The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XXX


What, without asking, hither hurried whence?
And, without asking, whither hurried hence!
Another and another Cup to drown
The Memory of this Impertinence!

This is the thirtieth quatrain of FitzGerald's Rubaiyat. The first two lines state, we came hurriedly to this place (here)  from that place without being asked. And we are hurriedly being taken from here to that place, again without being asked. The places where we coming from and going to are not mentioned. Are we going to the same place where we came from, the poet does not tell. These two lines are very similar in theme as the last quatrain where the poet laments over lack of control over life. The next two lines are bit more complex. These can be interpreted as cup after cup of wine is needed to drown the memory or the realization of this human condition. The acknowledgement of human frailty, of lack of control, of places and times unknown and beyond human grasp. The only way to block out these thoughts is to numb your senses by engaging in cups of wine. The poet could also be referring to that he needs cups of wine to overwhelm the feeling of injustice and improper conduct of God in making the human condition as it is.

Borges - Everything And Nothing (Summary)

This is a fascinating short story by Borges. The complete story is below (in italics). It is about a man who has no true self but only emptiness within him ("There was no one in him"). He is like a dream that was dreamt by no one. Ultimately he finds satisfaction as an actor where he plays 'somebody' so that others would not discover his nobodiness. In his countless plays, he played such an endless array of characters that he seemed to exhaust all possible destinies of man. He had died innumerable deaths and loved so much and endured so much that 'he had all men inside of him' and yet he had 'no one inside of him'. He had achieved the fundamental unity of existing, dreaming and acting. For twenty years he revelled in this theatre. One day realizing the terror of being no one, he retires and settle down in his native village. When he dies, he finds himself in presence of God and asks God that he just wanted to be himself. To which the God replied, that neither am I anyone. I have dreamed the world as you dreamed your work, my Shakespeare. One of the forms in dream are you who like me are many and yet no one. You are everything and nothing.

Borges touches on his familiar themes about God, the meaning of life and living and unity and multiplicity of existences or time. The last conversation between and actor and God is opaque in its interpretation and meaning. The idea that 'one man is all men' has been repeated multiple times in Borges's stories. Here the actor is no one and he is all men. He is unable to have a singular identity, a constant and an unchanging Self. He created multiple identities to give his life an identity. He was never meant to be anyone. He via his acts affects, empathises and simulates other people. Anything human is what he can be and he can feel and choose to be any other human. He identifies with all men. He is nothing in particular and yet everything, like a infinite space that is infinitely full and yet indefinitely empty. He feels and experiences situations and circumstances similarly as men who came before him felt and faced. His actions have been acted before. His pain and joys have been felt before. Whatever we do has a likeness to what has already happened to someone else. His destiny is no different from the destiny of all men. What happens to him will happen to all the men for they share the collective experience and a collective destiny. He is nothing that has already not happened or going to happen. Same is to God which is this constant idea, a constance presence in all the forms that one sees. The forms are all His many dreams, his many creations and like Man, He is many and yet He is no one. He is a dream of forms he dreamt. Without the creation he dreamt, He is nothing. He is all things and He is none.
There was no one in him: behind his face (which even through the bad paintings of those times resembles no other) and his words, which were copious, fantastic and stormy, there was only a bit of coldness, a dream dreamt by no one. At first he thought that all people were like him, but the astonishment of a friend to whom he had begun to speak of this emptiness showed him his error and made him feel always that an individual should not differ in outward appearance.Once he thought that in books he would find a cure for his ill and thus he learned the small Latin and less Greek a contemporary would speak of; later he considered that what he sought might well be found in an element rite of humanity, and let himself be initiated by Anne Hathaway one long June afternoon. At the age of twenty-odd years he went to London. Instinctively he had already become proficient in the habit of simulating that he was someone, so that others would not discover his condition as no one; in London he found the profession to which he was predestined, that of the actor, who on a stage plays at being another before a gathering of people who play at taking him for that other person. His histrionic tasks brought him a singular satisfaction, perhaps the first he had ever known; but once the last verse had been acclaimed and the last dead man withdrawn from the stage, the hated flavor of unreality returned to him. He ceased to be Ferrex or Tamerlane and became no one again. Thus hounded, he took to imagining other heroes and other tragic fables. And so, while his flesh fulfilled its destiny as flesh in the taverns and brothels of London, the soul that inhabited him was Caesar, who disregards the augur's admonition, and Juliet, who abhors the lark, and Macbeth, who converses on the plain with the witches who are also Fates. No one has ever been so many men as this man, who like the Egyptian Proteus could exhaust all the guises of reality. At times he would leave a confession hidden away in some corner of his work, certain that it would not be deciphered; Richard affirms that in his person he plays the part of many and lago claims with curious words "I am not what I am," The fundamental identity of existing, dreaming and acting inspired famous passages of his.  
For twenty years he persisted in that controlled hallucination, but one morning he was suddenly gripped by the tedium and the terror of being so many kings who die by the sword and so many suffering lovers who converge, diverge and melodiously expire. That very day he arranged to sell his theater. Within a week he had returned to his native village, where he recovered the trees and rivers of his childhood and did not relate them to the others his muse had celebrated, illustrious with mythological allusions and Latin terms. He had to be someone; he was a retired impresario who had made his fortune and concerned himself with loans, lawsuits and petty usury. It was in this character that he dictated the arid will and testament known to us, from which he deliberately excluded all traces of pathos or literature. His friends from London would visit his retreat and for them he would take up again his role as poet.  
History adds that before or after dying he found himself in the presence of God and told Him: "I who have been so many men in vain want to be one and myself." The voice of the Lord answered from a whirlwind: "Neither am I anyone; I have dreamt the world as you dreamt your work, my Shakespeare, and among the forms in my dream are you, who like myself are many and no one." -- By Jorge Luis Borges (Translated by James E. Irby)

