A Sufi Celebration of Life, Inspired by Urdu
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Waqt Ne Kiya, Kya Haseen Sitam
Tum Rahe Na Tum, Hum Rahe Na Hum
— Kaifi Azmi
What a charming torture time has inflicted
Neither you, nor me have managed to remain the same
For once, I am choosing to commence a piece in this series with an old Bollywood song (albeit composed by a very renowned Urdu poet) instead of a traditional Sher or a couplet. Because while there is no dearth of enthralling poetry around the idea of Waqt, there is none that captures its essence as succinctly and as beautifully as this song.
Literally translated, Waqt means time. And while time as a word and a concept is in itself a weighted idea, it somehow does not convey the same sense of centuries worth of gravity that Waqt encompasses and conveys. Somehow, when someone talks of Waqt, it never seems like a reference to a moment in time. Somehow, even when Waqt is a moment, it still manages to encompass eons.
Time is a tricky concept. It is a measurable unit, that we don’t know what to measure against. We don’t know if time existed before the Universe was created, or after. We don’t know if time existed before us, or it is us who are making time (or whatever we believe time is, anyway) exist. And most importantly, we don’t know where this all ends, and if it does at all.
At a more personal level, we are all conditioned to believe that time is running out, that we must make every moment count, and that time is of the essence, and our most important asset. The fact remains that time never really runs out, we do. And since we don’t know when we will eventually run out of life et al, the whole time running out thing is really a kind of an artificial construct, as are all the time driven milestones that you are told you are supposed to achieve by certain age. Get married by 30 (or 13, if the nosy aunts and uncles in the family could get their way), get a house by 35, a mansion by 45 and retire at 60.
There is a time for everything. Or so we are told.
The fact is we can never be sure if it’s too late or too early in life for anything. Someone who ends up living up to 70 may have deemed his 30s too late for sowing new ambitions, and someone who may not live beyond 50 may as well be making expansive arrangements for their 60s.
Aagah Apni Maut Ae Koi Bashar Nahin
Saaman Sau Baras Ka, Kal Ki Khabar Nahin
- Hairat Allahabadi
No one is informed of their time of death in advance
And yet people make arrangements for a hundred years while even the next moment is uncertain
This is not to say that the idea of time has to be this depressing, nor do I intend to suggest that we are supposed to constantly live with the fear of death. (although an awareness of this inevitability can sometimes be a massive enhancer for the quality of your life, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. But more on this some other time)
To the contrary, an awareness of the uncertainty inherent in the idea of time is a powerful motivator for us to make the most of here and now. After all, the only time we can be certain of; the only time that we have in the tangible sense, is now. And because we have no certainty or guarantee beyond now — every now is a lifetime that needs to be lived as such.
Waqt is that lifetime encompassed in our now. And while time has no beginning or end, and in a sense is an ever dynamic entity with no definable sense of being complete; Waqt in itself is complete, a pulsating whole that defines the only thing that actually matters.
Waqt is an epic; Waqt is a story; Waqt is a poem. Waqt is also immeasurable and personal. For what maybe a moment for you maybe a lifetime for me, and Waqt allows and makes space for that kind of an emotional subjectivity. Because Waqt spent pining for a beloved is very different from the Waqt spent outside an operation theater while a loved one fights for their life. In both instances Waqt stretches like a million lives lived and died within every passing second; in both instances Waqt is a void that seems like a gaping hole in the infinity; in both instances Waqt is a torment; but while in the former case, the agony of that torment is sweetened by love, desire and a hope to meet the beloved again, in the latter instances, the torment is excruciating with no respite except a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
Waqt spares nobody, hammering and reshaping our very identities, again and again and again. Waqt is where we mature; Waqt is also where we find the kid within. Waqt demands respect the way time can’t. Because while materialistic, success driven conditioning continually teaches us to respect time, it is almost always in a very transactional sense of squeezing the most out of every last second. And all in the name of productivity and efficiency.
Waqt, however, is not about running or doing or being efficient. They’re all great success skills, but Waqt is not about success. Waqt is about a much higher goal. Waqt is about existence, at its rawest, purest form. Waqt is about taking a breath and watching it fuel the Universe within. Waqt is about making memories, building characters, telling stories, being stories.
Waqt is about love and hobbies and time spent with your loved ones. Waqt is about being human. Waqt is about all the things that really matter.
In a world where we actually believe we can ‘make time’ for something, Waqt pulls out the idea of time from that deep, dark pit of usable resources and restores it as the spiritual essence of this Universe; as that deep, bright, powerful force that lies at the core of all Creation; and that needs to be treated with a lot respect than just another tool we put to work.
Try to imagine a life without timekeeping. You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. Man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.
― Mitch Albom, The Time Keeper
Animals don’t care for time. But instinctively, they are tuned in to Waqt, the idea that is an integral part of Nature; tuned in to the stuff that matters, like their mating cycle, or feeding time, or when it will start snowing next.
Waqt is a reminder that everything that matters is not driven by the hands of the clock. And while scheduling and filling in your calendar may be essential, sometimes it is worthwhile to turn the clock away, sit by the riverside and watch the Waqt flow.
Sometimes, tuning out of time is essential to tune into Waqt. Sometimes, tuning into Waqt is essential to tune into everything that truly matters.
Allah Tere Haath Hai Ab Aabru-e-Shauq
Dam Ghut Raha Hai Waqt Ki Raftar Dekh Kar
— Bismil Azmabadi
Bless me O Dear Lord, for it is up to you to save the dignity of my passion/love
As this dizzying speed of time suffocates me
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