This week we engage with a complex she’r by Ghalib in an attempt to understand how we know what we know:
az mihr taa bah zarrah dil o dil hai aaiinah
tuutii ko shash jihat se muqabil hai aaiinah
from sun to sand grain, all are hearts; and the heart is a mirror
the parrot is confronted from all six directions by a mirror
Given the complexity of this verse and the absence of punctuation in Urdu, numerous interpretations are possible. The reader is referred to Mehr-e-Niimroz to resolve some of these complexities.
From our perspective, the following are important in extracting the particular interpretation that we wish to present here:
- Whether the break in the opening line comes after zarrah or after the first occurrence of dil.
- The knowledge that in Sufi thought there is a very close relationship between the heart and a mirror and the metaphor of ‘the mirror of the heart’ is much used in Urdu poetry. Mirrors in earlier times were made by polishing metal till it could reflect and the human heart was to be polished in the same way so that it could reflect the truth of the Divine Beloved (God).
- Talking parrots were taught to speak by making them see their own reflection in a mirror while an unseen human voiced the words.
- The parrot is a metaphor for the poet.
We take the break in the opening line to be after the first dil and offer the following train of thought:
Everything is made of sand and every grain of sand is like a heart (here the imagery lends beauty to the words – the sun and sand-grains shimmer and seem to pulsate like a heart); and every heart is a mirror. Thus the learner (parrot/poet/human) is completely surrounded by mirrors and sees its own reflection everywhere.
We learn by looking at ourselves and into ourselves, by examining ourselves, and by reflecting on the world and external reality as it impacts our heart and its feelings. Knowing is a process of reflection, understanding and thinking.
Here we introduce a modern-day concern into this interpretation. Knowledge/learning is crucially dependent on the accuracy of the reflection of reality/existence in the human heart/mind. And this, in turn, is crucially dependent on the faithfulness of the mirror.
If the mirror is distorted, it becomes a completely different ball-game. And the question we are confronted with today in South Asia is whether the mirrors we are using to reflect reality are faithful or distorted?
What do you think?
Look at the textbooks through which we are reflecting history and facts into the minds of our young generation. Read a guest post on this blog for references to the teaching material being used (Why is Pakistan Half Illiterate?). For a new report on secondary school textbooks in Pakistan see Producing Thinking Minds, an initiative by a group of concerned students.
From hearts and mirrors to smoke and mirrors is a short step. The point to ponder is whether we are raising thinking human beings able to comprehend the truth, whatever it is, or parrots regurgitating platitudes that their masters wish to hear.
Not to forget that even parrots trained through distorted mirrors can only take that much distortion without losing their minds and poking out the eyes of the trainers.