Sunday, September 14, 2014

Whimbrel: of the new moon

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is a large shorebirds. They have a long, dark bill that curves downward like a crescent, the genus name, Numenius, means "of the new moon". The bill is well suited for probing soft mud for small crustaceans and pulling fiddler crabs from its burrow. It’s a migrant from northern hemisphere and is quite common in the coastal region of the peninsula, found this one at Mararikulam beach (Kerala). Extremely vary of human beings therefore often act as a sentinel species as they are the first to alert the other birds to danger.
Sarmad Shaheed, the beloved naked fakir: I swim in the sea of disobedience but I do not drown

Why do you wander in the wilderness
Looking for Him?
Sit still. If He is God
He will appear on His own

Sarmad Shaheed was a fakir who was close to Dara Shikoh (“my master and preceptor” was how Dara addressed him) and therefore was beheaded by Aurungzeb with the active connivance and guidance of the mullahs –who saw him as a threat to their orthodoxy. Irony here was that Sarmad was but only a fakir who didn’t posses anything nor any desires, indeed he had even shed his cloths and roamed naked, that he was much liked by common people and his views cherished reflects the subtle nature of society. “There can be no denying the fact that he has played a very important part in molding and shaping the spiritual thought and evolution of India” (Dr. Zahurul Hassan Sharib). His popularity was the reason that the ‘mighty’ mughal king Aurungzeb had to seek religious reasons to behead him. Mullah Qawi was sent to Sarmad to investigate the reason for his nudity. The Mullah asked “Despite your wisdom and knowledge why you have chosen nakedness?” Sarmad answered, “What can I do? The devil is qawi on me”. He recited
My tall Beloved has dwarfed me
His wine cup eyes have snatched my senses
He is in my arms, yet I seek him
What a strange thief
He has stripped of my garments
That was enough to make the mullah furious, Sarmad had cleverly used his name to invoke devil as also taken potshot at moribund interpretation of Islam. Mullah rushed back and informed Aurungzeb that he has now evidence for death sentence and was about to issue the fatwa that Aurungzeb stops him, realizing the weakness of evidence. Sarmad was not an ordinary person to be dealt so routinely, whole of Shajahanabad had become his devotee, accordingly it was decided that he appear before a gathering of elders and wise.
Aurungzeb was the first to interrogate, “People say that Sarmad predicted an empire of Dara. Is it true?”
Sarmad’s reply was characteristic of him, “Yes my prediction proved true. Dara Shikoh was crowned king in the empire of eternity”.
Aurungzeb thought nudity to be not fit enough cause for execution and wanted him to recite the verse, aware that Sarmad only recited the first part i.e. ‘La illah’ which meant denial of god. Sarmad maintained that he is still at the stage of ‘no’ and haven’t yet realized ‘yes’ and therefore cannot say what is not risen from within. Accordingly he was ordered to be executed for blasphemy and was dragged through the streets. As the executioner moved his sword, it is recorded that he smiled and looked straight into the executioners face and said
O come, I implore you!
In whatever guise you come
I know you well

I was reading Sarmad Shaheed by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (written in 1910 he used two major sources Miratul Khayal by Sherkhan Lodhi and Riaz-ul-Shuara by Ali Quli Valeh Daghistani as reference) as also Rubaiyat of Sarmad (translated by Syeda Saiyidain Hameed). Maulana Azad’s is an excellent piece of writing, exceptionally nuanced and elevating, it was a pleasure reading even the translation. Clearly he was quite an evolved mind but I find his narrow reference of Sarmad to Islam (indeed pride) rather stifling, it is clear that Sarmad is beyond religion, the fact recognized by Azad but I sense he makes attempt to place Sarmad into tight jacket of Islam, as an ‘prime example of Islam’s all encompassing scope’. There is an unnecessary attempt at pamphleteering, ‘universal benediction of sun of Islam’ so on. As a necessary retort, I submit that Sarmad would not have been possible without influence from diversity and somewhat chaotic form of thoughts, and liberation herewith, that forms ‘hindu’ society.    
The grave of Sarmad is located in the spot where he was executed, next to the Jama Masjid. Abul Kalam Azad quotes Daghistani that people heard sounds from the severed head of Sarmad and that it recited remaining two syllables ‘Illalah’ thrice, and even praised the god. Azad has an interesting take on this, he writes “Today people may not give credence to oral tradition, and it is biographer’s duty to separate tradition from history, but we are not surprised at this eyewitness record. If one should not, in principle, listen to hearsay, one should atleast see the fact as they are. During the spring we have often seen flowers conversing. During the fall we have heard the dry desolate branches whispering to one another. It is therefore, no great wonder that the lips of Sarmad’s severed head were seen in motion” What do say to that? Whatever romanticism one may have but this is a blatant attempt to twist the ‘facts’ to the requirement of religion. It is quite clear that Sarmad denied god as defined by religion, and to confine him into something defined as a religion is a mistake. It is shocking that Azad (whose birth anniversary is celebrated as National education day) attempts to put words in the mouth of severed head (I am sorry but it sounds as ridiculous as pushpakviman as precursor to aircrafts) to justify his own wonderful versions. This kind of nonsense is not going to be tolerated, I am going mild considering that this was written in 1910. There are other crazy versions to the aftermath of execution, one says that he carried his own head down the steps of Jama Masjid while another says that the body picked up its own head which recited the Muslim affirmation of faith the kalima-i taiyaba ("There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his Prophet") and then proclaimed to the crowd, "Ana al-Haq" ("I am Reality, I am one with God"), however compelling these maybe but I don’t think I will be delving in these fertile hocus-pocuses.         

