Monday, June 29, 2009

The Night

The night’s frenzy in misshapen shapes
Is scorned by the illumined day
But the eve of shadows is only the curtain
To a more wholesome symmetry

For too bright does the star shine in the day
And makes the earth His imperfect mirror
While She regales in her own mysteries
In the shroud of the black

Wherefore would the play happen?
And what would give mystery her cover?
The dark of terror and blood is the romance
Of the brave heart dulled by over-indulgence’

Let ravenous murder roam the streets
And palaces reek of carrion flesh
If the merry perfumes elate in profusion
Make the ugly stench too strong to conceal

What of beauty and what of peace?
Whence derive the angels their meaning?
The evil terror is the elixir of the good
And balm to one dulled by peevish morality!

An Upanishad in Urdu

Siraj Aurangabadi & Akabar-ala-abadi

khuli jab ke chashm-e-dil-e-hazeeN
to voh na num rahaa na taree rahee
hoi hairat kuch aisi aankh par
ke asar ki bai_asree rahee
pad.ree goosh-e-jaan maiN ajab nida
ke jigar na bai_jigree raheee
Khabar tahiyyur-e-ishq sun na junooN raha na pari rahee
na to tu raha na to maiN raha jo rahee so bai_khabree rahee

Translation by Muzaffar Ali:

The eyes of an anguished heart open...
No longer moist.. Bereft of tears
The perplexed vision
Remained unmoved.. Devoid of response
The soul heard.. An unusual sound
That took the pluck of life away
As wondrous love revealed itself
The fairy vanished..The ecstasy lost
Nor you remained.. Nor I was found
mere oblivion was all there was...

A Khamsa from Akabar-ala-abadi to siraj Aurangabadi's ghazal
"Khabar Tahiyyur-e-ishq sun" (
A Khamsa = literally five. .

Khabar tahiyyur-e-ishq sun na junooN raha na pari rahee
na to tu raha, na to maiN raha, jo rahee so bai_Khabree rahee

(tahiyur-e-sihq = wonder of love)

shah-e-bai_Khudee nay Aa'ta kia mujhey ab libas-e-barahanagee
na Khirad ki baKhya_giri rahee, na junooN ki parda_dari rahee

(shah = grace, bai_Khudi = ecstasy;
barahanagee = nakedness; Khirad = intellect,
baKhya_giri = stitching, parda_dari = veil)

chali simat-e-Ghaib se ik hava, ke chaman zahoor ka jal gaya
magar ik shaKh-e-nihaal-e-Ghum jisey dil kahaiN so hari rahee

(simat-e-Ghaib = from the unknown;
chaman = garden, zahoor = evident;
shaKh-e-nihaal-e-Ghum = a branch of nurtured pain, hari = green/alive)

nazr-e-taGhaful-e-yaar ka gila kis zabaan se karooN bayaaN
ke sharaab-e-sud_qadah-e-arzooo, Khum-e-dil maiN thee so bhari raheee

(nazar-e-taGhaful-e-yaar = heedless glance of beloved;
gila = complain, bayaaN = explain;
sahraab-e-sud_qadah-e-arzoo - 100 cups of wine of desire;
Khum = decanter, bhari = full)

voh ajab ghad.ri thee maiN jis ghad.ri liya dars nusKha-e-ishq ka
ki kitaab aqal ki taaq maiN, jo dhari thee yooN he dharee rahee

(ghad,ri = moment; dars = lesson/class;
nusKha-e-ishq = lesson/prescription of love; taaq = shelf)

tere josh-e-hairat-e-husn ka, asar isqadar so ayaaN hoa
ke na aainey maiN jilaa rahee, na pari ko jalva_giri rahee

(josh = passion, hairat = bewilderment;
ayaaN = obvious, jalva_giri = brandishment)

kiya Khaak aatish-e-ishq nay dil-e-bai_nava-e-"siraj" koN
na Khatar raha, na hazar raha, magar ek bai_Khatree rahee

