Discovering Iqbal (1877-1938)

Iqbal continues to be the protagonist not in a work of fiction but in the complex contemporary South Asian story. He in fact through his thoughts and ideas rewrote the history and changed geography of the sub-continent. ‘Iqbal’ Dr. Mohammad Suhyel Umar in his preface to a compilation of papers by eminent international scholars titled “Mohammad Iqbal a Contemporary”, very aptly writes , “ Iqbal is the best articulated Muslim response to totalizing claims of Modernity that the Islamic world has produced in the 20th century”

Even after eighty eight years of his first and last visit to his ancestral home interest in this great’world literary figure’ has not faded but increased. He very subtly and eloquently runs through the contemporary Kashmir narrative and continues to be a source of inspiration and strength . For his role in the establishment of the first political organization of Anjuman-i-Kashmiri Mussalmanan-i-Lahore in 1896 for articulating the discrimination and miseries suffered by the Kashmir Muslims during the autocratic Dogra rule, many historians see him as the founding father of Kashmir movement for liberation. He undoubtly emerged as the first major ambassador of Kashmir to the outside world. His post 1920 poetry about story of Kashmiri Muslims drenched in pain and agony in fact brought the ugliest and inhuman aspects of this abode of love and beauty under sharp focus for the first time. His speeches at various meetings and conventions of the All Indian Muslims League made Kashmir a part of major discourse of undivided India. Let me, reiterate what I wrote in this column sometime back. Iqbal all along felt about the land of his ancestors. “Allama had never denied his links and relationship with Kashmir. Irrespective of whether he lived in Lahore or Sialkot, England or Germany, he would always hold his head high for his Kashmir ancestry and would highlight agonies of Kashmiris in his poetic and literary works, philosophy and conversation.”

Iqbal continues to be part of literary discourse at the international level as intensely as it was during his lifetime. It calls for a full life span to read only the proceedings of seminars and conference held on him. Interest in Iqbal is on increase,”for Iqbal’s poetry has strong overtones of modernity and makes serious efforts to find ways of fruitfully negotiating the post colonial landscape in the society and politics without losing what he regards of Islamic religious thought and socio-political identity.” Writes Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, in his book How to read Iqbal ?

It was not an international discourse on the poet that refreshed my memory about him but a bilingual book”Taseer on Iqbal” , collection of articles on Iqbal’s Art and Thought by M.D.Taseer, edited by Afzal Haq Qureshi.

This book by Taseer is distinct for most of the essays on the poet having been read in Lahore in his lifetime and by one who had been introduced for the first time as a book to him but was treated ‘equal’ by him. The lucidly written book, which by all counts is scholarly, brings various aspects of the life of the poet-the most moving are his human facets. In his essays,”Iqbal had cosmopolitan callers”, he recounts his first experience when he was conducted as a boy to Iqbal with a bag full of don’ts and things which his elders ‘thought’ he might possibly do and should not. Recounting his first meeting with him, he writes :

“But the house-an upper-story flat in Anarkali street Lahore-did not look at all terrifying. Our house was bigger. And, was this Iqbal? Well, the headmaster of my school was certainly more awe-inspiring. Iqbal was sitting on a charpoy, legs doubled up, with the tube of Hubble-bubble in his hand. And at once to ease. Iqbal , I decided was one of the creatures amongst seniors-a human being. His conversation was completely disarming. He talked to all of us as equals. Even I was included in the conversation.

“ He always talked to you directly, took your personal problems and opinions seriously and out of material that he made you yield he built a superstructure of thought which was unlikely your own and very much like Iqbal’s. You felt you had made something important to Iqbal’s conversation…Even the discussion of serious problem was at highest and hottest, he had cool flashes of silence which would always save the discussion from becoming too willful and wordy and so made a serious search for truth.”

The book is as good as rediscovering the poet-philosopher whose poetry is intricately woven in our socio-religious and political fabric. Narrating the story of shoemaker that visited Iqbal in wee morning hours, Taseer writes.” People would come to him seeking advice on almost anything…I remember a shoemaker wanted to know from Iqbal how he could have a child. ‘I married twice’, he willed, ‘but tree of my life is as dry as ever’. Iqbal quite patiently and pleasantly listened to his tale of woe, talked to him knowledgeably about his trade, how the advent of English shoes had affected it…and then he told him his story.

“I myself “ said Iqbal , did not have a child for about 20 years, though I too married twice. And one day a wounded pigeon fluttered into courtyard of our house. The two women nursed it so diligently that in a few days it was able to fly freely. Now you both beget a child, I said to them ‘because you have proved to nature that you are fit to bring up children’. I said it and forgot it but later I found my prophecy had come true. This is Javid you see him here. Remember a loving husband and wife has greater chance of having children than those who are quarrelling”. The shoemaker after this left happily.

The book has essays by the author on various aspects of Iqbal’s poetry such as Iqbal’s theory of art and literature, Iqbal , the poet of Islam, his conception of perfect man and reviews of some of contemporary works on the poet. It is a good read.

Z.G.Mohammad is a noted writer and columnist.