Thursday, 22 June 2017

Preface to 'Dast e Saba' by Faiz Ahmad Faiz

An era has passed since Ghalib wrote that an eye that can’t see the river Tigris in a drop of water is not an eye that has sight but rather it is a children’s play. If Ghalib was our contemporary, then probably one of the critics would have called out that Ghalib had insulted the children’s play. Or that Ghalib appears to be a proponent of propaganda in literature. To urge a poet’s eye to see Tigris in a drop is utter propaganda. His eye is only interested in beauty and if beauty is seen in a drop then it should be of no concern to the poet if the drop belongs to either Tigris or a street. To show Tigris is the job of a sage, philosopher or a politician; this not the work of a poet.

If what these individuals said was right, then regardless of the fact that the honor of the ways of the skilled artists remained intact or not, their job would have become much easier. But fortunately or unfortunately, literary art (or any other art) is not children’s play. That’s why even Ghalib’s sight of the eyes is not enough; it’s not enough because not only a poet or a writer has to see Tigris in a drop of water but they also have to show it. Furthermore, if we consider Ghalib’s Tigris to be life and the system of existing realities, then it means that the writer himself is a drop of that Tigris. It means that the responsibility of uniting with the countless other drops in order to determine the river’s direction, flow, shape and it’s destination also falls squarely on the shoulders of the writer.


You can say that the job of the poet isn’t mere observation, rather struggle is also mandatory for him. Observing the perturbed drops in the Tigris of life depends on his sight. Showing it to others depends upon his literary prowess, but to intervene in its flow shows the strength of his passion and the heat of his blood.

All these three endeavors require unceasing effort and struggle.

The system of life is not a stagnant, stone-kissing, imprisoned water of a pond which can be comprehended by the faulty view of the observer. Between the treacherous ways of the distant mountains, snow melts, streams emerge and they tear apart the stones to meet each other. Then this cutting and growing water expands and contracts itself in the valleys, forests and plains. The perceiving sight that has not seen the stages and features of life’s ocean in human history won’t be able to see Tigris in a drop. Then, let’s say that the glimpse of the poet reached these distant and current places but if in their depiction, his speaking prowess didn’t support him, or that to reach the next destination, his life and body didn’t agree to do all the struggle then the poet is not vindicated by his art.

Probably it is not essential to explain this long and expanded metaphor in the language of daily day life. I just want to say that to be aware of the collective struggle of human life, to participate in that struggle to the extent that one can, is not only a requirement of life but also the demand of art.

Art is a part of life and artistic struggle is an aspect of that struggle. This demand always stays, therefore the struggle of a seeker of art has no nirvana. His art is an eternal struggle and an unceasing effort.

In this effort, success or failure depends upon one’s capacity and ability. But to be busy in that effort is nevertheless both possible and essential.

These few pages are also an effort of this kind. In showing the aspects of the effort of fulfilling the great responsibilities of art, it’s possible that the elements of showing off, bragging or narcissism might be observable. But no matter how minor the effort is, it’s better than one’s shame and escape from either life or art.


Faiz 


Central Jail Hyderabad
16th September 1956

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Mental Illness And An Ableist Society

In his last conversation, after telling the reporter that he has Bipolar Disorder and Depression, Amir Zaki forbids him to make this information public. This is because ‘admitting you have problems is problematic for this society. All I have to do is appear ‘alright’ and hide the darkness in my soul, and the sponsors will love me! It’s pro-business you know.’ This ‘pro-business’ notion of favoring an individual who is more 'able', one that does not have ‘problems’ that might get in the way of business, is the essence of Ableism.

The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines Ableism as ‘discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities’. Before explaining the discrimination, it’s important to further expand the definition of disability because normally people have a very narrow conception of it. Normally when you mention disability, the images that will come to most people’s minds are related to a physical disability such as loss of a limb or vision. However, disability can be cognitive or mental as well, and this includes a whole range of impairments such as Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Depression, and Borderline Personality Disorder. In response to these impairments, the response of a typical Ableist society is that these problems can be ‘fixed’. The advice around that fixing would sound like this: ‘Stop over-thinking’ ‘Everyone goes through this and comes out, so pull yourself together’ or ‘why do you take things so seriously, just chill with us’. If you are unable to ‘fix’, then it means that there is something fundamentally wrong with you. That is where the linguistic aspect of ableism comes into play, in which they would label the person in words ranging from ‘crazy’, ‘retard’ to ‘eccentric’ ‘Pagal’ ‘Zehni Mareez’ and ‘Abnormal’. This is where people, both at the corporate place and in your personal life would start denouncing and marginalizing you since your difference in perceiving and reacting to the world makes you neither a good corporate employee nor a good friend that you can hang out with. Notice that always, a negative connotation is attached with this sort of disability.


