Monday, 20 February 2012

The One and Only Rahim!

Rahiman dhaga prem ka mat todo chatkay
Tute se phir na jude, jo jude to gaanth pad jaaye

Don't snap the thread of love, O Rahim,
Once broken, it cannot be mended. If mended, there will always be a knot

I came across this as a boy of twelve, in a remote village of Himachal. For good measure, our Hindi teacher conveniently displaced the word 'love' with 'friendship'. Fair enough, twelve year olds are perhaps not supposed to understand love, of any kind whatsoever. In the same courses, we had couplets by Kabir Das. Kabir was a 16th century 'low-caste' weaver who transcended his background, education (or the lack of it) and recited some of the most beautiful things ever in Khadi Boli and Hindi. Most of his work was documented much later through oral tradition. For some reason, the image of a poor man sitting in his hut by the Ganga in Banaras weaving away and reciting nuggets of wisdom stuck in my head and I associated it with everyone writing couplets in Hindi, Urdu or Khadi Boli. That another well known poet Raidas (also known as Ravidas) was Kabir’s contemporary, a poor cobbler, and very wise did not help matters.

From there on, I imagined Rahim to be an impoverished mendicant dressed in tattered clothes, wandering through the world. I never associated a profession with him but he could have been a potter or an iron-smith. He would slave away for subsistence and, in his daily struggles, manage to see profound wisdom that escaped the mortals around him. Imagine my surprise then, when I learned that Rahim was a noble in Akbar's court, a wealthy governor, one of the navratnas, an accomplished warrior among much else. He was also an accomplished writer and translator, he translated Babar's autobiography from Chagatai to Persian.  And he has a tomb in Delhi, right next to the tombs of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and Humanyun. He is clearly keeping exalted company even in death. His resting place has been ravaged by time and the makers of Safdarjung's tomb, but that does not take anything away from its impressive size. With a little imagination, you can still see the delicate carvings on the walls, the ornate jharokha work on some of the small windows, and the grandeur of the grounds in the centuries past. Feeding off of the ghost story told to me by a security guard in Masjid Moth, I even imagined Rahim's ghost procession joining Humanyun's to seek Nizamuddin's blessings.

What has continued to hound me though is how could a blue blooded man, a noble and a wealthy man have the time, the depth, and the perspective to be such a profound thinker. Not taking anything away from Kabir (who I already called The Winner), it was probably easier for a Kabir to brood over life, for he did not have many other cares, no provinces to govern, no wars to fight and win, no autobiographies to translate and no emperor to please. For Rahim to have achieved what he did in literature is truly outstanding. It is perhaps fitting then that there are two Rahims in my mind and the two exist in different worlds. And lest I forget, when we met him in December, even Sam Miller was not aware that there was only one Rahim!

Bade badai na karen, bade na bole bol,
Rahiman heera kab kahe, lakh taka mera mol.

The truly great never boast about themselves or talk about their worth,
O Rahim, when does a diamond ever say it is worth a million.

Goodness! Forgot to mention, all photos above courtesy Wanderfool of A Date with Delhi.