Saturday, July 28, 2012

Daily Dose of Mir Taqi Mir

Today one's daily dose of poetry is from Mir Taqi Mir (1, 7:8) and particularly appropriate for the weekend:

شیخ جو ہے مسجد میں ننگا رات کو تھا میخانے میں 
جبہ  خرقہ  کرتا   ٹوپی مستی میں انعام کیا

The shaykh naked in the mosque [last] night was in the tavern
[His] cloak, patched robe, shirt, and hat he gifted in intoxication

An evocative and amusing shi'r of Mir's if there ever was one. Pritchett's translation and commentary may be found here. What I particularly like about it is that Mir gives just enough detail to know what transpired, but leaves enough ambiguity to come up with your own scenario (how did the shaykh find himself in the mosque, who stumbled upon him, was he passed out, who did he gift his apparel to).

Excerpted from Satyanarayana Hedge, who offers a more erudite reading than me:

śaiḵẖ jo hai masjid meñ nañgā rāt ko thā maiḵẖāney meñ
jubbah ḵẖirqah kurtā ṭopī mastī meñ in‘ām kiyā

The śaiḵẖ in the mosque
was last night
naked in the Tavern
Cloak, robe, dress, cap

The ḵẖudā-e suḵẖan’s verbal dexterity “feints” the lector’s eye and the auditor’s ear, so to speak, to miscognize this distich as follows:

śaiḵẖ jo hai masjid meñ nañgā
rāt ko thā maiḵẖāney meñ
jubbah ḵẖirqah kurtā ṭopī
mastī meñ in‘ām kiyā

The śaiḵẖ
naked in the mosque
was last night
in the Tavern
Cloak, robe, dress, cap

I’ll beg to submit that it’s perhaps possible to read a subtle “syntactic knot”, a t‘aqīd-e lafẓī here, if this distich is “split” in this manner:

śaiḵẖ jo hai masjid meñ
nañgā rāt ko thā maiḵẖāney meñ
jubbah ḵẖirqah kurtā ṭopī
mastī meñ in‘ām kiyā

This is an extremely unorthodox, unusal, subtle sautī īhām, a “phonic polysemy”, unattested and unidentified in the Perso-Arabic-Urdu manuals of balāġhat. There are, however, some qarīnah, “lexemic cues” to posit īhām here: śaiḵẖ, ḵẖirqah, mastī rāt and in‘ām. ḵẖirqah is itself bisemic, meaning both “ragged, patched garment” as well as “dress of a devotee or religious mendicant”. mastī is both “intoxication” and especially “ecstasy”: “in a frenzy or stupor, fearful, excited,” from O.Fr. estaise “ecstasy, rapture,” from L.L. extasis, from Gk. ekstasis “entrancement, astonishment; any displacement,” in NT “a trance,” from existanai “displace, put out of place,” also “drive out of one's mind” (existanai phrenon), from ek “out”+ histanai “to place, cause to stand,” from PIE root *sta- “to stand”.mastī here might perhaps be “semantically blown up” to signify the wajd of the Ṣūfī sam‘a, the mystical rapture (Ḥāl) of the anagogic hearing of Music. The Ciśtiyyah Ṣūfīs connect the melismatic entity of sam‘a with the Qur‘ānic topos, the maẓmūn of the Primeval Covenant, the roz-e alast, here signified by rāt. The rent garments of the rapturous mystic are distributed among the attendees, being redolent with the spiritual fragrance of Ecstasy.

The allusion (talmīh) here, is perhaps to the central, sempiternal, (Islamic/ṣūfistic) meta-Historical Mythic (and also Linguistic) moment of the ancient Covenant between Allah and humankind in Pre-Eternity, when Allah asks the yet-uncreated, potential souls/essences of humankind hear and obey (audire and respondere) -“alastu bi-Rabbikum”-“Am I not your Lord?” and receives their unanimous response “balā!”, “Certainly!”: [...] (Sūrā al-‘Arāf, Qur‘ān 7.172)

Reading śaiḵẖ jo hai masjid meñ nañgā/ rāt ko thā maiḵẖāney meñ will entail positing that the śaiḵẖ was naked in the mosque, which reading in my humble opinion, is discordant. This distich’s isotopy, to my mind, is perhaps best read in the anagogical mode of coincidentia oppositorum, the Naqśbandiyyah ṣūfi topos of khalwat dar anjuman, “solitude in the multitude” (). The śaiḵẖ (here, the Ṣūfī śaiḵẖ) who appears seemingly seḥw “sober” in the “mosque” is in reality intoxicated (sukr) in Rapturous Ecstasy in the mode of the malāmatiyyah and the rindiyyah.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Daily Dose of Ghalib

