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Stanwell Tops, NSW

Stanwell Tops, NSW

Rock Wall in Mt Tomah (HDR)

The Rubaiyat : Quatrain XIV























The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes--or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face
Lighting a little Hour or two--is gone.

This is the fourteenth quatrain of the continuing series on Fitzgerald's The Rubaiyat. Khayyam says the the hope that men have, the earthly hopes of men that they so much cherish, These hopes can some times flourish or sometime fail. Neither is permanent, both success and failures are transitory. They may change as soon as they arrive. But there is one thing that is permanent. Death. The passing and along with those failures and those success and those hopes. We take none. In the times we walk on these earth these hopes that fail or succeed is not something to be taken heart to. Nothing is persistent, Neither the failures, nor the success. Not even the Self. Like a brief spell of snow on the face of the barren desert, that lights up the desolate landscape for an hour or two. Giving it hope and vitality, only to disappear sometime later. And the desert goes back to its un-moving starkness. Such is the human condition, it will end. Good times or bad.. the short burst will inevitably end and all will return to dust! 

Conrad : Heart Of Darkness (Summary)

I just completed Joseph Conrad's "Heart Of Darkness". It's a slow moving story of a sailor who travels upriver into the heart of colonial Africa where he becomes increasingly enamored with a mysterious station agent called Kurtz. He comes out in the end alienated & full of contempt for the European imperialism and instead of any humanizing progress or an illuminating persona (in Kurtz), all he find is exploitation and human fallacy (in the garb of reason).

The novel starts with the narrator (Marlow) aboard a yawl reminiscing with his friends. The environs sets the mood of the story. A brooding weather is cast over the Thames and sky is menacing over London which is the said to be greatest of the cities. Marlow recounts about this particular experience he had. He had just returned from six years on the sea, but soon gets tired of resting. Through his good offices he gets himself appointed as captain of steamer on river Congo. Marlow shares that he was always fascinated by maps since his childhood. There was a map of Africa marked with different colors (for each colonial power's jurisdiction) and there was a big emptiness in the center where a big river coiled like a snake flowed. All his childhood, this patch of blank was filled with images of lakes and jungles and all things mysterious. He long cherished the idea of going there and finally he had his chance. Aboard a ship to Congo, he reaches the base station. There he sees how colonial powers have literally teared the heart out of this continent. The base station brings a picture of utter waste of both men & material. Machinery & equipment strewn across and same was for native men, overworked, exploited and discarded. The revulsion of men treating men as beast of burden and then casting away. From here they trek the jungle to Central station where the steamer was which he was to command. Nothing around except the searing heat, the unending jungle, the solitude, the blackness of the experience and the great silence beyond as if impenetrable and mocking. On reaching Central station, its revealed the steamer has sunk and needs to be repaired. Rumors of Kurtz abound in the station and the mystique slowly around him builds. During months of repair, Marlow realizes the station as nothing more then a hub of intrigue and back biting. Hearsay has it that Kurtz is a near genius who has made other agents jealous due to his versatility in retrieving ivory. Kurtz increasing captivates Marlow's thoughts.

