A Sufi Celebration of Life, Inspired By Urdu
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Jaate Hue Kahte Ho Qayamat Ko Milenge
Kya Khoob Qayamat Ka Hai Goya Koi Din Aur
— Mirza Ghalib
Departing, you promise to meet me again on the Judgment Day
What a wonder! As if the day of Judgment is some other
Literally translated, Qayamat means Apocalypse or the Day of Judgment or Doomsday or any of the other creative, foreboding monikers that we humans like to use to describe the day it all comes to an end. The end.
But of course, Urdu couldn’t let something as fascinating, and as dark, and as romanticized an idea as Apocalypse go without adding a distinct touch of its own — something singular and singularly unexpected.
Qayamat is a wonder of Urdu lyricism — a kind of a linguistic oddity that is specific to Urdu’s own sense of vocabulary and worldview. Because Urdu is perhaps the only language that uses the idea of apocalypse as an honest to God, legitimate compliment, and actually gets away with it.
Next time you want to compliment someone, try calling them Apocalyptic…or you know Apocalypse personified. Go ahead, I dare you. I’d really like to see you try.
If you are delusional enough to try it, you’d probably end up being the guy (or girl) who got dumped, if not worse, because of a compliment.
But try the same stunt with Qayamat — say Qayamat Lag Rahe Hain Aap (meaning, you look like Apocalypse…but translation is not the point here) — and you can bet you will have your test subject blushing.
Because while Qayamat is the kind of compliment that only works in Urdu, it is also the kind of compliment that works like no other compliment can. It is the highest form of praise; a kind of an apocalyptic ultimate, all puns intended. And to say that calling someone Qayamat can actually make their day is no exaggeration.
But of course, Qayamat is not just about fun and beauty and appreciation, which when put that way, seems disturbingly morbid. Qayamat also holds on to its essence, the idea of apocalyptic destruction and end of days. It is just how Qayamat approaches the idea of Doomsday is what makes this word and thought so unique and beautiful.
At its core, Qayamat is a celebration of destruction in absolute terms. Yes, celebration. Because Qayamat is a lyrical surrender to the absolute — a kind of a spiritual annihilation where even the agony of the end is sweet and addictive.
No wonder, Urdu poetry has time and again chosen to use the idea of Qayamat as a metaphor for both the zenith of surrender in love as well as an insurmountable loss or heartbreak, not to mention the liberal usage of this doomsday imagery to describe fatal attraction and a kind of aesthetic high that can kill.
Dil Mein Sama Gaeen Hain Qayamat Ki Shoḳhiyan
Do-Char Din Raha Tha Kisi Ki Nigah Mein
— Daag Dehlvi
My heart has been overwhelmed by apocalyptic (endearing) mischief
I spent a couple of days in someone’s mesmerizing eyes
However, for all its romanticized beauty, Qayamat is still apocalypse, and while Urdu poets have been liberal with the romance, they haven’t ignored the gravity of the darkness that lurks underneath Qayamat and its forces.
Zabt Lazim Hai Magar Dukh Hai Qayamat Ka ‘Faraz’
Zalim Ab Ke Bhi Na Roega Toh Mar Jaega
— Ahmad Faraz
Self control is a must, but this is the sorrow of the Apocalypse
If you still don’t allow yourself to cry, you will die
And of all the times in the history of human existence, we are in an era where the idea of Qayamat is not only more relevant than ever, but also closer than ever. These are dark and ominous times and I had dealt with the idea of our Dystopic present in a piece Dystopia is a Joke a couple of days ago.
This piece, however, is not a commentary on our times, but a meditation on the idea of Qayamat. And the idea of Qayamant, fascinatingly, exceeds above and beyond our political present and loaded past.
Because the way Qayamat perceives the doomsday (and is perceived by the Urdu poets), is not just about scenarios involving two stupid Nuke armed leaders head butting over the ruins of this planet or a wayward asteroid finally and decisively hitting its mark, once and for all.
Instead, Qayamat embodies scenarios that are far more personal — apocalypses that are internalized and dystopias that are personal hells that are neither seen nor shared by anyone. Qayamat speaks of personal losses, heartbreaks and failures that render our existence pointless, and spell the end of the days not because the world is ending, but because someone’s dreams are.
Apocalypse is global and expansive; while Qayamat more often than not is personal and profound. And this is exactly why it is important to remember that Qayamat as an idea does not fear or despise ends and losses. It celebrates them. Ultimately, at the core of every Qayamat, are the seeds of a fresh beginning, and the inherent lyrical romance of Qayamat is a reminder for us to know that what looks like an end may not be the end after all; and even in the midst of Qayamat, there is always something to look forward to, something to celebrate, and hold on to, till the storm blows over.
Qayamat humanizes apocalypse, and makes it something that can be surpassed. Qayamat also beautifies apocalypse and makes way for possibilities where Qayamat can be celebrated, not just in terms of love and beauty, but also as life and its inevitable hardships.
Ultimately Qayamat is what Qayamat does. Or rather what we do with it. And apocalypse or not, that is a choice we all have, whether we realize it or not.
Sambhalne De Mujhe Ai Na-Umidi Kya Qayamat Hai
Ki Daman-e-Khayal-e-Yar Chhuta Jaae Hai Mujh Se
— Mirza Ghalib
Let me find my feet, O despair, for this is an apocalypse
I am losing the threads of thought about my beloved
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