Ohda — Of Status, Position and the Balance in Relationships
A Sufi Celebration Of Life, Inspired By Urdu
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Riqabaten Mira Ohda Bahal Karti Hui
Main Jaan Dene Ke Fan Mein Yagana Hota Hua
— Irfan Siddiqui
While my enemies reinstated my status
I became an expert in the art of sacrificing myself
‘O’ was troublesome. Mostly because as a sound, ‘O’ does not occur very frequently in Urdu and almost never as the starting syllable. Of course, there are variations of the sound, like the more rounded ‘Au’ sound which occurs pretty frequently or the more straightforward, rounded ‘U’ sound which is also pretty common.
I didn’t want to cheat. Not unless absolutely necessary. Talk to me when we reach ‘X’.
So, I almost cheated. But then, I didn’t. Because I found the word.
Literally translated, Ohda means post or office or commission. More expansively, Ohda represents one’s status in the society, usually based on what position or authority one holds in the social hierarchy.
Superficially, this word seems pretty simple, and almost bureaucratically clinical. But of course where us ordinary mortals see bland vocabulary, poets see lyrical potential. And hence, the world of Urdu poetry is replete with usage of the idea of Ohda or position or office in most unlikely senses.
Na Hua Rah-e-Mohabbat Mein Koi Ohda-bara
Jo Subuk-Dosh Hua Vo Bhi Giran-Bar Chala
— Firaq Gorakhpuri
Nobody in the path of love can ever hope to retire
Even those who shirk responsibility find themselves burdened along the way
Back in law school, I remember being assigned a project on Status as a part of my Sociology course. It was baffling at first, as I wondered how it was possible to write ten thousand words worth of an assignment on something as straightforward as Status. My final assignment, however, ran well above fifteen thousand words and had to be edited out.
This is not a sociology essay and even if it were, I don’t remember much of what went into that project. I narrated my sociology woes just to illustrate how expansive the idea of Status is, and how many layers can one peel off this simple sociological phenomena — a fact that finds multiple echoes in expression of Ohda across the realm of Urdu poetry.
Ohda or status is an all pervasive social phenomena. It is a part of every single relationship dynamic — whether formal or informal, temporary or permanent, fleeting or impressionable — that we ever come across or are a part of, in our lives. While some relationships like employer-employee, mentor-mentee, teacher-student are obviously status driven; there are still others, ostensibly equal relationships where status finds its echoes, including husband-wife, business partners and even friends. In every relationship, there is an unsaid hierarchy where one half of the relationship is dominant, even if only slightly and imperceptibly, than the other half.
This all pervasiveness of Ohda, however, is not as bad as it sounds. To quite an extent, it is a necessity — a kind of an essential for establishing some sort of a relationship discipline. Because ultimately, much as we would like to believe otherwise, it is impossible to have a dynamic equation between two absolutely equal parties . It is in fact a recipe of a dreadful deadlock, a kind of an impasse that is rarely productive or functional and in extreme cases, the root of even more unproductive strife and squabble.
Rahe Do Do Farishtey Saath Ab Insaaf Kya Hoga
Kisi Ne Kuch Likha Hoga, Kisi Ne Kuch Likha Hoga
— Hari Chand Akhtar
When Two Seraphs Are Together, What Justice One Can Hope For
What One Would Grant, The Other Would Alter
Ohda is omnipresent, and as far as our professional lives are concerned, it is a fact that we accept as an easy truth. The compulsions of a professional set up are unavoidable and one has to work around and through the issues of Ohda, and unless there are exceptional circumstances like harassment, it is something most of us are equipped to manage.
Ohda, however, poses a much serious concern in case of personal and familial relationships. Because the absence of Ohda spells as much trouble as its presence, one has to tread a very thin line of balance to ensure they have healthy and fulfilling personal relationships.
A relationship becomes toxic when Ohda becomes permanent, and each half gets entrenched in their assigned roles whether they like it or not. It is the kind of situation that is ripe for dissatisfaction, mutual strife and even extremes like violence and exploitation.
The mark of a good relationship, of any kind or form, is not the absence of Ohda. Absence of Ohda merely signifies the absence of any real relationship. The mark of a good, healthy relationship is also one of the essential ingredients of a successful marriage — that Ohda between the two halves is flexible, adaptable and dynamic. In healthy relationships, Ohda is the pivot of the seesaw where each half of the relationship takes turn to lead while the other follows. It is a balance not unlike those old fashioned measuring scales which never stay stationary and are always in motion in order to sustain the balance between the scales. It is for the same reason that even in cases where Ohda is entrenched by virtue of organizational hierarchy, a good leader and a healthy organization promotes a culture of communication and team spirit, making Ohda a little more flexible and adaptable, underscoring the fact that sometimes a little leeway can go a long way in promoting healthy workplace dynamics.
Ultimately, the whole interplay between Ohda and our interpersonal relationships is founded on an implicit recognition of our inherent diversities and ability to handle different situation, mingled with a healthy respect for each other’s capability and whole lot of tolerance for each other’s flaws. It is a tall order, but it is also rather natural and only subverted by our false ego personalities. What we need to do is let go of our notions of what Ohda we deserve and surrender to the flow of life, and our relationships. After all, sometimes, letting go is the best way to hold on.
Tu Khuda Hai Na Mera Ishq FarishtoN Jaisa
Dono Insaan Hain Toh Kyun Itne Hijaabon Mein Milen
— Ahmad Faraz
You are no God, and my love is nothing like that of Angels
If both of us are ordinary mortals, then why pray, should there be so many veils between us
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