Shaukat Ajmeri

In love with the idea of love

5-minute read

Valentine’s Day. Funny that they would dedicate only one day to love. If it were in my power I would devote every moment to it. Because what could be better than love. Even so, it is a good idea to have such “days” to celebrate what is generally taken for granted. It breaks the routine and sets the humdrum to a different beat. The cynic in me would dismiss it all as a marketing gimmick. The realist in me would tend to agree but at the same time would also allow for the spirit behind such holidays.

For who could be against the celebration of love? Sufis have perfected the art of love, if not exactly of love-making. (For the latter we must refer to Kama Sutra.) The concept of unity is central to Sufi belief where love and god are the same thing. For them the union with the beloved is the only purpose of human life. And the beloved, of course, is God or Self. One of the ways – or perhaps the only way – to achieve this union is through bekhudi, forgetting of the false self, banishment of the ego.

In popular Sufi music and poetry the beloved is often represented by metaphors such as lover and wine. The qawwallis and ghazals are rife with reference to the mashuuq (beloved) and sharab (wine) and shama (flame) and parvana (moth). Using poetic imagery to invoke the divine is a timeless tradition and Sufis have done wonderful things with it. And it is this imagination – this invoking of God in ways other than those set by theology – that gets the mullahs’ goat, or rather their goatee, or maybe both. Organised religion is nothing if not against the imagination, against possibilities. But that rant we shall save for another day.

The great Mirza Ghalib – whom I understand little but whatever I do I simply love it – has skewered the prudes and prissy like no other. Here’s a couplet I can never tire of quoting:

haa.N vo nahii.n Khudaa parast, jaao vo bevafaa sahii
jisako ho diin-o-dil aziiz, usakii galii me.n jaaye kyuu.N

Yes she is not a believer, what if she’s an infidel (in love)
If religion and heart are dear to you don’t enter her lane

khudaa parast = follower of God/Muslim;
diin-o-dil = religion/faith and heart

Love is a wonderful thing. I’m hardly breaking new ground when I say that, but sometimes all it takes is a look, a word, a whiff, a coming together of universes in that magical instant that sets off that unexplained chemistry. It just happens. That’s the beauty and mystery of it. You won’t find love when you go looking for it, and that’s its enduring bloody paradox.

And sometimes you’re in love with the idea of love itself. Some years ago I must have been in such a state of mind and this poem (see below) insisted on being born. I midwifed its birth. Or as Ghalib has so beautifully said:

aate haiN Gaib se ye mazaamii.N Khayaal me.n
‘Ghalib’, sariir-e-Khaamaa navaa-e-sarosh hai

Thoughts/ideas come to me from the unknown
Ghalib, the scratch of the pen is like a sound of an angel

gaib = hidden/mysterious
mazaamiiN = topics/articles
sariir = scratchiing sound made by a pen
khaama = pen
navaa = sound
sarosh = angel


I dedicate this to all those Valentines out there.

Dreaming of Spring

Don’t tell me where you go
where you come from
just be there
like a new day
fresh, full of promise
like winter
always eager to arrive
always reluctant to leave
like life itself
mysterious, beautiful, cruel

Don’t speak your name
or any such detail
tell me instead of
tales you heard at
your grandma’s lap
of things that make your
mind blush
of the world you
carry within you
of the world you
left behind

Don’t hide the
glint in your eye
let it sing of untold secrets
speak of dreams
that hang at the edge of dawn
of tears of your people
yet unshed
of smiles yet unsmiled

Don’t ask why our paths
should have crossed
why here, why now
who is to know life’s
strange purpose
fleeting, silent these
shy moments maybe
but not without joy
not without angst

Don’t ask why
I’ve festooned
spent sorrows
imagined joys
unruly hopes
across taut heartstrings
and left them to dry
under cold cynicism
yet, despite myself
today they flutter madly
like flightless birds
at a mere hint of a distant
hesitant happiness

It may so happen
that tomorrow
the night may
descend without stars
and you’re not to be found
and then the first autumn rain
may wash away
meanings, restless yearnings
leaving behind puddles of
memories, stagnant
festering like yesterday’s news

Wars, ignorance, greed will remain
life’s terrors and fevers will remain
so will the terrible legacies
of man’s mad, pointless sojourn
from dust to divinity
form divinity to dust
yet, life will meander
once again listlessly
finding new meanings
new beginnings among
its endless doings

Then it may so happen
that on the night of
crescent moon
when a cool primal
breeze blows from the past
I may dream of you
like I dream of spring
that never comes.