Thursday, August 18, 2016

Mirza Ghalib: The “Godless” Lover

“When there was nothing, there was God
If nothing had been, God would have been
My very being has been my downfall
If I hadn’t been, what would it have mattered?”

These were the words of a poet who had been dubbed ‘Godless’ by the Islamic establishment of his time. Yet his Urdu (and Persian) verse shows a constant preoccupation with God and His creation, oscillating between joyful ecstasy and hopeless despair. Biblical and Koranic figures appear frequently in his writings and in typical mystical love poetry tradition, his themes cover every minute nuance of the lover’s aching heart: the agonies of unity and separation from the Beloved, the futility of human glory and the hopeless predicament of a loving soul trapped within the limitations of a human body.
Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869), alias Mirza Nawshah, is the best known and the most widely read Indo-Persian poet of his time. His many well-known ghazals have been sung and recorded by numerous performers in India as well as in Pakistan. Since Urdu poetry relies heavily on oral tradition and rhythmic recitation, catch-phrases from various Urdu poets have made their way into everyday Urdu speech in a way which is unparalleled in any other language. This is particularly true with regard to Ghalib’s poetry where his use of the Urdu language, drawing heavily on its classical Persian parent tradition, is almost unmatched by any other Urdu poet.
Ghalib’s attitude of philosophical doubt, rooted in his own experience, was mistaken by superficial readers for atheism. In so far as God is about love, it could be argued that Ghalib was closer to the truth in terms of the real nature of the relationship between the Creator and the created. Ghalib states this boldly in terms of a philosophical truth.
Had nothing been, then the following would have been the case;

1. It would not have mattered, as there would have been no distinction between being and non-being. It is only the act of creation that has brought about the duality of Creator and created.
2. The Creator would still have been.
3. The created would have existed within the Creator, man would have lived in God.
4. Man would have been God.

In the time before twilight and darkness
Before anything my Beloved existed
And if nothing ever came into being
In the eternal arena of creation and non-creation
The Source would have been there alone
As for me, pay me no mind
I deserve no mention in the divine scheme
Thus who am I to lay any claim
For even as I am part of this creation
I am already drowned in the ocean of Love
(Translated by Abid Mohiuddin, Based on a couplet by Ghalib)

He then goes a step further and states that the Creator is helpless and unable to interfere in the affairs of the world, or indeed His own laws:

Life’s leisure is a mirror
Of the hundred, hues of self adoration
And night and day, the great dismay
Of the onlooker of this scene

Ghalib was born in Agra into a family descended from Aibak Turks who moved to Samarkand after the downfall of the Seljuk kings. Ghalib’s grandfather left his home in Central Asia to seek fortune in India during the reign of Shah Alam (1759-1806). He was employed in the army as a high ranking officer, and his sons followed suit. Ghalib’s own father died in action while the poet was still only nine years old. He was raised first by his Uncle, then by his mother’s family. In accordance with upper class Muslim tradition, he had an arranged marriage at the age of 13, but none of his seven children survived beyond infancy.
After his marriage he settled in Delhi. In one of his letters he describes his marriage as the second imprisonment after the initial confinement that was life itself. The idea that life is one continuous painful struggle which can end only when life itself ends, is a recurring theme in his poetry. One of his couplets puts it in a nutshell:

The prison of life and the bondage of grief
are one and the same
Before the onset of death,
how can man expect to be free of grief?

Ghalib began composing poetry at the age of ten. Among his teachers Ghalib mentions ‘Abdul-Samad, a Zo-roastrian convert to Islam, who had formerly been known as Hormuz. As ‘Abdul-Samad’s pupil Ghalib perfected his Persian and acquired a taste for Persian literature. After 1821, the year during which Ghalib compiled his first Urdu diwan (collection of verses), he devoted most of his time to composing only in Persian.
Ghalib lived through the twilight of Moghul rule in India. Most of his adult life was plagued with grief: the death of his children, one by one, alongside endless, futile appeals to the British authorities to get his full share of his ancestral property. Part of his family pension was restored towards the end of his life when he became completely deaf. He died in 1869 aged seventy-two. Ghalib was buried in the Nizamuddin area of Delhi, also home to the shrines of the Sufi Master Nizamuddin ‘Awliya and his favorite disciple, the multifaceted poet-musician Amir Khusraw Dihiawi.
Ghalib had had three titles of distinction bestowed on him: Najmuddawia (‘Star of the Realm’), Dahirul-Mulk (‘Honor of the Country’) and Nizam Jang (‘Hero of War’), but none of these accolades were any compensation for the fact that his poetic genius and greatness had never been truly appreciated in his lifetime. During his time, Delhi held more than its fair share of distinguished poets, and among his contemporaries was Ibrahim Dhawq, tutor to the last Moghul Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar (1775-1862).
While Persian remained the official language of Moghul India, the Urdu language had acquired an immense popularity for its poetry. Since Urdu was a relatively young language, the poets had to synthesize various and diverse linguistic elements in order to express certain poetic concepts. Because of this it became necessary to study under a linguistic expert, usually a poet, in order to perfect one’s art of writing poetry. Poets were generally held in high esteem and eagerly sought after and patronized by princes and noblemen alike.
Poetry contests were known in ancient Greece and Rome, and even in pre-Islamic Arabia. But there is no fixture comparable to the Urdu musha’ira (‘gathering of poets’) of the kind that developed in Delhi during the early eighteenth century. The most honored poet of the day would be invited to preside over the gathering, and a candle would be placed before him. He would then invite the various attending poets to read out their poems and the candle would, in turn, be passed to each performing poet.
Many interesting anecdotes have been narrated and written about the colorful Musha’ira-s at the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar. These reports usually tell of the witty verbal exchanges, couched in pure poetical forms between the wayward Ghalib and the more restrained Dhawq. Accusations were frequently hurled at Ghalib, especially for his ‘over-Persianized’ Urdu and for the obscurity of some of his imagery. At one such gathering someone from the Dhawq camp is supposed to have charged:

We understand Mir, and we know the work of Sawda
But. what be [Ghalib] says, only he or God. understands!

And building on the theme of Ghalib’s vagueness, another poet adds:

What of it, if only you alone
can understand your own poetry?
The relish is when one person says it,
and. another understands it!
Ghalib would rise against the insults with typical verses like this one;
0 God, they never have, and never will
understand what I have to say
Give them a different heart
if you can’t give me a different tongue.

