One thing sometimes does lead to another. Our post on Milton and Ghalib has culminated in a partnership with the blog Mehr-i-Niimroz (the noonday sun). Every week or so we will together select a couplet from Ghalib: Mehr-i-Niimroz will provide a translation and commentary; The South Asian Idea will use the couplet to pose questions and start a discussion. The objective will be to explore how much we can learn from Ghalib about the world we live in.
We launched this series with the following couplet:
vafaadaarii ba shart-e-ustuvaarii asl-e-iimaaN hai
marey butkhaane meN to kaabe meN gaaRho barahmin ko
Faithfulness, as long as it is firm, is the essence/root of religion/faith
If he dies in the temple (idol-house) bury the Brahmin in the Ka’ba
This week’s couplet is the following (note the common word vafaadaarii – faithfulness):
nahiiN kuchh subbha-o zunnaar ke phanday meN giiraaii
vafaadaarii meN shaykh-o barhamin kii aazmaa’ish hai
there is no holding-power in the noose/coil/snare of prayer-beads and sacred-thread
in faithfulness is the test of the Shaikh and the Brahmin
You can read the commentary HERE before coming back for the questions.
At one level the interpretation is the obvious one – In the choice between faith and faithfulness, Ghalib is clearly in favor of the latter. He does not really care about the specifics of your faith or its outward manifestations; if you are faithful to whatever you believe in you have passed Ghalib’s test (of worthiness).
One can infer that what Ghalib would not approve of would be hypocrisy – the divergence of word and deed or to act in contradiction to one’s beliefs. Faithfulness is everything – which is the same message that was the gist of last week’s couplet.
Let us make this a bit more concrete. Suppose you are a Sunni Muslim and I am a Shia Muslim. We have somewhat different beliefs but this would not be relevant to Ghalib. As long as we are faithful to our individual beliefs, we would pass his prescribed test.
(Note it follows that the question of one set of beliefs being superior to another cannot arise in Ghalib’s world by definition. The focus is on being true to one’s own beliefs.)
But is that all Ghalib is saying? This couplet seems a little more nuanced than the last one with a little more tension is its use of the notion of faithfulness. Let us move away from religion to explore this aspect better.
Suppose I was born in a staunchly Marxist household and grew up with a firm belief in the ideology. However, recent events have raised doubts about the soundness of certain Marxist tenets. If I remain faithful to my set of beliefs, would I still pass Ghalib’s test?
This is difficult to assume. Could Ghalib’s faithfulness be merely a passive, unthinking one? Would he want us to examine the assumptions that underlie our faith? Is that what he is trying to imply by the references to a snare and lack of holding-power of the outward manifestations of faith? Could we be trapped by our beliefs if we do not remain active thinkers?
(Note the inference here is that we should worry more about the soundness of our own beliefs rather than the correctness of someone else’s beliefs. This is akin to the message of Socrates – question your assumptions especially the ones that seem the most obvious.)
So we are left with a whole host of questions. Let us pick up a few for discussion:
- Do you agree with Ghalib’s preference for faithfulness over faith?
- Do you believe Ghalib would subscribe to an unquestioning faithfulness?
- Do you believe the set of beliefs we inherit are necessarily correct? If not, how do we ascertain their soundness? Do we need to ascertain the soundness of our beliefs?
- Do you agree that Ghalib would not rank faiths in order of their correctness? If so, do you subscribe to Ghalib’s position? If not, why not?
We would welcome more questions that suggest themselves to readers in order to enrich this discussion.