Friday, September 12, 2008

Ghalib and Jesus on stone throwing

For this week we have chosen a very well-known she'r from a well-known Ghazal:

میں نے مجنوں پہ لڑکپن میں اسد
سںگ اٹھایا تھا کہ سر یاد آیا

maiN ne majooN pe la;Rakpan meiN 'asad'
sang uThaaya thaa ke sar yaad aayaa

1) against Majnun, in boyhood/childishness, Asad,
2) I had picked up a stone-- when {I got hold of myself / 'the head came to mind/recollection'}

Click here for commentary and translation on Desertful of Roses

This is a justly famous verse, beautiful as it is in its simplicity, using very common/ordinary words to communicate a profound thought. In my opinion, it is through verses like these that Ghalib reminds us, "Although I am capable of fancy jargon and rhetorical fireworks, I can equally well say things simply, if I want to."

Although the verse has a well-known conventional interpretation, we are once again interested in exploring if it can sustain more unconventional interpretation, more relevant to our times. The conventional interpretation is that majooN is the archetypal mad lover who wanders the street aimlessly, lost in his love of lailaa. Children, as a pastime, jeer and throw stones at majnooN. Our "hero" (the lover, the "I" in the verse) in his boyhood/childhood had similarly picked up a stone to throw at MajnooN. But at the last moment the boy/child "recovers either his maturity or his prudence" (FWP), remembers his own head or gains control of himself ("sar yaad aanaa" can mean both).

However, as FWP also says la;Rakpan (लड़कपन) not only means actual childhood, it also means the state of childhood or childishness. If we lean towards the interpretation that it is the adult who is being childish in the present, not really recollecting his own childhood days, then the verse says: "in a moment of childishness I picked up a stone to throw at majnooN, but then (in the nick of time) I remembered my own head/gathered my senses." Why? Presumably because I myself have become like majnooN in my love for my beloved.

So far so good. Here then is the twist that can broaden the interpretive horizon of the she'r. majooN, as noted earlier, is the archetypal lover, but perhaps he can also stand for the archetypal "deviant," a person who is different from "us" for whatever reason. This "other" is the object of ridicule and metaphorical stone throwing for the rest of "normal" society. But Ghalib says this is childish behavior. "I too, in childishness, ridiculed and abused the person who is not like me or is differnet from me, but then I gathered my senses. I remembered my head, because his head is not really that different from mine. I remembered that I am equally well a "deviant" or "the other" in someone else's eye, and therefore equally "worthy" of being stoned/insulted. So when I stone majnooN, I open up the possibility of getting stoned myself."

At this point, the well-known parable of Jesus comes to mind, which Ghalib may or may not have had in mind (perhaps some of our readers can comment on this). A woman considered to have sinned (accused of adultery) is about to be stoned by the self-proclaimed moral police. Jesus appears on the scene and says, yes by all means, if she has sinned stone her, but let him who has never sinned throw the first stone.

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