Photo Of The Day

Somewhere in Jervis Bay

Port Stephens from Gan Gan Lookout

Thought Of The Day

We have come to a stage where the aesthetics of the newly acquired book shelf engages more conversation than the type of books that are on the bookshelf. The content of the message has been lost in hubris or our so called busy-ness or plain nonchalance, but the messenger still evokes frantic sentiments on all sides of the spectrum. Since when did we became so partisan and hacks for someone's agenda. No one reads the story these days, people go straight to the comments section to check out the abuse happening around or promote their own bias. Any sane debate or view point is lost in this theater of the absurd. And now this theater pervades all around from art to politics to media to everyday lives, covering the real.

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”  
- Isaaac Asimov

Frits Staal - Discovering the Vedas (Summary - I)

I have always been fascinated by how cultures developed overtime. Early humans foraging for food and shelter slowly come together to form a settlement that ultimately becomes part of a bigger civilization. Language develops, Gods are created and venerated and a basis of religion is formed. I am currently reading Frits Staal's book - "Discovering the Vedas". This is the first book I am reading on how early Hinduism came into being and it has found me all excited. The premise of the book is since early Vedic civilization left no records (like built structures or written text), the starting point for how to describe the times would be the Vedas itself and if we can de-construct them, we can understand the broad contours of the time and space that they were created in. The below write up is a broad summary of the first section of the book and I will try to come up with similar summaries of other sections as well. In no way whatsoever the ideas puts forward in this book are definitive but it is definitely worthy of a thought.

So what is Vedas? - Vedas are archaic text that are regarded as 'revealed' or sruti, or literally 'what is heard' by sages from the Gods. But they are of human origin written by early Vedic scholars and are basically hymns used to address and invoke Gods. They were passed from teacher to pupils orally [called as Oral Tradition] over a thousands of years and were created in early Vedic language which is archaic form of classical Sanskrit. Vedic (or early classical Sanskrit) is one of the many Indo-Iranian language that rose during that prolific time that ultimately all trace back to a common Indo-European ancestor language. Vedas were finally written down sometime in the early Common Era. Contrary to common knowledge, Vedas were not created in one piece or one place. They were composed in multiple places over a long period of time and some feature are not be even part of Indian subcontinent. Rig Veda is most archaic and other three Vedas depend and quote it extensively.

Where were they written? - The book states that Rig Veda (RV) records the name of rivers of north west India and Pakistan extensively. So they must have been created in or in vicinity of north west India. Harappa civilization existed in the same region around 3000 BC to 1800 BC and it was well known for the proper city planning and fired bricks. But RV never mentions of cities or bricks in its verses. It talks of fort with mud walls but never of bricks. In RV, there is mention of mythical river Saraswati flowing in north west India. Saraswati  has the same language origins as with another river called as Haraxaiti [river Helmand in Afghanistan]. Both words sound very similar and have same meaning [i.e. river with ponds or that dries in desert]. The book puts forwards a theory that early Vedic people knew about Haraxaiti as they lived around it and when they moved to north west India and when they found a similar river there, they named it similarly. Like English migrants named New England in US when they came from England and found it similar. Hence Vedas were likely composed in north west India with rivers and early tribes names providing the geographical fingerprint. The centre of the Vedic culture slowly kept moving west starting in frontier Pakistan and ultimately moving to the Gangetic plains of Bihar.(where later Vedic text was composed)

When were they written? - The current generally accepted time of composition of RV is around 1500 BC. Harappa culture was also in the same space (north west India), but they never shared time. So RV was either pre-3000 BC or post-1800 BC as Harappa culture existed during this period and they both seem to be mutually exclusive. More on timelines later when we discuss the origin of early Vedic people.

