State of Mind

A Handful of Dust مُشتِ غبار

Mushthi Ghubar translates to “a handful of dust.” The word ghubar can also loosely translate to fog or smoke. The title, A Handful of Dust, alludes to the acceptance of the fact that in the end, life is nothing in its value but a handful of dust.

I’ll never forget a line my mom translated for me while she was listening to a tape my cousin had made of nana reciting his poems. Everything in this life is so expensive. But the only thing that’s cheap, is your soul, she told me. This line alone had me pondering about the meaning of life for days! I hope to find this verse somewhere in this book.

Nana’s poems for the most part were about social justice. He delivered lines that carried heavy meaning but did so in the most simplest way that it kept one contemplating before moving on to the next verse.

In the forward of his book, he first elaborates on the journey he took on finding the courage to publish his poems and then declares his intentions for his motive to do so. As I said in my previous blog entry, it is here I found the meaning in pursuing a career of my chosen field in Arts Administration & Policy. I’ll explain further.


“State of mind” or “expressing your thoughts”

At an early age I got interested in coining and rhyming phrases. Impressing my childhood friends and class fellows with my crude verses as my favorite past time. Luckily, soon it dawned on me that i did not belong to an affluent family and could not afford the luxury of spending time in search of beautiful rhyming verses. I would have to follow some profession, find employment to support my parents and family. To be able to compete in the professional market, education was essential, so I had to leave poetry and pursue studies and finally embarked on a successful professional life in accounts. All was going well when during World War, I was posted in ISD War Department. The late Shafiq Ahmed Khan Shafiq, a prominent poet, was a colleague and we became good friends. Knowing my childhood fascination, he encouraged me to indulge in writing poetry. In fact whatever I wrote, the credit goes to Shafiq. Often he would insert words to improve upon my diction. A very well known poet, Ehsan Danish, was a friend of Shafiq and visited him in Bombay [now Mumbai] Shafiq would bring him to my place without any formality. That is how I was motivated to write poetry.

I was chief accountant in Adamji Industries, a company of high repute for 30 years and had the opportunity of meeting many poets of national fame. Hazrat Mahirul Qadri was one of them. He would visit me quite regularly in my office. In spite of such good company of poets I was not interested in writing poetry, and as an accountant was too busy playing with numbers and figures. Last year, [probably 1946] I visited my birth town, Shamsabad, district Farrukhabad, UP, India. Friends and relatives recalled my poetic pursuits of young age. They, especially my dear cousin and friend insisted that whatever little I had written I should save it in print. I have not kept a record of my poetry. Most of what appears here is from memory or noted here and there. It is being given to the publisher on the insistence of my friends, honoring a saying in Persian, Dil badast aavur keh hajj-e-akbar ast. (Fulfilling a friend's request is like the highest form of submission to God).

It is not poetry of a high grade. Mostly these are thoughts about friends and colleagues and life’s mundane happenings, rather memories strung together in rhyming phrases, to please my friends. Those who do not find my writing plausible are welcome to criticize. I will not mind it in life or after death.

I fail in my duty if I do not thank Mr. Qutbuddin of Hafeez publishing house for converting my stray thoughts in a booklet form,

Islamuddin Kalim Shamsabadi,

125k/2 PECHS Karachi.

[meaning of Kalim: Speaker. Interlocutor.]

1947 was the year of the Partition of British India, the same year nana had his poems published and also the year he left his home in Mumbai and migrated to Karachi, Pakistan. While I can’t speak for him, I can’t help but wonder why he had his poems published so soon after the migration. Maybe he wanted to preserve the simpler times, “these are...memories strung together in rhyming phrases,” to overshadow the brutality of events that happened during partition.

He wasn’t a nationalist and he didn’t want to leave his home, but maybe he foresaw something in the events that he experienced leading up to the partition. He took a journey that forced him to leave behind his life and friends. A journey that was dangerous as much as it was deadly. A kind of journey that noone wants to embark on. I say this because as my research around Truck Art talks intensively about the concept of journey and the desire of visiting places that seem out of reach, we however, overlook the journeys that result in migrations that have ripped families and friends apart. Nana must have constantly recorded his everyday moments in poetic verses in his mind, which leads me to believe that maybe his poems, for him, kept him connected to the home and people he left behind.

He says that he became an accountant so that he could support his family, but in his heart he always knew he was a poet. I see Mushthi Ghubar as a proclamation of this, his way of asserting his role in society as a poet above that of an accountant. In the course of my time in graduate school at SAIC and in exploring the artworld in Chicago, I have learned that it is the poets and the artists who are the teachers of divine knowledge, transmitting something much deeper and beyond our understanding out into the world. Whether it is hidden or in plain view, if we open our eyes to the world around us, the proof of this knowledge becomes much more apparent.

As nana accepts his true calling of being a poet, he pays his regards to the people who encouraged him to get to that point. His family and, most importantly, his friends who saw his talent, ignited his passion, and pushed him to achieve his full potential and publish his poems are the reason as to why we are reading Musthi Ghubar today. He quotes a Persian saying as the reason for his intentions to take his poems to the publisher, “fulling a friend’s request is like the highest submission to God.” Right here, when I read this, is the moment I renewed my intentions of becoming an Arts Administrator.

Nana puts aside any intention for fame that his work may bring, and instead makes his intentions about fulfilling his friends request. For years I desired to be working or doing something with my creative and artistic talents but was apprehensive in making my passion my career. Throughout my professional career, people around me, family, friends, colleagues, have all told me that I need to be doing something in the arts. When I finally found the courage to pursue my masters, I made a career shift and decided to follow my passion. If it wasn’t for everyone who encouraged me and believed I could be successful in doing what I love, I wouldn’t be here at SAIC pursuing this graduate degree. And it is because of nana I now see that earning this masters is not just about me, but rather my way of fulfilling the request of everyone who asked me to find my place in the arts. If I keep this intention clear throughout my career, then I know only good things can come by making the work I do as an arts administrator about the communities and people I want to help and above all, show gratitude to the people who helped me get here.

Nana uses the word hajj-e-akbar (big Hajj) when referring to the concept of “submission to God,” or completing the pilgrimage of Hajj that takes place in the month of Muharram and the reward of which is like being born again or starting with a clean slate. Again, referring to going on a journey that is taken with hopes of divine revelation and spiritual cleansing, or having the means to be a traveler en route to places unimaginable or out of reach, are both concepts found in Truck Art!

He is also very modest about his poems when he says, “It is not poetry of high grade,” welcoming criticism and stating that, “I will not mind it in life or after death.” He uses the word ruh, meaning living soul and departed soul, to refer to life and death. I found this sentence most powerful because only a true believer lives his life practicing forgiveness, and similar to the mandatory act for pilgrims embarking on a their journey to ask for forgiveness from others, he makes forgiveness a part of his artistic practice.

When I reached the end of his Arz-e-haal, what sparked my interest was how he signed his name. I’m assuming it is common in Urdu poetry for the poet to sign his name in reference to his birth town, acknowledging the land that gave him life. If this is correct, let me know in the comments below. I especially got a little emotional seeing the address of our house in Pakistan. 125k/2 PECHS was my haven, it held every good memory of the moments I had with nana and nani. They had moved into that house after the partition and it was here, that they started their new lives. It was here the garden of our dreams grew.

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