In 1850 Ghalib succeeded in securing the royal assignment to write a history of the Moghul dynasty. He wrote the first volume in chaste Persian under the title of Mihr-i Nim Ruz which was published during his life time. On Dhawq’s death, Ghalib was appointed poetic mentor to Zafar. Soon after that the Indian Mutiny (or the First War of Independence) broke out in 1857, and the years that followed showed deep scars on Ghalib’s mind and career, glimpses of which can be had from his private diaries, Dastanbu’which was published after his death.
Ghalib knew that his mastery over the Urdu language was unequaled, and he could also hold his own with the greatest representatives of the Persian poetry. Ghalib was in fact so sure of himself and of his own poetic genius that this single fact may have contributed to the general hostility of his contemporaries, as well as those in positions of power. His best known self-congratulatory couplet goes straight to the point:

There are many other good. poets in this world,
And they say that only Ghalib says it differently!

He lived in an age characterized by change. The old order was crumbling, while the new British Raj had yet to establish a stronghold. The entire Indian culture was undergoing a change, with traditional concepts of society and morality being challenged by the new order. The Persian language, which until then was the official language of Muslim India, was gradually being pushed into the background in favor of English. Men of learning, among them Ghalib himself, found themselves intellectually incapacitated as the definition of education had changed from being literate in Persian and Sanskrit, to mastering the language of the new invaders. The Muslim nobility resented this steady growth of British power, while the Hindus, by and large, welcomed the introduction of English education. For the Hindus it simply meant relinquishing the Persian language of their Muslim rulers in favor of the language of modernity, progress and development.
The Emperor Zafar, himself a poet of some standing, remained a helpless onlooker to the tragic aftermath of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 which resulted in the India Act of 1858, transferring power from the British East India Company to the British Crown. While the grandeur of the Moghul Court gradually began to decay, the powerless Zafar, who remained but a figurehead of past glory, devoted his time to silent prayers and writing poetry, until eventually he was banished to Burma where he languished in a Rangoon jail.
Apart from the infant deaths of his children and his never-ending financial struggles, Ghalib’s life was characterized by notoriety. He was known for gambling, drinking and being in debt. The first edition of Ghalib’s Urdu diwan was published in 1841, the same year that he was arrested and fined for gambling. He was arrested on the same charge in 1847, and again, in that same year, the second edition of hisdiwan was published. Since he had never been seen praying or fasting, his critics were quick to write him off as an atheistic drunk, who indulged himself in the idle pursuit of composing love poetry. Mainstream Islam in 19th-century India had not recognized love as one of the components of the faith. Religion was about God, and God was only to be feared and worshipped in a strictly prescribed way. Within this context, some of Ghalib’s verse hovered on the blasphemous:

I know the truth about the promise of heaven
Still, it’s a nice thought to keep the heart amused.

In Ghalib’s poetry, love can only ever be true if it is unconditional. If you lose your heart to someone, then it is also necessary to lose your voice, so that you lose the ability to complain about nonreciprocal love:

All my lamentations had sprung
From the depths of my aching heart
But since I had given it away
As an offering to my Beloved.
Thus the very source of my pleadings
Had been removed from my chest
So what could he the purpose
Of the tongue remaining between my cheeks
Since I will be unable to express
Let my passion be silenced within me

(Translated by Abid Mohiuddin, Based on a couplet by Ghalib)

Love is also about having faith in the Beloved irrespective of “whether he himself is faithful:

In this state of complete isolation
While away from home, in enforced seclusion
There is no need to stir up my senses
For 1 can only bear my Beloved’s whispering
And anxiously await my love’s good tiding
I trust we will soon be overcoming
Any hardship, even a stroke of lightning
Could not erase the place of our nesting
This love was an unconditional longing
That could not simply be ruined by anything

(Translated by Abid Mohiuddin, Based on a couplet by Ghalib)

For Ghalib, in a typical Sufi fashion, love creates a condition in which life and death become indistinguishable: When you live for love you die, and only when you die, you really live:
Love knows no difference between life and death
I live only when I see that infidel for whom I’m dying.

The theme of an uncaring and seemingly indifferent Beloved is further refined in stressing the oneness of the Divinity itself:

All my life I searched for you everywhere And my hopes bad been shattered, time and again After many disappointments my heart was wounded Now I have finally traveled to your house And pinned all my hopes of finding you there But as those who were once dejected in their love Act differently to those who had been fulfilled I am in fear of yet another scene of despair Hence I am trembling to see your black veil lifted
(Translated by Abid Mohiuddin, Based on a couplet by Ghalib)

The death of the ego is the single-most important prerequisite for Ghalib’s prescribed brand of love:

May this life turn to dust, if I can’t be a stone
That lies constantly at your threshold

Ghalib was fully aware of his nonacceptance among those who had appointed themselves as the custodians of Indian Islam. Self-consciously, and often wittily, he picks up and echoes their views by reaffirming his own notoriety;

These leanings towards mysticism,
this eloquent oratory 0 Ghalib,
You could have been a saint,
if only you weren’t such a drunkard.

Ghalib’s poetry is the product of a civilization standing consciously on the brink of change. He delights in the enigmatic and the obscure where everything is subjected to wit and passion:

With such joy
I walk before my executioner
That from my shadow
The bead is two steps ahead of the feet

The joy of facing the executioner is one of GhalUVs favorite mystical themes:

Don’t ask those who are ecstatic with joy
How they feel when they see their place of execution
For it is the festival of their expectations
That the sword should emerge naked.

Ghalib lived through an age characterized by the ending of an old order and the emergence of a new one. Symbolically he became a bridge between the two. As a person he remained woefully misunderstood, but as a poet he proved he was ahead of his time. His poetic sentiments have stood the test of time insofar as the human condition remains ridden”with uncertainty about the future, yet hazy about the past. And in Ghalib’s own words, “who lives long enough to tell the tale?”

A compelling style of poetry
Was all I had in life
It was appreciated by none,
So I just wrote my verse and put it away.
If that is how my life is spent
Then, 0’Ghalib how will I say —
Or even remember, that I, too,
Had once possessed God.