For common people Sarmad becomes a martyr, a Shaheed. His legacy lives on. “…Nay, they are living, only ye perceive not” says the inscription on his tomb. Like Dara Shikoh, Sarmad too was sought to be expunged from annals of history, it is therefore not surprising his grave, a much revered sight for common people, lies in congested slum next to the imposing Jama Masjid –the site where he was executed, sandwiched by another imposing structure –the tomb of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (India’s first education minister, the one I referred in the earlier paragraph), irony here is Abul Kalam has written quite extensively on Sarmad. Sarmad Shaheed’s tomb lies near a lone neem tree in the congested Meena Bazar, there is no proper entrance, you have to walk into and through a dilapidated tea stall, a short narrow alley and you come across vivid Red and Green tiled two adjoining tombs. Kwaja HareyBarey’s tomb as the name suggests is green in colour, while Sarmad is bright blood red signifying his fury and martyrdom. To know that his stature as a poet is often mentioned along with Firdausi, Saadi, Hafez, Jami and Omar Khayyam makes the squalor surroundings and neglect poignant. While I was here many people were seen sitting around the tomb in reverence, irrespective of religious affiliation or other such nonsense. Kissing his tomb was a cherishing moment for me too.
Who is the lover, beloved, idol and idol-maker but You?
Who is the beloved of the Kaaba, the temple and the mosque?
Come to the garden and see the unity in the array of colours.
In all of this, who is the lover, the beloved, the flower and the thorn?
According to the majority of sources, Sarmad was an Iranian Jew, who converted to Islam, it is though widely accepted that he had a universalistic notion of religion, seeing no conflict between his Judaism and the esoteric truth of the Sufi path he adopted. In his poems Sarmad asserts that he is neither Jew, nor Muslim, nor Hindu. He undoubtedly had a deep dalliance with Hinduism (as is reflected in some of his couplets), clearly he had grown beyond the hold of religions. A fakir lives in spiritual realm.
He dwells not only in temples and mosques --
The whole creation is his abode.
The whole world is bewitched by his tale,
but wise are those who are lost in his love
He moved along with his hindu lover, a boy who had a melodious voice and sang the moving verses composed by Sarmad. Sarmad would break into ecstatic dance soon these would acquire spiritual dimensions.
He and I are one, like the word and its meaning.
Behold union in separation, like the eye and vision.
Not for a moment is He separate from me --
Behold us together everywhere, like flower and fragrance
They wander from Sind to Lahore then Golconda to Agra and finally Delhi (Shahjahanabad, what is now Chandni Chowk-Daryaganj region) at Khwaja Hareybarey. Soon he gained immense popularity among common people. He was stridently against the orthodoxy of mullahs and misery it created for common people “In the shadow of great mosques does evil prosper”. For the Mullah, Islam was a set of stern and inflexible laws, for Sarmad, it was nothing but a message of love. In the meanwhile, Sarmad in his discussions with Dara, contributed to din-i ilahi, an idea of “Divine Religion”, something that was initiated by Akbar.
He who understood the secrets of the Truth
Became vaster than the vast heaven
Mullah says “Mohammad went to heaven”
Sarmad says “Nay, heaven came down to Mohammad”

Sarmad brought the complex sufi believes into the restrictive matrix of rubayi with great precision, intensity and economy. These translations –even transliteration, will definitely miss that intensity and accompanying force of the language…

Aitebar-e-wada hai mardum-e-duniya ghalat
Haan ghalat, aaray ghalat, imshub ghalat, farda ghalat
Nushka-e-beenai-e-deewan-e-umr-e-ma mapurs
Khat ghalat, maani ghalat, insha ghalat imla ghalat

It is wrong
Certainly wrong, wrong today, wrong tomorrow
To trust the promises of this world.
Do not ask
For the manuscript of my story,
Erroneous spelling, erroneous calligraphy
Mistaken meaning, mistaken style.

Az fazl-e-khuda hamesha raahat daaram
Ba naan-e-javin qanae-o-himmat daaram
Nay beem ze duniya-o-na andesha-e-deen
Dar gosha-e-maikhana faraghat daaram

By the grace of god,
Have I always been content.
From a loaf barley bread
I have drawn strength.
Afraid neither of the world or religion,
Sitting in the corner of the tavern
I am free !