It’s no secret that mental illness is excessively stigmatized in our society. Seeking help for this condition is something that most of the patients have to do with utmost secrecy and anonymity. This is a problem in itself. In order to survive and thrive with this condition, one needs to have a certain support group apart from undergoing therapy and medication. That person would also need certain concessions in his or her workplace. The condition has to be made public if one is to find the social support that this condition demands. Yet the very act of making this public can be an economic suicide, as Amir Zaki’s last conversation clearly shows. The corporate world makes no modifications or exceptions for individuals suffering from a mental illness, even if they are as talented as Amir Zaki. As Mark Fischer wrote in his book ‘Capitalist Realism’, ‘It does not seem fanciful to see parallels between the rising incidence of mental distress and new patterns of assessing workers' performance.’ The eventual consequence of this attitude results in a very real constraint in one’s financial resources, the one in which you struggle even to pay your apartment’s rent or take your mother to the hospital. In an Ableist society, depression can lead you to poverty. But the fall does not stop here. Numerous studies have shown that people living in poverty are twice as likely to suffer from depression. Depression breeds poverty and poverty then becomes the fertile ground for the seeds of Depression. The cycle becomes vicious, and there is little that one can do to ‘fix’ it.
Mental illness only becomes a disability because of the society that fails to take into account the special needs of those individuals within its social and economic fabric. It becomes a disability when corporations fire you or refuse to sponsor your ventures once they learn about your condition. It becomes a disability when in places like Pakistan, mental health facilities are a joke. I was talking to a psychologist recently and she told me that most psychologists make a diagnosis within the ten minutes of the first session without probing further. A common enough attitude is found among psychiatrists who heavily medicate their patients, trying to ‘fix’ them. Both these attitudes reflect an approach in which the social reasons behind mental illness are sidelined in favor of dealing only with the symptoms. Medically assuming that mental illness is caused by a ‘chemical imbalance’ has some clear benefits for pharmaceutical companies since it drives the multi-billion dollar anti-depressants industry. This is not to deny that mental illness does not have chemical roots. However, to excessively focus on that is adhering to the model that proclaims that mental illness, that ‘neurological imbalance’ is to be ‘fixed’.

Ableism has to be fought on all grounds. It has to be fought in relationships between individuals in which those deemed as ‘normal’ by the society ought to check their privilege and should refrain from isolating and demonizing the mentally ill. It has to be checked within corporations who should structure their workplace in a way that supports those employees that might have this condition. But more importantly, we need educational institutes to make policies that facilitate students diagnosed with this condition. Only then can we create a society that is fair to everyone and not only to those which it deems to be able. Only then can the Amir Zakis of the future be able to produce great music endlessly without caring much about what people label them or from where the next month’s rent would come.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Torn Pocket


The shirt pocket
That carries all the currency
And identity cards of the old man,
Is half torn, and hangs in mid air
As he cleans the dust
Around the fuel dispenser
At the petrol pump.



Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Random Travel Notes

The window next to me offers a unique view while travelling at night. I can look at a faint reflection of myself against the background of the dark roads and the semi-luminous inside of the bus. I have been trying to focus on my reflection. The way the outline of my face emerges on the glass window, the way my eyes seem to stare back at me, it's rather reassuring. It's better than looking in a mirror surrounded by adequate light. The abundant light and the spotless screen makes your appearance 'hyper-visible'. This makes a few minority features rather less visible to discern. There's something in the mirror that tells you what you ought to do and acquire. It also tells you what you don't have and what you don't look like. Conversely, that reflection will remind you of the places inside where the dawn of civilization has colonized the yearnings to create and expand; like the Universe above and below. In the anti-colonial imagination and stirrings, those parts only seem to regress and devolve. Your desire to know and help them only orientalizes the effort.

