Russell - Understanding the Urdu Ghazal

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Unformatted text preview: $055511 ‘ Uri/PERSI‘WVD/A/G 7/»«5 URPU GanAL 2. Understanding the Urdu Ghazal I well remember my introduction to the Urdu ghazal—the classical Urdu lyric. ' My teacher began reading ghazair with me when all lknew about them was that they were love poems. I like love poetry, and went into class with pleasurable anticipation.l came out a sadder. but not, lam afraid, a very much wiser man. having found with something like dismay that there was almost norhing about the ghazalr I had read which I understood and liked. From that day to this I have been convinced that to understand and appreciate the ghazat is the most difficult task that confronts the modem Western student of Urdu literature; and as my Own understanding increased 1 have become equally convinced that this is a task whichjonce accomplished, brings the greatest reward. That view is not shared by most of those who have written in English about Urdu literature. Thus Muham mad Sadiq wrote in hisHistory of UrduLi terature, first published in 1964, that die ghazal ‘Stands very low in the hierarchy of literary forms‘ — a statement that recurs in the second edition publishedin 1984.1 That judgement cauld hardly be more completely opposed to myown, and, what is more important. to the judgement of millions upon millions of South Asians of all social classes who have always loved the ghazal and still do. First Encounter I am writing primarily for English speakers who perhaps know little more about the ghazal than Idid when I firSt encountered it, and I therefore make no apology for first giving something of the history of my owu attempts to identify, and later to solve, the problems which the Urdu ghazai poses. For while every individual’s experience differs in some measure from every other’s, I do not think that my own has been markedly untypical. I came to the systematic, full-time study of Urdu literature relatively late in ' life — to be precise, at the age of 28, having not only finished my school and university life. but having also spent six years in military service. (Three-and- a-half of these were spent in India, where i acquired an ability to speak and read Urdu.) At school and at university my main subjects of study had been Greek and Latin literature, and I had also acquired a reading knowledge of French and a taste for English literature and for the classics of other European languages which could be reached through English translations; and I had continued to read during the war years when. for me at any rate, short periods of all- en grossing activity alternated with long ones of relative idleness. flaw: flame} of Understanding the Urdu Ghazai 27 Thus I came to the Urdu ghazal with a moderately wide range of general reading in literature behind me. As I have already said, I liked love poetry, and expected to like the ghazat'. Yet at my first encounter with it I was very much taken aback. [n the first place, before I ever got to grips with its content, I was baffled by the oddness of its form. The ghazal is usually a relatively short poem, knit together bya unity of metre and by a strict rhyme scheme (AA, BA, CA, DA and so on). I could appreciate the rhyme, but the metres were exceedingly complex. and for the most part yielded no rhythmic pattern that was discernible to me. I was familiar with the stress-based metres of English, and with the quantity-based metres of Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit, but none of them gave me much help where Urdu was concerned. (I found '1'. Grahame Bailey’s statement that Urdu metre is, like that of Latin and Greek, based on quantity, to be untrue - or rather if not wholly untrue, at any rate sufficiently incomplete to make it of little help to me.) More disconcerting still was the discovery that in the typical ghazal the closo unity of form stood (to me) in glaring contrast with a complete disunity of content, in the sense that every couplet is an independent entity, not necessarily related even in mood to its neighbours.2 I was told that the ghazal is commonly compared in this respect to a pearl necklace —— beautiful, separate pearls held together on a single string: but to be quite honest, this is not an entirely apt comparison. In the first place, in the typical ghazai, including some of the very best ones, not every couplet is a pearl, or, indeed, a precious or semi-precious stone of any kind. It is not a suing of pearls, but a suing on which are threaded, in apparently haphazard order, pearls. rubies, pretty pebbles, and cheap heads of plain and coloured glass, uniform in size and shape. but not in anything else. And why is every verse a separate entity? No‘one could tell me. Finally there was the problem of the gender of the beloved. All the great classical ghazal poets were men, but they always used masculine forms when referring to the beloved. This was the strict classical convention: women poets too wrote as if they were men, addressing a masculine beloved. (Respectable women did not generally write poetry, but it was a standard accomplishment of corn‘tesans.) Why was the beloved always addressed in the masculine form? Was it because the ghazal is the poetry of male homosexual love? That in itself would have been no great obstacle to my appreciation of it, and [quickly realized that this was part-of the answer — although people who knew very well that this was the case were generally reluctant to say so. But it was clear thatthOugh the ghaza! poet always uses the masculine gender of his beloved, that beloved is often quite unmistakably female. (l was later to See that this convention holds even in such unconventional poets as Nazir Akbarabadi and in a modern poet like Akbar Ilahabadi.) Why? Again no one could give a clear, comprehensive explanation. I turned. therefore, still puzzled by these conventions of form, to see what the content had to offer «- and found it no less disconcerting than the form. The situations of love which it portrayed were generally far, far different from those in my own experience or from anything I had met in the love poolry of other literatures. Most of it I did not understand, and whatl did understand (or thought I understood) had very little appeal for me. At the time I reacted at best with 28 Classicai Poetry scepticism and at worsi with derision. I said to myself, 'The beautiful girl whom a man loves but who does not love him is not. to me, a new phenomenon either in literature or in life, but in the ghazal the poet's mistress always seems to be like that. Maneuver, her beauty is described in ridiculously exaggerated and ridiculously conventional leans. Then, I can understand a girl who does not return a poet's [eve being, in his eyes, cruel. But the be10ved of the ghazal poet is not content to be cruel in this sense; she is a thoroughly nasty character who delights in being really and actively cruel and vindictive. And how does the lover react to all this? Not as any self-respecting man would. by trying to cure himself of so hopeless a love, or resolving by his persiStent devotion to melt his beloved's heart. or by making up his mind at the very least to bear manfully and with dignity the lifelong burden of a love that he knows will never be required. No, not in any of these ways, but with complete Spinelessness. bewailing his lot in the most extravagant, unmanly self-pity. and taking itfor granted that he is in a situation which he can never change.‘ In short, I found both the lover and his mistress singularly unsympathetic characters, people who eculd inspire in me no sense of fellow-feeling at all. Beset by all these problems. I sought help from my British teacher. He was the kindest and moat helpful of men but here he seemed powerless to help me, and the more I pressed him the more I came to feel that. though he did not like to confess it freeiy, the fact was that he too did not find much in the ghazat' to appeal to him. ' This situatiOn made me pause to think. and to think pretty hard. By this time I had made a good number of friends among Urdu speakers. Mostof them were postgraduate students at the various colleges of London University. and not all of them were particularly interested in the ghazal. But manyof them were. and the majority of thesa subscribed to the view that the ghazal. as exemplified by the best exponents of the farm. was poetry of high merit. I was very willing to be convinced that this was so, but for all my willingness, none of them was very successful in his attempts to enlighten me. Thus. they could not explain why it was that every couple: of the ghazal was independent of every other, or why an obviously female be10ved should be spoken of in the masculine gender. (On the other hand, they were used to these conventions and did not find them-odd.) In the matter of metre my talks with them were a little -a very little - more fruitful. They all knew that there was an elaborate system of prosody based ultimately an Arabic. None of them laid claim to more than the most rudimentary knowl- edge of it, but what they could nearly all do was recognize its rhythms where I could still discern name. It quite often happened that I would quate frum memory to one of my friends some line which 1 liked. and would at onCe be told. ‘You must have remembered it wrongly. It can't be that. It doesn’t scan.‘ He would think a bit and say, ‘It's probably this.’ — and recite something which to my ear sounded identical in metre to what I had just said. Something like the following dialogue would ensue: ‘But that sounds exactly the same metre to me.‘ ‘Well. it’s not.‘ ‘What’s the difference then'?’ Understamfing the Urdu Ghazal 29 ‘I can't explain it to you, but the two lines are different. One scans and the other doesn’t.’ . Thus. i at any rate discovered that these complex metres in which I could discern no pattern were real enough to Urdu speakers, even if they could not help me much to understand them. I may say in passing that this experience led me to form the tentative conclusion that a study of Urdu verse would ultimately make it possible to make an analysis of Urdu metre in its own terms — without reference to English. Latin, Greek. Sanskrit, Arabic. or anything else. Sub- sequent wOrk has fully convinced me that this is so, and I can n0w analyse the metres in terms which make them intelligible, at any rate to me and to my Students, though I very much deubt whether the experts in the traditional system would accept my findings.3 But to return to the main line of my argument: I was compelled to conclude that I must wait a long time before I could hope to appreciate the ghazal as my Urdu-speaking friends did. I never ceased to think that I could one day hope to achieve this reSult. Ireflected that thepoetMir. for instance. had been acclaimed now for two hundred years, and that cultured people whose taste and judgement I respected still acclaimed him as a great poet. It was possible that they were all wrong, but much more likely that the fault lay in me, in my continuing inability to understand exactly what the ghazal was all about. I determined therefore to persevere in the hope that I d10uld one day learn what I needed to lumw; and this was still the situation when 1 went to India and Pakistan on a year's study leave at the end of 1949. I did not at once realize how significantly different would be the experience of life in the subcontinent l was now to have from that which lhad acquired hitherto. I had been in India for three-and-a-half years during the Second World War, but not for any significant length of time in any context which brought me into contact with aspects of life relevant to the understanding of Urdu poetry - poetry which in any case I would not have been able to read in thoso days. Later I had studied Urdu in London, and had made good friends among Urdu speakers there. But, in London, they were living in an environment which was not their own. I was now for the first time to meet on their own ground, so to speak. the class of Urdu speakers by whom and for whom the Urdu ghazal was produced. Once again. the experience was not at first as fruitful as one might expect. I spent the first few months at Aligarh Musiim University, where I was most kindly received, and where all whom I approached, from MA students to lecturers and professors, were more than generous with their help. But there were still many problems to be solved «» and some of them were new ones. None of the MA studentsI talked to seemed to me in the least like the lover portrayed in the Urdu ghazal; yet all of them admired the ghazal, and did not at all feel that the lover, as there portrayed. was an odd or an unsympathetic figure. My efforts to find out how this could be so did not meet with much Success. Nor were lecturers appreciany more able to help me to see the light. I tried another tacric and decided to approach Urdu-speaking students of, and lecturers in, English. I thought to myself ..‘English poeetry is in a tradition alien to them.just as Urdu poetry is in a tradition alien to me. Perhaps if I find out what impact it 30 Classical Poetry makes on them. this'wilt give me some clues abOut their attitudes which will help me to understand their poetry.‘ Here too the results were disappointing. Only one experience gave me any encouragement; this was when I asked an MA student whether he could follow the metres of English poems. ‘Oh no.‘ he replied. ‘we read them as though they were prose.‘ ‘Good!’ I thought. ‘I’m in a similar position in regard to Urdu poetry. No doubt the metres there all right; I just have to discover how it works.‘ But this was in the realms of form; in the . realms of content — of themes. significance, interpretation - I did nor discover wlmt I had hoped. and. in time, Icarne to realize why. I hope thatl shall not offend any Urdu-speaking readers if I say that the tradition of their education for centuries has been one which has told them. ‘Learn. accept. and repeat.' lwould be the last to claim that this attitude is no longer to be found in the c0untries of the West. but it has at any rate been appreciably weakened since the replacement of medieval by modern society. Most teachers will tell their students. and a fair number will actively encourage them. to use their own intelligence and sensibility in the study of literature, and learn to express adequately their own thoughts and feelings about what they read. I hope things have changed for the better by now. but at the time of which I am speaking. most Aligarh students of English learned the opinions of the best English authorities of the day about English writers, and accepted and repeated them as their own. I found also that their reasons for studying English were generally not what. in my simplicity and inexperience. I had imagined. I knew that if you read literature at a university you are bound to give due weight to the consideration that you have to pass examinations in it. and to recognize that this obliges you to Study aSpeCIs that do not particularly interest you. But even so. you sill have quite a tor of time to do what does interest you. and to experience the enjoyment that comes from reading the great works which add something to your whole being. enlarging both your capacity to ijy life and yOur ability to understand more fully y0urself. and other men and women. and the world around you. It is important that you learn what a great poem or play or novel meant to the person who wrote it and to the people and the age it was written for; but in a sense. it is even mere important to think what it means to you -you, who belong to a different age and a different people. and who even as an individual are in some measure different from any other individual. regardless of the age and the people to which you belong —and who despite all these things find that the greatest works of literature can speak directly to you. In the last resort both the pleasure and the profit of reading derive from the sense of what the things you read mean to you personally. and l suppOSed that in India too most people who chose to Study literature would be people who felt something like this about it. even if they could not easily put the feeling into words. Well, I found that this feeling for English literature was. in the words of the old cliche, conspicuous by its absence. Here again. there is more than a century of history behind the attitudes which I fortnd all too widely prevalent; but it is not too much to say that. for many, the motives for acquiring qualifications in English were to acquire the prestige (and the better jobs) which proficiency in English could give and to display their Urdersmnding the Urdu Ghana! 31 social superiority by. among other things. a lofty disdain for the languages of their own country and for those for whom these languages are the main medium of culture. For people so motivated the ideas of enjoyment of and learning from literature are alike only dimly comprehensible: they learn the ‘right' answers to liker questions. and that is as far as it goes. The unquestioning. unthinking acceptance of authority, including cultural authority. was to Strike me forcibly many times. Attitudes to Urdu too are affected by it.-I met. and still meet. lecturers and others who. when speaking of Mir. would evaluate the ghozal as the crowning glory of Urdu literature, and when speaking of Bali’s Sher o Shoiri (Poetry and Poetics) would echo his puritanical. Victorian strictures upon this same giro-ml}, generally quite un- aware that they were showing any inconsistency. In short. for many months my difficulties remained unresolved, and Ibegan to see light only when I made the acquaintance of Khurshidul Islam. I do not want to embarrass him with my praises; nor would Iwish to suggest that had the chances of life not brOught us together I should never have met anyone else who could have substantially helped my understanding. But at all events. it is to him above all others that I owe most of such understanding of the ghazai as I possess. and 1950 marked the beginning of a collaboration that has continued ever since. , . It would take too long to describe the discussions between us from which an understanding of the ghazai evolved. and it is in any ease time. having illustrated the difficulties which face Students from the modern Wesr as they approach the Urdu ghazal. to say how, in the light of my own experience, I believe it sl10nld be understood and assessed. Love in a Medieval Society It seems to me that in studying Urdu literature as a whole. three things need to be constantly home in mind: firsdy. that the greater part of it is a literature medieval in with rather than modern; secondly. that it is the literature of a community which has always regarded itself as an elite, and is therefore markedly aristocratic in its values; and thirdly, that it is largely (eSpecially in its 906"?) a literature of oral tradition -— that is, a literature cemposed in the first instance to be spoken. and only afterwards to be written down and read. Where the ghazal is concerned. the reservations with which I have made the first and the third points can be dropped. These points are fully applicable to the ghazai without any qualification at all. In these respects, it differs a good deal from the bulk of the English literature with which English-speaking students are familiar. and the implications of each point will need spelling out fairly fully. The central fact about Urdu love poetry is that it is the poetry of a medieval moiety. The parallels between the society and the low. poetry of