(Khaak = ashes; aatish-e-ishq = fire of love;
dil-e-bai_niva-e-siraj = destitute heart of "siraj"
Khatar = fear; hazar = care; bai_Khatree = fearlessness)

Translation of 1st three shair

[1] when i heard the news of the wonder of love neither frenzy was left nor the sweet heart remained
I was no more and you were no more; oblivion, only oblivion remained

[2] the gift of the lord of ecstasy to me was the garb of nakedness
all that wisdom had stiched was gone ;the wills of madness no longer remained

[3] what came from beyond the invisible world that consumed the visible gardens with fire
just one branch of the tree of grief which they called the heart in flower remained

I have culled this mind blowing ghazal from My father called it 'upanishad in urdu'.

Zaahid ne mera

Za’ahid ne mera haasil-e-ima’an nahin dekha
Rukh par teri zulfon ko pareesha’an nahin dekha

( The preacher has not seen the fruit of my love
He is blind to your tresses that caress my face)

Har haal mein bas pesh-e-nazar hai wahi soorat
Mainein kabhi roov-e-shab-hijr’an nahin dekha

(That beloved face has illuminated all my states
The lover’s terror of a night of separation I have never faced)

Aaye the sabhi terah ke jalwe mere aage
Mainein mager ei deed-a-e-haira’an nahin dekha

(All kinds of wonders danced before me
But O my love of bewildered eyes!
Not one engaged my sight)

Kya kya huya hunga’m-e-junoon ye nahin malo’om
Kucch hosh jo aaya to gareba’an nahin dekha

(I known not what all transpired in the ruckus of passion
When I came to my senses, my collar was in shreds)

This is a ghazal by the mystic Asghar. As always, the transcreation in English is not true to the literal meaning though not far from its essence.

Ishq mein tere

Ishq mein tere koh-e-gam sar pe liya jo ho so ho
Aish-o-nishaat-e-zindagi chor diya jo ho so ho

(A mountain of grief have I carried for your love
All pleasures of a luxuriant existence have I thrown away
To let life take her course)

Aql ke madrase se uth, ishq ke mai’qade mein aa
Jaame-fana-e-bekhudi ab to piya jo ho so ho

(Leave the school of intellect and come to the tavern of love
I am drunk of the cup of oblivious annihilation
To flow with life’s tide)

Hij’r ki jo museebatein aez keen uske ru-ba-roo
Naaz-o-ad’a se muskura kehne laga jo ho so ho

(All the poisoned sorrows of separation,
I narrated in Her presence
With a smile pregnant with grace and poetry
She said, “Let the music of life flow”)

Hasti ke is sa’raab mein raat ki raat bas rahe
Subah’e adam huya numoon paayon utha jo ho so ho

{Only a night’s dream did I spent in this charade of (human) existence
The Truth dawned with the first ray and I moved on the path of life}

[This is a ghazal by the mystic Niyaaz and my transcreation in English which is inspired by it. I have tried to put my feel of the Ghazal rather than its literal import in English]

Ye Ishq ne dekh'a

Ye Ishq ne dekh’a hai, ye aq’l se pinh’a hai
Qatr’e mein samandar hai zarre mein bayaa’baan hai

(Love hast seen what is hidden from the intellect
The ocean is in the drop and eternity in the point)

Ei pai’kar-e-mehboobi main kisse tujhe dekhoon
Jisne tujhe dekha hai wo deed-a-e-hairaa(n) hai

(O form of beloved! Whence shall I glimpse at thee
Whichever eye has seen you is a picture of bewilderment)

sau baar teraa daaman haatho.n me.n mere aayaa
jab aa.Nkh khulii dekhaa apanaa hii girebaa.N hai

(Many a time your sweet garment came in my hands
But when the stupor left me, it was my own collar I held)

ye husn kii mauje.n hai.n yaa josh-e-tamannaa hai
us shoKh ke ho.nTho.n par ik barq sii larazaa.N hai

