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HIDDEN MEANINGS IN THE UNIVERSE By Sadat Jabeen

Everything speaks behind these cloaks of silence. Alas, there is no audience. Ears here are struck. When free, listen to the sound of the roses' glee. This is not speech that has been uttered. [her shai pukarti he pas-e-parda-e-sukoot lekin kise sunaun koi hamnawa bhi ho Fursat men sun shaguftagi-e-ghuncha ki sada ye wo sukhan nahin jo kisi ne kaha bhi ho]

The perception of a poet is keener than that of an ordinary person. This perception infuses every object with more beauty and meaning than the man on the road can see. Nasir's four lines here are two of his many verses which show how, even among poets, Nasir keenly searched for meanings and loved immersing himself in the teaching company of nature's creations. Every object, animate or otherwise, is a being in its own right. It has a place in the universe: it fits somewhere in the system of things and phenomena. It is a step in the cycle of one or more processes in this world. At the highest and spiritual level of meaning, every object as a creation of God signifies some property of that Creator: beauty, completeness, power, or profoundness. For those who believe firmly in God, every object is also evidence of the theory of this world that we learn from God's own Statement in His Book.

Nasir certainly has a particular eye for the symbolic significance of the sights and sounds around him. Here, Nasir not only realizes, but also laments of, his difference in this quality with 'others' in society. If we read biographical accounts of the poet, we learn that not only he had a much more vivid imagination and longed for a childlike closeness with nature all through his life following migration, he felt himself more and more alone in this respect, even in his own stratum of society. I have chosen the second quoted versus from the ghazal (which is the first in his Deewan), becasue where the first is the general idea, the second is a specific and more illustrative example of what Nasir means to say in the first one. As read in Urdu, the first line of this second verse is very pleasing and fresh in two ways: (a) it creates a beautiful image in our mind that is not just a static visual (a pleasant half-open flower bud) (b) but is made lively by decking it out with sound! - a striking combination. One instantly indulges imagining how, say, a rose-bud must sound if we could hear it... Many people will be reminded here of synesthesia - a rare propensity of experiencing sound when looking at visuals, or of seeing imagery when hearing sounds. However, we must remember that here is not a literal reference to a synesthetic experience. Infact, the word 'shaguftagi' in the oringial verse helps us remind the same. The rose-bud does not stimulate some sound in the poet's mind; rather, their delightful, beautiful and pleasant quality bespeaks of some meaning. What of this meaning...? Speech is the most familiar of all forms of communication. The Persian word 'sukhan' in the last of quoted lines is used not just for 'speaking'; it's Urdu usage typically refers to the best form speech can take: literature. Thus the glee of roses not only speaks, it does so at the highest possible level: aesthetically and meaningfully. The concept of 'highest' is relevent in another sense. All communication is made up of small signals or alphabets which combine in a way to form something bigger with some meaning (a symbol). Mostly, these bigger units (such as words, equations, or lines of html) in turn combine to produce something much larger and fuller. Fuller because the combined product conveys something much more meaningful than a mere sum of its parts (such as a rousing poem, a theorem that helps explain some mystery of the universe, or an interactive computer program that seems a far cry from the lines upon lines of dry code it springs from.). That is why 'meaning' in communications is not only intangible and unquantifiable, it may also be subjective. Meaning, in a way, is the highest level _ the overall pattern _ created by hierarchical combinations of symbols and signals. As such meaning is also latent (i.e. hidden); it doesn't reveal itself as long as you stay focused on the underlying symbols or signals. One can't even see the whole painting on a wall, let alone interpret it, as long as one is standing too close and looking at just a portion of the whole. [Note that it was Douglas Hofstadter who in his debutant and award-winning book Gdel, Escher, Bach:

An Eternal Golden Braid, used the terms 'signal', 'symbol', 'hierarchy' and 'highest level of communication' to illustrate how meaning is constructed in nature and in human culture.] In combination, the pondering reader derives four major realizations from the four lines. In deciphering these lines, the last is of paramount significance; hence, I recommend, read the Urdu original slowly and loudly to appreciate. First: the speech, or rather 'messages', Nasir is referring to are not imagined constructions of an abstract philosophizer. They are the 'meaning' contained in the layers of inscription this world is made up of: the sands, the rains, the leaves, the seasons, the waters.... This world has not been made meaninglessly. Indeed, no creator of things ever makes anything (be it a work of art or a feat of technology) without putting some meaning or purpose in it. Nasir, in his beautifully conversational way invites us to try to sense these messages in nature. Her shai pukarti hai... Second: These messages are as real as our speech but they seem far beyond the bubble of our existence, since we have never really looked beyond that bubble; or if we did we just focused on the symbol, appreciating at most, say, the beauty of a flower. Fursat men sun... Third: Not only are these messages as real as our speech, they correspond with the finest possible form this mode of communication can take. Indeed the whole of Al-Qur'an proves that the form in which the timeless realities of the Universe are revealed must have been the epitome of all literature. At the human level, I am reminded of the indescribably transcendental quality of a 'peak experience': a rare experience when a person's senses and emotions seem to go beyond the limits of daily life. During such an experience people seem to glimpse the profound meaning and significance of things that they routinely encounter in daily life. Ye wo sukhan nahin... Fourth: Nasir's comparison of these hidden communications to human literature is solely for the purpose of explication. It is no comparison in fact. Since even though many magnificent examples of literature exist, no person has ever said anything approximating the timeless meaning of all the signs in God's universe. ... jo kisi ne keha bhi ho. Note that the path from human perception to metaphysical inferences must remain incomplete. Even though we may begin to glimpse and apprehend to a small extent the mysteries contained in nature's symbols, they will certainly remain beyond our full understanding. Moreover, whatever understanding achieved will be definitely at risk of being distorted, idiosyncratic, superficial, or incomplete. None of us can ever claim that we have comprehended the universal significance of all objects truly and absolutely, despite the best of scientific theorizing. Conversely, the believing ones are also wise enough to be amazed by and to ponder at all the signs in God's universe, yet without

insisting upon any definitive explanations or comprehensive answers to the myriad mysteries. Interestingly, the above conclusion can be derived from that fourth line on a strictly logical basis. If the meaning of the universe were to become absolutely comprehensible by humans, it will certainly be translated into the human form of communication: It will mean that someone has expressed those meanings through words. But that is not possible. That has never happened in this world, and by implication will never happen in the future either. Judiciously, Nasir never demeans such of his verses by attaching some simple worded 'explanation' in his lines. He never even claims to have deciphered the nature's code-words, never hinting at any particular meaning he might be discerning through his mysterious teachers. The humility and unbiasness of the highly real and skillful Nasir must prevent him from sharing his intuitions. Poetically, this reticence helps capture for the reader the enigmatic and obsucre quality of that world of meaning beyond those curtains of silence... I am amazed what depths of phenomena may be explored in the span of a ghazal's verse by an honest and artful poet.