medieval Wesrern Europe on the one hand and those of eighteenth century Mughal India on the other are very striking. As I have said in ‘The First Flowering of Urdu Literature’. I am well aware of the objections that can be made to the use of the 32 ' Classical Factor term medieval; but all the same it seems to me that it is the most apt word to use, partly because it is net over-precise in its connotations. I, at any rate, cannot find a better word, and when i see how closely comparable are the concepts of the ghazal to those of European medieval literature. I am all the more content to adopt this description. I have mentioned earlier my disagreement with Mohammad Sadiq‘s judge- ment of the ghazal in his History of Urdu Literature. His interpretation has one great merit in that he has clearly recognized the medieval character of the ghazal. What he has not been able to do is to muster any great sympathy for its values and its c0nventions. It is a curious fact that for those who are approaching classical Urdu poetry for the first time and whose previous reading in literature has been from books written in, or translath into, English, the easiest path to understanding it is through the writings of people who knew nothing about it. In books like J. Huizinga's The Waning of the Middle Ages or C. S. Lewis’s The Allegory of love and The Discarded Image you may see how a scholar may remain a modem and yet enter with insight, sympathy and understanding into the world of medieval men and women. Very few of the best known modem scholars of Urdu have yet achieved this kind of imaginative sympathy with their classical forebears; and rural Urdu scholars do acquire it such writers as Huizinga and Lewis will remain the best guides into the world of classiCal Urdu poetry, which is strikingly — and sometimes, indeed, amazingly — similar to that of medieval Europe. imaginative sympathy is only one of the things that the would-be historian and critic of Urdu literature can learn from these writers. Another is the ability to recognize. and to be willing to state. the obvious central feature of the classical poetry they are presenting. The central theme of the ghazal is lave; and the love which it celebrates is, and in the society which producrrs the ghazal can Only be, illicit love. ' Those who know something of European medieval love poetry will know that the ghazal is not exceptional in this respect. C. S. Lewis begins his account of the courtly love poetry of Western Europe with the words, ‘Any idealisation of sexual love, in a society where marriage is purely utilitarian, must begin by being an idealisation of adultery.‘5 (I think his words are in a sense misleading —perhaps deliberately used to give the reader's preconceptions a violent jolt and - prepare him for an unfamiliar concept of love. Medieval poetry is not the glorification of adultery as such; it is the glorification of love, which happens incidentally to be adultery.) Prominent scholars of Urdu do not seem to be willing to speak in similar terms. I well remember saying in a lecture I gave in 1958 at the University of Delhi that the ghazal was the poetry of illicit 10ve, and finding to my surprise and perplexity that my statement was greeted with disapproval and even with resentment. I know Urdu-Speaking society better now than I did then, and I feel surprise and perplexity no more. But I would still insist that my statement was true and dial even those who disapproved of it must have sensed its truth to some extent. That being so, it is surer not too much to expect of serious scholars that they should find the courage to say so; but, be that as it may, anyone writing for the modern English-speaking world must say so. For Understanding the Urdu Ghazal 33 only when readers realize that the love which the ghazal celebrates is illicit [eve can they even begin to understand what it is all about. Once they do realize this central fact they will not feel as I used to feel about the lover and the beloved that the ghazal portrays. They may still not understand them fully, but at any rate they will have made a start. in a purdah society of the kind that produced the ghazal love has nothing to _ do with marriage.6 Marriage is an alliance made on purely social and utilitarian considerations. and love or the absence of it is quite irrelevant to it. In fact, that is purring it too mildly: love is all too likely to make difiiculties in what would otherwise be a smooth and straightforward process of arranging marriages, or to disrupt such marriages once they have been made. Where, drerefore, modern Western society is Sympathetic to love, medieval society is hostile to it. To obviate - as far as it can be obviated - the possibility of this disruptive force coming into play. a girl's marriage is arranged as soon as she is physically capable of childbearing, and it necessarily follows that. in the typical case, the girl with whom the poet—lover falls in love is already betrothed or married to someone else. This fact is so selfevident that the poet never even mentions it. and while the lover’s rival is a familiar figure in his poetry, the beloved's fiancé ' or husband is too unimportant even to be referred to. All the same, the fact that love necessarily involves the violation of the ties established by betrothal or marriage is important. In a society where marriage is an institution of much more fundamental social importance than it is lit the modem West, it is protected by drastic measures against those who would violate it. The effect of this is that the lover therefore knows from the start that his beloved is likely to be unattainable, and this knowledge heightens the intensity of his longing and tinges it with desperation. In the Muslim society of eighteenth century India. the purdah sysrtem made things even worse for him. For in purdah society every girl approaching puberty is withdrawn completely from the society of all males except those who are too closely related to her for marriage to be possible. She lives in a separate part of the house. rarely goes out, and when she does so, wears a burqa,‘ which veils her completely from head to foot. In such a society a boy may grow to maturity without ever seeing a girl of his own community excepthis own close relatives, and one may imagine something of the intensity of his longin gs and frustratiOns. and the violence with which they burst forth when some chance happening provides them with an outlet. For accidents can happen to provide such cutlets, and the conventiOn of Urdu love poetry, that love is always love at first sight, is less remote from the _ reality of such a society than may at first appear. For example, a girl may stand unveiled before a window when she drinks she cannot be seen, and be seen by someone passing by. in many Urdu love stories this is how love begins. " A loose. flowing garment worn by Muslim women who observe purdah, completely enveloping them from head to foot. The eyes are covered either by a elorh mesh or by material thin enough to be seen through from the inside. Some have a veil which may be thrown back over the head when not in use. 34 Classical Poetry This kind of situation also explains to some extent another convention of Urdu poetry — that the beloved is cold and indifferent to her lover. If she becomes aware of his love she is likely to react with indignation and anger against one whose conduct is almost certain to cause her to be suspected of encouraging him. And if she reacts favourably. and begins to feel a responding attraction. her position is one of heart-rending difficulty. The danger in which her lover iputs himself is grave enough, for disc0very will certainly mean bitter social persecution and may even mean death. But a woman disc0vered in an illicit love affair faCes hatred of such virulence that even if her life is spared, it may seem to her hardly worth living. Hence. before she Surrenders herself she does all she can to test the strength of her lover’s loyalty to her, pretending indifference even when she does not feel it. and even treating him with deliberate cruelty until she canbe sure that nothing will shake his loyalty to her. Even if, having put her lover to the test, she finds him true to her, and responds accordingly, she may still vacillate, and indeed repent of her conduct and conclude that it is better to come to terms with a life withont love than to face the terrible dangers that love involves. Or a sense of guilt. a deep conviction that her [eve is dishonourable, may urge her to the same course. Her lover understands quite well that her cruelty or her refusal to respond does not necessarily mean that she does not love him, but this understanding does not save him from the spiritual agonies which this time of testing brings him. and he pours out his anguish in verse of extravagant. passionate self-pity. This mood often adds to the difficulties of the modern English reader Struggling to enter into the spirit of the Urdu ghuzal, for to most of us today self-pity connotes unmanliness and ether unsympathetic qualities. It takes an effort to realize that this connotation is a modern one;.as Dorothy Sayers writes. in a rather similar context. ‘There are fashions in sensibility as in everything else. The idea that a su'ong man should react to great personal and national calamities by a slight compression of the lips and by silently throwing his cigarette into the fireplace is of very recent origin.