(Is it the wave of love or the red passion of desire?
The lightening quivering on that playful one's lips)

Ashgar se mile lekin Ashgar ko nahin ja’ana
Ash’aar mein sunte hain kucch kucch wo numaanya hai

{You met Ashgar but little did you see of him
It is said something of his person is revealed in (his) verses}

{The ghazal is by the sufi mystic Ashgar. I have taken it from and loosely translated it.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Psychology of Torture

Torture has been one of my enduring interests. It almost fascinates me. What kind of an interaction happens during torture, which is probably the only example of a very close physical and psychological interaction which is far from intimate? Indeed, the lasting effect of torture is the killing of the ability to relate meaningfully with others. What intrigued me was the effect that torture has on the psyche of a man who perpetrates it. One of my best friends, indeed one of the treasures of my life told me he had been a torturer while serving in the army in counter-insurgency operations. Initially, I couldn’t reconcile his suave, gentle and friendly aura with the cold-blooded cruelty that I associated with a torturer. Indeed he is one of the most compassionate and warm-hearted men I have had the pleasure of knowing, a man who leaves a lasting impression on all fortunate enough to interact with him. The strangest and almost fiction-like twist is that he was himself captured by terrorists and tortured for one night before the Army rescued him. I wanted to know what effect did torture had on him and whether there was a schism or a split in his personality as a loving and compassionate human being well respected by all who know him and a torturer.

Now, this post is a very difficult one for two reasons. Firstly, he is a very close friend and almost like family and someone may construe something against him without going into the intricacies of the matter and secondly, as he himself warned me, such an article can raise a hue and cry against the tactics the army uses to deal with insurgency. Now, I am well aware of these risks and am going forward with this only cautiously but I feel at least some of us would be able to take an analytical and unprejudiced view of the subject and not be swayed by the first wave of emotions. As for those who have too strong commitments or prefer to live in a soft world of their own, I request them not to read this piece.

My friend was nicknamed ‘Doctor’, which is a common epithet for torturers in the forces. When I asked him why he tortured, he said it was certainly not for pleasure but was to extract crucial information which could prevent loss of civilian lives. He held that while both the armed forces and the insurgents are up to a certain extent equipped to protect themselves, it is the helpless and defenseless civilian population which bears the maximum brunt of terrorist and counter-insurgent operations. If a terrorist is captured and not tortured, he is unlikely to divulge any information and if a terrorist incident involving a major loss of civilian life happens which could have been prevented had the necessary information been extracted from the captured terrorist, the army is both castigated and feels it failed in generating the requisite information. When asked why only some officers torture and why he was one of them, he said it is a sad job which ultimately has to be done by someone and inclination does play a part as not everyone is suited for such a role but while tragic, it is also necessary at times. When asked about the methods of torture he used, he denied elaborating saying they were too severe to be openly acknowledged. When asked if some people died due to torture, he admitted deaths due to torture did happen. On being asked if at times innocents who were merely suspected to be terrorists died of torture or suffered grave physical or psychological damage due to torture, he said at times it did happen, sad as it was, because sometimes the information to be extracted is so crucial that you really cannot take a chance and some collateral damage cannot be prevented. I was interested in knowing if there were men who didn’t break under torture and didn’t divulge any information in spite of possessing it. He said indeed there were such men and went on to mention a particular terrorist organization whose men routinely refused to divulge anything and bit off their tongues with their own teeth to prevent any information coming out of their mouths in extreme pain or in a state of semi-conscious stupor. He said such men terrified him by the sheer pain they could take owing to their faith in ‘a cause’. He reasoned that it is faith in the cause and the resultant motivation which led these men to die of extreme pain rather than divulge any information; otherwise, he held their bodies were as susceptible to pain as that of those who took no time in coming out with all the information.

