories or constructs that explain away the essential mystery or transcendence. In fact life/man is a Question. Our life remains worth living as long as we stand open to the unknown, to the unknowable (Al-Gayyib). Faith is commitment to guarding this porosity to the other, to let love dictate terms to the ego.
Source: Greater Kashmir