‘7 You will see the truth of this if you turn to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and see how Romeo. whom Shakespeare portrays as a resolute and courageous man, reacts to the news of his banishment from Verona.g [t is understandable that where a man‘s leve is likely to be a h0peless one, he can look to find spiritual peace only if he cultivates the ability to love for its own sake, without any expectation of return, and whatever the suffering his love may bring upon him. The experience of 10ving is in itself a priceless treasure. It reveals to him qualities in himself which have hitherto been dormant. and which love alone can rouse. The trials of low test the steadfasmess of his heart. reyeal to him his own spiritual strength. and bring him to the stage where he actually welcomes every cruelty which his mistress inflicts upon him. including even death, because it enables him to prove to her and to himself that he hasthe strength to love her to the end. Courage. constancy and complete dedication to love are the supreme qualities which the Urdu ghazal exalts, and because only the experience of love can develop these qualities. no suffering is too great a price to pay. Understanding the Urdu Ghana! 35 Some of those who know the Urdu ghazal argue that for the most part it is not really about this kind of experience at all — that most Urdu poets who depict their love experience in these terms are not writing direct, realistic accounts of what they have known but using those terms as conventional metaphors for the description of other experience. I would reply first. that some of the greatest ghazal poets - the outstanding example is Mir A evidently are writing of their personal experience of exactly this situation. Mir’s Masnavr‘ Mamlar i Ishq (Stages of Love) gives a frank and moving account of his own love affair, but this evidence has been passed over in discreet and respectable silence even by scholars who have written at length on his life and poetry. I am aware that the ‘l' of a poem written in the first person is not necessarily in every respect the ‘I' of the poet,9 but in the absence of external evidence there is no reason not to assume that the two correspond, and it is at any rate clear that the poet identifies sufficiently with the ‘l' of his poem to be ready to have his readers think that he is writing of himself. Secondly, even those poets who are not writing of their own experience of love are nevertheless describing other experience in metaphors derived from this situation, and you can understand the metaphors only if you first understand their literal conn0tation. I repeat. therefme, that the key to the understanding of the ghazal is the realization that it is the poetry of illicit love. of the love of a man for another man’s betrothed or another man‘s wife. Mystic Love But the ghazal is also the poetry of another kind of love — the passionate love of the mystic for God, his Divine Beloved. The poets called one kind majazi, ‘symbolic’. and the other haqiqi. ‘real' — and. once again, the modern English reader is disooncerted to discover that ‘symbolic' love is earthly love, and ‘real’ love mystic love — and not the other way round. In one and the same ghazal one will find some verses which one naturally takes in the earthly sense and others which one takes in the divine sense; and when one takes a second look there are inlainy which could be taken in either sense or indeed in both at the same time. The second major task in learning to appreciate the ghazal thus becomes that of understanding the parallels between the two kinds of love. It is not easy for us to appreciate just how close. to the medieval mind, these parallels were. Once again. I use the historical term ‘medieval' rather than one with regional conno- tations like ‘Indian’ or ‘Muslim’. because I think our difficulties in under- standing the mystic themes of the ghazul spring not so much from the difference in outlook between East and West as from that between modern and medieval. I feel sure that One of the reasons why many people today jib at the parallelism with which human and divine lave are treated in the ghazal is the long Protestant tradition of the modern West which tends to regard sexual love as sinful, or if not sinful, at least not religious, and for this and other reasons feels very uncomfortable with the Symbolic identification of God with an irresistibly 36 ' Ciarsr’cai Poetry beautiful woman. Such readers would do well to remember that it did not occur to our ancestors — not even to some of our Protestant ancestms - that there was anything objectionable in the parallelism between sexual and divine love. You will find it in the Bible. in the Song of Solomon, where the chapter headings take the most sensuous descriptions of the beloved — her feet. her thighs. her belly. her navel, her breasts — as Christ’s description of the graces of the Church. 1 This treaunent is not exceptional. J. M. Cohen. in his History of Western Literature.12 speaks of love poetry ‘translated o lo divine for pi0us reading, according to the strange custom of the time, with a divine lover careftu substituted on all occasions foran earthly one’. In European medieval literature the lover is often God and the beloved his worshippers. but the symbolism of the ghetto! is also commonly found. In Dante's Divine Comedy the figure of Beatrice appears both as Dante’s earthly beloved and on Other occasions as the symbol of Christ.13 And Huizinga tells us that in the most celebrated treatment of love in the medieval literature of Western Europe. The Romance ofthe Rose. the rose was taken as the symbol both of the female genitals and of Christ.” - The starting point of mysticism is the soul's longing forGod. a longing which was as little to reason as does a man's involuntary, powerful attraction to a beautiful woman. It is this direct. deeply emotional relationship with God On which the whole stnrcture of mysticism is builLand it is worth making the point at the Outset that this in itself means that mysticism is potentially a docrrine subversive of medieval society. and therefore deeply suspect to it. If your one oveniding aim in life is to draw ever closer to God. then the great ones of this world are unimportant in your eyes. And the great does of this world do not like those who do not think them great. if yOu rely upon your lave of God to guide you. you do not need the advice of learned divines and do not accept their pretensions to be in some special sense the guardians ‘of true religion. And the spiritual pillars of the medieval order do not like this attitude any more than their temporal counterparts do. 7 Islamic mysticism has a wide range of expression and Ido not want to give the impression that its most radical, potentially subversive trend waseverywhere made explicit - still less that it was the dominant trend in Islamic mysticism as a whole. But in the convention of the Urdu ghazal it does daminate. and is not only made explicit, but like almost everything else in the ghazal. carried to an extreme. The hero of the Urdu ghazal poet, in his mystic role, is Mansur a] Hallaj, who was crucified by the orthodox in 922 AD. for crying cut 'anal Iraq! anal haq!’ — ‘l am God! I am God!’ — words which to the myStic express his sense of the complete merging of the individual soul in the Divine Beloved, but which to the orthodox are unspeakable blasphemy. In the convention of the Urdu ghazat’ the poet’s position is Mansur's position. and he takes it for granted that this exposes him to the same persecution from the pillars of society and of orthode religion as Mansur himself had to face. Thus the eighteenth century poet Mir writes: Understanding the Urdu Ghazal 37 if}: a siege—amine or. 1; alt/trieaéry Have you not heard what happened to Mansur‘! Here, if you speak the truth. they crucify you.15 There is a play on words here. In the original the word 1 have translated as ‘the tnnh' is haq, and Mir uses it because it is the same word as ManSur used. though in his cry ‘anal haq‘ it means ‘God'. ' i If we piece together from the lines of the Urdu ghazal the essential docmncs of the extreme mysrics we can readin understand why the orthodox abhorred and hated them, and why this hatred was most cordially returned. Some of the leading ideas are these. The worship of God means the love of God, a love as all-consuming as love for a beautiful mistress. Rituals of worship are of no significance as compared with this. Of the ‘Five Pillars’ ‘of Islam. the five fundamental duties of faith. prayer. fasting, almsgiving and pilgrimage. only the first is essential. Performance of the others may conceivably help you to draw closer to God; but mostly they are harmful to true religion. for they lead you to see religion as the hollow perfon'nance of external rituals. and. if you perform them. to an arrogant self—satisfacrion that you are ‘not as other men are . Far better than such Muslims are Hindu idolators who love their God wrth all their hearts. though they call him by another name. For God reveals Himself in many forms and the worship of His true lovers is acceptable to Him. no matter in what form they worship Him. God not only created the universe; He is the universe. All that exists is He, and there is nothing beside Him. The worship of the beauty of the universe is the worship of God. whether it be the beauty of nature. or of a beautiful woman. or of a handsome boy. The finest of God’s creations rs humankind, which in Islam is considered the noblest of created things. The ghazal poet's ideal is a strongly humanist one. It “stresses the greatness of humankind, and proclaims the almost infinite porentiahues of human beings. urging their claims even against God himself. The cardinal rel tgious command- ment is to love other people. no matter what their creed and nationality. Hafiz. the great fourteenth-century Persian poet. proclaimed this commandment in a much-quoted verse . ‘9 5 Java—{ku'filfi-AJ? Mflqfibwflf Do not distress you fellow men. and do what else you will . For in my Holy Law there is no other sin but this. ss Classic-a1 Poetry And Mir in one of his verses reproduces these words almost identically irt an Urdu version.Io He remembers how in his childhood a mystic had told him. ‘Never on any accotmt give pain to any man's heart. or break this phial with the stone of cruelty; for in the heart of man the Divine Beloved sits enthroned, and it is His special abode.