Speak of happiness and wine
And seek not the riddle of the universe,
For no one has, nor will
Unveil this mystery through wisdom
Hafiz, also known as the Lisan-ul-Ghaib, is considered the greatest poet of the Persian language. Once upon a time, Kashmir also produced great poets and scholars of farsi, and it was our privileged language, but gradually the Persian colour of our culture has faded. The result is that our new generation is not familiar with the giants that constituted a presence on our literary horizon. In the old times, even illiterate people could quote from the Persian classics. Saadi was a part of the syllabus. After reading him at school, one could not afford to be mean and degenerate the way we find illustrated everywhere today. We need to revive the taste for the Persian language and its literature. It constitutes a truly treasured education that many great names across the world advocate. Some of the greatest Western poets were all praise for Hafiz. People here would take guidance related to the future (faal) from his Diwan.
The recent polarization along Salafi-Sufi lines in Kashmir is not unconnected to the exclusion of Persian. Our older generations could quote freely from the Persian masters, and that neutralized exclusivist or intolerant ideologies. Those nurtured in the ambience of the Persian classics had an enriched life to live, and needed no sermons.
Here are a few verses from Hafiz for a glimpse into his work:
Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.
Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God.
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside when you can finally live
With Veracity and Love.
Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
This is the time for you to deeply compute the impossibility
That there is anything but Grace.
Now is the season to know
That everything you do is sacred.
How do I
listen to others?
As if everyone were my Master
speaking to me his
One needs to read Martin Buber’s I and Thou (counting among a dozen greatest books on religion and ethics written in the 20th century) to understand this point. Just a quote from him here: “When a person encounters another person in total immediacy, he or she may also experience a glimpse of God.”
invited you to a party
in the ballroom tonight
will be my special
How would you then treat them
And Hafiz knows
there is no one in this world
who is not upon
His jeweled dance
Hafiz tells us the essence of ethics in one verse: don’t hurt anyone’s feelings, and then do anything, and that will be lawful in his sharia. He gives love its due and that solves all problems. Reading a ghazal from Hafiz everyday in our homes, the way some other texts are read in certain homes, would make us and our children better humans, help us fight prejudices and the evils that flow from our attachment to the ego and not heeding the call for self-transcendence or love.
Hafiz is no Epicurean, as a literalist reading would make him appear to be. He is a mystic. From the earliest times till today, religious scholars (including, in the twentieth century, the renowned Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi) have interpreted Hafiz on mystical lines. But mystic or not, the fact remains that Hafiz is the world’s greatest exponent of the ghazal. Such is the quality of his verse that when five individuals associated with the court of Timur were commissioned to select from his Diwan to prepare a shorter collection to be published under state patronage for larger public consumption, they were unable to edit out even a single verse. Compare this to our modern-day poets, especially mushaira poets. It needs hard thinking to select just one verse the state could publish at its own expense for a general readership.
Hafiz has melody, beauty and sublimity. He is the poet of poets. He has “answers” to all our anxieties. We can all take a faal whenever we are in doubt with regard to our existential issues. This faal isn’t for predicting the future but for helping us live in the present. The access to love that Hafiz facilitates is the elixir and solution to our problems. All problems are ultimately traceable to (our) failure to open up to love in its full sense, Dostoevsky and Iris Murdoch tell us. All events we experience are coded messages from God telling us “I love you,” Simone Weil says.