(By Sir Syed titled “Saraab-i-Hayat”)
By: Abbas Ali
Morning concludes; Evening concludes
Likewise, life also concludes
“Why! What are you reflecting on! You look to be in a contemplative mood today. Nay, there is nothing like that. I was feeling sluggish. Man thinks various things at different moments. Sometimes these thoughts make him joyful and sometimes make him meditative.
Let me know which thoughts made you so much reflective.
Some days back, I installed a bell in my room. Its anchor had broken; it was out of order. Neither was it performing nor making any sound. A friend repaired it out of his courtesy, and it started working and making a sound. I observe that it works day in and day out; it starts from one and ends at twelve. It is one cycle that concludes day and night. When we think about what have we done? We realize we have done nothing. The same thought has been pestering me for the last several days. Moreover, while I was brooding, suddenly a book “Mirage of Life” sent by my friend Father Rajab Ali Sahab arrived. I was happy and thought perhaps it would solve the puzzle.
This book is in English, and Johnson has eloquently written it. Pandit Bishimber Nath has translated it into the Urdu language knowledgeably with minor additions and alterations.
The author has mentioned very famous, wise, eloquent comedians, poets, generous and miserly men who lived before us a short while ago in this world. And then he has shown how remorseful they left from this world. They left all the wealth and riches; neither their wisdom nor their wealth could provide them with any help. They died murmuring:
What for we had come and what did we do
We earned some allegations and left
Instead of solving the puzzle, this book complicated my ideas even more. The question arose in my mind “What for had we come?” While thinking so, I opened the door of my room; my eyes caught sight of a beautiful stream, green trees, and lush fields. I observed the stream’s water was flowing; a successor gush of water follows its predecessor gush of water. I observed that new ones replace old trees; people harvest ripened produce, and new seeds grow. This process seems to be metempsychosis. What for had these come, and why did they go? Did they, too, leave with some regrets.
I could not understand anything. However, I pondered perhaps the issue, “What for had we come and what did we do?” related to active living beings. I thought about the situation of every species. I thought of a lion who is the most beautiful, most graceful, the bravest of all, having the highest self-esteem, but the most harmful and dangerous. When I thought about the lion’s dead body, I noticed its motionless corpse, its swelled and torn belly, intestines eaten by wolves, the lion’s golden hide mixed with dust, rotten flesh scattered on the earth, skeleton of bones and that too perhaps for a few days.
I thought this was the same kind of animal Johnson had talked about in his “Mirage of life.” Let me observe a better animal than it.
Meanwhile, I thought of a dog; I thought that among all the animals, it is God-fearing. It is the epitome of contentment, love, companionship, friendship, faithfulness, and submissiveness to its master and the most self-effacing. Everybody keeps him aloof; for instance, Molvi calls it the uncleanest, but the poor creature wags its tail before everyone with utmost humility and self-effacing and hangs its head in shame. However, when it died, it became a worthless corpse. All its tail-wagging, head-hanging, companionship, submissiveness became a skeleton of bones within a few days. Open mouth, naked jaws, teeth & gums wide open, and thousands of ants made it their abode. I was astonished and said, buddy! The result of both is the same.
I said, no, let me take some holy animal. I thought of the pigeon, which is considered the holiest of all. Innocent face, lovely talks, both wife and husband are symbols of love, the charming social behavior of the both, and the holiest than everyone else. It brought the olive branch for Noah, descended like the holy spirit for Jesus, does circum-ambulation in the excellency of Makah, remains adjacent to all the monasteries, cures the sick with the winds of its wings, advises the Hindus and the Buddhists about the safeguard of their soul. Nevertheless, when I saw its result, I could not find more than its scattered body parts, beak somewhere, and the claws somewhere else. Within a few days, its breast turned into a skeleton, and then it too vanished.
I turned my thoughts towards human beings and suddenly remembered the story of Sultan Abdul Aziz, who was a courageous and famous man. He had fought very wisely and bravely in every fight; he had been ruling from the throne of Constantine. People say that he was very spendthrift, was very fond of women, hence, had 53 concubines in his palace, money was scarce in the country, royal exchequer was empty, the kingdom was in chaos due to rebels, but he had hidden crores of rupees for his extravagance and luxurious life. For the sake of his beloved wife, he intended to break the old tradition of the crown prince of the Turks. He wanted to make the crown prince the son of his beloved wife and did not think about the destruction of his country. To accomplish his design, he befriended the enemies of his country. I found that his people attacked him for his sins, threw him away from the thrown and kicked him off from the palace, and imprisoned him in a small house. The regret of losing his kingdom made his heart impatient, and he died of his own. My thoughts flashed and thought about his forehead, nostrils, chest, hands, feet saw all-around seriously; I found nothing except a dead body. I placed my ears on his chest and thought perhaps his bones might be jumping, but nothing was known. I understood nothing has left in him now, and within a few days, his flesh too will not remain there; only the skeleton will remain, and then after some more days, that too will decompose. I remembered Johnson’s “Mirage of Life” and understood that he had died in the regret of the world. Therefore, he met this kind of end.