Where did early Vedic people came from? - This is the big question and the book proposes a theory which many may not necessarily agree. The book briefly touches on genetic make-up of Indian population (caste or otherwise) and states that the predominant DNA material goes back to 9000 years and Vedic people can not contribute so much of DNA material so long back. It also mentions of another source where a similar ancient Vedic culture sprung up (more on Mitanni on wiki). In ancient middle east, there was a treaty between Hittite kingdom (modern day Turkey) and Mitanni kingdom (modern day Syria/North Iraq) that refers to Vedic gods of Indra and Varuna. Mitanni nobles spoke of language that was very very close to Vedic. The text tablets of the treaty are dated around 1400 BC and are basically horse training and chariots making manuals for fighting wars. Now to posit that a group of Vedic people moved from India to modern day Syria does not cut ice. Most likely a group of near-Vedic speaking people wandering around split and some came to India while the other group went to middle east taking with them the language and equestrian skills. Mitanni nobles had knowledge of something that allowed them to rule the more numerous natives. Maybe in India something similar happened that allowed a small group of people to become kings and chiefs and they slowly kept moving west.These people brought with them the power of written language and the skills of horse and chariots (spoke based chariots that are much faster) over the mountains to north west India. Harappa culture had no written language. Probably the idea of a written text filled the gap. The language also brought with itself the power of mantra and myth to invoke Gods that may have added to the power of ruling elite besides the charm of the language. Horses were introduced from else where as they were not native to India. They were not present in Harappa culture but they are everywhere in RV. It points that horses and chariots were fashionable as probably they were new to the land. The overall premise of the book being that instead of an big Aryan invasion (as is generally thought of), maybe Vedic people trickled over the mountains in small numbers and settled over time and became royalty as they had the skills alien to the land (i.e horses, chariots, language, mantra and myth) but fashionable.

How does this all hang together? - The book proposes that the origins of early Vedic people were most likely somewhere in Sintashta culture (in Russian steppes, south of Ural mountains that developed around 2100-1800 BC). In Sintashta culture which was primarily a Indo-European or maybe Indo-Iranian language culture, evidence of early chariots and horse/fire sacrifice have been found extensively. This culture is further north of another culture called BMAC which is a non Indo-European culture located on the banks of Amu Darya river in Central Asia. One wave of people from Sintashta move south via BMAC into northern Iran where they form the basis of early Iranian culture and language [Avestan/Zoroastrianism]. At the same time, another set of people from Sintashta start moving east on to wide empty plains of Kazakhstan and continue moving east to what is now called as Chinese Xinjiang. Here in the dry Tarim basin countless mummies have been found dating to 2000 BC with Indo-European features. During this long trek over mountains and deserts the language started changing from India-Iranian into Vedic. High in the mountains the early Vedic people find the plant Soma which is heavily mentioned in Vedas for its stimulant qualities and is said to grow near Mount Mūjavant. The author proposes that Mount Mūjavant could be Muz-tagh Ata near the Pamir mountains. After crossing the Pamir, north of Karakoram the nomads enter Afghanistan. Here they mingle with the BMAC culture and influence each other. Number of non-Indo-European words are picked and added into the Vedic vocabulary here. This maybe dated around 1800 BC. Once in BMAC, they split, one goes west to formed Mitanni state [in 1500 BC]  and the other moved to north west India via Khyber pass. This fits nicely with linguistic side as Vedic and Mittani are more similar then say Iranian and Mitanni. Another set of people moved further south and entered India via Bolan pass picking the Iranian word Haraxaiti from eastern Iran. So somewhere around 1500 B.C.,the early settlers settle themselves in northern India bringing with them the power of language and art of horse riding and fast chariots. In fact Harappa has toys with solid wheels but RV never mentions solid wheels and instead has whole terminology for chariots and its parts showing that it was more fashionable and probably an in-demand skill at that time. This brings us to the end of the first section that provides a brief take on that era when early Vedic civilization rose.

