Doosra Iqbal: A Revisitation

Posted on December 16, 2009
Filed Under >Deeda-e-Beena, People, Poetry
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Iqbal bhi Iqbal say aagah naheen hai

Mea culpa, Mea culpa, Mea culpa!

After a lapse of some fifty years I am re-visiting Iqbal’s Urdu poetry. It is a revisitation I would highly recommend we all do.

To begin with I was not English-medium but talaash–ai–maash turned me into one – I being part of the first generation of Pakistani brain-drainers. Confessedly again, I was brought up appreciating and enjoying Urdu and Persian prose and verse. English became the language of my thought and expression, as a consequence of my long working life as Diaspora.

Studying once again, today, the Urdu poetry of Iqbal is opening up entirely new vistas and new dimensions of understanding for me.  What Iqbal wrote a hundred years ago has not changed, it is my understanding of him today compared to decades ago that has. This can happen to all of us in time. We all grow up, mature and find new meanings that may have eluded us earlier.

For this neglect I have no one else to blame but myself.

Zamaney kay andaaz badley gayey
Naya raag haiN, saaz badley fayey

There are, of course, many Iqbal’s that we have ourselves created and nurtured.

There is the official Iqbal that PTV, Radio Pakistan and the ‘officialdom’ projects and repeatedly broadcasts.

The official Iqbal is mostly Islamic, philosophical, at times a nationalist and is often projected as a pacifist. The official presentation of his poetry – very regularly recited and quoted on Radio Pakistan and PTV- is purposely obscured and often presented out of context. For example:

Koyee qabil ho tou humm shaan-i-kayee daitey hain
Dhoondney waloun ko dunya bhi nayee daitey hain

This Iqbal couplet from Jawab-i-Shikwa is often repeated these days by PTV. And nearly always out of context.

The scholars’ and the literati on Iqbal are no different from his ‘official’ proponents and make his work even more difficult to comprehend so that it is only understood by their own kind of elitism. Their discourses are mostly confined to his philosophy and scholarship peppered with some verses in support of their views. The popular, everyday Iqbal is ignored by them perhaps being too simplistic.

The two – officialdom and the literati – annually come together on the Iqbal day and other such occasions. They take pains to outsmart each other in making Iqbal more complex and thus hijacking him farther away from understanding by his common, everyday readers; all of us.

Doosra (the other) Iqbal in addition to all of those attributes is simple to understand, straight forward, vibrant, of populace, often revolutionary, left-leaning, a lightening-rod and, when read in today’s time frame and context, even prophetic. This Iqbal shows that nationalism, self-reliance and confidence in ones self and, what can be achieved through these attributes are the materials that nations are built with.

His poetry is full of powerful messages to the youth, recognizing and extolling their boundless energies which he expects them to harness and channel. In his repeated references to the discovery of Self – Khudi – which can take one to reach heights considered unassailable. The message of Doosra Iqbal is simple, clear and straight forward, and directed mostly to the young:

Khirad Ko Ghulami Say Azaad Karr
Jawnoun Ko Piroun Ka Ustaad Karr

Jawanoun Ko Sozey Jigar Bakhshdey
Maira Ishq Mairi Nazar Bakhshdey

The issues and concepts he has dealt with close to a hundred years ago are representing themes and thoughts that are modern and contemporaneous. Iqbal’s poetry therefore, needs to be viewed and interpreted by younger and fresher eyes and in today’s context. This is the other Iqbal we need to revisit and regain sight of.

We must not fail to discover the other (Doosra) Iqbal that the official voices dare not reveal, broadcast nor acknowledge for fear of inciting the common man and thus portend their own demise. Viz.

Uthou mairi dunya kay ghariboun ko jaga do
Kaakhey umraa kay dar-o-deewar hilla do

Jis khait say dehqan ko muyyasar nahien roti
Uss khait kay har khosha ai gandum ko jala do

His compilation of poetry Zarbey Kaleem has a section of verses on Woman – Aurat – that touches on issues like purdah, women and education, women’s emancipation, protection of women and the like. The message though woven into poetry is modern to what we are dealing with in contemporary times.

Hazaar baar hakimoun nay iss ko suljhaya
Magar yeh masal-aey zan raha waheen ka waheen

At another place he deals with women’s emancipation issue in these words:

Kya cheez hai araish o qeemat main ziyadah
Aazadiey niswaan keh zammurad ka guluband?

There is much that we need to unearth in Iqbal still. Much that lies beyond what official and literati Iqbal has been made to symbolize. If today there is a search for identity, belonging and a direction, Iqbal can be at the fore-front of those who could fill that void. This post is part of a larger work in progress for which I have sought help and guidance from those much better versed in Iqbal and Urdu poetry. This piece should only be considered a teaser; one hopes that collectively we can begin a revisitation of Iqbal; a revisitation that will leave all of us more enriched.

19 responses to “Doosra Iqbal: A Revisitation”

  1. Ahmed2 says:

    Mr. Turab has referred to Hajjis returning from the Holy Land with Aab e Zamzam. Here is a little remembered poem of Iqbal’s :

    Mohabbat ka janoon baqi nahin hai
    Mussalmanoon mein khoon baqi nahin hai

    Saffain kaj, dil parishan, sajda be-zauq
    Keh jazba-e-androon baqi nahin hai

    Ragoon mein lahoo baqi nahin hai
    Woh dil, woh awaz baqi nahin hai

    Namaz o roza o qurbani o hajj
    Yeh sab baqi hai TU baqi nahin hai

  2. Farooqui says:


    PTV Iqbal and Mullah Iqbal is boring. But teh real Iqbal is inspiring as well as fun!

  3. Turab says:

    In this season of people returning from Haj with the required Zam Zam and airport luggage belts ful of zam zam jar’s, and Hajis regaling about how good their “Package” was, this wisdom from Iqbal is indeed thinking of:

    Zaairaan-i- Ka’ba say Iqbal yeh poochay koi
    Kiya Haram ka tohfa zamzam kay sivaa kuch bhi nahiN?

  4. MQ says:

    Sorry, I mixed up a line in the couplet about the Mullah. Actually, it is:

    Alfaaz-o-ma’aani maiN tafaavat nahin laikan
    Mullah ki azaaN aur mujahid ki azaan aur

    But Iqbal’s mujahid is not the likes of Sufi Mohammad of Swat or the Mullahs of Malakand. It’s a different bird altogether.

    Then there is anti-ritualistic Iqbal:

    Teri namaz maiN baaqi jalaal hai na Jamaal
    Teri azaaN maiN nahiN hai meri sahar ka payaam


    Zaairaan-i- Ka’ba say Iqbal yeh poochay koi
    Kiya Haram ka tohfa zamzam kay sivaa kuch bhi nahiN?

    About the mindless slaughter of animals on the streets, ignoring the spirit, which was a topic of a heated discussion a couple of weeks ago, Iqbal says:
    Brahimi nazar paidaa magar mushkil say hoti hai

    Of course, there are apparent contradictions in Iqbal’s poetry. But that is a subject in itself, and I leave it to Deeda-i- Beena to peel those layers for us, if he so wishes.

  5. Qudsia says:

    Excellent piece. We have actually done a disservice to Iqbal by turning him into an “Allama”!

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