This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.
Long ago, in my childhood, that is, I remember an elderly man telling me an inspiring tale about Saladin (Salahuddin Ayyubi), the famous Muslim hero. I was told that Saladin had memorised diwaans and diwaans of Arabic poetry. This piece of information got the precocious child in me thinking. I wondered how was that possible … Saladin – the great Muslim general I had admired because of the stories I had read and heard about his bravery and kindness in my childhood – and poetry seemed like two worlds apart at that point in time. I was precocious, but some questions take their due time before we are blessed with their life-changing answers…
I was a science student all my life. Racking my brains with Physics, Chemistry and Additional Math in my O Levels, I remember those moments of solitude in the wee hours of some morn before the exam, when I would simply thud my books on the desk and open up a Faiz or a Parveen Shakir collection and drown my sorrow (of studying science!) in those pages which had lots of empty spaces, and there, right in the middle would be a poem, about which I would continue to think even during the exam!
Another couple of years passed and I found myself sitting in the Advanced English class in college reading ‘An Ode to a Nightingale’ by John Keats. Yes, I was still a science student – thanks to our competitive educational environment. Here, too, while cramming weird formulas in the Organic Chemistry, I would often tell myself how “my heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains!” I would keep on wondering how beautiful it would be to fly on the “viewless wings of poesy” and to have countless flowers at your feet! For some unknown reason I always imagined these countless flowers to be deep purple in colour. It was during this period that I met a teacher who tapped into my potential for literature, encouraged me immensely and told me that man is not born to study Science! There are other worlds and avenues that I could explore and she strongly recommended that I changed my field of study. God bless that lady!
All this while I had forgotten about my question as to how come Saladin had memorised diwaans of Arabic poetry. Fate was conspiring in making me find out my answers to the questions of life…
I came to the university (let’s keep the narrative of the period that I went through during this transition from college to the university for another time!). This time, thankfully, it was the Department of English! And from this point onwards there was no turning back. People still ask me if I regret my decision of getting into literature, and all I tell them is that this decision has probably been one of the most fruitful ones in life. Satisfaction cannot be put into words. It can only be felt by those who ARE satisfied.
So it was here that I found my answers. These answers came from people I had now come to admire, and will continue to do so till the day I die…
It was from one of my teachers that I found out how intricately woven literature was in the patterns of the lives of early Muslims. Whether you have studied science, philosophy or religious sciences, literature was always a discipline of study that you grew up with. No wonder Saladin had memorised many diwaans of Arabic poetry! It had a role to play in the lives of people. Adab played an integral part in the teaching of adab! It was during my formal study of literature at the university when I realised how informally literature once made a part of the tradition that I belonged to. Education remained incomplete without it. But all this, my teachers told me, was now history – history of the tradition we belong to. A history, that, sadly, I did not even know till the nineteenth year of my life. And it is my study of literature that has inculcated in me a love for excavating this history. Literature students, after all, have been branded as Romantics (if you know what the word really means) since time immemorial. And Romanticism was all about nostalgia – being nostalgic for the times that are no longer there and the traces of which have also been usurped by the corporate culture we now live in.