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“Shab afreedi, chirag afreedum”

The power of weaving a very complex thought by beautifully interlacing few words, the lyrical yet potent content of the verse, the underlying magic once the mystery of a couplet opens its arms to let us in, the tapping of the passion hidden in some remote recess which is in the state inertia, Muhammad Iqbal not only ignites but arouses all those mysterious senses in this couplet, while conversing with god in Persian ‘ you created night (darkness), to counter that I created light’

Muhammad Iqbal’s (commonly known as Allama Iqbal – meaning scholar) breadth and depth of knowledge is remarkable. This reflects in his ideologies and the works that he created. I am most interested in that part of his work, which resonates, with the sense of self. Iqbal’s poems have a strong fragrance of self-determination. ‘The power to be is up to me’ is what Iqbal strongly emphasizes. When you translate that to the present, the constant questioning to god or challenging his being superior, Iqbal manages to capture beautifully. The attachment to Iqbal’s work is because Iqbal talks to a voice in your head, which speaks the same language of defiance, which he gracefully puts in his couplets. He speaks through all the barriers, and in spite of his strong religious values and beliefs he emerges as a person whose voice to god is not that of pity and benevolence but of courage and perseverance. That is the magic of literature- the fact that it percolates through years and emulates the same feelings that one felt centuries back.

“Bage –bahisht se mujhe hukme safar diya tha kyon, kare jahan daraz hai ab intezaar kar.” Iqbal while speaking to god he says ‘you ordered me to travel the earth leaving your heaven, I have a lot of worldly commitments, now you will have to wait.’ This couplet has a strong connect to Adam eating the forbidden fruit. Iqbal beautifully uses his Islamic connotations to defy god. He does this with a strong sense of determination and feeling of pride. “Khamosh ai dil bhari mehfil mein chillana nahi acha, adab pehla qarina hai mohabbat ke qarinon mein.” Iqbal orders his heart ‘hold it, my heart, it is not good to express your desires in public, decorum is the first demand in the code of love.’ This couplet also has a strong sense of affirmation and determination. “Taqlid ki rawish se behtar hai khud kushi, rasta bhi dhoodh khizr ka sauda bhi chhor de.”– ‘Suicide is better than servile imitation, go find your own path, look not for Khizr (Muslim saint).’ Here he tells the reader pave your own path don’t follow an existing path even if you have to give up the path of religion, and this couplet which is very popularly used and heard, “Khudi ko kar buland itna ke har takdir se pehle, khuda bandey se khud poochey bol teri raza kya hai?” – ‘Raise your selfhood so high that before allotting his fate, god himself should ask the man, tell me what is your wish?’ Iqbal affirms that no one can touch you if you are strong willed and even god looks up to such people

These give a sense of Iqbal’s work wherein the poet with a strong will is portrayed in an explicit fashion. To understand Iqbal one must understand his work chronologically, where he grew from his Persian roots to writing in Urdu. The flavour of his work transcends from romantic, spiritual to political through the years. There are two schools of thought, one that promotes that Iqbal’s writings have a very strong Islamic flavour and that he was one of the strong contenders for an independent state that we now know as Pakistan. Other liberals believe that Iqbal’s work is merely an extension of his belief in self before state though one cannot evade his strong Islamic values, his sense of secularism is present in his writing where he gets into the garb of the iblis (demon) “Mein khatakta houn dil-e-yazda kataay ki tarha, tu phakat allah ho allah ho allah ho.” He talks to a believer expressing that ‘I at least cause irritation like a thorn in the throat of god, but you (believer), who recites the name of god, get washed away without any thought.’

Iqbal has been kept at a distance from us, Indians. His involvement in partition and apparently his strong views for an Islamic state has made him settle on the periphery of our literary world. He is viewed as a fundamentalist. To add to it he is commemorated as the national poet of Pakistan. However his works don’t understand boundaries. His words create a sensation of pride which makes us feel more Indian “yunan o misro roma sab mit gaye jahan se, ab tak magar hai baki namo nisha humara” – ‘the Greek civilization, the Egyptian civilization and the roman civilization were all destroyed, but even now our legacy in the world still remains.’ This excerpt from Tarana-e-hindi, the Indian patriotic song reverberates a story of pride. It is important to realize that Iqbal died years before the partition, besides the partition is a complex subject and to assign it to one mans writings is like looking at an intricate painting on a large canvas through a key hole.