Returning to the reflection in the glass window. I can see my eyes staring back at me. I can also see the outline of my face. I watch the dark fields go by, with an occasional distant light. On the edges of my face, I can see something appearing and disappearing. I can see a strand of white hairs making their way down gracefully. I can see eyes that are old and wise. I can see centuries traversed in those eyes. Then all of it blurs out. It starts raining. Streaks of water come down the window, as if separating me from the time that lay ahead through a symbol of time: water. Symbols separate man from essence. Symbols are only signifiers. I pray for a life that goes beyond symbols.

*

The reflection of sunset

On the advertisement board

And in my eyes

Scatters around in the Universe.

**
How liberating would it be

To leave whatever you associated

With your existence

In the form of differently colored shadows

To leave and sacrifice that

On the altar of a glance

From the eyes fashioned by centuries

Of recognizing after forgetting

Then remembering the recognized instant

Before drowning in a thin edge

Of a limited infinity: Then recognizing

Bereavement, without knowing

Why and when it happened.

***




Thursday, 11 August 2016

'Silhouettes': A Translation of 'Parchayan' by Sahir Ludhianvi (Part 3)

Click here to read Part 1
Click here to read Part 2



You, a thousand miles away from here, somewhere in solitude
Or in a musical salon
Will be casting dreams about me, sitting in a stranger’s lap

And I, with a grief in my chest, work hard day and night
Dying for the sake of living
By humiliating my art, I fill the coffers of strangers

I am helpless, you are helpless, helpless is the whole world
The suffering of the body is heavier than heart’s
In this era, the price of living is either crucifixion or estrangement

I couldn’t rise to the cross, neither could you reach the threshold of industriousness
You loved me, but couldn’t embrace me
You and I are such souls, who couldn’t reach the destination of fulfillment

We live for the sake of living, but the chitas* burn in breaths
Silent loyalties burn
In the grave realms of facts, the shawls of dreams burn

And today, under these trees, two shadows have swayed again

 

Again, two hearts have come to meet
The tempest of death has risen again, the clouds of war have come over
I am thinking that they too, might (not) suffer the same end as ours
That their passion too, might (not) fail

Written in their fortunes too, there might (not) be an evening drenched in blood
The evening drenched in the blood of sun, I remember still
The end of the golden dreams of desire, I remember still.

Our love couldn’t bear the stroke of catastrophes
But at least they should get the night of (culmination of) desires

We only inherited the strife of homeless death
But at least they should get the ecstatic, singing life

For many days, it has been a hobby of politicians
That when kids grow up, they are murdered

For many days, it has been an obsession of rulers
That in faraway countries, famine may be sowed


For many days, the dreams of youth have been deserted
For many days, love searches for a refuge

For many days, on the highways witnessing oppression
The honor of the statue of existence searches for a refuge

Let’s go, to all the downtrodden souls
and tell them to give voice to each of their wounds

Our secret, is not ours alone, but belongs to everyone else
Let’s go and make the whole world our confidant

Let’s go to the political gamblers and tell them
That we abhor the tradition of conflict and war

The one that is not compatible with any color except (that of) blood
We abhor that mantle of existence

Say that if a murderer ever comes here
Then on every step, the land will keep becoming narrower

Every wave of the air would change its course to pounce
Every branch will become a vein of stone





Let’s stand and say today, to every warrior
That we need acres for the sake of work

We are not fond of snatching away anyone’s land
We only need ploughs on our lands

Say that no merchant should ever turn towards here
No maid shall be sold in this place

These fields have woken, these crops have revolted
No flower bed shall be sold here

This is the land of Gotham, and Nanak
Barbarians shall not walk on this pure land

Our blood is the heirloom for the new generation
On our blood, armies shall never be fed

Say_ _ _ that if we remain silent even today
Then this glowing soil is bound to be doomed

From the atomic monsters, shaped by madness
The Earth is threatened, the sky is threatened


In the previous war, only homes burnt, but this time
There’s no wonder if even these solitudes incinerate

In the previous war, only bodies burnt, but this time
There’s no wonder if even these silhouettes incinerate

Silhouettes of imaginations emerge


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

*chita: Woods that Hindus use to burn the dead corpses. 


