The site is being renovated. Some of the new links may not become functional till the end of March, but I hope that you like the new look.


6. Zafar, a constitutional monarch?

1 comments
This is a series of blogs about the creation and philosophy of Pakistan and its key actors. These accounts are based on historical facts and references are linked at the bottom.

By 1846 AD it became very likely – almost certain – that the ruling Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II (better known by penname Zafar) was going to be the last. The British had announced that the dynasty would have to vacate the Red Fort, now its only possession, at the death of Zafar. Repercussions of this announcement seem to dominate the sensibilities of the Indian society, especially the Indian Muslims, through the next twenty years. The first ten, leading to the “mutiny” of 1857, resonate with anxiety. The next ten resonate with the aftermath.

Technically, Zafar was a constitutional monarch but unlike in the West, the laws which curbed the power of the king were enacted by foreigners. This made Zafar the least powerful king of his day but it also meant that there was no grudge between him and his people because the curb on his power had not come from them. Thus he was also, in a way, the last “absolute monarch” of history because whatever respect his people held for him was untainted by any haggling over constitutional rights between them and the king. Also, the respect was also unmixed with fear since Zafar had no power over them except the power of his poetry. He was also a connoiseur who held regular poetry recitals at his Fort and thus facilitated other poets to disseminate their work too.

Had it not been caused by foreign invaders, a situation such as this could have been the realization of the ideal presented by Mir Amman in Bagho Bahar – an ideal which had been evolving in the conscience of the people for quite some time now.

The historical Zafar lies buried in Myanmar, where he was exiled by the British towards the end of his life. His spirit lives in his poetry, touching many hearts through unforgettable ghazals such as the one sung by Mahdi Hasan and many others in our times, Baat kerni mujhay mushkil kabhie aisee tou nah thhi – “Never before was it so difficult for me to express myself. Never before was your gathering the way it is now”:

You can listen to this ghazal of Zafar online at YouTube, read his poetry at Allama Iqbal Urdu Cyber Library or find out more about him at Wikipedia.

Next Installment: Sir Syed: an introspection.



1 comment

Post a Comment

5. Ghalib, the Secrets of the Self

3 comments
This is a series of blogs about the creation and philosophy of Pakistan and its key actors. These accounts are based on historical facts and references are linked at the bottom.
Mir Taqi Mir dissociated the values of Muslim society with the collective identity of that society, and hence the values survived even when that society was no more. The Mughal society at the time of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869) was different from that of Mir Taqi Mir. It was no longer a candidate to power.

It was for Ghalib to reclaim the same values again - this time in the name of faith. “We believe in one God, and therefore to give up customs is our religion,” he said. “Nations, once they are no more, become articles of our faith”:
Mir had taken the liberty of calling himself an infidel. Since his visit to Calcutta in 1827, Ghalib assimilated all liberties within the folds of Islam and thus introduced a new collective identity for his people. It was an eclectic identity – “How about including hell in the paradise – to have more variety of landscape, if nothing else?”

The pivot of this collective experience is the ego of the individual. Once the ego is identified as an uncompromising monotheist it can expand in whichever direction it chooses. “Even in worship we are so independent and self-respecting that we turn back from the Kaabah if its door doesn’t open for us,” says Ghalib:

Yet, Ghalib was just synthesizing what had went on in the collective consciousness of his community before him – through Bhitai, Waliullah, Mir, Sachal Sarmast, Amman and many more, some of whom Ghalib may never have heard of. He was a link in the dream of spriritual social reconstruction: “These discourses on Sufism, and your manner of saying them, O Ghalib! We would have considered you a saint if you were not used to taking alcohol!”

You can listen to this ghazal of Ghalib online at YouTube, read his poetry at Allama Iqbal Urdu Cyber Library or find out more about him at Wikipedia.

Next Installment: Bahadur Shah Zafar, a Constitutional Monarch?



3 comments

Post a Comment