“ And in many of his verses there is an echo of these words. The human heart which is so frail and brittle, once it is filled with lave, becomes incomparany strong. strong enough to withstand any assault and Sustain arty bur-domed much so that it holds up the heavens themselves The loving heart is your surest guide as you go through life. lts'generous impulses teach you to wage war on bigotry and narrow Pharisaical self-satisfaction. and to love your fellows regardless of their creed. The true lover of the Divine Bel0ved is the implacable foe of the shawl, a word which originally meant simply “an old man’, but hence came to mean ‘an elder’. a man of mural authon'ty. and is in the convention of the ghazal. the type of the Pharisee who is mailed with every weapon of ridicule and inventive that the poet can command. ‘ Because mystics consider the impulses of the heart to be their chief guide, they do not regard wine and music and love as forbidden, although the first is prohibited by Islam and the other two disapproved of by orthodox Muslims. On ~the contrary, these things are. so to speak. regarded as the mystics’ allies, for they banish the onwardly inhibitions of worldly wisdom and the austere attitudes of Pharisaical pride, and stimulate all that is free and generous. (In the great majority of cases the self-ponrait of the Muslim mystic as a wine-drinker is purely symbolic. Music, on the other hand, was in literal fact a common feautre in mystic practice. as was the View that experience of earthly leve wasan aid to the attainment of divine love.) The heart teaches the mystic to war againsr the dunyadar. the worldly-wise, no less titan against the shawl. For their cumpla— cent ‘practical wisdom' is essentially a cowardly prudence which makes people betray the principles which the heart teaches for the sake of making their way in the worid. Unlike the worldly-wise, mystics are indifferent to wealth and social status, and to what the respectable may think of them. They are proud to call themselves faqr‘rs (a word in which the senses of beggar and holy-man are still closely‘associat'ed) and to live their lives true to their beliefs. trusting to God's lave. and to the‘l'reely given charity of others, to sustain them.There has been much dispute about theextent to which the verses of the ghazal should be interpreted as the symbolic expression of mystic love. There is in the homelands of the gland! an orthodox, conservative school of critics which asserts that all of Hafiz is to be understood in the mystic sense. Most people nowadays would regard this view as untenable. and, I think, rightly. Nazir Ahmad, the great nineteenth centrrry Urdu prose writer. just about summed up the situation when he remarked scathineg that trying to read the whole of what Hafiz wrote in a mystic sense is like ‘trying to touch yourbuttocks with your ears’.18 This school is motivated by a desire to make respectable what in fact cannot be made respectable to orthodox Islam, and this vitiates the whole-of its judgement. In contrast to this, some Western scholars have gone to the opposite extreme, and would agree with Gertrude Bell, who admired Hafiz and translated a selection Understanding the Urdu Ghazal 39 of his verse into English, mid who was reluctant to read a mystic meaning into any verse where, to guote her words. ‘the simple meaning is clear enough and sufficient in itself'.i To do this. she say-s.is to remove Hafiz ‘from the touch of human sympathies“. But this shows too limited 3 range of appeciariou. (In another passage she writes. ‘I am very conscious that my appreciatim of the poet is that of the WM.” - of the modern Western, she might well have said) it is Significant that her words about remoteness from human sympathies imply the assumption thataverse read in the mystic sense cannot have the same immediacy of feeling as one on a purely human theme. This is perhaps true for amodern audience; butldonotthinkitwasanything likesotrueforamedieval one. The feelings of medieval men and women about their religiOnwere often as intense and immediate as anyifeeling arising from purely human relation- ships. Moreover, there seems to me to be no doubt that one of. the main techniques of the ghazat‘ poet was to write verse which should be capable of interpretation on several planes. so that of the my numerous verses which can be read without difficulty either in a literal or in a myst sense. many were probably intended by the poet to be capable of either interpretatim. or, if you like. of both simultaneously. . Amodern audienceperhapsunderstandsthemystic aspectof the ghazal more readin if it is exp‘essod in not-religious terms. The poets’ beIOVed could be regarded as standing for the ideals of life in which they passionately believe, for the sake of which they would be ready to face every hardship. to withstand every persecution.and in the lastresorttosaa-ificeeyen theirlives. In a medieval society such ideals could onlybc conceived and expressed in religious firm. But the essence of the mystic love which the ghoul portrays is a self-sacrificing devotion to an ideal which. conceived in modern terms, is. not necessarily a religious idea] at all, though of coarse it my be that. The ghazal poet does not spell out in any great detail what these ideals involve for one’s personal andsociallife,but takes itfor granted thattoptoclaim such an ideal and to act upon it consistently necessarily incurs the wrath of the pillars of society. To take one's stand uncompromisineg on humanist ideals and not to flinch from any of their pracdcal implications means to'face perse- cution throughout onefs life and ultimately to suffer death at the hands of the upholders of the established order of things. The range of possible mystic or quasi-mystic ideals is almost infinite. All who see themselves as struggling for a cause, whatever that cause may be,can express that commitment in the terms of the mystic symbolism of the ghazal and thus, so to speak. be potential ghazal poets. The Poet’s Experience I said earlier that among the conventions of the ghazal is exaggeration — exaggeration of an order that modern readers accustom themselves to only with great difficulty. This exaggeration is evident in the depiction of the notational have described There are famous Urdu poets who indeed had illicit love affairs ' 42 Ciassr'calFOetr-y the poet’s beloved could be male; homosexual love was to the ghazal poet as legitimate a form of love as heterosexual. But more important is the fact that the poet’s mistress stood in a relationship to him which must have struck him as wholly exceptional in the Overall pattern of medieval social relationships; in all other comparabie relationships of service and allegiance in which he stood, her counterpart could only have been a man. The sort of feeling that lay behind masculine forms of address for a woman be10ved is at any rate not confined to Urdu, nor indeed even to Islamic poetry. E. W. Lane in his classic Manners and Customs oftlre Modern Egyptians translates an extract from ‘one of the grossest songs I have ever seen or heard even in the Arabic language‘ and adds the comment. ‘In translating... 1 have substituted the feminine for the masculine pronoun; for, in the original the fortner is meant, though the latter is used; as is commonly the casein similar compositions of the Egyptians. '22 And C. S. Lewis remarks in passing in The Allegary of Love that ‘midons.’ the conrtly lover's form 021; address to his lady 'etymologically represean not “my lady” but “my With mystic (haqr'qr) love the range of experience that lay behind the poetry was probably as wide as with human (majazi) inve. At one extreme stand first. time poets who really were mystics - Mir Dard is the example that comes most readily to mind — and. attire other, those who have no more loved their God than they have ever loved a woman. but who can handle the techniques with sufficient expertise to show that they are cultured gentlemen. In between. the possible diversity of range is great. in fact. even among the true mystics there is a certain diversity. None of them literally fits the ghazal portrait in every particular. Mystic lovers of God had-at one time existed * and perhaps still did exist - of whom it could be said that the standard ghazai portrayal was more or lees literally accurate. Butcertainlyno prominent Urdu ghazar' poet fits this bill. Still. one may be content to leave aside the more coforuful trappings of the ghezal picture and wonder how much .direct. actual. personal experience lay behind the symbols through which mystic love is expressed. Which of the mystic poets had indeed found their way to their intense love of God through the experience of passionate, sexual love for another man's wife, or through wine and its intoxi- cation. or through music and the ecstasy it can bring? One would naturally like to know: and it is therefore all the more necessary to say quite bluntiy that we do not know and that we almosr certainly never will. We can assume that mystic poets must have ranged all the way frorn those who had hadall these experiences to those who had had none of them. But at what point on the spectrum any particular poet stands we have no means of knowing; at the very best we can only surmise. Poets can make perfectly effective use of experiences which they have had only in fantasy, and even if they had experienced them in fact. the norrrrs of Mughal society would in any case have forbidden them to avow this in completely unambiguous terms. Even today. the norms of Muslim society in India and Pakistan would-operate