Acknowledgment: Special thanks to Fahad Mehmood Sokhta for his help. Visit his blog here.



Tuesday, 2 August 2016

'Silhouettes": A Translation of 'Parchayan' by Sahir Ludhianvi (Part 2)






How delightful were those times, how beautiful were those moments
How delicate were those sehrey*, how beautiful were those garlands


Every bloomed street of the hamlet was like an island of dreams
Every wave of the self, every stream of the morning breeze was like a reservoir of symphonies


Out of nowhere, from the lush fields, started coming the sounds of trots
Carrying the heavy odor of the gun powder, started coming the winds from the West


On the radiant face of Modernity, spread the clouds of exploitation
Savageness danced in every village, forests spread in to every city


From the civilized countries of the West, came a few uniformed men
Came the arrogant pompously, the intoxicated (who were) swaying





In the silent chest of the Earth, the tent poles were being rooted
On the ways soft like butter, boot scratches started making their marks


Beneath the horrific (sound of the) band of the armies, the sounds of the spinning wheels drowned
Beneath the sweltering dust of the jeeps, the robes of the flowers drowned


The price of humans started falling, the worth of commodities started rising
The stir of the chaupaul*** started decreasing, the conscription offices started increasing


The sturdy, gregarious men of the hamlet started going as soldiers
The trail from which few return, travelers started going on that path


With these departing batches, departed honor, departed youth
Departed also the young sons of mothers, the adored brothers of sisters


Melancholy started coming over hamlets, the springs of the galas ended
From the supple branches of Mango trees, the rows of swings vanished


Dust started flying in the markets, hunger started growing in the field
The impoverishment of the impoverished houses, grew in to a plight


Inflation grew in to shortage, the whole hamlet became bankrupt





The shepherdesses lost their way, the maidens left the panghat **
So many virgin maidens, left the doorstep of their mothers and fathers


Of the poverty stricken peasants, the plough and ox was sold, the fields were sold
From the hands of the desire to live, all the means to live were sold


When there remained nothing to sell, then the trading of bodies started happening
The thing that was forbidden even in solitude, started being dared in company


The silhouettes of imaginations emerge
You are coming at dusk, (your hair) hair scattered


Carrying the weight of a thousand unsaid accusations 
Silhouettes of imaginations emerge 


From the tearing apart of lust worshiping eyes
(You are) Hiding the reluctant nudity of the body


I have gone to the city and returned after peeking in to every door
Nowhere the worth of my labor was found





In the political casinos of the oppressors
Nowhere was the worth of the wisdom acquired by ill-luck found


Silhouettes of imaginations emerge


In your house reigns the doomsday’s noise
The messenger has brought a ‘telegraph’ from the battle field

The rendition of whom you held dearer than life,
That brother got killed in the ‘line of fire’


Silhouettes of imaginations emerge

On every footstep is a cluster of ignominies
On every corner are carnivals of disgraces 



Neither friendship, nor formality, nor whole-heartedness, nor sincerity
No one is of anyone else, today all are alone


Silhouettes of imaginations emerge

That pathway which is as deserted as my heart
Who knows where it is about to take you





The murderers of conscience are buying you
On the horizons is the redness of the blood of heart’s craving


Silhouettes of imaginations emerge


The evening drenched in the blood of sun, I remember still
The end of the golden dreams of desire, I remember still


That evening I realized that in this world, like fields
The smile of the scared maidens is also sold


That evening I realized, that in this world driven by wealth
The identity of two naive souls is also sold


That evening I realized, that when the parents’ harvest is snatched away
The priceless mark of the mother’s love is also sold


That evening I realized, that when brothers are killed in war
The youth of the sisters is sold in the taverns of capital


The evening drenched in the blood of sun, I remember still
The end of the golden dreams of desire, I remember still.


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------



*sehrey: A traditional head dress worn by the groom on his wedding. It covers his face.

**panghat: A small water fountain in homes in rural subcontinent.

***chaupal: A gathering place in the village 


Acknowledgment: Special thanks to Fahad Mehmood Sokhta for his help. Visit his blog here.


