Ghalib – 17: On Mumbai?

We wondered what Ghalib might have said post-Mumbai?

ham muvahhid haiN hamaaraa kesh hai tark-e rusuum
millateN jab miT gaiiN ajzaa-e iimaaN ho gaiiN

we are monists, our religion is the renunciation of customs
when communities are erased they become parts of the faith

Remember that Ghalib lived in an age of decay, chaos and conflict – he must have been very alive to the issue of divisions. The Mutiny against the British was a united initiative of many communities; the punishments were meted our very selectively to sow the seeds of division. These divisions are still with us and we continue to pay a very heavy price for them.

All the more reason to pay heed to Ghalib. The bottom line in this verse is that our fundamental humanity is common; our practices may differ. Only when we rise above the differences in our practices do we discover that deep down we are the same.

Of course, there are subtleties typical of Ghalib. We have to be different first to be able to see that these differences are superficial. We need to reflect on the differences in order to see that they can be transcended. We have to work to realize that true faith lies beyond the practices of specific geographically and temporally bound communities.

How do these differences arise? Let us take just one illustrative example. In a desert where land is abundant and trees scarce, it makes sense to bury the dead; in an agricultural community, where land is scarce and trees abundant, cremation makes a lot more sense. Such examples can be multiplied.

Most commentators translate the word muwahhid as monotheist. We prefer monist. Monotheism is contrasted with polytheism (belief in many gods) to signify belief in one God. But this God could still mean a dualistic structure in which the creator is different from the created. Monism, on the other hand, is the belief that the universe is just one being (or underlying principle) despite its many appearances and diversities. Monism may be considered more fundamental than any religious philosophy while taking religion and spirituality as sources of wisdom. This would be one interpretation of the second line of Ghalib’s verse.

“Monism is found in the Nasadiya Sukta of the Rigveda, which speaks of the One being-non-being that ‘breathed without breath’. The first system in Hinduism that unequivocally explicated monism was the non-dualist philosophy of Advaita Vedanta as expounded by Shankara. In short, Advaita declares – All is Brahman.” Monism is a tenet of both Hinduism and Buddhism. “In Hinduism each element of reality is part of maya or prakriti, and in Buddhism all things ultimately comprise an interrelated network.”

In Islam, many followers of Sufism advocated monism, most notably the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi. In the Masnavi, Rumi says “in the shop of Unity (wahdat); anything that you see there except the One is an idol.”

Thus it is not surprising that Indian poets like Ghalib and Kabir espouse a monist philosophy and are strong advocates of mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence.

Is there anything we can learn from Ghalib that would help us through these times?

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As always, for a literary interpretation of this verse see the entry on our companion blog, Mehr-e-Niimroz. For more on monism, see the entry on Wikipedia.

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