After repairs, they started upriver for the inner station, into the dark and the silent unknown, like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world. The stillness did not bring peace, instead it was the stillness of an "implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention". The river, the lurking death, the hidden evil, the impenetrable thoughts and the wilderness of the heart. Every emotion was raw here. For him, the all directions flowed to Kurtz.
"I wondered whether the stillness on the face of the immensity looking at us two were meant as an appeal or as a menace. What were we who had strayed in here? Could we handle that dumb thing, or would it handle us? I felt how big, how confoundedly big, was that thing that couldn’t talk, and perhaps was deaf as well." 
There was no sign on the face of nature of this amazing tale that was not so much told as suggested to me in desolate exclamations, completed by shrugs, in interrupted phrases,in hints ending in deep sighs. The woods were unmoved, like a mask—heavy, like the closed door of a prison—they looked with their air of hidden knowledge, of patient expectation, of unapproachable silence. 
"The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The prehistoric man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us—who could tell? We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse. We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign— and no memories. The earth seemed unearthly. We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there— there you could look at a thing monstrous and free. It was unearthly, and the men were—No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it—this suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity— like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly. Yes, it was ugly enough; but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you—you so remote from the night of first ages—could comprehend."
Just before the inner station, their ship is attacked. Marlow is disappointed for he thinks Kurtz's station has been overrun and they will never meet. He imagines Kurtz in embrace with death and being Death's favorite. Such are the powers attributed to Kurtz. "Everything belonged to him— but that was a trifle. The thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own." In midst of thoughts to turn back, they see the inner station. Nearby they pick up a Russian (a Kurtz camp follower and still his admirer) who shares Kurtz's cruel and brutal ways, of stories of natives worshiping Kurtz and strange practices. Marlow hears & sees the horrors for himself. The wilderness it seems had got Kurtz. "It whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude—and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core". They recover Kurtz alive in the station, near death. The natives teeming on the banks ready to retrieve Kurtz for themselves. During that night, Kurtz tries to escape but Marlow convinces him to come back to the steamer in a moment where foundations of their close bonds are laid. The next day they leave downriver. Kurtz health deteriorates and he soon dies in front of Marlow uttering "The horror! The horror!". Marlow leaves the company and returns to Europe. A year later he meets Kurtz fiancee still in mourning. She eggs him to repeat Kurtz last words and Marlow feigns that Kurtz last words was her name. End.

Conrad's work is as much a comment on colonial past as it is on human nature. There is darkness at all levels, of the modern civilization, of the unending jungle and of the human nature. Colonial powers raced against each other to grab virgin lands. The premise was that this is for the march of progress, a so-called bringing light of civilization into the heart of darkness under a garb of imperialism. Instead he saw darkness is in human heart and in this pretense that fails to see men as men, the darkness over mighty cities of Europe that peddle much propaganda and are built over such lies. These stations instead of a beachhead for progress become a den for barbarism and exploitation. Amid this philanthropic pretense and intrigue, an aura of Kurtz reaches a climax, hidden in the darkness, but radiating an extreme lightness. Kurtz started out maybe as a beacon of this humanizing thought, but soon lost reason. Ivory (desire) took hold of him. In the horror of jungle he goes down to a brutal life.. reduced to madness. A corruption to which we all succumb. An urge to be more than human, to conquer all but end up not even being human. The brutal instincts deep hidden come bare, and the very soul is stripped of reason, of fear and struggling with itself and yet the realization of it came to him at very last. He looked over the edge into the abyss and the abyss looked back at him. The jungle took him as one of their own.

Translation - Unke Dekhe Se Jo Aa Jati (Ghalib)

husn-e-mah, garche ba_hangaam-e-kamaal achcha hai
us'se mera mah-e-khursheed-e-jamaal achcha  hai

Line 1/2 - Even though the beauty of the moon in the time of perfectness is good, my moon with sun's beauty is even better than that. A dramatic exaggeration indeed, the poet says though the full moon is beautiful, my beloved is a moon with sun's beauty is much better. The full moon while beautiful, is sporadic, but my beloved is like a sun always shinning and hence better.

bosa  dete naheen aur dil pe hai har lahja nigaah
jee mein kehte hain, muft aaye to maal achcha hai

Line 3/4 - She does not grant me a kiss, and yet her eyes are constantly on my heart. In her heart she says, if I get my hands on it for free, then it is a worthy thing. The poet in this light heart sher says, his beloved is keeping an eye on his heart and yet she grants me no favor. In her heart, she realizes I am a decent deal if it comes free. The deal coming free can be realized both as it will be a bargain to get it free or maybe its so unmerited that only getting it free makes any sense.

aur  baazaar se le aaye agar toot gaya
saaghar-e-jam se mera jaam-e-sifaal achcha hai

Line 5/6 - I will get another one from the market if it broke, my cup of clay is better than Jamshed's goblet. King Jamshed's magical cup was said to reveal all secrets and the whole world was said to be reflected in it. Ghalib says I can get another one if I broke one, this humble clay cup is better than Jamshed's cup for King Jamshed would not have that luxury of getting a new one in case his magical cup was to break. The poet reasons that sometimes the easier things are the better things and humbleness has advantages that splendid and majestic can not buy.

be_talab  dain to maza  usme  siwa  milta hai
woh gada jisko na ho khoo-e-sawaal achcha hai