to thesame effect; no Cultured audience would approve of-a pact who spoke openly of thiskindof intimate personal experience; and it would consider the attitude of a critic who tried to inquire‘into such experience quite reprehensible: such inquirieS would be held to be neitirer Understanding tire Urdu Chan! 43 necessary nor permissible. The modern West sees nothing impermissible in such inquiry. and neither do I; but I think I w0uld agree with Muslim judgement in considering it unnecessary. I doubt very much whether a detailed, factual knowledge of what practical experience lies behind a poet's poem helps very significantly to an understanding of its impact. I drink ittx'obabie that the great majority of those who respond to the poetry of Kcats’ Ode to aNt‘ghrr'ngaie have never heard a nightingale sing, and that most of those who have. myself included. would probably not recognize its song again if they heard it. They-no doubt vaguely assume that Keats himself had heard it. and I expect he had. But if someone could prove to me conclusively that in fact Ire had not, this would notalter in any way my estimate of the greamess of his poem. justm it does not in any way lessen my opinion of people who like the poem if I know that they have never heard a real nightingale sing. - Though a few Urdu ghazal poets may really be mystics, with varying degrees of personal. or vicarious, or fantasy experience of the earthiy emotional expe- riences which serve as symbols, the majority of them are not mystics in any very meaningful sense of the term. The best of them, like Mir. share with the mystics many of the values that guide them in their conduct toward then fellows; and what all the really worthwhile Urdu poets have in common with the mystics is a sense of dedication to ideals which they feel to be greater than themselves and for which they are prepared. in atleast some measure, to sacrifice themselves. And, asin the case ofearthly love. poetsrnay notbepeople whocan and do in real life sacrifice themselves to an ideal, but rather ones who wish that they had the strength to be such people. and in poetic fantasy present themselves as though they were. Linked to this situation is the sense that their devotion to the things they love makes them in some sense unique, lxings them into inevitable conflict with the conventional ways of the mass d their fellows,.and dooms them to a life and a death in which society rejects. despises and ultimately crucifies them. _ We can now put in comprehensive form the question. ‘Who, or what is the beloved of the Urdu ghazal?‘ andcan answer. ‘Any person. or. any ideal to whom or to which the poet. whether in real life or in fantasy. is prepared to dedicate him or herself, sacrificing everything for its (her. his) sake turd willingly accepting are hosril-ity of conventional society as an inevitable consequence of this love.‘ - The Dramatis Personae of the Giraud It is important to bear in mind that the experiences of such a person in all the ' situations which may confront him (or her - but I shall henceforth use the masculine form because it is in the role of the male lover that the ghazal poet speaks) and especially in that situation which demands the supreme sacrifice of him is the theme of the ghazat: and, necessarily. this involves portrayal of the ways in which society reacts to him. It is from his standpoint that the lover-poet sm'veys humankind. He sees that people like him form a small minority, hated '44 Classical Poetry and persecuted by that other small minority that holds temporal and spiritual powerand is cmuptedby thatpower. l-leseesthatbetween these twominorities miceasing war rages. and that no reconciliation is. or ever will be. possible. He sees also how tltose who do not belong to either of these two minorities react to the battle between them. He identifies a number of common reactions, and in the stock characters of the ghazai drama he typifies these common reactions. so that each character represents in its purest form the qualifies of each group that the lover-poet identifies. He reserves his special enmity for the ideological leader of his enemies. This istheshaikh. ‘theelder. the presbyter’ thepillaroforthodox Islamand the zealous persecuter of the 'heresy’ that lovers represent. Yet the shaiflr's own ‘religion’. as evidenced not by his words. but by his deeds. will not stand even the mildest scrutiny. He is firmly on the side of the rich and powerful. About their sins he remains discreetly silent. while the 'sins' of those whom they oppressareproclaimedfrom tltehousetops. Histewardistoshareinrheirpower and wealth and privilege, and to commit irt secret all the sins of which he. often . falsely. arxuttes others. ' Between the lover and the slum stand the millions who censtitute the rest of mankind. 'llte lover sees clearly the positions they take up and recognizes equally clearly the censequences that flow from them. Closest to him is the razdan, the cortfidant. or the gham-khvar. the ‘sympa- thiaer’ — the man who is not himself a lover. who lacks the resolute courage to embraces high ideaiandserve ittothe endonwhosesympadtieslie with those who do,and who therefore strives toconsoleor supportjhe lpver in thehardships heundergoes. Since in the last resort he lacks the capacity to be a lover himself, he necesmrily lacks the capacity for complete and unfailing loyalty to the lever. and the ghazal is often blunt about his shortcomings. Next in the scale comes the wilt. ‘the counsellor‘. He is—the genuinely compassionate observer of the lover‘s aberrations from the norms of the medie~ vol establishment, and wants to alleviate his disuess: but he is totally ineffective. bfiause the ideals of the lover-are totally incomprehensible to him. Ghalib writes e 1m: 0'; /:/;J):a¢)c£1;?5t‘P/w 9/1. gruff» if“).sz [:3] If it please his grace the preacher. let him come, with all my heart! Only let someone persuade me: What will he persuade me of? His own ideals are essentially those of the establishment, and he differs from the lover's enemies only in regretting the ferocity of the persecution which they practise against him. More numerous are the dnnyadar, ‘the worldly‘ — that is, the worldly-wise, the ‘practrcal’ men. those who believe that high ideals are all very well, but... Understanding the Urdu Ghazai '45 — and whose whole life is governed by the unfOrmulated concepts which follow the ‘but', and which lead them. without positively banning others more titan necessary. to ‘look after number ooe’.‘ A more subtle enemy of the lever is the myth, the rival. This man professes low: for the beloved. and she is often deceived into thinking that his professions are genuine. They are nor. He is motivated only by his selfish lust for her, and his profession of love are the snares with which he hopes to entrap her. This concept too applies both at the level of love for a woman and at that of dedication to an ideal. Ghalib writes: Zdegé/J/r—éeréfn fl/tUE’EfiéwfiuLF/u-A 5/53? My rival's honeyed words have worked the spell that he intended. And I am dumb; the thought ‘He loves me’ does not cross her mind. 'I‘lteso categories between them. in the ghazal poet’s view, comprise all mankind in its reaction to the simations of love. That is not to suggesr that other, equally valid categories could nor be estain shed. and I should perhaps dwell on this point for a moment. Letme stress again that the ghazal, in its major themes. does not concern itself with all the multifarious activities and experiences that make up life as a whole. Its key theme presents only one sector of human experience. True, it regards this part of human experience — the experience of love — as the all-important one. and extends the term to embrace within a single complex phenomenon. subject to the same laws, all those loves which assume the capacity for the ultimate Self-sacrifice. The ghazal is concerned with how people respond to this situatim. and its dramatis personae are types of people, each of which embodies in its puresr and most essential form each of the human attitudes to love and to the lover that come into play in the situation. This does not mean that the ghazal poet does not know that were is more to life than this. In the ghazai context, sheik}: means a contemptible. vicious hypocrite; outside that context the ghazal poet knows as well a anyone else that sheik}: does not necessarily mean that — just as the English reader knows that ‘pharisee’ in one context means one who thanks God that he is “not as other men are' and in other contexts is a purely neutral term describing a member of a particular sect. Similarly. in the ghazal context. the raqib, the rival, is always an insincere lover; outside that context. the poet knows as well as anyone else that two rivals for a woman’s love may both be equally sincere. * The actual word dunyadar is not much med in the ghazal. but it iseonvenient term to apply to the character here descnlted. 4;; Classical Poetry The Poet’s Audience and the Ghazal Form The modern reader will naturally wonder how it came about that. with these as its themes, the ghazal was the most popular. the most esteemed literary form in Mughal society. At first sight it scents an extraordinary fact. In the ghazal all the conventions of that society. all its acceptéd institutions, and all its leading figures — kings, nobles, and learned divines — are all held up to the most unrestrained, vituperative ridicule and condemnation, and God himself is some- times the target of sarcastic attack for His injustice to His creation. Upon reflection, however. one comes to the conclusion that the ghazai won its pie-eminent prestige not in spite of. but because of its content. Medieval society is one of static ideals: its structure is hierarchical, its ideal ‘a place for every man, and every man in his place.