Shaah-e-shahanaim zahid choon tu urian neestam
Shauq-o-zauq-e-shorisham lekin pareeshan neestam
But parastam kafiram, az ahl-e-imaan neestam
Su-e-masjid meerawam, amma muslamaan neestam

I am the king of the kings
O sheikh! Not naked like you,
I love madness, dynamism but I am not distraught
An infidel, an idolator,
I am not one of the pious.
I am going towards the mosque
But i am not a muslim. 
From my scribble pad…

Enter the Now
Listener of the rain beholds what the rain doesn’t
Incessant prattle becomes in a sense a rhythm
Of lives that flows out from every being
And the way as it is in the non being
The rain comes distinct as a drop
And all the world is clear
In a way as nothing is
Situates the self
A presence

 (I really don’t prefer the above, its bit contrived to get the effect of reducing words in each line to get the feel of entering. Quite flamboyant for my liking, nevertheless I am putting it in the blog as it isn’t all that bad an effort further it’s kind of structurally different, creepy but there is some novelty)

Road rage
This much is sure that the roads meet
At the sidewalks and the congested bylanes
Don’t have corners.
The resurrected tree is alive.
And so is the stale air that assail nose, and noses
Filling in strange sort of feeling
That makes blood curl
And go for the jugular
Of the offender
Or someone who fits in the role  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The African elephant Myna!!

I seemed to have exhausted my stock of pictures, and was sitting in one of the parks, thus landed Jungle myna. I have written about Common myna, Pied myna, Bank myna, Brahminy myna, Hill myna, Blyth’s myna, Chestnut-headed myna, the migrant Rosy starling so on but the ubiquitous birds seen right in the middle of the cities like Bangalore and Mysore skipped my attention!! So here was Jungle myna (Acridotheres fuscus) staring at me in amusement “What about me dude?.” Next I was at the Mysore zoo and as most were keen on African elephant –the impressive fellow leisurely masticated his grub, my eyes were on the vicinity of his trunk where a Jungle Myna patiently waited like a cattle egret hence African elephant myna!  

Jean Cayrol: Wake up death is already on its horse

The other day I was watching Ivan’s Childhood (Tarkovsky’s poignant take on children trapped in war), and quite coincidently found Night and Fog (Resnais) in the collection. I recall watching this documentary at Gandhi peace foundation (Delhi) almost 15 years back, atleast two people in the audience fainted, I too was nauseated for quite some time. I must have picked up the CD from the grey market few years back and since forgot about it, so decided to watch it again. This documentary is about the concentration camps of the Nazis, and was made about a decade after the war, most likely the first one to show the actual footings of the conditions inside the concentration camp in its horrifying details. It’s not for the faint hearted the scenes of piled up bodies, deskinned to make leather products so on can easily distress anyone. It need to be pointed out that Corporate like Heineken and Siemens who rushed to exploit cheap labour at the concentration camp are shockingly still around, seeing Indians as cheap labour does have a historical framework. Clearly not everyone was Schindler! (indeed Schindler’s List movie also has these bodies pile up, a soldier apparently loosing it as they are burned up. Horrifying images).
This time around, while watched Night and Fog, I focused my attention on the narration, the detached tone was quite haunting, little search in the net led me to Jean Cayrol, he had escaped concentration camp hence the authenticity in narration. I also came to know that he had also scripted it. While reading about him I came across few of his poems, unfortunately all in French without any translation. Now that I was riveted to his views, I somehow had to get it translated to know what exactly he was expressing. So finally got it translated from a multilingual German lady who has made Mysore her home. 
Are you sleeping?

Wake up the cold is already at our doors
and the moon has stiffened like the mouth of a corps

Wake up at your doors they have laid
a sword like an abandoned child

Wake up death is already on its horse
you can hear it gallop echoing in our daily chores

I accuse

In the name of the dead that without name has gone
In the name of the doors that have been barred
In the name of the tree that responds
In the name of the wounds and the meadows wet

In the name of the sky on fire with our regret
In the name of the father who's son is dead
In the name of the book where the sage falls asleep
In the name of all fruits that ripen deep

March song

The spike eaten grain by grain
by the wind and by the dogs

The heart wondering from saint to saint
by the fire and the knuckled fists

The hot night on your chest
her two eyes resembling yours

The happy past that comes
to get dizzy with the first wine

From my scribble pad…

It is the silly season

The streets are decked and noisy
Children happy and chatty
Gods benevolent and deigning
Dogs howl rest of the night
It is the silly season
When propitiating and alms can bring 
Instant and expected results
Bypassing karma and spells
Functionalist give reasons
While religious have not much to say
An explicit celebration looms the populace
Private is public, and public is no longer
the place to be in

Why doesn’t she suicide?

(“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy” Camus)

Why does a farmer suicide,
we have reasons galore
and solution suggesters too
But why doesn’t a farmer’s wife suicide
Is still a matter of speculation
Because she lives for hope
And care for her children
Because she doesn’t think about things
Like the profit and earnings
Because she believes in sustenance
And future in matters
Like happiness in little things
Everyday births and deaths
More on emotions than mounting facts
Faith in fate than reckless acts