In our collaborative blogoshpere project with Mehr-e-Niimroz on Ghalib, we have selected the following she’r this week:
baske dushvaar hai har kaam ka aasaaN hona
aadmii ko bhii muyassar nahiiN insaaN hona
1a) it’s difficult to such an extent for every task to be easy
1b) although it’s difficult for every task to be easy
2) even/also for a descendant of Adam, it’s not attainable/attained/easy to become human/humane
The detailed interpretation is presented on Mehr-e-Niimroz. The straightforward meaning is that just as it is difficult for every task to be easy, it is difficult for a descendant of Adam to reach the status of a human being.
Let us first address the gender issue raised in the commentary pertaining to the interpretation of aadmi as man. Phyllis Trible, a Professor of Scared Literature, became prominent in the 1970s for her analyses of the stories of the Creation. In Trible’s view it is a mistake to think of the first human being, Adam, as male. The Hebrew word ’adham, from which “Adam” derives, is a generic term for humankind—it denotes a being created from the earth—and is used to describe a creature of undifferentiated sex. Only when the Lord takes a rib from ’adham are the sexes differentiated, and a change is signaled by the terminology. The creature from whom the rib was taken is now referred not as ’adham but as ’ish (“man”), and the creature fashioned by the rib is called ’ishshah (“woman”).
So let us interpret aadmi as the descendant of Adam without reference to gender and leave this an issue for discussion.
Now we come to the key question: What is it that makes it difficult for the descendant of Adam to reach the status of a human being and how does one distinguish between the two states (of being and becoming as described in the commentary)?
Readers can debate this issue at leisure. We can point to one of the common perceptions that education plays a key part in the transformation. But what kind of education? Here we think immediately of the article (Blame the Middle Class) by Ashis Nandy that has recently aroused much controversy.
Writing about Gujarat, Nandy says that most of the state’s urban middle class remains mired in its inane versions of communalism and parochialism. “Forty years of dedicated propaganda does pay dividends, electorally and socially.”
Clearly the urban middle class is educated and Nandy raises the point that education alone cannot transform a descendant of Adam into a human being. To understand that one has to distinguish between education and indoctrination and worry about the purpose of education.
How would you complete the sentence: “The purpose of education is…”?
It seems more and more that the purpose of education has become the acquisition of knowledge that exists out there in the world. And knowledge has been further reduced to information. So the purpose of education has become to fill the mind with as much information as one can afford to pay for or someone is willing to subsidize. In the process, a descendant of Adam can become a fanatic, a jihadist, an auto mechanic or a brain surgeon – but not necessarily a human being. These are the descendants of Adam whom Eliot might have called the Hollow Men (“headpiece filled with straw”) in his famous poem.
Taking a contrary viewpoint, Socrates had argued that education was about drawing out what was already within the student. The word education itself comes from the Latin e-ducere, meaning “to lead out,” and Socrates would have argued that knowledge arises in the mind of an individual when that person interacts with an idea or an experience.
Let us leave it here. We had no idea this she’r would bring us full square to the premise of The South Asian Idea. But that is the magic of Ghalib.
The material on Professor Trible is from Women and the Bible by Cullen Murphy, The Atlantic Monthly, August 1993. For thoughts on the purpose of education see The Meaning of Education.