‘ its norms of conduct strictly prescribed, sanctioned by centuries of unquestioned tradition. explicitly founded upon a final, eternally valid religious revelati0n, and enforced by the overwhelming pressure of a public opinion of a kind which in the modern West survives in full force perhaps only in nrral communities. in which people know nothing of the modern idea that your life is your own. but want to know, and do know most of what goes on in one another’s lives. and react to any unorthodox pattern of behaviour with the mingled hatred and fear which people feel when confronted with anything strange. (to them) incomprehensible. and (therefore) vaguely menacing to their own sense-of security. The cultivated. sensitive sections of such a society would have burst had there been no safety .valve to reduce the pressure which their environment built up in them, and the rulers of society. felt no great difficrrlty in giving the seal of their approval to the ghazal as a, so to speak. licensed. institutionalized form of passionate protest against the world in which poets and their audienceswere alike confined And from that day to this it is probably true to say that for the great majority of ghazal poets - I am not speaking only of the great ones, but of all — good, bad, and indifferent — and for the great majority of their audiences the ghazal has represented the release in socially approved fantasy of impulses which if released in action wonuld bring drastic penalties to those who feel them, and disruption to social life as a whole. This applies at both levels of interpretation. The novelist Rusva in his great navel Umrao Jan Adacomments aptly on this function of the ghazal at the level of earthly love. He makes Urnrao remark that in poetry people cm express without embarrassment - and in any company — things which they could never venture to speak of in ordinary conversation-.25 The words ‘in any eompany' are significant: {01"th ‘safety valve' function is made all the more immediate and effective by the factuiat the ghazal was. and still is. a poem composed primarily not for presentation in writing but for recitation before a live audience. This has had a marked effect on the form of the ghazal. This is the first. essential thing to understand about the ghazal form « it is a form moulded by a long tradition of oral transmission «a tradition in which poetry is composed to be recited by the poet. and only later to be read. Until'one knows the whole context in which the poetry comes before its audience. and what the feelings. values and tastes of the audience are, much in the ghazal form is baffling and Understanding the Urdu Ghana! 47 inexplicable; but little in it remains so once these things are known. Ghazat poets composed their ghazai for recitation at a mushar’m. that is a gathering, sometimes small. sometimes quite large. at which poets assembled to recite their verse. An element of competition among them was always present. especially when. as was often the case, the host of the gathering prescribed beforehand a half-line of verse which had robe incorporated in their own poems by all poets attending. and so prescribed metre and rhyme scheme for them. Each couplet would be assesaed by its hearers as the poet recitedit. and approval. indifference. or disapproval politely but unmistakany expressw. Clearly. poets who composed in this ‘uadition needed qualities which the poet who composes for a tradition of written transmission does not need at all. Besides the essential qualities of a poet as such. they needed. if they were to make their mark, something of the talents of an oramr. a debates, and an actor. They must be able to hold the audience. and hold it. moreover. in competition with fellow poets. and must be able to react swiftly and sensitively to their hearers' changing moods. The mushar‘ra is a long-drawn-out affair. and the poets‘ main enemy is monotony. Ifthey are to participate effectively in a mushairn which will perhaps last for hours together, they cannot hope to do so without resort to variety. The audience knows as soon as a poet has recited the first couplet what the metre and rhyme scheme are. Unless the giant! is one of quite excaptional force, it is perilous to adopt a uniformity of tone and of emotional pitch. Poets are more likely to strive to make their impact in two or three couplets only, and intersperse them with others which will be liked. but which will provide contrast to thoSe on which the main effort has been concentrated. will ease the emotional tensiOn they have engendered, and even on occasion provide a certain comic relief. They are assisted in their efforts by the characteristically medieval .preocCupation with form (noted for example by C. S. Lewis in his discussim of the medieval and renaissance literature of Western Europe).26 The audience would in general find adequate satisfaction in a couplet which has very little to say, but says _it in a manner that demonstrates the poet‘s ability to manipulate with ease the metres. rhymes, and complex figures of speech and thought of which any poet was expected to. be master. A poet sometimes wins the audience with a couplet designed mainly to enable them. given their prior knowledge of the rhyme scheme, to complete for themselves the second line of the coupler without needing to have it all recited; and those who have seen this happen know how much the audience enjoys the experience. Or the poet will aptly introduce a well-known saying which happens to fit the metre being used or use in the second line of a couplet a series of words which have well-tried associations with a parallel series in the first line. even though these associations may not here be relevant to the point. Verses like this are not of course great poetry: but we should not make the mistake of imagining that the people who composed them thought they were. Their purpose was.- in the main. simply to heighten the impact of the verses into which they had put what they most wanted to convey. All this is the unstated background to Hall's bate statement in his Poetry and Poetic: that the great Urdu sham! poets of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries thought that ‘no ghazal would include more than one or two couplets 48 Classical Poetry of high quality. and that the rest would be padding?" And it is a background which readers in the modern West. with their now long-standing tradition of poetry as a written literature. must be told if they are to mate head or tail of the ghazal form as it appears on the silent. written page. This background alone explains the unevenness of quality. and diversity of mood and poetic tntensrty. of the couplets which make up the ghazal. and which stand in such marked and. to Western readers. disconcerting contrast with the poem's very close unity of form.” The diversity of the poet’s audience also makes its impact upon the ghazal form. Thepoet knows that some have come to be entertained simply by a display of mastery of poetic techniques: others will be entering for some hours Into a world of pure fantasy; others - those with the greatest sensitivity and strength of spirit -— will be responding to the message of a poetic tradition, enhanced by the great poet's own indiw‘dual contribution. which sustains and glorifies people who, like themselves. strive to serve the beloved to whom, or the ideals to which. they have devoted themselves. no matter what suffering this may entail. The poetknows also thatpeople's ideals vary. and even clash, and so speaks in w0rds and symbols which will enable every individual in the varied audience to find in them what he or she is seeking. When Mir recites the verse: / ) " a II a I ’ quux’fiét I . fl iii-1' J’J 'xd—yy’: ~51" 3-41! The wind has blown away the dust of men unnumbered from your lane: Yet your true toyers are not daunted: men come to your threshold still.29 using as the conventional symbol of devotion the figure of the lover who waits at his mistress's door his whole life through and dies and turns to dust there. his hearers can identify the unspecified ‘you' of the verse in their own terms. If one of the great secrets of the ghaza’l’ 5 wide appeal is its being the perhaps unique SOCially approved means of release of the emotional pressures of a medieval society. the second is just this quality of universality a this ability to serve, in Olive Schreiner‘s words. as ‘a little door that opens into an infinite hall where you may find what you please?” This deliberate universality of the ghazal‘s modes of expression lies behind another of its features which modern readers find disconcerting to their senso of proprieties. The medieval poet uses a range of comparison - in simile. metaphor. and symbol —far wider and far less inhibited than modern readers are accustomed to. Not only may ‘be10ved' mean a purtiah woman, a boy, a comtcsan. God. at any one of a whole range of ideals; every comparison app-optiate to any one of these may be freely used of any other. For example. Understandmg' the UrduGhazal 49 a common p‘uzutre in the ghaxal is that of the beloved sitting in her bdrm. ‘assembly'. surrounded by heradmirers and exercising her imperious sway over them. The real life model for such a picture can only be that of the courtesan; butmebverofapurdahgirl willfreely trsesuchanirnageoflierifhewatttsto depict her exulting in the exercise of her power over him. and will do so without any sense that the comparison is in the least insulting to her. Nor will the poet shrink from comparing God to a beautiful women who distributes her favours as the whim takes her withoutdiscrimination between those who truly lave her and those who do not. Linked with this tmiversality is. Once more, the exaggera- tion of ghazat‘ expression. The much-ridiculed practice of the ghazal poet who reduces the slenderness