The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XXXIV

Then to this earthen Bowl did I adjourn
My Lip the secret Well of Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur'd--"While you live
Drink!--for once dead you never shall return."

This is the thirty-fourth quatrain of the FitzGerald's Rubaiyat and the quatrain does not give itself easily to interpretation. The poet holding the earthen bowl (made of mud and full of his favourite wine) is just about to drink from it. But then he stops and ponders over it. Holding it close to his lips, he seeks from the bowl, to reveal the secret (a well being the store of) of life. My lips want to learn that secret knowledge of our short lives. And the lip (the rim of the bowl) murmured to my lips, that don't worry about it. Drink and enjoy while you are alive - for once you are dead, one shall never return. One has this one life only to live for and while one has it, one should live it fully for once it ends it gone forever never to return!

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Kiama, NSW

Carrington Falls, NSW

Albert Camus - The Plague (Summary)

I just completed reading Albert Camus work - The Plague. This is the second book by Camus that I have read after his best know work 'The Stranger'. The Plague is a story of the plague that reaches epidemic levels before dying out in small coastal town Oran in French colonial territory of Algeria. It chronicles the lives of people caught up in that quarantined city and narrates the lives of doctors, lovers, trapped tourists and ordinary day people in-midst of the horrible tragedy.

The novel starts with occasional dying out of rats in Oran. Soon thousands of rats start dying, leading to panic and hysteria in the city. The civic authorities unaware of the seriousness of the situation start half-hearted measures. In some days, human deaths follow. Rieux (the main character) is convinced that plague is taking hold of the town. As more people die, the authorities start desperate measure and the town is sealed off. No one can enter or leave the town and all other services are restricted. These measures have an effect of an exile on the citizens who feel as if trapped and isolated. Rieux is friends with Rambert (a journalist who was visiting Oran but is trapped in the city now), Tarrou (a vacationer), Paneloux (the town priest), Cottard (a former criminal who attempted suicide but is smuggling goods now) and Grand (a ageing civil servant obsessed with composing a perfect sentence). Rieux's wife is under treatment in a difference city for some grave illness. The book accounts for the feeling of isolation that is all pervasive and the despair that gives rise to emotional collapse. Paneloux using masterly oration chides people that this plague is God's will and its time for all to turn to church. Tarrou comes up with the idea of the health teams that will aid the civic authorities. Rieux and Grand joins him in these teams. Rambert initially desperate to flee the city (to be with his wife in Paris), later feeling ashamed, joins these health teams. Paneloux also joins. As the situation worsens, even more desperate measures follow. People are shot while fleeing, mass funerals are conducted and occasional looting happens. Rieux and the health teams work tirelessly. Slowly as the winter chill starts, the plague starts to loosen its grip over the city but not before Paneloux and Tarrou die of it. Grand is infected but makes a surprise recovery. The town's quarantine is lifted. Cottard is arrested for his past crimes and Rambert is reunited with his wife. Rieux is informed that his sick wife is dead while Grand goes back to composing his sentence.

The storyline is fairly straightforward. It is story of lives of people who got caught up in the epidemic sweeping the town. As with situation, you have all kind of people behaving in all kind of ways. Some turn to God, others to crime and fatalism, some to a higher purpose and others rise to the occasion and do what is correct. The book makes no notion about what is correct and what was wrong. It is a narration of events filled with narrator's point of view. The theme of separation from either the loved ones or from one's daily habit is recurring throughout the book. This feeling of separation leads to hopelessness pervading everyday lives were people now attempt to live the moment as it comes and not looking out for the hopes of future for the exile could be endless. Besides their thoughts, their personal freedom (like the beaches that they enjoyed previously) also gets restricted. Absurdity of human life (on which Camus writes repeatedly), the idea of a absent Benevolent and rational God or that human lives having any higher purpose is the other prominent idea of the book. The plague is the irrational executioner that will come after anyone irrespective of who they are how they live their lives. The lack of control over our lives and our destiny, the randomness of life and death. In all this, death and suffering however absurd they might be seem is the only certainty that awaits us all. And in this constant overhang, one has to live life and give meaning to life by living it. Life is not sacred, the act of living is sacred and worth fighting for, even in the face of insurmountable plague. Another aspect of the story was that of health teams and even tough they did not achieve much, but the resistance they offered was worth it, not for some grandiose idea of heroism or bravery but for a simple fact that it was a noble struggle and defiance against death. For even a rat when pushed to a corner, will fight it out/ We for all the 'isms' and spirit, can definitely accomplish more.

Translation - Main Unhein Chhedun Aur Kuch Naa Kahen (Ghalib)

main unhein chhedun aur kuch naa kahen
chal nikalte jo mai piye hote

Line 1/2 - I would tease her, and she would not say a thing! She would have started (begun) if she has drunk wine. The poet says I would tease my beloved, but she would not complain. She did not say a word. And another time, she started (abusing me) when she was drunk. As if the poet is disappointed by not hearing the abuse from his beloved when he teases her, he recalls that had she been drunk, the response would have been a lot different.

qahar ho yaa bala ho, jo kuch ho
kash ki tum mere liye hote

Line 3/4 - Whether you are a catastrophe or you are a disaster, whosoever you are. I wish that you were for me. The poet says, I will accept you as my destiny/fate irrespective of what you are. If you are a terrible calamity, or if you are a disaster. What ever you are, I wish that you were my destiny. My longing and love will hold on and soothe out the raging disposition that you are. I will be the shield that would willingly and happily take all the heat and no one else has to know or suffer.

meri qismat mein gham gar itna tha
dil bhi ya rab kai diye hote

Line 5/6 - In my destiny, there was so much grief. Oh God!, if only you had me number of hearts too!. The poet says that in my life there is so much grief and misery, that I ask You for if you could indeed have given me number of hearts as well like the number of griefs you have given me. One heart is not enough to contain so much grief, it is overwhelmed.

aa hi jaata woh raah par ‘ghalib’
koi din aur bhi jiye hote

Line 7/8 - Would have come around for sure, Ghalib! if had lived for some days more. The poet says that she could have come around (be persuaded by) ultimately. If only you would have lived for some days more. You died a bit early (maybe the lover killed himself in a haste for if he could have waited, things would have sorted out)

Meaning of difficult words -
mai = wine
qahar = catastrophe
bala = disaster

Read more posts on Ghalib.

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XXXIII

"Then to the rolling Heav'n itself I cried,
Asking, "What Lamp had Destiny to guide
Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?"
And--"A blind Understanding!" Heav'n replied.

This is the thirty-third quatrain of the FitzGerald's Rubaiyat. The previous quatrain mentioned about the door which can not be opened and the opaque veil and in their separate spheres the seeker and the seeked realize and diffuse until they are one, whole and indivisible. In this quatrain the poet questions loudly - to the rolling heaven above I implored, asking for the way forward. I begged to show me the way, a lamp to be provided by that hidden hand to her countless little children that are stumbling in the dark unaware. We (the Children) are stumbling in the dark for we do not know much. We do not know why we are here, where we came from, where we are going. We are groping for answers, but there are none to come. And to our prayers, the Heaven's answer is "A blind Understanding!".

Could 'a blind understanding' mean we humbly accept what is happening, even though we do not know why it's happening for we can not see (we are blind to it for it is beyond our realm). We accept what is to to become of us and our lives with the utter understanding that it will happen irrespective and not get too much caught by in the why and how of it. One may not know where he came from, where he is going or what lies ahead in the path or even what his fate and actions lie in front of him. But even as we grope in this darkness, we must see the light (and come to understand) that the essence is to live and live it fully.