Sunday, 2 August 2015

Conversations with Gifted Minds

Sanaullah Mir is Kashmir’s Mulla Nasruddin 
One hour talk with a gifted mind is worth scores of books. And there are such gifted minds amidst us.
I immediately recall  two such minds – I call them Super Mirs or Meers of Mirs  – Prof. Sanaullah Mir (Parvaaz Sahib) who teaches philosophy at AMU and Prof Shabir Ahmed Mir, awardee of “scientist of the year” at international level, a self taught mathematician and one of the most brilliant pharmacologists of India, who has  retired last year as professor of veterinary pharmacology.
Today we converse with the first Mir.
Brilliant people have their own idiosyncrasies. Perhaps these are the cost of devotion to thinking. Sanuallah Mir, generally speaking, doesn’t pick up phone. I doubt if he would be tempted to take up even President’s call. He has no important document like service book copy or certificates with him. His colleagues have been great friends and they take care of his documents and may other matters he is disinclined to tackle himself. He has no car and can’t drive. He may not ordinarily even attend loud knocks at his house. He doesn’t ask questions in seminars saying that no answers are really there to any good question. He means philosophical questions are not resolvable in seminar meetings. Life is ultimately a mystery to be lived and not a problem to be solved as one Indian mystic has put it. He had no regrets when flood washed away his piece of land and some important belongings. When asked to go to Japan for Post Doctoral Fellowship he replied, half seriously, that his shikas would cost Japanese economy strongly, so he better decline.  He had made great experiments with generosity like giving Riksha wallas Rs 100 even if it costs only Rs 10 or 20. Now he is wiser and thinks gone are those people who don’t keep account. Once he used to host anyone from Kashmir and his quarter was almost a shrine for those whom none knew.
He does philosophy effortlessly invoking Wittgenstein who said that it is activity rather than discussion or discourse. He has the knack of dissolving important questions by recourse to humour and to Persian poetry that he considers profound and an appropriation of deep philosophy that could not be expressed in prose in a land dominated by exoteric theology or religious law.  Mir has a joke at his disposal in response to almost all serious questions and it needs grey matter to appreciate how he has given probably the best answer. When asked to choose between the Congress and the BJP, or between State controlled Socialism and Capitalism he replied invoking a story that once there was a notorious thief in  certain locality who used to steal even coffins. With great effort he was persuaded to leave to be replaced by another one who stole not only coffins but corpses as well. Thus do these ideologies and parties succeed one another. One thing is clear. Man is everywhere a casualty.  To every dogmatic opinion he replies with Beckett: On the contrary and Perhaps. He is fond of great Persian poets, and the poets of sabaki hindi, especially Bedil and Ghalib. He finds all “answers” in their verses. He has wonderful memory and recalls hundreds of verses from Hafiz to Bedil to Rahi and Kamil.  In fact he defends the thesis that every movement of original thought or freedom of expression including skeptical currents of thought has been hidden in the guise of poetry in Islam. His own somewhat skeptical temperament thus finds great company in the likes of Persian mystic poets whom he reads on somewhat postmodern lines.
What about your definition of sin? He replies with Hafiz’s two verses:
“Even though we have no freedom to sin
It is for the sake of courtesy that one should say that one has sinned.”
“Be not in pursuit of inflicting pain, and do all else you will -
For in our shariah there is no sin other than this.”
What about finding or encountering God?
He quotes Mark Twain’s famous interview on the same question who remarked about his wonder why God left no clue of his existence and also said, “Thank God, I am an atheist” and then Ghalib who said that if there were even an iota of possibility of duality God could be encountered. Since there is none, one never encounters Him as an object.  He has his share of strange encounters with mystics that he doesn’t explain away. His favorite phrase is watsrat or tsrat tsrat – some inexplicable movement, mystery, desperate seeking. To the tricky metaphysical questions he replies “Who knows by the way. If you know someone who knows please share the address”?
He suggests that politics should be especially reserved for women and is all praise for their diplomatic skills and wonders how they control their husbands who are by all means stronger. If asked about the tradition that goes against woman being the head of the State, he asks in turn why has the Quran given no clue whatsoever regarding the issue of sex of the head of the State if it indeed mattered?  He has similar “unorthodox” views on many issues and deconstructs the arguments for political Islam. When asked to join an ijtima of Jamate Islami he inquired about the agenda of the same and was informed, it is restoring God’s rule or hukoomat. He interrogated in turn “When was God removed from his hukoomat in the first place so that we can help restore it for Him.” To the question “Will only Muslims go to heaven”? He chooses not to give his opinion, and quotes Sir Syed’s reply to the similar question that reject special reservation quota policy. One might paraphrase Mir’s  position thus: If indeed the question arises and we meet in the otherworld I don’t think God’s salvation department runs on the pattern of Railways Department which has AC coaches only for the rich. God has no deficiency of coaches and tickets if he qualifies as God, especially a Merciful God.
A student approached him to suggest whether she should join Arabic or Geography for her Master’s Degree. He said Geography. On being inquired why does he deprive him of additional grace that is associated with the learning of the Quran, he said that his suggestion is dictated by the Quran. The Quran asks us to study sciences and what an irony that we want to choose the opposite.  On being asked about current academic ambience in AMU he said that previously most professors were Harvard or Cambridge or Europe returned and  currently they are Tundula and Khurja  ( as small villages in neighbourhood of AMU) returned. 
He has hardly been interested in careerism; he has not written any books. Somehow his colleagues helped publish his thesis on John Wisdom’s meta-philosophy and some articles he occasionally wrote for seminars. Ajab azaad mard hae. Kamal ki bay-niyazi. He has no wish list, no ambitions, no pretensions, no regrets and I suppose no enemies. He has no time to think why the other person is worth hating.
When someone commented that Muslim women’s earning is unlawful he said how come the Prophet (SAW) financed his campaign with Hazrat Khadija’s earning if it were unlawful? When asked what is the solution of Shia Sunni conflict he said: Shias should become Sunnis and Sunnis should become Shias.
His evaluations of such things as “political Islam,” Iqbal’s reconstruction attempt, Muslim modernism, Marxism, God debate are so insightful that one could not get by consulting a dozen books on the subject. He reads little, especially now a days but keeps thinking. And philosophy is primarily more critical thinking than reading.
The more I have  known him, stronger has the feeling grown that he is Kashmir’s Mulla Nasrruddin; Mulla was a legendary person whom some have associated with Sufism and what distinguished him was the sense of humour he used in replying  any query.  He would almost qualify as a Malamati Sufi.

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