Human Nature: An Evolutionary Paradox

Was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.
Member of the TRANSCEND Network.
Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy.
Received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London.
The author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is “Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century”.
Today, human greed and folly are destroying the global environment. As if this were not enough, there is a great threat to civilization and the biosphere from an all-destroying thermonuclear war. Both of these severe existential threats are due to faults in our inherited emotional nature.
From the standpoint of evolutionary theory, this is a paradox. As a species, we are well on the road to committing collective suicide, driven by the flaws in human nature. But isn’t natural selection supposed to produce traits that lead to survival? Today, our emotions are not leading us towards survival, but instead driving us towards extinction. What is the reason for this paradox?
Some Stories from the Bible
The Old Testament is the common heritage of the three Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Some of the stories which it contains can be seen as attempts to explain the paradoxes of human emotional nature: Why are we born with emotions that drive us to commit the seven deadly sins? Why are pride, envy, wrath, gluttony, lust, sloth and greed so much a part of human nature? The story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden attempts to answer this question, as do stories about the role of Satam in the world.
According to the biblical account, Adam and Eve ate apples from the Tree of Knowledge and were therefore expelled from the Garden of Eden. This story can be seen as containing elements of historical truth.
Humans were originally hunter-gatherers. Populations were so sparse that gathering roots, berries and fruits from their environment gave them enough to eat. Occasionally they obtained additional protein from the meat of animals that they were able to kill. Then agriculture was invented. Populations rapidly became so dense that humans were no longer able to live simply by gathering fruit from the Garden of Eden. Expelled from the garden, they were henceforth forced to sweat for their daily bread.
What about “original sin” and the role of the Devil in the world?  In the Bible, the Devil, or Satan, appears as a fallen angel who tempts humans to commit sins, i.e to break the rules of their societies. The existence of Satan is the biblical explanation of the presence of evil in the world. An alternative explanation is given by the doctrine of “original sin”, which maintains that humans are born with a sinful nature.
Like the story of the Garden of Eden, these biblical concepts may also cronicle true historical events in human evolution. A sinful human is sometimes described as “behaving like an animal”. In fact. what is regarded a sin in humans can be a necessary survival trait in an animal. It would be ridiculous to say “Thou shalt not steal” to a mouse or “Thou shalt not kill” to a tiger.
Our emotions have an extremely long evolutionary history. Both lust and rage are emotions that we share with many animals. However, with the rapid advance of human cultural evolution, our ancestors began to live together in progressively larger groups, and in these new societies, our inherited emotional nature was often inapproppriate. What once was a survival trait became a sin which needed to be suppressed by morality and law.
Today we live in a world that is entirely different from the one into which our species was born. We face the problems of the 21st century: exploding populations, vanishing resources, and the twin threats of catastrophic climate change and thermonuclear war. We face these severe problems with our poor cave-man’s brain, with an emotional nature that has not changed much since our ancestors lived in small tribes, competing for territory on the grasslands of Africa.
The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals
In the long run, because of the terrible weapons that have already been produced through the misuse of science, and because of the even more terrible weapons that are likely to be invented in the future, the only way in which we can ensure the survival of civilization is to abolish the institution of war.
But is this possible? Or are the emotions that make war possible so much a part of human nature that we cannot stop humans from fighting any more than we can stop cats and dogs from fighting? Can biological science throw any light on the problem of why our supposedly rational species seems intenton choosing war, pain and death instead of peace, happiness and life? To answer this question, we need to turn to the science of ethology: the study of inherited emotional tendencies and behavior patterns in animals and humans.
In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin devoted a chapter to the evolution of instincts, and he later published a separate book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals”. Because of these pioneering studies, Darwin is considered to be the founder of ethology,  the study of inherited behavior patterns.
Behind Darwin’s work in this field is the observation that instinctive behavior patterns are just as reliably inherited as morphological characteristics. Darwin was also impressed by the fact that within a given species, behavior patterns have some degree of uniformity, and the fact that the different species within a family are related by similarities of instinctive behavior, just as they are related by similarities of bodily form. For example, certain elements of cat-like behavior can be found among all members of the cat family; and certain elements of dog-like or wolf-like behavior can be found among all members of the dog family. On the other hand, there are small variations in instinct among the members of a given species.  For example, not all domestic dogs behave in the same way.
“Let us look at the familiar case of breeds of dogs”, Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species, “It cannot be doubted that young pointers will sometimes  point and even back other dogs the very first time they are taken out; retrieving is certainly in some degree inherited by retrievers; and a tendency to run round, instead of at, a flock of sheep by shepherd dogs. I cannot see that these actions, performed without experience by the young, and in very nearly the same manner, without the end being known (for the young pointer can no more know that he points to aid his master than the white butterfly knows why she lays her eggs on the leaf of the cabbage) I cannot see that these actions differ essentially from true instincts…”
“How strongly these domestic instincts habits and dispositions are inherited, and how curiously they become mingled, is well shown when different breeds of dogs are crossed. Thus it is known that a cross with a bulldog has affected for many generations the courage and obstinacy of greyhounds; and a cross with a greyhound has given to a whole family of shepherd dogs a tendency to hunt hares.”
Darwin believed that in nature, desirable variations of instinct are propagated by natural selection, just as in the domestication of animals, favourable variations of instinct are selected and propagated by kennelmen and stock breeders. In this way, according to Darwin, complex and highly developed instincts, such as the comb-making instinct of honey-bees, have evolved by natural selection from simpler instincts, such as the instinct by which bumble bees use their old cocoons to hold honey and sometimes add a short wax  tube.
In the introduction to The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Darwin says “I thought it very important to ascertain whether the same expressions and gestures prevail, as has often been asserted without much evidence, with all the races of mankind, especially with those who have associated but little with Europeans. Whenever the same movements of the features or body express the same emotions in several distinct races of man, we may infer with much probability, that such expressions are true ones, – that is, are innate or instinctive.”
To gather evidence on this point, Darwin sent a printed questionnaire on the expression of human emotions and sent it to missionaries and colonial administrators in many parts of the world. Darwin received 36 replies to his questionnaire, many coming from people who were in contact with extremely distinct and isolated groups of humans.