Line 7/8 - If one gives without being inquired, then the pleasure in it is something else. That beggar who has no habit of asking is a better one. Again a bit convoluted, the poet says there is another delight in if something is given without being asked. The beggar who does not keep imploring is a better one for he allow bestower to give without pleading and hence the donor feels a bighearted and just. Ghalib says that I am that beggar that does not beg, but you (beloved) should bestow me with some favors and enjoy that pleasure it brings.

unke dekhe se jo aa jaatee hai munh par raunaq
woh samajhte hain ke beemaar ka haal achcha hai

Line 9/10 - On seeing her my face brightens up, She presumes that the condition of the sick (me) is better now. Ghalib says that on seeing her face, my face lights up and she thinks that my illness is better now. O! I do not even get the looks of sympathy now, for I just looking at her briten up and she thinks that I am alright and recovering.

dekhiye  paate hain  ushshaaq buton se kya faiz ?
ik birahaman ne kaha hai, ke yeh saal achcha hai

Line 11/12 - Let us see what rewards does the lovers receive from these idols, one soothsayer has said that this year is going to be good. Here idols refer to the unwavering and unyielding beloved. Ghalib says let see what favors do the lovers receive from these idols this time for a soothsayer has said that this year is going to be a good one. This year the beloved would be more open and conciliatory, a soothsayer had foreseen this.

ham_sukhan teshe ne farhaad ko sheereen se kiya
jis tarah ka bhee kisee mein ho kamaal achcha hai

Line 13/14 - The axe made Farhaan and Sheereen talking to each other. Whatever way it was done, the result was good. The line refer to tale of Farhaan & Sheereen where Farhaad kills himself with his axe and Sheereen on finding his body uses the same axe to commit suicide. Ghalib says the axe got them talking to each other (which was nor possible when they were alive due to their social differences). Here dying together is portrayed as being finally able to converse together and a small axe did that trick. Whatever the technique was, the end result was good. Ghalib implicitly acknowledges this was for the better (however gruesome), for the society would never have let them live together.

qatra dariya mein jo mil jaaye to dariya ho jaaye
kaam achchaa hai woh,  jiska  ma'aal  achcha  hai

Line 15/16 - If a drop was to merge in the river, it will become a river. Any work is good, if the outcome is good. These lines are a bit convoluted in meaning. Ghalib says in a way, we (a small drop in the universe) when we merge in this divine being, (in search of truth and meaning) we become the part of it. Each bit of us becomes the part of this giant scheme. We lose our singular existence, but become part of this holy creation like the same way a drop loses it existence, but becomes the river. If in the act of this, if we were to realize our purpose and our goal, then any path chosen is a good one. This is a classic sufi concept, to embrace the divine, to be part of it and Ghalib says any approach to achieve this is good as long as we achieve it.

khijr sultaan ko rakhe khaaliq-e-akbar sar_sabz
shaah ke baagh mein  yeh taaza nihaal achcha hai

Line 17/18 - Ghalib recited these couplets in the royal court, so an occasional testimonial to royalty was usual in his works. The poet says, may The Greatest Creator keep the Sultan Khijr prospering and thriving. In the Emperor's garden, this fresh tree is good and sound. A light sher in praise of his patron, Ghalib expresses that the new prince is coming up good and may the Supreme One keep him prospering.

hamko  ma'aloom  hai  jannat  ki  haqeeqat   lekin
dil ke khush rakhne ko, 'ghalib' yeh khayaal achcha hai

Line 19/20 - I for know the reality about heaven but, to keep the heart content, Ghalib the thought is splendid. Ghalib says I know the truth behind the heaven, but nevertheless it is a useful ploy to keep your heart content and satisfied. In a very accessible manner, the poet questions the concept of heaven after death, but then adds its a good way to keep the heart pacified and content.

Meaning of difficult words - 
mah = moon
hangaam = season, time
khursheed = sun
jamaal = beauty
bosa = kiss
saaghar-e-jam = Jamshed's cup
jaam-e-sifaal = clay cup
be_talab = without any enquiry
gada = beggar
khoo = habit
ushshaaq = lovers
faiz = profit
ham_sukhan = conversing together
tesha = axe
ma'aal = result
khijr sultaan = one of Zafar's son
khaaliq = The Creator
akbar = greatest
sar_sabz = fertile
nihaal = tree

Read more posts on Ghalib.

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