In a deep contemplative voice, he said that while people who have had a sheltered life and never really faced the worst may think words like 'courage' and 'Iron Will' are merely for literary effect or belong to the realm of fiction, these very qualities are the most crucial in determining whether or not one would break down under extreme torture. He emphasized no one actually knows how much bodily and mental pain can he take for a cause until actually subjected to torture. Many a times, people surprise themselves. Someone who thought he would not divulge anything may start speaking within the first five minutes while another who thought he can't bear any pain may suddenly find an immense inner strength which makes him go through immense torture without disclosing anything. Will and determination are all that matter at that crucial point when the pain becomes too much for the body to bear. After the body has crumbled under extreme suffering, it is all in the mind.

I asked a rather stupid question. Did the torturer take care that the tortured did not lose consciousness? He answered the one who has lost consciousness can always be again made conscious for another round of pain. While elaborating, he said physical torture was always the last resort and was preceded by other methods and ‘psychological operations’ among which was the acting out of being tortured by an army officer masquerading as a terrorist to frighten the suspect into divulging information and other measures. I asked him if he managed to extract all the information from a suspect, what he did next. He surprised me by saying he himself nursed the suspect back to health as his only concern was to extract information and he bore no personal grudge against the terrorist. He reiterated the crucial difference between ‘torture for information’ and ‘torture as a punishment’ and asserted he was not a votary of the second. When asked if he would again torture a man to death, now that he had taken retirement from the army, he said,“ For the nation, yes.” When I reminded him that the nation is an ideological construct with ever-fluid political boundaries, that a region considered an integral part of a nation a few decades ago may be seen as an enemy state now, he saw ample reason in my argument but said it was specifically to prevent such a disintegration of the sovereign state that he served that at times extreme and ethically dubious means had to be adopted. Towards the end, he told me there is a difference between ‘Case for a Cause’ and ‘Faith in a Cause.’ While a particular region may have genuine grievances and thus a case for a cause, it is only when such grievances are articulated in a manner which is at once violent and a serious threat to internal peace that the army is called upon to deal with a situation which is neither of its making nor one which is within its core competence to deal with. He reiterated that no military solution to an insurgency movement which has its roots in a genuine grievance and enjoys local support is possible and the army can at most ‘contain’ the insurgency until a genuine political solution is worked out based on addressing the grievance.
I would try to indulge in a detailed psychological examination of this material in a later stage.

Disclaimer – This article has no mention to any specific country or the army of any specific country. It should be treated as a case for psychological exploration without prejudice to any nation or its armed forces.