The results convinced him that our emotions and the means by which they are expressed are to a very large extent innate, rather than culturally determined, since the answers to his questionnaire were so uniform and so independent of both culture and race. In preparation for his book, he also closely observed the emotions and their expression in very young babies and children, hoping to see inherited characteristics in subjects too young to have been greatly influenced by culture.
Darwin’s observations convinced him that in humans, just as in other mammals, the emotions and their expression are to a very large extent inherited universal characteristics of the species.
The study of inherited behavior patterns in animals (and humans) was continued in the 20th century by such researchers as Karl von Frisch (1886-1982), Nikolaas Tinbergen (1907-1988), and Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989), three scientists who shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 1973.
Karl von Frisch, the first of the three ethologists, is famous for his studies of the waggle-dance of honeybees. Bees guide each other to sources of food by a genetically programmed signalling method, the famous waggle dance, deciphered in 1945 by von Frisch.
Among the achievements for which Tinbergen is famous are his classic studies of instinct in herring gulls. He noticed that the newly-hatched chick of a herring gull pecks at the beak of its parent, and this signal causes the parent gull to regurgitate food into the gaping beak of the chick.
Tinbergen wondered what signal causes the chick to initiate this response by pecking at the beak of the parent gull. Therefore he constructed a series of models of the parent in which certain features of the adult gull were realistically represented while other features were crudely represented or left out entirely. He found by trial and error that the essential signal to which the chick responds is the red spot on the tip of its parent’s beak. Models which lacked the red spot produced almost no response from the young chick, although in other respects they were realistic models; and the red spot on an otherwise crude model would make the chick peck with great regularity.
In other experiments, Tinbergen explored the response of newly-hatched chicks of the common domestic hen to models representing a hawk. Since the chicks were able to recognize a hawk immediately after hatching, he knew that the response must be genetically programmed. Just as he had done in his experiments with herring gulls, Tinbergen experimented with various models, trying to determine the crucial characteristic that was recognized by the chicks, causing them to run for cover. He discovered that a crude model in the shape of the letter T invariably caused the response if pulled across the sky with the wings first and tail last. (Pulled backwards, the T shape caused no response.)
In the case of a newly-hatched herring gull chick pecking at the red spoon the beak of its parent, the program in the chick’s brain must be entirely genetically determined, without any environmental component at all. Learning cannot play a part in this behavioral pattern, since the pattern is present in the young chick from the very moment when it breaks out of the egg. On the other hand (Tinbergen pointed out) many behavioral patterns in animals and in man have both an hereditary component and an environmental component. Learning is often very important, but learning seems to be built ona foundation of genetic predisposition.
To illustrate this point, Tinbergen called attention to the case of sheepdogs, whose remote ancestors were wolves. These dogs, Tinbergen wrote, can easily be trained to drive a flock of sheep towards the shepherd. However, it is difficult to train them to drive the sheep away from their master. Tinbergen explained this by saying that the sheep-dogs regard the shepherd as their “pack leader”; and since driving the prey towards the pack leader is part of the hunting instinct of wolves, it is easy to teach the dogs this maneuver.
Driving the prey away from the pack leader would not make sense for wolves hunting in a pack; it is not part of the instinctive makeup ofwolves, nor is it a natural pattern of behavior for their remote descendants, the sheep-dogs.
As a further example of the fact that learning is usually built on a foundation of genetic predisposition, Tinbergen mentions the ease with which human babies learn languages. The language learned is determined by the baby’s environment; but the astonishing ease with which a human baby learns to speak and understand implies a large degree of genetic predisposition.
On Aggression
The third of the 1973 prizewinners, Konrad Lorenz, is more controversial, but at the same time very interesting in the context of studies of the causes of war and discussions of how war may be avoided. As a young boy, he was very fond of animals, and his tolerant parents allowed him to build up a large menagerie in their house in Altenberg, Austria.
Even as a child, Lorenz became an expert on waterfowl behavior, and he discovered the phenomenon of imprinting. He was given a one day old duckling, and found, to his intense joy, that it transferred its following response to his person. As Lorenz discovered, young waterfowl have a short period immediately after being hatched, when they identify as their “mother” whomever they see first. In later life, Lorenz continued his studies of imprinting, and there exists a touching photograph of him, with his white beard, standing waist-deep in a pond, surrounded by an adoring group of goslings who believe him to be their mother. Lorenz also studied pair bonding rituals in waterfowl.
It is, however, for his controversial book On Aggression that Konrad Lorenz is best known. In this book, Lorenz makes a distinction between intergroup aggression and intragroup aggression. Among animals, he points out, rank-determining fights are seldom fatal. Thus, for example, the fights that determine leadership within a wolf pack end when the loser makes a gesture of submission. By contrast, fights between groups of animals are often fights to the death, examples being wars between ant colonies, or of bees against intruders, or the defense of a rat pack against strange rats.
Many animals, humans included, seem willing to kill or be killed in defense of the communities to which they belong. Lorenz calls this behavioural tendency a “communal defense response”. He points out that the “holy shiver”, the tingling of the spine that humans experience when performing an heroic act in defense of their communities, is related to the prehuman reflex for raising the hair on the back of an animal as it confronts an enemy, a reflex that makes the animal seem larger than it really is.
Konrad Lorenz and his followers have been criticized for introducing a cathartic model of instincts. According to Lorenz, if an instinct is not used, a pressure for its use builds up over a period of time. In the case of human aggression, according to Lorenz, the nervous energy has to be dissipated in some way, either harmlessly through some substitute for aggression, or else through actual fighting. Thus, for example, Lorenz believed that violent team sports help to reduce the actual level of violence in a society.
Although the cathartic model of aggression is now widely believed to be incorrect, it seems probable that the communal defense response discussed by Lorenz will prove to be a correct and useful concept. The communal defense mechanism can be thought of as the aspect of human emotions which makes it natural for soldiers to kill or be killed in defense of their countries. In the era before nuclear weapons made war prohibitively dangerous, such behavior was considered to be the greatest of virtues.
Generations of schoolboys have learned the Latin motto: “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” – it is both sweet and proper to die for one’s country. Even in today’s world, death in battle in defense of country and religion is still praised by nationalists. However, because of the development of weapons of mass destruction, both nationalism and narrow patriotism have become dangerous anachronisms.
In thinking of violence and war, we must be extremely careful not to confuse the behavioral patterns that lead to wife-beating or bar-room brawls with those that lead to episodes like the trench warfare of the First World War, or to the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The first type of aggression is similar to the rank-determining fights of animals, while the second is more akin to the team-spirit exhibited by a football side. Heroic behavior in defense of one’s community has been praised throughout the ages, but the tendency to such behavior has now become a threat to the survival of civilization, since tribalism makes war possible, and war with thermonuclear weapons threatens civilization with catastrophe.
