The Dialogues

Plato should be read by everyone who can read

WORD'S WISDOM

MUHAMMAD MAROOF SHAH

There are two kinds of men: those who have read Plato (at least some dialogues including The Republic) and those who have not. One can only pity those who are in the later camp. Plato’s Dialogues constitute the Taj Mahal of Philosophy.  The whole of Western philosophy is little more (if not only as Whitehead would say) than a footnote on him. Next to scriptures and writings of great saints Plato should be read by everyone who can read. (Some Sufis and Muslim thinkers consider Socrates whom Plato seeks to give voice as a Prophet of Greeks or at least a divine or realized). In fact one of the best uses of education is opportunity to read Plato. Those who best enjoy reading Kashmiri or are too illiterate for that either should hear it being read. And for the first time Prof. Iqbal Nazki has provided the opportunity. We may have stopped producing philosophers like Abhinavguptas but our love for philosophy can’t be erased. It seems that instinct for doing philosophy is built in our genetic code and as it has not been allowed expression for want of institutional spaces it has been diverted to application of intelligence in more trivial or questionable pursuits so much so that we are infamous for cunning and ingenious methods for dodging, bypassing law, sophistry, treachery etc. It is Plato who helps us understand our predicament. Our rulers have not been philosophers. Our education has not been for cultivation of virtues. Our best minds are driven away due to want of opportunities here. Our education system which Plato thought to be the most crucial for smooth functioning of society is directionless. We have no use for thinkers whom Plato gives such a privileged place in his work.  We have so few poets who have either moral or intellectual virtues for their craft and would be tolerated by Plato. We have, to the dislike of Plato, the greatest respect for medical profession because we don’t know it presupposes a sick society that cares little for the institutions that guarantee good health. How many of us are either jobless or suffer from alienation in work as doing wage labour? Plato gives a solution. Bureaucrats/Politicians should be chosen on the condition that they don’t apply for these posts (so what about aspirants for KAS/IAS or those who campaign for votes or for getting mandate) and along with police/army professionals be stripped of private property. What a solution to corruption! Private schools that treat education is a commodity and have little interest in character, are unimaginable in his State. The book for today brings Plato to Kashmir, gives him sophisticated contemporary Kashmiri dialect and comments, through him, on our mess and on the meaning of justice. One wonders if it is not contemporary Kashmir with all its mess in every domain in which Plato gives his version of the ideal State.
Translating Plato was long overdue. We can, as a community, only be obliged to Prof. Iqbal Nazki for taking up this daunting task and doing it with such grace and elegance.
I wish this book gets converted into a documentary by EMMRC/Education Department/Door Darshan/Radio (or any NGO/ group or individual whosoever has tawfeek for such a great project) for wider dissemination amongst masses. I wish those addicted to TV serials be given this book in a form of serialized art work. After seeing Plato I am sure most of these pitiable souls will be weaned away from the soul destroying distraction that most TV serials on private TV channels produced with the primary aim of serving the Capital – one is advised to read “Culture Industry” by Adorno and Hokheimer if one thinks that they are great or worth the time they take to watch) by those who have the knack of TV journalism. 
This work can also be understood by those who have never read any book on philosophy. In fact Socrates whom Plato gives voice is here dialoguing on very important themes that concern all of us. With good technique of adaptation it could reach out to all of us, educated or not educated. Here everyone is familiar with at least the name of Plato. When we have to downplay anyone we say yi kya aflatoon cha. Two lines are unforgettable. Unexamined life is not worth living. No man is wilfully bad. Let us ask ourselves with Plato’s Socrates whether we have dispassionately examined our lives or views. Can we defend our views if challenged by other thinkers or philosophers? Don’t we have grudge against others and not a good view of even our kith and ken as if they are wilfully bad?
Reading Plato is a joy and one needs to learn to properly read him. He is easy to read but difficult to comprehend and that is why he has been wrongly charged with elitism, communism, disowning poets, logocentrism, paganism, utopianism etc. Even Iqbal was uncharitable towards him and gloriously misread him on certain points. I suggest reading Plato with the help of Simone Weil and Coomaraswamy or through the filtering medium of some Muslim philosophers to avoid falling into so many errors, most of which philosophy departments routinely commit. We need to understand his contempt for democracy and his love for the Ideal world that thought to be more real than what we ordinarily see as the real one. Our leaders must read The Republic and Al Farabi’s Divine City.
I can’t comment on the finer details of either the original or translation of this great work for want of space. But allow me to make very brief comments about translation. It is not just a good translation but a great translation that a committed scholar of The Republic only could have done. It is not very literal translation but captures the spirit in a language that is worthy of Plato. Common Kashmiri idioms and phrases are deftly appropriated for the service and Plato comes alive and looks almost a local character as far as the language that communicates is concerned. A good introduction, some explanatory notes, careful consultation of other translations are other features of the translation. It deserves special appreciation and acknowledgement by all the institutions that serve culture or literature. Plato is a part of world heritage and thus our heritage. Kashmiri language has been honoured and is richer by virtue of this translation.
The book has been published by Kashmiri Department of Kashmir University for which the Department and its then head Prof. Shad Ramzan need to be congratulated but one wonders why so much delay in letting it see the light of the day (it has been published way back in 2009!) or honouring the author.

Lastupdate on : Wed, 16 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 16 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 17 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST




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