Full Circle

It was a pleasant evening. It was summer but there was no sign of it in that mountain evening. On the first day of August, as I stood near the ITI gate, I was sure of my purpose but not of the force that gave it its potency. I had to meet her, talk to her and tell her something of the circumstances which made my life so very different from when we had last met. It was a hopeless endeavor from the very beginning. A conversation requires receptivity in the listener. I simply could not accept that she had no patience for me though everything pointed to that. When we had last met four days back and she had taken me to her home, the air was that of cold formality and discomfort. But wasn’t there one moment of that same old empathy and deep bonding? If only one moment. Wasn’t she my angel for that moment of gaze and that second of concern? Was she not still the woman I had loved to the point of ecstasy though that love had long been mired with naked jealousy and spite? If she no longer meant anything to me, why had I come back to Solan, the town replete with her memories, and why was I waiting for her to come back from her internship. The point I had chosen was strategic. Whether she got down at the Ganj bazaar bus stand or the New bus stand, she would have to pass from ITI gate to reach her home. This was the third evening I had waited for her. On the previous two evenings, my choice of location hadn’t been strategic enough and I must have missed her because she got down at the wrong bus stand. But today I was determined to meet her and all roads converged at the point where I was standing. I could have called her no her home number but I wanted to talk to her face to face, to let my facial expressions show my sincerity and to look into the visage that had inspired poetry in me. I was not in the best of health. Something was wrong with my stomach and I had an inkling of a fever. I was unshaved and unwashed, wearing a shabby shirt. But appearance hardly mattered to me then. As the evening begun to darken and I had almost lost hope, suddenly she appeared in all her enigmatic beauty. Wearing a light salwar kameez, she was coming towards me. I hadn’t seen her in salwar kameez ,the traditional north Indian dress, since we were classmates, ten years ago. She saw me and her gaze showed discomfort and even a hint of contempt. For she was not alone. Walking side by side was a young man, dressed in a neat pair of fashionable clothes and looking foolishly handsome and charming, if you know what I mean. He seemed taller, neater and more broad-shouldered than me. He even seemed more handsome than me. Now, reasonably I should have done one of the only two decent things to do. The best would have been to intercept them and politely tell her I wanted to talk to her. The second best would have been to keep standing there and let them pass. What I did was the worst possible. I followed them while she knew I was following them. I crossed them near the Traffic chowk and our eyes met, my eyes were a mixture of hatred and pleading and hers of contempt and some other emotion I cannot fathom. I stood still. I saw her conversing with her man and the way she looked into him, the way her gaze completely dominated him and perfectly flowed her being into his being, made me sure they were lovers whose love had stabilized into a shared rhythm when one body talks to another body without any language. I stood stupidly gazing at her against my better judgment. The two of them stopped near the DC office and were having some conversation when suddenly she pointed her finger at me and her lover followed her finger to look at me. And I was looking at her and her pointed finger and the strange mix of ugliness and authority which her face seemed to have become. She seemed to be gesturing me to come to them. It was all dizzy, like a dream. But I saw clearly that she was gesturing me to come to her. I even heard her command for me to come. Like a servant, I moved towards the woman I had loved with all my heart for the last ten years.
‘He is Aman.’ She told her man. ‘So, he is Aman.’, his voice seemed weak and strangely vulgar to me, whether because it really came from a weak man or because of my spite for him is something I can’t ascertain with the intense subjectivity which colors such encounters. ‘Meet Bhanu’, she said to me and after seeing the disgust in my face to which she responded with an expression which was a cross between disgust and spite. I was looking at the ground because my face was full of such hatred and such a realization of my weakness and defeat that I just couldn’t face her. As for him, I thought I would punch him if I looked at him long enough. But would have I? He seemed stronger than me and I was down with fever. I had a tough motorcycle helmet with me and I have hit men much stronger than me when provoked but here, what ground was there for me to fight him? She was free to choose anyone to be her boyfriend, to move around with anyone. But my heart knew nothing of this sort. It was full of intense hatred and a shame which made me shrink. It seemed my very body would crumble under shame. They were talking to each other and he was flashing a cell phone far more expensive than the one I then held in my pocket. The shame was killing me. “ Excuse me Priya, can you please give me your cell no.?” How damn foolish it was on my part to say that, to be so formal as if I had seen her for the first time as if she was that bastard’s property. “I can’t give it to you.”, her voice was pure hatred and hatred always made her look ugly and mean. And she walked away. I stood looking at the ground. He too didn’t move. I considered my options. Should I hit him with my helmet? Finally I moved away. For the next two weeks, I sat in my room, hardly eating anything. Piles of newspapers collected outside my door and I cried unwept tears. As I later looked back at that evening, two things struck me. The first was the feeling of déjà vu and almost pleasure when I saw them coming towards me on the mall road. It seemed so poetic to be defeated in love like this and to see the woman I had loved so deeply and for so long walking with a worthless spineless worm. The second thing was the cycle of karma. It was so beautiful the way it had happened. Two years back, I had boasted to him that he was an economic failure and would never be able to provide for her while I was off to a lucrative career with an MBA admission in a top B-school in hand. Now, the tables had turned. Severe mystical explosions had made me leave my MBA midway and I was living on my parent’s money while he had completed his MBA (from the useless HPU, I thought to some relief compared to my coveted MICA). And he still had her when I had boasted to him she would soon tire of him like her string of earlier boyfriends. Life indeed had come full circle.