In an essay entitled The Urge to Self-Destruction, Arthur Koestler says: “Even a cursory glance at history should convince one that individual crimes, committed for selfish motives, play a quite insignificant role in the human tragedy compared with the numbers massacred in unselfish love of one’s tribe, nation, dynasty, church or ideology… Wars are not fought for personal gain, but out of loyalty and devotion to king, country or cause…”
“We have seen on the screen the radiant love of the Führer of the Hitler Youth… They are transfixed with love, like monks in ecstasy on religious paintings. The sound of the nation’s anthem, the sight of its proud flag, makes you feel part of a wonderfully loving community. The fanatic is prepared to lay down his life for the object of his worship, as the lover is prepared to die for his idol. He is, alas, also prepared to kill anybody who represents a supposed threat to the idol.”
The emotion described here by Koestler is the same as the communal defense mechanism (“militant enthusiasm”) described in biological terms by Lorenz. In On Aggression, Konrad Lorenz gives the following description of the emotions of a hero preparing to risk his life for the sake of the group:
“In reality, militant enthusiasm is a specialized form of communal aggression, clearly distinct from and yet functionally related to the more primitive forms of individual aggression. Every man of normally strong emotions knows, from his own experience, the subjective phenomena that go hand in hand with the response of militant enthusiasm. A shiver runs down the back and, as more exact observation shows, along the outside of both arms. One soars elated, above all the ties of everyday life, one is ready to abandon all for the call of what, in the moment of this specific emotion, seems to be a sacred duty.
All obstacles in its path become unimportant; the instinctive inhibitions against hurting or killing one’s fellows lose, unfortunately, much of their power. Rational considerations, criticisms, and all reasonable arguments against the behavior dictated by militant enthusiasm are silenced by an amazing reversal of all values, making them appear not only untenable, but base and dishonorable. Men may enjoy the feeling of absolute righteousness even while they commit atrocities.
Conceptual thought and moral responsibility are at their lowest ebb. As the Ukrainian proverb says: ‘When the banner is unfurled, all reason is in the trumpet’.”
“The subjective experiences just described are correlated with the following objectively demonstrable phenomena. The tone of the striated musculature is raised, the carriage is stiffened, the arms are raised from the sides and slightly rotated inward, so that the elbows point outward. The head is proudly raised, the chin stuck out, and the facial muscles mime the ‘hero face’ familiar from the films. On the back and along the outer surface of the arms, the hair stands on end. This is the objectively observed aspect of the shiver!”
“Anybody who has ever seen the corresponding behavior of the male chimpanzee defending his band or family with self-sacrificing courage will doubt the purely spiritual character of human enthusiasm. The chimp, too, sticks out his chin, stiffens his body, and raises his elbows; his hair stands on end, producing a terrifying magnification of his body contours as seen from the front. The inward rotation of the arms obviously has the purpose of turning the longest-haired side outward to enhance the effect. The whole combination of body attitude and hair-raising constitutes a bluff.
This is also seen when a cat humps its back, and is calculated to make the animal appear bigger and more dangerous than it really is. Our shiver, which in German poetry is called a ‘heiliger Schauer’, a ‘holy’ shiver, turns out to be the vestige of a prehuman vegetative response for making a fur bristle which we no longer have. To the humble seeker for biological truth, there cannot be the slightest doubt that human militant enthusiasm evolved out of a communal defense response of our prehuman ancestor.”
Lorenz goes on to say, “An impartial visitor from another planet, looking at man as he is today: in his hand the atom bomb, the product of his intelligence, in his heart the aggression drive, inherited from his anthropoid ancestors, which the same intelligence cannot control, such a visitor would not give mankind much chance of survival.”
There are some semantic difficulties connected with discussions of the parts of human nature that make war possible. In one of the passages quoted above, Konrad Lorenz speaks of “militant enthusiasm”, which he says is both a form of communal aggression and also a communal defense response. In their inspiring recent book War No More, Professor Robert Hinde and Sir Joseph Rotblat use the word “duty” in discussing the same human emotional tendencies. I will instead use the word “tribalism”.
I prefer the word “tribalism” because from an evolutionary point of view the human emotions involved in war grew out of the territorial competition between small tribes during the formative period when our ancestors were hunter-gatherers on the grasslands of Africa. Members of tribe-like groups are bound together by strong bonds of altruism and loyalty. Echoes of these bonds can be seen in present-day family groups, in team sports, in the fellowship of religious congregations, and in the bonds that link soldiers to their army comrades and to their nation.
Warfare involves not only a high degree of aggression, but also an extremely high degree of altruism. Soldiers kill, but they also sacrifice their own lives. Thus patriotism and duty are as essential to war as the willingness to kill. As Arthur Koestler points out, “Wars are not fought for personal gain, but out of loyalty and devotion to king, country or cause…”
Tribalism involves passionate attachment to one’s own group, self-sacrifice for the sake of the group, willingness both to die and to kill if necessary to defend the group from its enemies, and belief that in case of a conflict, one’s own group is always in the right.
If we examine altruism and aggression in humans, we notice that members of our species exhibit great altruism towards their own children. Kindness towards close relatives is also characteristic of human behaviour, and the closer the biological relationship is between two humans, the greater is the altruism they tend to show towards each other. This profile of altruism is easy to explain on the basis of Darwinian natural selection since two closely related individuals share many genes and, if they cooperate, the genes will be more effectively propagated.
To explain from an evolutionary point of view the communal defense mechanism discussed by Lorenz, the willingness of humans to kill and be killed in defense of their communities, we have only to imagine that our ancestors lived in small tribes and that marriage was likely to take place within a tribe rather than across tribal boundaries. Under these circumstances, each tribe would tend to consist of genetically similar individuals. The tribe itself, rather than the individual, would be the unit on which the evolutionary forces of natural selection would act.
The idea of group selection in evolution was proposed in the 1930’s by J.B.S. Haldane and R.A. Fisher, and more recently it has been discussed by W.D. Hamilton, E.O. Wilson and R. Dawkins. According to the group selection model, a tribe whose members showed altruism towards each other would be more likely to survive than a tribe whose members cooperated less effectively. Since several tribes might be in competition for the same territory, intertribal aggression might, under some circumstances, increase the chances for survival of one’s own tribe. Thus, on the basis of the group selection model, one would expect humans to be kind and cooperative towards members of their own group, but at the same time to sometimes exhibit aggression towards members of other groups, especially in conflicts over territory.
One would also expect intergroup conflicts to be most severe in cases where the boundaries between groups are sharpest where marriage is forbidden across the boundaries.
Tribal Markings, Ethnicity and Pseudospeciation
In biology, a species is defined to be a group of mutually fertile organisms.Thus all humans form a single species, since mixed marriages between all known races will produce children, and subsequent generations in mixed marriages are also fertile. However, although there is never a biological barrier to marriages across ethnic and racial boundaries, there are often very severe cultural barriers.
Irenäus Eibl-Ebesfeldt, a student of Konrad Lorenz, introduced the word “pseudospeciatyion” to denote cases in which cultural barriers between two groups of humans are so strongly marked tha marriages across the boundaries are difficult and infrequent.
