Ghalib – 8

This week we have just the right she’r to address the issue of the ‘Other.’ I was about to say it hits the nail on the head when my head made me re-think the sentiment from the perspective of the nail. I wonder how the corn feels about the corny joke?

In any case – Onwards, Christian soldiers  (for a clue to the allusion, see Ghalib and Jesus on stone throwing on Mehr-e-Niimroz).

maiN ne majnuuN pe laRakpan meN ‘asad’
sang uThaayaa thaa ke sar yaad aayaa

Against Majnun, in boyhood/childishness, Asad
I had picked up a stone – when the head came to mind

Majnun is the archetypal mad lover at whom children pelt stones. The poet is about to join this torment, either as a child or in a state of childishness, when he puts himself in the shoes of the ‘Other’ – his head makes him realize what it would mean to be at the receiving end of such treatment. Here the effect of the language is powerful because the head can think in the abstract and also imagine the act of the stone hitting the head.

In South Asia today, more than ever, we need to think of the ‘Other’. So, what is the lesson we take away from this couplet by Ghalib? Is it, to phrase it in terms of the Christian ethic, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”?

But what happens if you believe the ‘Other’ has already done to you what you did not want him to do to you. Is it then “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”?

Perhaps. But that still does not preclude the responsibility to think – to use the head as Ghalib puts it.

Here is what Harjit tells Urvashi Butalia in The Other Side of Silence (Viking, 1998):

I cannot explain it, but one day our entire village took off to a nearby Muslim village on a killing spree. We simply went mad. And it has cost me fifty years of remorse, of sleepless nights – I cannot forget the faces of those we killed.

In times like these, there are those who hope to gain by inflaming the emotions against the ‘Other’. If it is just something you have heard, use your head before you pick up the stone.

No, America, Saddam Hussein, evil as he was, had nothing to do with Al Qaeda or 9/11. You got conned by the neo-cons. And how many people died because you threw the stones without using the head?

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