The juxtaposition of religion with self has been misconstrued in Iqbal’s work. Traditionally Iqbal’s work has been given a strong religious connotation. It is a belief that his work speaks to the Muslims of the world, but one cannot enclose a piece of work with barbed wires and say that it is applicable to only one section of society. The meaning of Iqbal’s work in our current context sings different laurels, contrary to what we have heard of his ideologies, writings and critics. The impact and effect it has even on non-believers (again most scholars and critics on Iqbal attribute the designation of non-believers to all the non Muslim) is like as if he has sowed a verse and reaped a sword.

In his work Asrar-i-khudi, Iqbal’s philosophy is explained thus “create in you the attributes of God. Thus man becomes unique by becoming more and more like the most unique individual.” What then is life? It is individual: its highest form i.e. the Ego (Khudi) in which the individual becomes a self contained exclusive centre. Physically as well as spiritually man is self-contained centre, yet he is not a complete individual. The greater his distance with god, the less his individuality. He who comes nearest to god is the complete person. Not that he is finally absorbed in god. On the contrary, he absorbs God into himself. The true person not only absorbs the world of matter by mastering it, he absorbs god himself into his ego. Iqbal belief reverberates in many of his works, where he mentions that the true individual cannot be lost in the world; it is the world that is lost in him.

When a poet produces a piece and exposes it in the public domain, the umbilical cord between him and the work is lost. It is for the reader to interpret the art in the form that he/she feels best. Iqbal’s work resonates loudly, and it is important to search why is it screaming so loudly and craving for attention.

To look at Iqbal only in a political milieu is to reduce his body of work substantially. His work is a blend of intense thoughts, deep feelings that are expressed in a persianized style. This is not to deny that he is also capable of expressing himself in simple every day language, as in his famous poem “Naya Shivala,” or his ghazal “sitaaron key age jahan aur bhi hain” there are still other worlds beyond the stars”

The deduction that one makes after reading Iqbal’s poems is a complete paradox to peoples’ views of the man himself. How can a man who is viewed as a staunch fundamentalist write with such authority almost making one feel that he not only defies God but also feels at power with him. In one-couplet Iqbal writes “waiz sabut lae ko mai ke jawaaz mein, Iqbal ko yeh zid hai ke peena bhi chor de” ‘ should a priest produce evidence against wine, Iqbal too will pledge never to touch a glass’.

Though Iqbal was an indisputable master of the ghazal, a bulk of his poetry is in the form of nazm – a poem with a single central theme, logically evolved and developed.

Iqbal’s European education broadened his vision and exposed him to western thought and culture highlighting, by contrast, the strength and weakness of eastern life. His repeated accent on selfhood and self-realization as oppose to eastern insistence on self-suppression and renunciation, may also be seen as a fruit of his European visit. He wrote on a spectrum of subjects, not only did he write on Indian and Islamic themes, but also on world figures such as Lenin, Mussolini, Karl Marx, Napoleon and Shakespeare.

Iqbal is viewed in a microcosm. The heritage, value and influence that he had on a stream of poets that followed after him including Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ali Sardar Jaffri etc. make it important to understand where he found his inspiration to write with the potency that screeched out volumes. I feel like Iqbal’s work needs to be understood and reviewed in the context of today, independent of any religious connotation in a fair secular fashion. I believe his work will rise above all tradition and cultures and create a new sense of belonging to the current generation who feel the same sense of rebel with spiritual powers, which govern our society. The answers are all there in Iqbal’s work but packaged in manner that does not look appealing. It is essential to reinvent the poetry of Iqbal so that he becomes accessible to people.

In an age where roots are becoming loose and everything looks like a clone of the other, a journey down Iqbal’s lanes will help discover some forgotten roots, some lost roots and will help to find some link to a man whose pen spurted out such potent content.

Iqbal carries with him a strong fragrance of our soil, which imbibes within it a slowly eroding culture. A culture that we are recklessly trying to hold on to, we don’t know what it is, but there are some strings that bind us. What we do know is that we do not need to look the western world for literally kudos when we can find it in our backyard.

In Iqbal’s words:
“Tu shahin hai parwaaz kaam tera, tere saamne aasman aur bhi hai.”
‘An eagle you are, born to soar, skies galore for you to scale.