Chains Of Days and Nights: A Review

So there is this common misconception people often have about LUMS, that its a university which mainly just focuses on teaching ‘practical’ subjects like engineering or accounting or business management. I want to set the record straight and make it clear that this isn’t the case. One person to whom I refuted this claim shot back with “Well it IS called Lahore University of MANAGEMENT SCIENCES isn’t it?” It is, and certainly LUMS did start off as just a business school initially but it has grown to be so much more than that. No, I am not going to shamelessly promote the university, its 25 year celebration video has done more than enough of that! Quite cheesily too, might I add. You can find the video here

Sure there are plenty of science and engineering nerds on campus, and others still who devote their time to studying numbers and graphs. But like any other place, you’ll also find dreamers in LUMS. Daytime dreamers, afro-ed hippies, frolicking flower-children, fearless and brazen mountain-climbers, environmentally-conscious tree-huggers, you name it, LUMS has it. There are artists and writers, who create masterpieces in print and in video. There are philosophers who can avidly and heatedly refute and then defend the claims of great minds from Socrates and Ibn Khaldun to Kant and Imam Ghazali. These people are just as much a part of the scholarly and academically competitive atmosphere of LUMS as the 4.0-ers. Many of these could actually give the university-toppers a run for their money.

To quote Iqbal:
Love is infinite time that’s beyond the cycle of transient time.
Be it painting, architecture, music poetry or calligraphy,
all these arts thrive on the intensity of love!
The intensity of love turns a stone into a heart
[and] it’s love that bestows depth of feeling, exhilaration and melody to the voice.

We've heard of his philosophy on life, love, death and religion. But did you also know he was enchanted by the mosque of Cordoba?

Everyone has their own area of expertise. I may be good with words but I’m horrified by numbers and charts. One of my closest friends is studying law but is just as passionate about photography. Her pictures speak out and with the right camera, she would be a genius. I also know plenty of other writers like myself who manage to capture so much in a short story, and do justice to representing the local context; given the right opportunities, they could all be bestselling authors. Yet another friend who happens to be an Economics major could very well be a leading philosophical mind of South Asia in the next couple of decades. LUMS caters to these minds, most students who are inclined towards the Arts have the option of pursuing a Humanities degree and though that opens the doors to so many possibilities, there are some people who take that extra step forward on their own to pursue their dreams.

I recently watched a movie that I found posted repeatedly all over my Facebook newsfeed. It is called ‘The Mosque of Cordoba’ and it is, as the Youtube caption says, “about a boy who discovers the true gift of Iqbal and the magic of poetry.” It’s a final project of two 2nd-year students at LUMS for a course on the history of Spain, and even though that makes it sound dull and boring, the movie is captivating. One of the two students is an aspiring film-maker, and also co-founder of his very own video production company, EmKay Studios. I know him personally and I’d heard from mutual friends that he’s good at what he does but after watching the movie, I know it to be an undeniable fact. Considering that this is the work of students who are just about 20 years old and can’t get enough of ‘that’s what she said’ jokes, I was seriously taken aback by the sheer maturity of the work. It would appeal to people of all ages, and is actually something I would gladly show to my parents. It’s an impressive piece of work that focuses on Muhammad Iqbal’s description of the famous mosque of Cordoba, and it actually inspired me to pick up an Iqbal book or two just to read some more of the breathtaking poetry on my own. The narration is done beautifully, and the acting’s as good as it can be, given it stars students who are also part of the Dramatics society at LUMS. I would urge anyone who has any sort of interest in history, poetry, or Iqbal to check out the movie online. It’s also a great way to kill half an hour when you all you want to do is procrastinate.

EmKay Studios, the student project movie and my opinion on all comprises to form just ONE example of the brilliant things students at LUMS do, outside of the academic domain. I know many more such people and I seriously cannot wait to see how they all fare in the next few years to come.

Links for the movie: http://www.youtube.com/user/TheEmkayStudios#p/a/u/2/j0kcgE9Ukt0
EmKay Studio’s Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/EmKay-Studios/109172555804354
More info on Iqbal and Cordoba: http://www.allamaiqbal.com/webcont/406/web_pages/cordova_mosque.htm

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Love, life and the meaning of it all

So the semester’s almost over and it marks the end of one of the most amazing courses I’ve had the opportunity to take at university so far.  A brilliant 4 months of intense philosophy with one of the most brilliant and maverick professors here, and I feel like nothing I could say would do justice to everything that I’ve learnt thus far.