In his book The Biology of War and Peace, Eibl-Eibesfeldt discusses the “tribal markings” used by groups of humans to underline their own identity and to clearly mark the boundary between themselves and other groups. One of the illustrations shows the marks left by ritual scarification on the faces of the members of certain African tribes. These scars would be hard to counterfeit, and they help to establish and strengthen tribal identity.
Seeing a photograph of the marks left by ritual scarification on the faces of African tribesmen, it is impossible not to be reminded of the dueling scars that Prussian army officers once used to distinguish their caste from outsiders.
Surveying the human scene, one can find endless examples of signs that mark the bearer as a member of a particular group, signs that can be thought of as “tribal markings”: tattoos; piercing; bones through the nose or ears; elongated necks or ears; filed teeth; Chinese binding of feet; circumcision, both male and female; unique hair styles; decorations of the tongue, nose, or naval; peculiarities of dress, kilts, tartans, school ties, veils, chadors, and headdresses; caste markings in India; use or nonuse of perfumes; codes of honour and value systems; traditions of hospitality and manners; peculiarities of diet (certain foods forbidden, others preferred); giving traditional names to children; knowledge of dances and songs; knowledge of recipes; knowledge of common stories, literature, myths, poetry or common history; festivals, ceremonies, and rituals; burial customs, treatment of the dead and ancestor worship; methods of building and decorating homes; games and sports peculiar to a culture; relationship to animals, knowledge of horses and ability to ride; nonrational systems of belief. Even a baseball hat worn backwards or the professed ability to enjoy atonal music can mark a person as a member of a special “tribe”. Undoubtedly there many people in New York who would never think of marrying someone who could not appreciate the paintings of Jasper Johns, and many in London who would consider anyone had not read all the books of Virginia Wolfe to be entirely outside the bounds of civilization.
By far the most important mark of ethnic identity is language, and within a particular language, dialect and accent. If the only purpose of language were communication, it would be logical for the people of a small country like Denmark to stop speaking Danish and go over to a more universally-understood international language such as English. However, language has another function in addition to communication: It is also a mark of identity. It establishes the boundary of the group.
Within a particular language, dialects and accents mark the boundaries of subgroups. For example, in England, great social significance is attached to accents and diction, a tendency that George Bernard Shaw satirized in his play, Pygmalion, which later gained greater fame as the musical comedy, My Fair Lady. This being the case, we can ask why all citizens of England do not follow the example of Eliza Dolittle in Shaw’s play, and improve their social positions by acquiring Oxford accents. However, to do so would be to run the risk of being laughed at by one’s peers and regarded as a traitor to one’s own local community and friends. School children everywhere can be very cruel to any child who does not fit into the local pattern. At Eton, an Oxford accent is compulsory; but in a Yorkshire school, a child with an Oxford accent would suffer for it.
Next after language, the most important “tribal marking” is religion. As mentioned above, it seems probable that in the early history of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, religion evolved as a mechanism for perpetuating tribal traditions and culture. Like language, and like the innate facial expressions studied by Darwin, religion is a universal characteristic of all human societies. All known races and cultures practice some sort of religion. Thus a tendency to be religious seems to be built into human nature. Otherwise, religion would not be as universal as it is.
Religion is often strongly associated with ethnicity and nationalism, that is to say, it is associated with the demarcation of a particular group of people by its culture or race. For example, the Jewish religion is associated with Zionism and with Jewish nationalism. Similarly Islam is strongly associated with Arab nationalism. Christianity too has played an important role in many aggressive wars, for example the Crusades, the European conquest of the New World, European colonial conquests in Africa and Asia, and the wars between Catholics and Protestants within Europe (notably the Thirty Years War).
Many of the atrocities with which the history of humankind is stained were committed in conflicts involving groups between which sharply marked  have involved what Iren us Eibl-Eibesfeldt called “pseudospeciation”, that cultural barriers have made intermarriage difficult and infrequent. Examples include the present conflict between Israelis and Palestinians; “racial cleansing” in Kosovo; the devastating wars between Catholics and Protestants in Europe; the Lebanese civil war; genocide committed against Jews and Gypsies during World War II; recent genocide in Rwanda; intertribal massacres in the Ituri Provence of Congo; use of poison gas against Kurdish civilians by Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq; the massacre of Armenians by Turks; massacres of Hindus by Muslims and of Muslims by Hindus in post-independence India; massacres of Native Americans by white conquerors and settlers in all parts of the New World; and massacres committed during the Crusades. The list seems endless.
Religion often contributes to conflicts by sharpening the boundaries between ethnic groups and by making marriage across those boundaries difficult and infrequent. However, this negative role is balanced by a positive one, whenever religion is the source of ethical principles, especially the principle of universal human brotherhood.
Many of the great ethical teachers of history lived at a time when cultural evolution was changing humans from hunter-gatherers and pastoral peoples to farmers and city dwellers. To live and cooperate in larger groups, humans needed to overwrite their instinctive behavior patterns with culturally determined behavior involving a wider range of cooperation than previously.
This period of change is marked by the lives and ideas of a number of greatethical teachers – Moses, Buddha, Lao Tse, Confucius, Socrates, Aristotle, Jesus, and Saint Paul. Mohammed lived at a slightly later period, but it was still a period of transition for the Arab peoples, a period during which their range cooperation needed to be enlarged.
Most of the widely practiced religions of today contain the principle of universal human brotherhood. This is contained, for example, in Christianity, in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Sermon on the Mount tells us that we must love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.
When asked “But who is my neighbor?”, Jesus replied with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which says that our neighbor may belong to a different ethnic group than ourselves, or may be separated from us by geographical distance. Nevertheless, he is still our neighbor and he still deserves our love and assistance. To this, Christianity adds that we must love and forgive our enemy, and do good to those who persecute us, a principle that would make war impossible if it were only followed. Not only in Christianity, but also in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, the principles of compassion and universal human brotherhood hold a high place.
The religious leaders of today’s world have the opportunity to contribute importantly to the solution of the problem of war. They have the opportunity to powerfully support the concept of universal human brotherhood, to build bridges between religious groups, to make intermarriage across ethnic boundaries easier, and to soften the distinctions between communities. If they fail to do this, they will have failed humankind at a time of crisis.
Human nature undoubtedly contains emotions of tribalism, which nationalist and facist leaders find it very easy to exploit. But education, ethics and law can overwrite primative and anachronistic emotional tendencies. Our astonishing scientific and cultural advances have been achieved through the cooperative efforts of all of humanity. In addition to the darker traits in human nature, our species also has a genius for cooperation; and it is this genius for cooperation that is the key to a happy future.