An old professor of mine once told me she starts each day with some poetry to get her in the right frame of mine for research and I thought it was a lovely sentiment and one I would give a shot. I have been attempting to read some Mir Taqi Mir lately, but thanks to the labyrinth of scholarly delights that is the venerable Frances Pritchett's website (an absolute gem and necessity for neophytes to Urdu poetry such as myself), I stumbled upon a ghazal of Ghalib (57: 4) that was so evocative and delightful I had to share: 

خوں ہے دل خاک میں احوالِ بتاں پر یعنی
  ان کے ناخن ہوئے محتاجِ حنا میرے بعد

The heart turns to blood, in the earth, at the condition of the idols--that is
Their nails are in want of henna after me

I've slightly modified Frances Pritchett's translation found here. Those familiar with Perso-Urdu love poetry will immediately identify the idols as the beloved(s). If the love is a blood-sport (who can forget Amir Khusraw's image of the beloved as a callous polo player and the lover as the ball) in which she paints her nails in the poet's blood (metaphorically, but the image would appeal to universe of True Blood), then Ghalib laments that as he lies dead in his grave, his heart turns to blood in both anguish that the beloved must now paint her nails in henna instead and in the hopes of offering his blood to perpetuate her sport.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Room of One's Own

In the obituaries section of an old issue of Islamic Studies (Islamabad) [12 no.1 (1973), p. 70] A. S. Bazmee Ansari related the following about the venerable orientalist Charles A. Storey, who, for serious--or even casual--Persianists, needs no introduction (or if he does, you receive a wary look of judgement while you dart off to Encyclopaedia Iranica and read Yuri Bregel's entry on him): 

"A quiet, deep and thorough-going scholar he had almost become a recluse during the closing years of his life. He practically sealed himself up in his room in the British Museum and stoutly refused to receive visitors. Such devotees to literature are seldom found these days."

It's easy sometimes to relate to his desire to be left alone. However, Storey did die a bachelor so buyer beware.

Lecture (7): Sufi Spaces in Mughal India in honour of Annemarie Schimmel

Recently I have been thinking a great deal about Annemarie Schimmel. In part because I recently bought a local print of The Empire of the Great Mughals: History, Art and Culture, which is not only exceedingly accessible but a true delight to read for, I suspect, academics and the laity alike. And in part because it's quite hard to not think of her when you are taking German classes at a center named after her.

The gardens inside Annemarie-Schimmel-Haus are particularly verdant. Source: the author.

It is therefore quite appropriate then to have a lecture by James L. Wescoat Jr. today entitled "Landscapes of Sufi Space in Mughal Delhi and Lahore." Perhaps even more appropriate given that Lahore has a street named after her.

Lahore: Dr. Schimmel standing next to a road dedicated to her. Source: unknown

The presentation is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Annemarie Schimmel Memorial Lecture series. From their website:

James Wescoat, the Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Architecture in the School of Architecture and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discusses how Mughal tomb-gardens often sought physical proximity to Sufi shrines in ways that reshaped them in their era, and ours. This presentation explores the evolving spatial relationships between Mughal and Sufi landscapes of Delhi and Lahore—from Humayun's tomb-garden in the Nizamuddin area of Delhi to the Mian Mir tomb-complex of Lahore.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lahore is Lahore

This picture really reminds me of the Lahore of my childhood; sleepy, verdant, calm. It's a bit hard to spot nowadays, but it's still there, hidden away in back streets of residential areas, with tall trees attending quiet roads, and the air with the promise of monsoon rain as the late afternoon bleeds into early evening.

Lahore, 10th July 2012

"Despite its turbulent career, Lahore has somehow managed to be a cultural centre with a distinctive resonance and charm. I, myself, admit to having fallen under its spell long ago. Of course, scholars are supposed to claim objectivity so that they can occupy a position of lofty impartiality. In theory, such abstraction and distance is necessary to avoid charges of partisanship. Nevertheless, like many other visitors to the city, I have found that Lahore has an extraordinary charm that few other places can claim."

Carl Ernst, "Foreword," in Anna Suvorova, Lahore: Topophilia of Space and Place, xi.