|Iqbal's famous couplet|
The first bit of Ghalib I learned when I was studying in Lahore was typical of Urdu’s greatest poet. The couplet snapped with the arrogant self-belief that is the wont of all geniuses.
Na thaa kuch to khuda thaa/ kuch na hota to khuda hota (When there was nothing, God was there/If there is nothing, God is still there)
duboya mujhko hooney ney/ na hota main, toh kya hota? (My birth has been my death/If I wasn’t me, imagine what I could have been!)
This is a bit of mind twister and the interpretations of what Ghalib really meant are hotly debated. My translation captures the notion of the couplet that was communicated to me by the 80 year old calligrapher who taught me how to write Urdu. “Clearly, Shor sahib told me, Ghalib was saying to God, If I hadn’t been born perhaps I too could have been God!”
The concept of khudi (Self) in Urdu literature is a strong one. Another famous couplet by Allama Iqbal runs like this:
Khudi ko kar buland itna/ke har taqdeer se pehle
Khuda bande se khud puchhe/ bata, tera raza kya hai?
(Make your Self so grand/that before each creation
The Almighty himself asks Man/ Tell me, what is your desire?)
This amazing bit of philosophy was worked into the ghazal Hum Apni Shaam ko Jab Nazr-e-Jaam by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on last night’s post.
And tonight that musical genius and Commander in Chief Aziz Mian Qawwal has woven Ghalib’s stunning complaint to God in to his paen to the greatest of God’s creations: Adami Hai Be Nazir (Man is Without Peer). It’s a wonderful rendition in which Mian sahib riffs on the glory of Man and the relationship between the first man, Adam’s, name and the very breath of the Creator.
Islam, we all know means, submission to the Will of God. Listen to these poets and their qawwali interpreters and you’ll get a different take on that story!
01 Allah hi Jaane Kaun Bashar Hai
02 Aadmi Hai Be Nazir