Gulzar's Mirza Ghalib: Reality, Realism and Allegorical Liberty

Indian television has not always been this melodramatic, lavishly decked up chimera of the life and times of the rich and the middle class India, as it is today. There was a time in the mid 80’s up until early 90’s when Hindi television witnessed an experimental phase which produced cinematic products such as literary adaptations, telefilms, biopics etc. During this period filmmakers from the New Wave Cinema Movement were experimenting with this new medium which had been introduced in India at the beginning of the 1980’s. Realism remained the dominant theme whether it was the subject matter, the aesthetic or the narrative of these shows. The 17 episodes long series,Mirza Ghalib made in 1988 by Gulzar, based on the life and times of the famous 18th century Urdu poet, was also a product of this phase of Indian television history.
This series holds considerable significance not only as a rare example of a biopic in an episodic format but also because of its artistic complexity. On the one hand as a biopic it tackles obvious concerns regarding authenticity of representation of the historical figure of Mirza Ghalib, on the other hand a closer look reveals that the series also functions as an allegory (as shall be illustrated later). Both these concerns are contrasting and at times contradictory to each other. While authenticity of representation requires following tenets of realism not only in narrative but also the aesthetic strategy, an allegory requires a creative fashioning of images and events such that while telling a story they simultaneously indicate to another as well. This contrast between realistic and creative conceptualisation of the plot and screenplay provides an interesting case for a deeper scrutiny into the nature of this episodic biopic as well as the intent of its maker.
A Brief Summary
As already mentioned this series was a biographical account of Mirza Ghalib situating him in a historical, socio-political context. Ghalib is standing at a juncture in time when the erstwhile Mughal regime was giving way to a bureaucratic British colonial administration. The political upheaval had left him bereft of the family pension upon which he had been surviving. Being a poet, Ghalib does not boast of a regular hefty income. Besides the family pension his hope for coming into some money rested upon being instated in the court of Bahadur Shah Zaffar, the last Mughal ruler in India, as a court poet. However this too remained an uphill battle owing to the intense power struggle with his contemporaries like Zauk and Momin. Looking for avenues in the newly establishing print tradition in India and trying to get his family pension reinstated, the constant financial struggles of Ghalib remain the backdrop of the series.
Depicted as someone who was fond of finer things in life including but not limited to occasional high stakes gambling, drinking and also an ill-advised generous nature, Ghalib’s economic problems were only compounded by his lavish lifestyle. The other constant theme of the biopic was the personal woes of Ghalib owing to the early deaths of seven of his children soon after their births one after another. This remained a huge cause of grief for Ghalib and his wife and both dealt with this tragedy in their own ways. While Ghalib’s wife has been portrayed as becoming increasingly religious and stoic, Ghalib on the contrary became more agnostic, took to drinking and at many occasions in the show has been seen channeling his sorrow into his poetry and couplets. These remaining the dominant themes for the protagonist, the socio-political context of the changing regime from one in the hands of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zaffar, to one that was being administered by the British East India Company, is in itself the underlying plot of the show affecting the lives of various characters in different ways. The final chapter of this change of power from one hand into another especially in North India being the 1857 revolt, this event remains the anchor of the show pivoting the life of the show as well as that of Ghalib in more than one way.  
In terms of the narrative and the aesthetic it has been very important for Gulzar to keep both realistic. As he himself has admitted, the only prior attempt to cinematically engage with Ghalib by Sohrab Modi in 1954 resulted in more of mythification than accurate historical representation of the 18th century poet (“Where is Reality: The Hindu). However when working on a biopic of a literary character, especially a poet, it becomes difficult to associate the corpus of an author’s work with their life events even though it becomes imperative to feature the couplets and poems in the biographical account itself. This becomes doubly true when one deals with a poet like Ghalib. Most experts on Ghalib and Urdu poetry in general claim that Ghalib never indulged in any socio-political commentary through his poetry. Thus to indicate any event in a biopic on the poet through his works would not be very feasible.
Yet Gulzar does precisely that at more than one occasion. But to out rightly reject these as incidents of historical inaccuracies would be a bit of overstep. Instead if one were to look at Gulzar’s affinities with Ghalib and the empathy that he feels with his beloved poet, one would be able to read in these very occasions, incidence of a personal allegory.
Premising Allegory
Cinematic and literary scholars suggest that instead of qualifying texts (cinematic or literary) as allegorical or non-allegorical, one should look at these works as those which enable allegorical reading in different degrees. But to understand allegorical references one requires a foundational narrative and an allegorical design. The foundational narrative works as a cultural code which facilitates comparisons between what is being portrayed and what is being signified, necessary for an allegorical reading, whereas the  allegorical design includes elements of (especially in cinema) iconographies, narrative patterns, etc. which are used to convey the allegory intended[1]. In other words these are the elements of premise and symbolism used in an allegory.
In terms of foundational narrative we can look at the affinity with which Gulzar reads Ghalib. Apart from making the show, Gulzar has also published the screenplay of this series. In the preface to this screenplay he writes “He used to borrow money, on being unable to repay it, he would search for innovative excuses. I feel an emotional bond with him. I wish I could somehow repay all his debts. Instead, generations and I, we all owe a debt to him!”. Influence of Ghalib on Gulzar is reflected also in the latter’s poetry as well as the songs written by him. He is also actively involved in preserving the legacy of Ghalib by organising commemorating services at his birthplace annually (“Ghalib was a great egotist”: Times of India).
Much like Ghalib in his old age, Gulzar is too a witness of a massive regime change albeit during his childhood. While Ghalib had seen British administration replacing the last relics of Mughal dynasty, Gulzar had seen the same British administration getting dismantled and giving rise to the post colonial Indian state. Interestingly as the 1857 revolt was the last chapter in the previous regime change saga, partition played the same defining moment in the latter. Both these events, the revolt and the partition, were occasions of large scale displacement, violence and persecution. This is indeed the most important link that connects Ghalib and Gulzar. One can say that Ghalib and Gulzar are standing at the two ends of the same historical thread, one which began with the end of Mughal dynasty at the hands of British administration and ended with the demise of colonial rule giving way to two sparring nations born out of the same country. The experience of trauma for the two becomes the very cultural code that one can base the foundational narrative on for an allegorical reading in Gulzar’s account of Ghalib’s life.
As for the allegorical design, the show is conceptualised based on the themes of nostalgia and a longing for the past. The story begins from the year 1867, just two years before Ghalib’s death. The opening scene is lit by dim lighting on a damp foggy morning; the set is that of the old Kasim lane of Delhi where Ghalib used to reside. It looks old and blackened with dust and grime. Ghalib, played by Naseeruddin Shah is returning from the mosque. As a passerby converses with Ghalib in the street, we understand that the dust has settled on the 1857 revolt, Bhadur Shah Zaffar has been exiled, princes have been brutally executed and the fort remains deserted.  Consistent with the theme of nostalgia and memory, the biopic continues in the form of flashbacks throughout.
