Falcon and Tulips: A Celebration of Muhammad Iqbal’s Life and Work
By A.H. Cemendtaur
Countries may adopt deceased poets and writers as their national heroes, but great writers’ and poets’ universal writings are truly for everyone to cherish and learn from. Muhammad Iqbal was one of those poets. Iqbal may have certain strains of pan-Islamic ideas in his poetry, but in most part the humanist part of his work has universal appeal. For many in South Asia, Iqbal was the greatest sage who lived in modern times — and that is why they call him the Poet of the East.
Bay Area Urdu cognoscente Hamida Banu Chopra regularly arranges literary meetings in which notable poets are remembered through recitations of their life histories and work. On Sunday, March 11, such a program was arranged at ICC, Milpitas to remember the life and poetry of Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal.
The event, moderated by Hamida Banu, was presided over by Urdu teacher and community leader Ahsan Syed. The readings kicked off with Arvind Kansal reciting ‘Ram’ and ‘ Niya Shavalah’ from Bang e Dara (Iqbal asking his countrymen to forget their religious differences and consider their land the god). After that reading Hamida Banu pointed out Iqbal’s use of Hindi words in Niya Shavalah — she said Sheikh Abdul Qadir, Iqbal’s contemporary and the editor of Makhzin magazine, had written about Iqbal’s study of the Hindu philosophy.
Next was Fatima Hussnain who read the poem ‘Mera watan wahi hai’ from Bal e Jibrael. Mera watan wahi hai is another poem indicative of Iqbal’s early patriotism.
Deepti Warrier hailing from Kerala sang Iqbal’s ghazal ‘Tujhe yad Kya naheeN hai’ from Bal e Jibrael.
Hamida Banu started recounting the important life events of Iqbal by describing a mushaira in Lahore that a 19-year old Iqbal attended. The mushaira took place in Bazar e HakimaN Inside Bhati gate. Famous poets of those times such as Mirza Arshad Gurgani Dehlvi and Mirza Nazim Hussain Nazim (known for his poem Jogi) were there along with their disciples. In the mushaira Iqbal read a ghazal ‘Hasrat nahin kisi ki tamanna nahi hooN mein’ and stunned the audience.
Banu then described Iqbal’s slow journey towards stardom in Urdu poetry. That Muhammad Iqbal being born in Sialkot on Nov 9, 1877 wrote very highly of his father, Sheikh Noor Muhammad, who once asked him to read Qur’an imagining that ‘Allah is talking to you directly.’
Iqbal learned Arabic and Farsi from Syed Mir Hasan, a scholar, popularly known as Shah Sahib. On Shah Sahib’s recommendation Iqbal got admission in the Mission College. Later, Iqbal went to study in Lahore. Whenever he would come back to Sialkot he would have scholarly discussions with his father who wanted him to be highly educated. In 1905 Iqbal left for England and on his way stopped in Delhi where he visited Khawaja Nizamuudin Auliya’s tomb and wrote the poem ‘Iltija e Musafir.’
In 1933 when Iqbal was offered knighthood, he told the Governor of Punjab he could not accept the honor until his teacher would be honored for his scholarship. When the Governor asked Iqbal if Iqbal’s teacher had written any books, Iqbal replied that he himself was a book written by his teacher. His teacher was given the award of Shams Ul Ulma.
It was the time when Iqbal’s poetry got regularly published in Makhzen, run by Sheikh Abdul Qadir. Iqbal once told Sheikh Abdul Qadir that he was giving up on writing poetry and wanted to instead use his time in doing something more productive. Abdul Qadir tried to talk him out of that decision but Iqbal was not convinced. Abdul Qadir got Iqbal to agree to talk to Professor Arnold and get his opinion on this important matter. Arnold was Iqbal’s philosophy teacher in Lahore. Arnold agreed with Abdul Qadir and urged Iqbal to continue with writing poetry, saying, “Whatever time you give to poetry is not only productive for you, it is also productive for your country and your people.” Banu said today we should be thankful to Abdul Qadir and Professor Arnold for having Iqbal continue the poetry journey.
Iqbal wrote extensively in Persian and is known as Eqbal Lahoori in Iran. The City of Mashhad has an ‘Eqbal Lahoori Institute of Higher Education’ (though engineering rather than poetry is taught at that university — may be because of Iqbal’s emphasis on the importance of active work, in his poetry.)
Hamida Banu described a meeting of Ghulam Bhik Nairang with Iqbal, after Iqbal returned from Europe in 1908. Nairang who lived in Amritsar went to Lahore to meet Iqbal who was not home. Nairang waited till Iqbal returned. Iqbal was wearing ‘an English suit’ when he returned home. But he quickly changed into a tehband (dhoti) and banyan (undershirt) with a folded blanket on his shoulder, and huqqa in front of him. ‘We sat down on the floor and discussed various topics. I lived there for three days. I can tell you he went to Europe and learned a lot of things, but that had not changed his down- to-earth manners.’
Listening to Iqbal’s poetry and life events one cannot help but think how the poet went through various transformations, from starry-eyed patriotism of the younger years and a sense of belonging to the land (urging people to unite despite their religious experiences) to pan-Islamism (a reaction to witnessing might of Muslim rulers crushed all over the world), to becoming a strong advocate of Muslim identity in South Asia.
Next in line was Bay Area poetess, Mahnaz Naqvi, who read Iqbal’s poetry from his various intellectual stages.
Ali Hussnain, brother of Fatima Hussnain, recited the poem ‘Chand aur Taray.’
Talat Qadeer Khan, a Karachi University graduate, sang the poem ‘Lala e Sahra.’
Hamida Banu pointed out the repeated use of Gul-e-lala (tulip) in Iqbal’s poetry. She said tulip was Iqbal’s metaphor for the lover. She said Iqbal was against the monopoly of religious leaders on religion; she read poetry to substantiate the thesis.
Next was Nasreen Chopra, Hamida Banu’s daughter, who briefly described her mother’s Urdu teaching career over the last 30 years, including a recent stint at IIT Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar where Banu taught two courses. Nasreen said she too learned Urdu from her mother. Nasreen read Iqbal’s famous poem ‘Hamdardee” from Bang e Dara.
Tashie Zaheer, a prominent Urdu poet, was given the task of describing Iqbal’s philosophy of Khudi (self). In his paper Zaheer described why Iqbal thought self-realization was an important pursuit; he said Iqbal used ‘shaheen’ (falcon) as a metaphor for a perfect Muslim because the falcon flies high, does not make nest (is always on the move), and does not eat animals killed by other predators.
Anupama Dalal sang ‘Zamana’ and a ghazal ‘G aisoo e tabdar ko aur bhee tabdar ker.’
In his short speech, Ahsan Syed, paid tribute to Iqbal and said, “Mir gave us the language, Ghalib gave the language body and form, and Iqbal put spirit in it.”
Hamida Banu concluded the program with the recitation of Iqbal’s poem ‘Doa.’
Listen to the audio of the program here:
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