Ghalib on Impeachment

Last week impeachment was all the rage in Pakistan, as the fate of (now former) President Musharraf hung in balance. We now know that Musharraf chose the face-saving way of resignation over the ignominy of impeachment. But impeachment (mu’aa;xazah) brought to our mind the following verse by Ghalib:

بچتے نہیں مو اخذۂ روز حشر سے
قاتل اگر رقیب ہے تو تم گواہ ہو

bachte nahii;N muvaa;xa;zah-e roz-e ;hashr se
qaatil agar raqiib hai to tum gavaah ho

[people/you] don’t escape from the reckoning/reproach of Judgment Day
if the rival is the murderer, then you are the witness/proof

[Translation FWP, click here for commentary in Desertful of Roses]

Once again, we must be a little creative in our interpretation to explore the full possibilities of this verse. Traditionally, the verse has been interpreted as Ghalib’s admonishment to the beloved. “You won’t escape the reckoning of Judgment Day, because, even though you are not the murderer yourself, you have been the [silent] witness to the crime [i.e. the lover’s murder].
Why “silent” witness? Here is what S.R. Faruqi has to say on this matter:

“If the question be raised as to where in the verse is there mention of keeping the crime hidden, then the reply will be that if the crime is not hidden, then the verse’s premise itself is at an end. The point is that the Rival (or the Rival conspiring with the beloved) has contrived the lover’s murder, or brought about this result, and only these two know about it. If everybody would know about this, then where’s the meaningfulness in making only the beloved a participant (‘if the Rival is the murderer, then you’re a witness’)? If there were many witnesses, then accusing the beloved alone would be frivolous.” (quoted from FWP’s site)

But notice that the beloved is never mentioned in the verse. Her/His presence is inferred by the mention of a rival (raqiib), the traditional adversary that the lover faces in his efforts to woo the beloved. The verse is addressed neutrally to just about anyone (second person singular or plural) and uses the grammatical property of Hindi/Urdu wherein the subject of a sentence can be dropped (not as easy to do in English except colloquially). Ghalib uses this feature all the time.

So applying Ghalib’s admonishment to the present-day political scenario in Pakistan, we offer the following interpretation: Those who are today Musharraf’s opponents and are out to impeach him, are as complicit in the “murder” (of Pakistan’s polity and society?) and will not escape the larger trial of Judgment Day. Qaatil agar Musharraf hai, to tum gavaah ho!

Please visit The South Asian Idea Weblog for more direct political commentary and questions surrounding this interpretation. One question raise there is:
“Ghalib says that we should take a Day of Judgment perspective in separating the innocent from the guilty. Is he right?”

Perhaps Judgment Day could be interpreted more widely to mean a day of true social reckoning. Not Divine reckoning, but the reckoning of what Gandhi called दरिद्र नारायण (daridra naaraayan) or God in the guise of the poorest of the poor. I am then saying: neither Musharraf nor his opponents will escape the Judgment of the poor and oppressed, they are both equally complicit in the murder of people’s aspirations. I like this interpretation but I am not at all saying Ghalib had this in mind since he was almost certainly not a socialist! But since when are interpretations of text limited to authorial intent?


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