of the beloved's waist to the point of invisibility is less ridiculous when one realizes that one standard identification of the beloved is God. of whose infinite beauty no conceivable comparison could possibly be too far-fetched an impression.31 To which we must add that extremes of exaggera- tion are in any case acceptable to -even admired by - medieval listeners. where their modern counterparts cannot swallow them. Tosum up: meanbegin tounderstand themetresofthcghaznlifwe analyse them in their own terms. If we remember that the glaze! is primarily composed to be recited before an audience. the disunity of content no longer seems strange to us; nor does the range of variation in pitch and tone of its successive couplets. The convention that the beloved'is always referred to in the masouline farm of words is at least understandable if we consider the wide range of “be10veds' to which these words can refer. and the tendency in many languages to use a masculine form for concepts which cannot be limited to either men or women. Once we understand something of medieval puniah society. we can see that the tragic nature of ghaal love is not exaggerated. but a reasonably accurate reflectiorr of the standard situation of love, where the lover did in real life generally love without any hope of fulfilment and where the helmet] I'lllEl generally — at least for a prolonged period — behave cruelly toward him. With this in mind we can more easily accept theexpressions of self-pity and self- praise so common in the ghazal. recognizing that it is only our modern conven- tions which make such expressions seem objectionable. All of which is not to y that this leaves nothing more to be explained. In every art form employed by another people of another age, living in another kind of society. there are bound to be features of which one can only say that they represent conventions to which we must simply accustom ourselves if we want to enjoy what another culture has to offer. Here it is helpful to think honestly about the extent to which conventions of one lcind or anorher prescribe our own behaviour in every aspect of our cum lives. Most of them are no more explicable in wholly rational terms than aie the very different conventions of the ghazal. This consideration should help us also to feel no great smptise that Urdu- speakers who admire their own traditional ghazal poetry are. in general. notable to help us far toward acquiring a comparable feeling toward it. What are [noblems to us are not problems to them. and people cartnct solve a problem when they cannot see that it is there. And if thereare aspects of their social and 50 Classical Poetry personal life about which they are unwilling to speak frankly, e5pecially to people with a different social and cultural background, that too is fully under- standable. The ghazat' occupies a position of quite key importance in Urdu literature as a whole. Not only does its influence permeate every other Urdu poetic form to an extent which neither Western scholars nor Urdu poets and critics have yet adequately realized. Its traditions. are part and parcel of the whole Outlook of mosr culturedmembers of the Urdu-speaking community. In the sustained. persistent. and patient search for the knowledge and understanding which alone can bring the power to appreciate it justly. we learn the need to bring a similar approach to all the other features of Urdu literature which seem at first sight odd, and about which one can all too hastily form the impression that they will not repay sympathetic study. There are other major forms. both in verse and prose, which still await Such study. The Ghazal’s Contemporary Appeal ‘ I said at the beginning of this chapter that for those unfamiliar with the ghazai the task of understanding and appreciating it is a very difficult one - and that once this task is accomplished the rewards are great. It seems to me that the 10ver-hero of the ghazal can be a hero to us too. He is one in whom all the finest human potentialities have. reached their full development. and who has the capacity to remain true to chosen ideals andto practise them in-every aspect of life. no matter what the personal cost. All human societies have needed, and are long likely to need, such people, and poetry which sustains and inspires them will have the power to appeal 3 long as this need exists. It is true that some of the situations which the ghazal portrays— or, more often, of which it assumes a knowledge and understanding - are now quite unfamiliar to the modern reader in the West. and some of the lover-poet’s reactions to these situations are correspondingly difficult to comprehend and assimilate. Even there, the sus- tained. imaginative effort to discover what they were all about. and in the course of this to understand and sympathize with the lover-poet’s reaction to them, is one that is well worth making. The serious, sympathetic study of the poetry of another country and another age enlarges your range of understanding, not only of others. but of yourself, because in forcing you to pay careful attention to it it makes you more keenly aware of the fact that your own culture is only one of many, and not necessarily in every respect the best. Besides, the situations of love tmd life which the ghazal portrays are. in their essence, not so unknown to contemporary readers as a Superficial study might suggest. In many modern societies the contexts of loving have changed, but the contexts of the world of the ghazal. though no longer universal or typical, are still to be found even in modem societies. in all those countries where racial tension prevails (and their number has greatly increased since the end of the Second World War) the black lover of a white beloved or the white lover of a black be10ved is ‘likely to experience all the hostility which all lovers experienced in the society that Understanding the U rdrr Girazal 51 produced the ghazal, and millions who will never experience this hostility in the course of their own loves have, one hopes, the imaginative sympathy to identify with what such lovers must feel. The experience of unrequited love is still both universal and commOn. And even in modern society a man and a woman may fall so deeply in love that their love informs and guides their whole life, and yet live their lives physically apart because the fulfilment of their lave for each other. which they would otherwise desire, would violate their obliga- tions to others — husbands, wives, children — voluntarily entered into and voluntarily maintained to the end. To all such people and to all who have the humanity to identify with them, the ghazal still has a great deal to say. In the wider areas of life this is perhaps even more generally one. We have seen that the ghazai poet's ‘beloved’ may be his God. In the now largely irreligious society of the West the force of this second identification is dimin- ished if we express it simply in these words. In medieval society God was the source of all ideals in life, and God's will, and love of God. was the sanction which gave people the strength to remain true to these ideals. Today there are millions of people for whom such a religious sanction is not necessary. but whose ideals are as strongly and passionately believed in as religious ideals were in medieval society. In modem terms, therefore. the ‘divine beloved' of the ghazal may be defined as those ideals in life to which the best and bravest of human beings dedicate themselves without counting the cost. and anyone who strives to be such a person can read the expression of this dedication in the symbols of the ghazal and can identify with its lover-hero and with the poet who speaks for him. I said earlier that the ghazal conCerns itself primarily with that area of human experience in which the ‘lover‘, the self-sacrificing upholder of the highest ideals. is put to the Supreme test, and sees how the rest of the world reacts to him- We have seen the categories. each personified in a stock character. into which the ghazal divides humanity when confronted with this situation. if you think of similar situations in recent history you will see how remarkably accurate the ghazal analysis is. For instanco. the ‘rival', the self-styled ‘lover‘ whose real motive is mere self-interest, has a familiar modern counterpart in the politician who professes high ideals of service to ‘the people' and sees this as no more than a means to attain his own selfish ends. Anyone who, in any society and any country in the world, takes a stand for principles which the establishment diSapproves of will soon find how accurately the ghazal categories portray the most common reactions of his or her fellow-citizens. It soon becames evident that few people are prepared for the sake of what they like to call an ‘absu'act principle’ to do anything whawver that incurs even the mildest disapproval of those in authority over them. And when taking a stand for the principles they profeSs would mean putting their livelihood. oreven their life. at risk, one knows very well what most people do. What was the attitude of most Germans during the Hitler years when the Jews were being exterminated? What was the attitude of most Americans when McCarthy and his lieutenants were slandering and persecuting those who upheld the principles set out in the Constitution of the USA and so found themselves accused of ‘un-American activities”? Those small 52 Classics! Poetry numbers of people who put their lives or their livelihoods at risk in those situations were acting as the lover—hero of the ghaza! acts, and one h0pes that both they and he com mand respect and admiration. ...
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Russell - Understanding the Urdu Ghazal - $055511 ‘...

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