The incurable secular monkey!

I confess that I am secular. Some of my friends who swear by Hindutva gave me the honorific ‘secular monkey’ just as I christened them ‘Saffron monkeys’. I don’t know which happened first. It all had the character of the chides and liberties without which no friendship is complete but the underlying principles are serious indeed. Now, I must explain what I mean by being secular. When I say I am secular, I certainly do not mean that I am denying the existence of a higher purpose or a perfect cosmic harmony which though hidden from the usual plane of human awareness is the only goal which can sate all desires. I also do not deny that cultural fossils of mystic insights, which come to us as organized religions have different hues in keeping with the space-time contingencies that guide their origin and subsequent progress. I am not against religious expression per se though I myself don’t find any solace in organized religion except possibly an aesthetic joy in certain symbolic rituals or the architectural beauty of ancient temples or medieval mosques. I enjoy the Shiv Tandav Stotram just as I relish the muezzin’s call for namaz at the Jama Masjid in Delhi. But these pleasures are aesthetic and do not mean I agree with all that the Koran has to say or with the dubious ills of caste system and prohibition of widow-remarriage in Brahminic ideology. Still, what I mean by being secular is that whenever I interact with a human being, I interact with him as one man with another and not as someone who belongs to any particular religion having an interface with the follower of the same or a different religion. This is as much a statement of identity as it is of a principle. The truth is that I do not derive the moorings of my identity from any religious current and not even from a fusion of all religions. Because all religions are fossils while I seek the living waters of mystic rapture, which anyways demand individual and personal encounter with the truth rather than any organized practice. While saying this, I must also clarify that by secularism I do not mean ‘minority appeasement’ but the complete absence of any label such as a ‘majority’ or a ‘minority’. My guiding axiom states that spiritual insight is inversely proportional to faith in any organized religion or historically transmitted belief structure. Better be a rational skeptic than a narrow-minded believer. As for the mystic, he has nothing to do with any belief for his only guiding light is direct first hand experience.

The sobbing girl

She was a brave girl. I wonder what was taxing her. A few days back, while on the Delhi metro, to visit home for the vacation, I saw an attractive girl, holding a bag full of IMS( an MBA coaching institute) reading material, silently sobbing. She tried to fight back tears but they kept flowing like baby rivulets on her cheeks. She made brave efforts to stay calm, to look composed and at times even succeeded to be without any tears. But soon enough the grief again overpowered her. I had an impulse to ask her what was troubling her, to console her, to tell her I was there for her. But something prevented me. Probably I thought I didn’t really had any right to do so as a perfect stranger. Or I may have felt she would not want to be consoled by a stranger, judging by how bravely she was fighting back tears. Once, she took out her cell as if deciding whether to call somebody who would listen, but then she put it back. One reason for my empathy could be a recollection of my own days of depression in the days of MBA preparation when I had carried much the same IMS bag. But primarily, I think it was because she was such an innocent looking girl and was fighting back her tears so bravely. I wish I had mustered enough courage to ask her if I could be of any help. But I thought it might be inappropriate. The thought that I was a psychology student and was supposed to have some idea how to respond in such a situation too kept coming but I had no real idea about what I could have done. The conduct of the other passengers was distressing. They looked at her in an almost angry glare, and then avoided her altogether, only to again give an angry or at least callous glare after every few minutes. It seemed there own lives were so wretched that they were either taking a sadistic pleasure out of it or they couldn’t care less. I hated those mean heartless people just as my heart melted for the sobbing girl. I was almost being led to ask her if I may help her when my station came. I hesitated. I could skip it and try to alleviate her pain. When I got down on the platform, I again felt half an urge to get back on the metro and tell her she didn’t have to face it alone. But I stood there and the train moved on.