Update: 12-08-2016

Click here to read Part 3

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Anomalies





Human Beings search for continuities throughout their lives. It’s an inherent desire to expect that things should happen as they have happened before. However, in a bid to find a continuity or to ignore it, a lot of stuff is over looked. To be sure, things repeat themselves. Many say that the reason is that there are certain lessons that we have not learned yet and the circumstances are repeated unless one learns them. That being said, a lot of life’s circumstances are much different than anything that we have ever faced before. They are different than our childhood and the way life transpired after that. They are different than the manifestations that did or did not show up earlier or later in our lives.

Let me give you an example. I have always been fond of the skyline that very long trees form. I have loved watching it since I started my degree at Government College. I went to a park today and luckily, there were a lot of tall trees there. I became immersed in how the distant leaves formed the edge of the highest contact that the tree had with the air and sunlight. Out of unconscious intention or design, I didn’t want to see the rest of the trees that were not so high, and didn’t have the same sort of design that made trees reach out to the sky. Yet there they were, and they were hidden from me due to my inability to fathom a life that was not always high.

I only saw them when I became familiar with the old notion of happiness associated with watching air, sunlight and leaves play in the backdrop of the blue grey sky. And they were not the continuity I was looking for, nor were they supposed to be part of a moment that I wanted to remember on a random Wednesday afternoon in December. Yet independent of my bias, they were nurtured by multiple hands who saw to it that they too were around, just in case. Just in case someone was more interested in down-to-Earth than to-the-sky.

My meaning-making stopped when I looked at them and tried to decipher them. Of course, intellect wants to fit everything in a predefined picture, not knowing that it’s another way of strengthening a self-created and self-sustaining incarceration cell. Freedom to think and live again, it turns out, is nourished in the same way as imprisonment of the earliest impressions. To be sure, these impressions are flexible to the extent that they can incorporate within them an anomaly. Like a prisoner is granted several privileges to place him above the other prisoners, the end being keeping the structure of the prison in contact. It is said of the Nazi concentration camps that an inmate performed various administrative duties in the camp, who was known as a Capo. He was often times incharge of the other inmates and reported to the authorities. Such are the concentration camps of memory. A memory different from the rest is given charge of the rest and that’s how it blends in to form a coherent picture of a relatively incoherent life.

Time now is an extension of the Time past (If we think of time as perceived in a subjective human consciousness). An extension by default, builds on the previous experience. Yet, because it is an extension, it is also by default, different than the source. I would like to think that awareness of either similarity or difference might influence how we come to perceive the way time tramples over our memory. But there is an inherent bias in perceiving what-had-been-before in what-is-here-now. Perception of similarity directs our thought processes to a relatively tangible reservoir of past memories. The present moment then becomes familiar and certain. You can just feel the old neurological pathways lighting up, disguised in a sense of certainty. However, to perceive an anomaly or discontinuity is to come out of a well-established structure of mental representations. The structure feels threatened by this alien happening that has, all of sudden, raised doubts on its validity.

In this situation, whatever you have thought up till that moment becomes less valid. It’s as if, you were connected with reality with a bridge and suddenly, the side towards reality moved a few steps back due to land sliding. In this situation, your bridge and the rubble falls on the same place, so you may very well believe that the old days are still intact, even though there will be many reality checks. But still, such is the miserable sustainability of the old structure that you can live in the rubble for years and still survive. As Eliot says,

‘Years of living among the breakage
Of what was believed in as the most reliable-
And therefore the fittest for renunciation.’

It’s important to listen to the hint of anomalies that happen every day. It’s important to resist the urge of contextualizing present in the past circumstances. But how should one find or better still, build a better context to explain an anomaly? How should one hold on to an uncertain hint of transformation and follow through, rather than resorting towards old, dysfunctional ways of existence? Eliot explains it this way:

‘These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.
Here the impossible union
Of spheres of evidence is actual,
Here the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled,
Where action were otherwise movement
Of that which is only moved
And has in it no source of movement—
Driven by daemonic, chthonic
Powers. And right action is freedom
From past and future also.
For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realised;
Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying;
We, content at the last
If our temporal reversion nourish
(Not too far from the yew-tree)
The life of significant soil.’