I became curious to know about some God-fearing person who had passed from the world as a withered fellow. A very blessed person from Punjab came to my mind; I would feel delighted to see him. He would not talk anything but God; he had nothing to do except worship, and his luxury was just unreal. Whatever his love was, it was meant for God and hereafter. As a matter of coincidences, he last time too reached. He made a will for his first destination, advised his friends, happily and merrily prepared for his journey, and breathed his last with any despair and regret. My thoughts went towards his forehead, nostrils, heart, chest, hands, feet; there was nothing. I focused on his chest to find some light oozing from it, but there was nothing. I was frightened and shouted involuntarily, O Sir! Let you say something, at least. What was there? Even the breath was not there. I said it is the same thing that has happened to his predecessors. There is no difference between dying with remorse and regret for the world and dying in the love of worship.
Meanwhile, people started to perform his funeral rituals. They started digging a grave for him in the old monastery parallel to his predecessor masters. I was frightened and said, why don’t you let him remain here for two or more days? Let me understand what this adventure is all about? People said, “Are you mad?” “Does anybody keep his dead?” All the skin will wither, the flesh will decompose, bones will turn into a skeleton, crows and vultures will start looming over, people will run away from the skeleton out of fear. Hearing this, I was spellbound; all the corpses started appearing before my eyes. I said, “Buddy! All others, too, had met the same end. Is this the truth?”
The place is irrelevant where the soul leaves the body
Dying on a thrown or dying on the dust is the same
Very hesitantly, thoughtfully, and surprised, I stood up from there and to entertain my heart, I went to my garden, which was a vast garden. During my youth and enthusiasm days, I had beautified it anew and decorated it beautifully. Frequently, there used to be an assembly of friends, famous and skillful people. With the heart-touching, lovely and elderly talks of Galib, with the soul-soothing eloquence of Azurda, with the sober and partial womanish smile of Shayfta, from the pub of love of the Sehbayi, the life sacrificer, the heart would get thrilled. I was roaming around; I reached a small lawn that the gardener had dug recently; I found a bone in the clay and took it as the head of a goat. It kicked it off, but it turned out to be the skull of a man. I told my heart that someday someone would kick my skull; I ran and picked it up and saw that only the bone was intact. On the forehead, there was a line; within the line, perhaps the same destiny was written but was illegible. At the place of eyes, there was a pit and a circle, nothing was there on putting a finger in it, the beauty of the nose had vanished, there was a broken small ugly mark of bone, and its hole looked obnoxious. The teeth, which used to be called pearls and a barricade of hails, looked so horrible that heart would tremble.
I wanted to apologize for the unintentional rudeness and asked, who are you? What was your religion? Were you a learned man or a beggar? Did you die in remorse and regret the world or die for the love of worship of God? I asked passionately but did not receive any answer. Then I turned it around up and down, observed it; perhaps I would find any mark of goodness or badness. I found nothing. An old gardener looked at my actions and said, buddy, what are you searching for? The good and the bad, the jackal and the wolf on death all meet the same end. I was stunned and remembered Johnson’s “Mirage of Life” then what did he say?
My friend said that your ideas are incredibly immature, and I am sorry for your thoughtfulness. What were you searching in the heap of this clay, rotting flesh, decomposing bones? Whatever was to be seen was not present in them.
Did I ask where it was then? He said that he did not know. How was it? He said that he did not know. Then I asked whether it was visible. He said no. I asked where did it go? He said that he did not know.
This question and answer further surprised me that the thing which is known to none regarding that he says it was. He said God has said. I said it was the truth. (Walakin liyatmaina qlabi) “But to reassure my heart.” He listened to it and silenced. I said all of these are your ideas; a person died in the remorse and regret of the world, and the other died for love for God’s worship. However, all are equal. The truth is mutual sympathy, national help, national welfare. The status of our nation in the world is that we are reeling in disgrace, humiliation, ignorance, and poverty. So, if anybody died in the remorse and regret of the world and went to Hell, we do not care, and if somebody died having worshipped and went to Heaven, it too does not benefit us. Why should we weep for them? Let us care for the living ones who are worse than the dead.
(Anwar Sidiqi, Intikhaab Mazameen Sir Syed, pp112 to 119)
Translator is a Sr. Lecturer in Economics