From Viktor Frankl, al-Ghazali and St Augustine to Descartes, Tolstoy and the daddy of them all, Friedrich Nietzsche, we’ve covered a little fraction of all the big names, just enough to get an idea of how they viewed life and the legacy they left behind for those who choose to adhere to their views. 

Despite their big names and even bigger controversial ideas or reputations, what’s really surprising is that there’s one thing that plagues them all: philosophers always require you to CHOOSE, and make an either/or distinction between 2 opposites.  It begs the question, why must that be the case? Utilitarianism or Kant-ianism, utopia or reality, faith or rationality: its either one or the other, but why?  Why is it that an individual HAS to choose to adopt one specific extreme and not in any way be within the ambit of another?

I suppose it’s also quite relatable to the dischotomous bond shared by science and religion: either you’re a man or reason and science and objectivity or you’re a ‘mullah’, who believes in revelation and all the ‘irrationality’ of the scriptures.  I don’t see how one can’t strike a balance between the two and maintain both positions.  Ibn Khaldun certainly managed to do so, he transformed the realm of historiography, was one of the founders of sociology and a presursor to many of the ideas propounded by Adam Smith, Marx and Durkheim 5 centuries after his death.  Yet, at the same time, he was a religious man, not a fundamentalist as we would call him today, but a man of firm faith who believed in prophetic wisdom and the omniscient power of the Divine. 

The meaning of life is also another subject that’s dominated much of this course.  It seems that the common conclusion between all the thinkers has been this: in order to find a ‘why’ for your existence, you must submit to the something larger than yourself.

Nietzsche talks about this in ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ when he describes that the TRUE philosopher is one that trailblazes through the terrain of thoughts, constantly risking himself and upholding a principle that goes beyond just the man; in a sense, this is the ubermensch.   He also relates this to artists who become completely submissive to their creative side, they let themselves flow out in order to create something and do something that surpasses their own selves. Frankl discusses this as well in Man’s Search for Meaning, and that’s something I’ve already discussed before on here in detail.

But there is something that’s actually been bothering me, it has to do with Leo Tolstoy.  He was an artist, in the true sense of the word, because his writing was his art.  He’s written masterpieces, Anna Karenina and War and Peace and absolute tomes brimming with brilliance.  Yet, it wasn’t enough for him, it didn’t quite add meaning to his life the way one would expect.  In Confession, he admits that he did it simply to earn more money, garner more fame, etc. but surely it meant more to him than that?  I find it really difficult to believe that a writer like Tolstoy could not find satisfactory prupose in his writing, and this puzzles me, because if it wasnt enough for Tolstoy, then what chance does someone like me have?

Sure, Tolstoy went through a great conversion, and became a preachy-preachy Orthodox Christian, and much of his writing was affected by his austere religious views, but his words have a point.  If things like art and family are merely distractions that keep you from realising the true reason for your existence, then it’s a pretty miserable state we all live in because for most of us, those 2 things really are what life is all about.

Last but certainly not least: love.  This topic was one that evoked A LOT of giggles in the class, but it’s one that is universal and truly about everyone.  Many of us have Disney-inspired notions of love or we talk about love as if we really know what it’s all about, but in actuality, it’s something that’s completely beyond a layman’s comprehension.

For Frankl, love was the source of salvation; for St Augustine and Tolstoy, there was a difference in worldly love and divine love, with the latter outweighing the former; for Nietzsche, love is something a man could not do justice to, it is only a woman whose love is what love is meant to be. 

We’ve all said ‘I love you’ at some point of our lives, but what we fail to realise is what we really mean is ‘I want to possess you’.  This is not love as love should be. 

‘I allow you to possess me’ is love.  This is the selfless, the brave, the kamikaze, the absolutely absolute form of love that (if you listen to Nietzsche) only a woman can give.  In the absence of such love, there is no submission, no passion of struggle, and certainly no greatness.