Whatever the author proposes is difficult to prove one way or other but I find one thing hard to believe. While the origin of Vedic people may be in Sintashta culture of the Russian steppes or near about, but the idea of large number of people along with their women/children and possibly livestock as well moving around in such treacherous and nearly inhospitable terrain of Pamir and Tarim is difficult to comprehend. Would it not been easier for them to just move south to BMAC directly and then enter India via Khyber taking along with them the horse and the chariot. At least this route is easier and more live-able. Well! we will never know the answer!

Translation - Dard Ho Dil Main Toh Dawa (Ghalib)

dard ho dil main toh dawa keejay
dil hi jab dard ho toh kiya keejay

hum ko fariyaad karni aati hai
aap suntay nahi toh kiya keejay

in butoon ko khuda se kiya matlab
tauba tauba , khuda khuda , keejay

ranj uthanay say bhi khushi ho gi
pahlay dil dard aashna keejay

arz -e- shookhi , nishat -e- alam hai
husn ko aur khud numa keejay

dushmani ho chuki ba qadr wafa
ab haq -e- dosti ada keejay

maut aati nahi kaheen Ghalib
kab tak afsoos ziist ka keejay

Line 1/2 - When pain afflicts the heart, medicine needs to be done. When heart itself is pain, then what to do? Such a easy going colloquial lines best for any occasion! The poet says when there is pain in the heart, a medicine would do the trick. But when the heart itself is one causing pain, when the grief of the heart is so overwhelming, then what needs to be done.

Line 3/4 - We know how to complain/appeal.You do not listen, what to do? The point referring to the apathy and harsh indifference of the beloved and laments what more he needs to do to get her attention. The lines could also be interpreted as Ghalib's multiple appeals to indifferent English officers & declining Mughal empire to get his pensions restored in which he ultimately fails.

Line 5/6 - What meaning do these idols have with God. Heavens forbid, Pray to God! The poet says what these idols that you so adore have to do with God. Repent now and pray to God and ask for forgiveness!

Line 7/8 - Bearing grief too will bring happiness. First, adjust your heart to be friends with pain. This is the best lines of this ghazal. The poet points that one has look inside of themselves for comfort in state of utter loneliness and grief. Grief too will bring happiness, but first make your heart accept pain and then grief will no longer hurt that much!

Line 9/10 - This coquetry and playfulness that you exhibit, is the joy of the world. Un-hide yourself some more of the beauty you possess. The poet says to his beloved that her behavior is the ecstasy that the world cherishes and long for. Show them some more of your beauty for the world waits for it.

Line 11/12 - We have become enemies on the account of (lack of) loyalty. Now pay the dues of the claim to the friendship. This can also be read as enmity has become to the extent of loyalty. Now pay the dues of the right to the friendship. I like the second interpretation better. The poet says we were enemies earlier but now that enmity has turned to loyalty. Please pay the dues (favours that I may have) of the right to our friendship now.

Line 13/14 - The end (death) does not come somehow, Ghalib. Till when do we need to feel regret for this life. The poet says death does not come even though I have been in wait for it. Till what time should we continue to feel sorry for life. Instead of this hopeless existence, I would have wanted death but that is not coming on it own and so life goes on in its usual pace.

Meaning of difficult words -
taubah = swore off
ranj = grief
aashna = good friend
arz = to exhibit
shookhi  = playfulness, mischief; coquetry,
nishat = joy, happiness
alam = world
numa = to show, to unhide
ba-qadr = to the extent of, according to
wafa = loyalty
ziist = life, existence

Photo Of The Day

   Coffs Harbour. Photo taken from the Muttonbird Island

Uprooted tree at North Coast Regional Botanic Garden

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XXIX


Into this Universe, and why not knowing,
Nor whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing,
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.

This is the twenty-ninth quatrain of the Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat. The use of wind and water is reminiscent of the previous quatrain where poet says life is like wind and water, without form and direction. In this quatrain Khayyam says we came into this world not knowing the purpose and not knowing where did we come from. It is like water that rains or flows over which we have no control. Such is the essence of life whether we like it or not. My coming to this world does not happen on my accord. And we leave this world not knowing where we will be going to. We leave like wind blowing not knowing where it will blow and having no control over it whether one like it or not. I had no choice if I wanted to be bought up in this world nor do I have one when I leave this world. The theme of this quatrain is similarly expressed by Zauq in this famous work - layi hayaat aaye qaaza la chali chale

existence bought me and I came, death took me away and I went.
I neither came on my own will, nor did I go off  my own accord. 

