Readers would be well aware by now that there is always more to Ghalib than comes across at the first encounter – therein lies one aspect of his genius. In this week’s selection Ghalib addresses the issue explicitly:
haiN kawakib kuchh nazar aatey haiN kuchh
detey haiN dhokaa yeh baaziigar khulaa
the stars/constellations are one thing and appear another
These conjurers/tricksters trick/fool us openly
At one level the meaning is obvious – things are not what they seem and we are being openly deceived. There are a few twists – Is Ghalib referring to the stars in the firmament or to the stars on earth and what exactly does the deception comprise of? These aspects are addressed in the companion commentary on Mehr-e-Niimroz.
Here we presume that Ghalib is referring to the stars on earth and explore a tangential thought – to what extent are we complicit in our deception?
This is a familiar trope in Urdu poetry when the reference is to the beloved – the lover revels in the deception, in agonizing over whether the No actually means Yes or the Yes, No. In fact, the lover would have it no other way – a predictable, honest-to-goodness beloved would be no fun at all. All the ecstasy of the lover actually resides in his pain.
So far, so good – we can understand this tortured relationship of the lover and the beloved. But how do we explain the same phenomenon in the realm of politics?
Take Pakistan, for example. Here are these leaders who have never ever spoken the truth, never ever come clean on anything (except when a gun is held to their heads). How can they continue to fool all the people all the time? How do people continue to have faith in their leadership?
Let us separate the population into two broad groups – the vast majority that lacks all power except the vote and those that belong to various segments of the power elite.
Of the first, let me try and capture a complex sociological phenomenon in an anecdote. I once asked a rural constituent why he was voting for a candidate whose rhetoric was in open contradiction with his criminal record. The answer was instantaneous: “Do you really believe a ‘decent’ man can provide us all the protection we need to survive here?” Let us leave it there for the moment and expand on the theme at another time.
What of the members of the power elite? It seems to me that often it suits many to go along with the deception and this is not unique to Pakistan or to South Asia. How many of the ‘best and the brightest’ went along with the lie that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction or was in league with Al-Qaeda?
There is a nice quote by C.V. Wedgewood that captures one aspect of this reality:
“Few men are so disinterested as to prefer to live in discomfort under a government which they hold to be right, rather than in comfort under one which they hold to be wrong.”