Friday, 3 April 2015

Sickness in our serial culture

Khalil Gibran has a beautiful story: Beauty and ugliness were bathing in a river. After completing the bath, they accidentally exchanged clothes. And from that day on people are mistaking beauty for ugliness and vice versa.
There is a story of a saint who refused to assert his innocence and give any explanation when he was accused of adultery. He was evicted from the locality with utter disgrace. Meanwhile the woman who had accused her got some mysterious disease that she failed to cure and this forced her to atone for the sin of false charge against the saint. She sought her wildly and got cured by his blessings. People invited him again to their locality and asked why he didn’t reject the charge initially and suffered all this humiliation, he answers: I choose God to clear me of charges and izzat belongs to God only–our prerogative is to be patient and not judge others. God accomplishes everything.
Jesus said: Judge not. Sufi say: complain not. Great tragedies proclaim about redemptive suffering. All these great stories and maxims are illustrated in its own way by Umera Ahmed in her famous work Meri Zaat Zara-i-Baynishaan (made more famous by serialization). It is a classic work of art presenting the essence of mysticism. It should be read by everyone interested in life and suffering.
Put off by craze for serials, especially amongst women as I thought they mostly exploit, I have been searching for a philosophical and saintly character in modern novels, especially those that have been serialized for Urdu/Hindi audience. Most serials put me off, as they appeared voicing frustrations of middle class, unwatchable vanities of upper class and some elements of defective art. They would not qualify as works of art. I found Meri Zaat Zara-i-Baynishaan exceptional in many ways.  In our tradition we have been enjoying stories of saints and folk heroes. The common theme in the stories, our mothers told us, is God/faith in providence and purification through suffering. Meri Zaat’s heroine Saba Kareem recalls lofty ethics of a saintly character. A life dedicated to God and depths and heights of a faith that we can’t find around. Not one complaint against anyone, not any judgment against anyone, she is shaheed-i-mohabat and qateel-i-sabr. She gets amply rewarded for her patience and unrequited love. God becomes her sole beloved. The work of fiction by Umera Ahmed, the author of another wonderful book Pir-i-Kamil, rendered into a popular serial illustrates all these ideas in a way that anyone can understand. That is why writers can be better than philosophers in presenting elementary truths in a compelling fashion.
The Quran declares that God is swift in taking reckoning. (Wallahu Sareeul Hisaaab). Moral law exists here and now and we can see countless illustrations of its working. Not all the tears can move it to cancel a line. (I am inclined to understand Khayyam’s famous lines as applying to Moral Law). I have no doubt that every corrupt person suffers and pays back and has to clear his accounts largely here on earth. Whenever I see a corrupt person I am terribly upset over his ignorance, how he is bringing his nemesis. Moral law is no abstraction. Terribly real. Sin and guilt are so real.  If you doubt watch great plays, read great works. Or just have a look at Lady Macbeth or Meri Zaat Zara-i Baynishaan.
She blames none for her tragedy though her case is a perfect example of betrayal for no sins of her. She suffers with grace and dignity. Of course hurt, immensely hurt.
The discourse on fana and baqa, our Sufis uphold, often appears Greek to new ears. Meri Zaat illustrates dying in life to be rewarded by life in eternity. Saba finds in God everything. She needs nothing. She judges none. She works, playing roles her life condemns her to play with perfect equanimity. All life is a sacrifice. And God is its meaning.
How terribly real is hell seen in the scenes in which sinners, who falsely charge her of adultery and beat her, seek to atone. No fans can cool the fire of guilt. Nothing can cure this cancer of the soul that results from guilt. In Quranic phrase this fire burns the hearts. I have witnessed cases where soul refused to leave until account had been cleared with a certain person. We find such terrible and strict execution of moral law here.
The question is why do we fail to distinguish between a popular and a great art? Why do we destroy the taste of readers/viewers by selling them third class works? People are glued to TV channels that sin against taste and beauty. Why not read great works of art and if it is necessary to watch serials, allow them only to be serialized? As Syed Maududi remarked about cinema that it can’t be wished away but be made Muslim, we might say we need serials that celebrate glory of God and spirit and don’t reduce man to his psychological affections and frustrations that constitute the staple diet of culture industry today.

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