Translation - Ibn-e-Mariyam Hua Kare Koi (Ghalib)

ibn-e-mariyam huwa kare koee
mere dukh kee dawa kare koee

shar'a-o-aaeen par madaar sahee
'eise  qaatil ka kya  kare koee ?

chaal, jaise kadee kamaan ka teer
dil mein  'eise ke jaa  kare koee

baat par waan zubaan kat_tee hai
woh kahain  aur  suna  kare koee

bak rahaa hoon junoon mein kya kya kuchch
kuchch  na   samjhe   khuda   kare   koee

na suno gar bura kahe koee
na kaho gar bura kare koee

rok lo, gar ghalat chale koee
bakhsh do gar khata kare koee

kaun hai jo naheen hai haajat_mand ?
kiskee   haajat   rawa  kare  koee

kya kiyaa khijr ne sikandar se
ab  kise  rehnuma  kare   koee ?

jab tavaqqo hee uth gayee 'ghalib'
kyon  kisee  ka  gila  kare  koee ?

Line 1/2 - Let someone be the Son of Mary (Jesus), let someone cure me of my sorrow/grief. The poet says if there is a messiah somewhere, let him cure me of my grief. If someone is claiming to be Son of God, first cure me and then I will believe him. The use of 'huwa kare koi' in the first line, make it wide open to interpretations. If someone is, or someone is claiming to be or someone wants to be or even I don't care if someone becomes one. All variations are plausible!

Line 3/4 - Even on the basis of sharia and the law of the land, What should one do of such a murderer. The poet referring to her beloved says what can the religious law or the law of the land do of such a murderer as my beloved. How are they equipped to handle such crimes? Even the laws of God and of the Land are ill-equipped to handle my beloved murderer.

Line 5/6 - Walk like an arrow fired from a tightly strung bow. In the heart like this, let someone find a place. The poet says that the beloved walks like as if an arrow has been let go from a strung bow. The arrow instantly finds the heart (the intended target) and so does my beloved.

Line 7/8 - On the word/talk, there the tongue was cut. She would say and someone else would listen. The poet says, when anything is said then the tongue may be cut for she does not like what is being said. But when she says, than nothing is going to happen. She keeps on saying and people have to listen to it. Cutting of tongue is figurative as if to interrupt or humiliate. She would humiliate if someone was to say something which she did not like. But when she speaks, we can not even complain.

Line 9/10 - In the state of passion, I am babbling I don't know what. May God grant that no one understands any of it. The poet says in this state of madness, I don't know what I was babbling. Maybe I may have let out a secret. May God grant that now one understood whatever I said. I do not want people of know the state of my mind or my affairs. Let them think me of as a mad!

Line 11/12 - Do not listen if someone is saying something bad. Do not say, if someone is doing something bad. The first line is pretty clear. Do not listen if some ill is being said. It is better to not be part of such slander. But the second lines is not very clear. If someone is doing evil, do not say. Do not say to whom? to the evil-doer, to anyone else about the evil-doer? Or maybe do not bring the evil deed on to your lips. Do not even repeat it.

Line 13/14 - Stop them, if someone is walking wrongly (on a wrong path). Forgive them, if someone is doing something wrong.

Line 15/16 -Who is such that they are not needy? Whose need someone might fulfill? The poet says who is in this world who is not needy. Everyone is desirous of something. How will we fulfill the needs of such? When everyone is needy how to decide whom to serve? Another stream of thought is how to fulfill the need of other when one is itself needy?

Line 17/18 - What did Khizr did to Alexander? Now who should someone take as guide? Here is a legend that Khizr (who is prophet who guides people those are lost) guides Alexander to the Fountain Of Life. But Alexander does not drink from it and later in his quests he dies early. The poet says what did a guide like Khizr accomplish for Alexander? He could not even convince Alexander to drink from the fountain. Whom should we trust enough to be our guide when even Khizr was found wanting?

Line 19/20 - When expectation itself have taken off, Ghalib. Why someone would complain about someone? The poet says that I had no expectations, and hence why would I be bitter and complaining about anyone. I was not even anticipating any favors. A second stream of thought can be, that when hope (personified) has itself departed me, I do not care now if any one else is leaving me or not.

Meaning of difficult words -
ibn = son/child
mariyam = virgin Mary
shar'a = the Islamic law
aaeen = law/custom/mode
madaar = orbit/circumference/a place of turning
kadee = link in a chain
kaman = bow
jaa = space
junoon = ecstasy
haajat_mand = person in need
haajat = need
rawa = fulfill
tavaqqo = expectations
gila = complaint