A Sufi Celebration of Life, Inspired By Urdu
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Ye Jism Kyun Ye Rooh Kyun Hayat Kyun ‘Riyaz’ Kyun
Sifar Sifar Ki Guunj Hai Talash Ke Mazar Mein
— Riyaz Latif
Why is this body, why this soul, why this life, why ‘Riyaz’
There is an echo of void, of nothingness, in the tomb of that search
Literally translated, Sifar means Zero. Nothing. Void.
Sifar finds it root in Arabic root ‘sifr’, the same place where the English word Cipher finds its roots in.
See, the more we highlight our differences, the more similar we turn out to be. And there is nothing better than exploring the shared heritage and origin of our languages to establish our shared history and existence.
So, the word of the day is Sifar. Which is admittedly an unlikely choice of a word for anything, let alone a celebratory blog piece. Who wants to talk about Zero? More importantly, what is there to talk about Zero? And even more importantly, why do you even want to talk about Zero?
It is nothing after all.
Or is it?
Mathematicians would disagree. And so would philosophers. Zero is a symbol of nothing, but it is obviously a lot more important that nothing can ever be. Or maybe it is we who have got the idea of nothingness all wrong. Perhaps it is we who need to explore and understand ‘nothing’ as the force it is.
What existed before the Big Bang? Nothing.
What will exist when we are all finally wiped from existence, planet, Universe and all? Nothing.
Imagine something so vast, so powerful, so absolute, it spewed your entire Universe.
That something is nothing. Zero. Void. Sifar.
Sifar was what we were all born of, and Sifar is where we all would finally vanish. And by we, I mean, everything and everyone.
It has been a couple of years since I gave up my fascination for abstract philosophy in favor of more practical, applicable ideas about spirituality and emotions. The allure of Sifar for me dates back to the time when I was still fascinated by Nietzsche’s meditation on the nature of good and evil; and that Descartes joke about the horse who walked into the bar was still mildly funny (if you are actually bored enough to want to know what the joke is, you can check it out here), and of course, when Freud and his hyper-sexual philo-psychology (and all those jokes about his mother) were still a valid way to establish ones’ intellectual prowess (by the way, almost all of Freud’s theories have since been disproved. Not that it is going to stop us from using him as an excuse to make inappropriate allusions, but still…)
Sifar, however, outlasted my philosophy obsession. Perhaps because that is what Sifar does. It outlasts. Everything. Everytime.
Of the many anecdotes that my father loved to narrate, and that I still remember, there was one that I had always found puzzling and enthralling at the same time. It was about an essay that he had to write (for what, I don’t remember, except that it was probably for some kind of an examination) on the topic “Shoonya se shoonya nikalo toh shoonya bachta hai” (meaning : zero minus zero equals zero)
Per my father’s story, he wrote a twelve page essay on that topic. 12 full pages. Back when I was 11 and still trying to fathom the very idea of philosophy, and why the hell would anyone want to sit and ponder on such patently obvious stuff, not to mention how, my father’s feat seemed like the zenith of academic excellence and unmatched philosophical brilliance.
It was heroic.
It still is. But then, for me, most things about my father are.
It took me a long time to come to a point where I could actually understand the profundity of the idea inherent in that seemingly, almost stupidly obvious statement. I am, however, still not at a point where I can write 12 pages worth of an essay on it.
What I can tell you is that it is a comment on the enormity of Sifar. Because perhaps Sifar or Zero is the only entity, only idea in this entire Universe that is unsubtractable. You can take all of Sifar away from Sifar, and still what will be left is Sifar. It is indestructible, unmitigated, unalterable. It is absolute, in absolute terms, which is a massive achievement in the whimsical existence that we a part of.
In a Universe where truth is arguably a variable entity, depending on who, when and what you are asking, Sifar is the only undeniable, truest of true, purest of pure truth in the entire existence.
No wonder Sifar scares us. Whether it is the zeros on our Medium stats dashboard, or the idea of death leading our essence into the ultimate void, Sifar is a scary prospect, a horrifying reality that we like to ignore, avoid and keep away from, as far as possible.
Sifar Nahin Toh Phir Sifar Se Jang Kya
Khuda Ke Vaste Mujhe Bata
— Saqi Faruqi
If the zero doesn’t exist, then why fight with that zero
For Heaven’s sake, explain this to me
Perhaps, we need to look at something else that is scary for a lot of us to understand Sifar. Mathematics. Sifar or zero was India’s gift to the world of Mathematics, and a decisive turning point for one of the most important, world-changing branch of science.
Because without Sifar, without Zero, the whole discipline of Mathematics would crash and burn. Sifar is fundamental to the existence of Maths, and in turn all Sciences. And because Sciences are nothing but a study of the living (and non living world), it is safe to assume that without Sifar, everything would be, very literally, non-existent.
Sifar is the beginning, the middle and the end. It is the point where you came into this world; it is your aspiration as those coveted zeroes on your paycheck; and it is your ultimate fate, the void that awaits you at the end of this journey.
“I am everything. I am nothing”, or so proclaims the Supreme God in Bhagwat Gita. Because ‘everything’ is obvious, but it is the idea of nothing that defines the essence of the Higher Force or God or Universe or whatever it is that you may choose to call the mysterious thing that keeps this world (and us) going.
Sifar is the end. But it is also the beginning. It is fountain of all life-force; it is also the point where you are free in every sense of that word. At zero, you have everything and nothing. It is the point where you have the greatest power because you can commence something, and the greatest freedom because you can commence anything. Those zeroes on the Medium stat boards are just a minuscule illustration of this point. Because at zero, you have nowhere to go but higher, and you have no baggage, no notions, no conditioning to burden your progress.
Sifar is where you are really and truly free. No wonder, in Eastern Spiritual Traditions, Sifar or Nothingness is equivalent to Niravana or Moksha or freedom from the vicious cycle of our materialistic existence. Sifar is what sages aspire for; Sifar is where all spiritual paths converge; Sifar is where you can find your spiritual bliss, free from all materialistic bonds and expectations and struggles.
But of course, Sifar as a spiritual zenith may seem a little hard core for us ordinary mortals. And while we should all invest ourselves into our spiritual journeys with as much vigor as we do for our materialistic journeys, it is understandable that all of us cannot aspire for Sifar. And it is okay. For as long as we are moving towards it (tending to, as Maths call it, if I remember correctly), it is enough. Reaching Sifar is not the point. Never losing sight of it is. Because sometimes, merely keeping an eye out for that Sifar, and keeping our fear at bay, may lead us to those exciting beginnings that we might not have even realized existed.
After all, sometimes, nothing is better than everything.
Mujhse Hisaab Talab Karte Ho
Main Toh Ek Ajim Sifar Hoon
— Aziz Tamannai
You want me to give you a balance of accounts
Me who is nothing but a massive zero
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