However beside the general mise-en-scène, there are specific occasions of allegorical indices in the show. The first instance comes in the second episode of the series. On being prompted by his wife, played by Tanvi Azmi, to return to his hometown in Agra after an unsuccessful showing at a poetry recitation in the Delhi court, Ghalib replies “Shia, Sunni; Hindu, Muslim, were these partitions not enough that people have now built a wall between cities? I find this world very small, my lady”* [2]. Gulzar situates a couplet by Ghalib here, “Baazichaye atfaal hai duniya mere aage, hota hai shab-o roz tamasha mere aage”* which in English translation reads as “The world is just a child’s play before me. The farce goes on night and day before me”*. The couplet here signifies two kinds of disillusionments. In the scheme of the narrative Ghalib has just returned from an unsuccessful poetry recitation and could be venting out his disappointment with regards to that, but taking it in perspective with his remark about partitions, the same couplet could be read as an indictment of the modern political order which conveniently divides territories and people in the name of religion, nation etc without seriously considering its repercussions for the affected people.
What is important to note is that this incident is depicted in Ghalib’s youth, which means considerably before 1857. There had been no significant partitions as such by then (as opposed to later with the partitions of Bengal and India) which Ghalib might be distressed about. This utterance seems more allegorical than biographical in the context of the timeline that the biopic is following. And Gulzar’s feelings about the partition are well documented to lend credibility to this observation. As he said once in an interview, “My mulk (motherland) has been left on the other side my watan (country) is here; this is what keeps me forever divided” (“Tragic Tales”: India Today). The allegorical design here stems from this portrayal of Ghalib’s feelings towards the unfounded political developments referenced in the scene.
The tools used for creating the allegorical reading here are the dialogues coupled with Ghalib’s poetry; in other words the technique used is dialogical in capacity. In contrast, the other two instances involve distinct iconography, imagery as well as dialogues and poetry, to render an allegorical reading possible. In the seventeenth and the final episode of the series the narrative as well as aesthetic transform drastically.
In this episode, through testimonies of various characters who have survived the revolt, the viewer takes a stock of the situation. Ghalib on visiting the cemetery meets the Sufi saint Kale Khan played by Amjad Khan. Khan narrates his experiences of the revolt, about how his house was plundered. Ghalib talks about, how many of his friends and acquaintances were executed and many Muslims were witch hunted by the British after the revolt, which he got to escape, but many others were not as lucky as him. As Khan informs Ghalib about the demise of their beloved king Zaffar, the camera zooms slowly into the face of Ghalib. A couplet by Zaffar is sung in the background and the scene is followed by another, now during night time, which shows Kale Khan lip-synching the very lines that the last scene ended with, standing on a flight of stairs which seem to end in darkness above. The scene is illuminated by deeply impressionistic and artistic lighting. As the shot changes, we see a group of men standing in the dark looking towards Khan. The camera pans from behind over their shoulders, as Khan descends the stairs. Ghalib is listening to the couplet from his balcony. Khan walks through a street, with rows of people standing in the background with little to no light falling on their faces. The darkness probably represents the widespread gloom and sorrow.
The last lines of the poem end the scene which read as “Roz mamura duniya mein kharabi hai Zaffar, Aisi basti ko toh virana banaya hota”*, translated as “In this daily inhabiting world, there is much disaster Zaffar. You should have made it a wilderness instead”*. The scene depicts a deep sense of grief with all that has suddenly changed. The recital of Zaffar’s poetry after his death is symbolic of the collective mourning of the loss of humanity during the times of revolt and also the loss of the erstwhile regime epitomised in the death of King Zaffar.
The third moment follows soon after the second one. The theme of witch hunting by the British returns as we see two people in conversation. One says to another with reference those rebels who were caught, “Like the nests of the weaver-bird, the bodies are hanging from the trees”*. The next scene without any warning throws the viewer unsympathetically in front of a literal depiction of the preceding dialogue. The biographical aesthetic has now completely given way to a traumatic one. As the camera pans to show the horror of mass hangings on the trees of a forest, it stops only at a lonely figure of Mirza Ghalib standing amidst a pile of dead bodies. Ghalib is shaking his head in disbelief and shock. As he walks away with the hanging bodies still in the background, Gulzar informs us in his own narration that two years after this incident, in 1869, Ghalib passed away. The lonely figure of Ghalib is still walking away from the cemetery and we hear Jagjit Singh’s voice in the background one last time reciting Ghalib’s couplet: “Na tha kuch, to khuda tha, kuch na hota, to khuda hota. Duboya mujh ko hone ne, na hota main to kya hota”*, which reads thus “When nothing it was divinity; if nothing it would be divine. My entity was loss of infinity; non entity would have been fine”*
The reason why these scenes evoke allegorical references is because of the inconsistency that they produce. In the scheme of the narrative the reference to Ghalib’s death in Gulzar’s narration does not quite add up. Considering that Ghalib died in 1869, for the last scenes to occur two years prior to that would mean that the events depicted in the final scene took place almost ten years after the revolt was crushed in 1857, since the same timeline continues throughout these final scenes without any information to the contrary. But going by what was depicted in those scenes, about the freshness of the pain, horror and destruction, it seems improbable that the violence after the revolt continued for almost a decade.
The reason for this irreconcilability in the time periods of events is probably the will to preserve the traumatic quotient of the final scenes. For a realistic biopic it becomes necessary to close as near as possible to the death of the protagonist (if the biopic is made posthumously that is). However the tragedy of 1857 in Ghalib’s life was too important for Gulzar to not depict it as a finality. This is probably because Gulzar understands the importance of expressing a traumatic memory.
Gulzar's Intent and the Allegory
To understand Gulzar’s emphasis upon the depiction of Ghalib’s trauma in the final few scenes of the series, it is not enough to just compare Ghalib’s experience of the revolt to that of Gulzar’s during the partition. Gulzar’s testimony itself can further evidence the importance of expression of the traumatic memory for him, which further elaborates the foundational narrative of the allegorical reading in this biopic. Gulzar while talking about the painful memories of partition has said, “20-25 years later, those memories still haunted me. But what I have seen is that while we got over the horrors of the World War by talking about it and taking it out of our system, partition's memories have remained simply because we refuse to talk about it and have thus not let the wounds heal” (“Time We Moved”: DNA). He also says that this has been difficult in the past because the Hindi film industry was for years asked to refrain from touching the issue of partition, because of its political, emotional and social sensitiveness but he rightly asserts that what has ended up happening due to this is that “The wounds have not healed and this is proved by the fact that whenever Aug 15 approaches, the agonising memories of partition also comes back, even after 60 years” (ibid). 
Today Gulzar wants to move on from those memories. But this process of distancing himself away from those memories required him to remember the event outside of himself. That’s why in 2003, when Gulzar wrote a play by the name of Kharashein, based on partition and its experiences, he wrote in its introduction the following lines,“In 1947, I have seen so many riots and so many corpses, that their imagery has not left my mind as yet. If I watch kites (birds) flying in the sky, even those seem like vultures to me; a cover blows over and a dead body without a shroud surfaces; a day without a shroud that hasn’t been buried yet” (Kharashein)[3]. Since this theme of partition unwittingly surfaced in so many of his works, his friend and a playwright, Salim Arif insisted for him to write this play, so that “the omen of those flying kites may vacate our skies” (ibid). Mirza Ghalib was created in 1988, and it is very probable, that Gulzar might have found his inspiration for depicting scenes of Ghalib’s trauma from his own experiences.

Thus owing to his personal experiences and a deep seated empathy with Ghalib, Gulzar’s own memories have, as it seems, seeped through an otherwise realist biographical account of Mirza Ghalib, thus rendering an allegory that sounds out the pain of those who have suffered at the hands of a detached state, a changing political order and a displacing unsympathetic power structure. This series is an important example where realism in narrative and aesthetic might have been compromised but not at the hands of superficial melodrama and compulsions of the market, but only due to a complex artistic desire to deliver a program which attempts to deal with issues of memory and trauma through an allegorical rendition of a biographical account.