Miraji - the return of Anima
Miraji, Judah’s son, the lord of autoeroticism, defies the generative order of nature by wasting his seed. Each time he masturbates he deflates the “masculine” to androgynize himself. His attire is forbidding, he is an early-day hippie, a modern punk, a walking theater who appears among straight people with a pointed moustache, long hair and an opera-length string of beads. In his hands roll the triplets of tiny globes, totems of beauty, love and death.
An articulate broadcaster, a leading intellectual, editor of a prestigious literary journal and a critic par excellence, Miraji, while mastering the “Other” alters the social codes of identity through his ambiguous poetry and his curious guise of anonymity. He is no martyr or a crusader but a fallen Adam tied to his belly and genitals; the twin demons of human existence.
What makes Miraji different from his contemporaries is his awakening of the “feminine”, the anima, which by the early twentieth century was repressed by the dominant narratives of Hegelian idealism and Marxian dialectical materialism. In the subcontinent, these narratives had found expression in Iqbal and later in the manifestoes and poetry of the Progressives of the ‘30s.
Iqbal, in his dazzling flights of consciousness, was pursuing an ideal man who soared above the waist, while the Progressives romanced the masses to idealize the universal Proletariat. In their aerial ascensions to metaphysical ideals, the body was a hindrance. Body, as such, is considered low and vulgar in the high seriousness of our literature. It is linked with the baser mortals while the sublime is reserved for gods and godlike men. But the body remains a signifier of the instinctual being, the very tone of the ethnic skin of human beings. The new Adam of Iqbal and the universal Proletariat were not of flesh and blood but disembodied haloes of cerebral inventions. In their utopian heights, man was not discovered on earth but in heaven, and their paradisiacal bliss was an escape from the original sin of the body.
With the loss of the instinctual, there was more of “taukal” and “taffakur”, intellect and philosophy in their work; essence had become prior to existence. Such was the schizophrenia of the early twentieth century. Miraji dramatized this inane split of rationality and passion, of body and the mind. The areal flights of the idealists were without the touch of the earth, the warmth of flesh and blood, without the tactile feel and the kinesthetic experience. Their two- dimensional figures were representational without an earthly presence or what Camille Paglia calls “chthonian”, something miasmic and muddy, the pre-natal darkness, the unconscious, the womb itself where Miraji retreated among the din of pragmatism, rationality and predictability in the dominant art practices. His desire to escape in a jungle or the darkness of a temple or a cave or to be alone in some comfortable zone was the desire for the unconscious, the womb.
Both the progressives and Hegelian idealists were patriarchs, phallic ideologues with moral authority, projecting a male gaze that denied the feminine principle. To confront the father and the male machismo, Sanaullah Dar became a woman; Mira.
In representational art, the narrative takes over by deferring the rawness and the presence of the experience. But as Mirza Ghalib tells us there is no “jalwa”- revelation - without “kisafat”- the materiality of things - it is the presence and not re-presencing of things which creates great art.
Miraji’s interest in myth also points to his preoccupation with the body as mythology embodies the projections of human imagination. He is a pagan priest who animates ordinary things and turns them into mythic experiences. Miraji carries in him the dark skinned Dravidian women who are fulsome, unlike the flat picture queens from the Persian miniatures. Like Gauguin’s Tahitian women, they walk bare on the earth.
Miraji eroticized the otherwise stoic and cerebral tone of Urdu poetry by embodying the desire into flesh and fantasy into a palpable sensation. He “libidinized” the high seriousness of literature with orgies of senses and colours and liberated Urdu poetry from its rigid forms. His free use of Birij, Awadhi and Hindi evoked the Hindu past; an answer to the persianized diction of Iqbal, Rashed and Faiz who looked towards the court tradition of refined Urdu, cleansed of the native ethos.
Miraji’s awakening of the feminine against patriarchy was a threat to the high moral code of both progressives and to Iqbal’s didacticisms. His bodily intervention into their narrative representations was a disturbing presence. It was not him freeing the verse but freeing the body that had invited their wrath.
Marginalized and excluded from their fold like Manto and Ismat, he was labeled by the progressives as an individualist, a morbid and sexually sick poet without any direction or purpose. But Miraji didn’t stop for the buzzwords of his times; he went on sculpting images from his own biographical experiences. He refused to merge into the given social persona of some white-collared revolutionary. He remained inexplicable to the mainstream.
Miraji’s onanism was not simply to delink himself from normal social practices, but also to “hermaphrodize” himself for an androgynous experience. Sanaullah Dar symbolically castrated the male and feminized himself by calling himself Mira.
His journey from Sanaullah to Miraji is through falling in love with a Bengali girl Mira Sen. Dedo, the landowner of Takht Hazara became Ranja, and Izzat Baig became Manhiwal as transformations performed through the alchemy of love. Love disrupts identities and destabilizes power hierarchies. It is through love that Sanaullah becomes Miraji. But why Mira ji? Why not Mira Sen? The word “ji” is a form of addressing someone with love, respect and devotion.
Miraji is not a name but a calling for his beloved. Perhaps at some time Sanaullah Dar addressed Mira Sen for her attention by saying ‘Mira ji listen to me,’ and she did not respond. It appears that Sanaullah had stilled that image by freezing the words “Mira ji” that had turned into an eternal cry in the wilderness, ‘Miraji! Miraji!’ It became like Munch’s scream frozen in silence and thus becoming endless; a continuous calling for Mira.
We know how Heer became Ranja by incessantly calling for Ranja, ‘Ranja Ranja akhdi mein apay Ranja hoi.’ Like Heer, Sanaullah Dar had embraced his double, the feminine in him, and had become Miraji.
Sarmad Sehbai is a poet,
playwright, and filmmaker