By Dr. Ali Hashmi
A Psychological Interpretation of ‘A Mother’s Dream’
On the surface this poem is simply a description of a mother’s dream about her young son who is lost somewhere. Some commentators have described it as a lament by a mother whose child has died. However, there is a more life affirming explanation which makes more sense psychologically.
The poem starts out simply enough. It is in the first person with a mother describing her dream:
‘Main soey jo ik shab toe dekha yeh khwaab
Badha aur jis say meraa iztiraab
Yeh dekha kay main jaa rahi hoon kahin
Andhera hai aur raah milti nahin
Larazta tha darr say mera baal baal
Qadam kaa tha dehshat say uthnaa muhaal’
‘As I slept one night I dreamt
A dream that heightened my discontent
I saw myself going somewhere
Unable to find my way in the gloom
Trembling, drowning in my terror’
It should be noted that simply being conversant in a language does not mean that one is able to appreciate its poetry. Iqbal’s poetry with its dense metaphysical and philosophical themes is even more of a challenge for the casual reader. This poem, however, is written in a simpler style.
The poet continues:
‘Jo kuch hauslaa paa kay agay badhi
Toe dekha qataar aik larkon kee thi
Zamurrad see poshaak pehnay huay
Diyay unkay haathon main jaltay huay
Woh chup chaap thay aagay peechay rawaan
Khuda jaanay jaana tha unko kahan’
‘As I kept on I saw
Boys walking in line
Wearing emerald hued coats, carrying lamps,
Silently they walked
God knows where to’
The use of the color ‘emerald’ or green is interesting. Why green? This might be one key to unlocking the life affirming message of the poem. In many cultures, green symbolizes hope and growth. The most common associations, however, are found in its ties to nature. For example, Islam venerates the color, as it expects paradise to be full of lush greenery. In many folklores and literatures, green has traditionally been used to symbolize nature and its embodied attributes, namely those of life, fertility, and rebirth. Green was symbolic of resurrection and immortality in Ancient Egypt; the god Osiris was depicted as green-skinned. It is often used to describe foliage and the sea, and has become a symbol of environmentalism. In short, the use of the emerald or green color seems to represent life and vibrancy.
The poet continues:
‘Issi soch mai thi kay mera pisar
Mujhe uss jamaat main aaya nazar
Woh peechay tha aur taiz chaltaa naa tha
Diya uske haathon main jaltaa naa tha’
‘As I stood lost in thought
There I saw, my son
Walking forlornly in the back
Carrying an extinguished lamp’
Here is a glimpse of the central theme of the poem, a lamp, used to light up one’s way, dark and useless, unable to show its bearer the way forward.
‘Kaha main nay pehchan kar meri jaan
Mujhe chor kar aa gaye tum kahan?
Judaai main rehti hoon main beqaraar
Parotee hoon har roz ashkon kay haar
Na parwaa hamari zara tum nay kee
Gaye chor acchee wafa tum nay kee’
‘Recognizing him, I cried, ‘my love’
Why have you forsaken me?
I pine for you; and everyday weave a necklace of tears
Not once did you think of me
Alone and abandoned’
Even though the translation does not do justice to the power of Iqbal’s words, it is hard not to be moved by the setting of the poem; darkness, a dream world, figures with emerald coats and a mother, lost and tearful.
‘Jo bachay nay dekha mera pech-o-taab
Diya uss nay munh phair kar yun jawaab
Rulaati hai tujh ko judaai meri
Nahin iss main kuch bhi bhalaai meri
Yeh keh kar who kuch dair tak chup raha
Diya phir dikha kay yeh kehnay laga
Samajhti hai tu hoe gaya kya issay?
Tere aansoo-on nay bujhaaya issay’
‘The child seeing my agony derisively replied
Your tears do me no favors;
Silent then for a moment
He showed me the lamp
‘Do you wonder what happened to it?’
Your tears put it out’
Here we come to the central message of the poem, a mother’s grief and agony at letting go of her child as it grows, matures and becomes more independent, inevitably, in the process moving away from her. Iqbal arrives at a profound psychological insight, perhaps from his own experience with his mother, perhaps through his observations as a sensitive artist. As a child grows, the mother, who has learnt to cater to its every need and whim, must now teach herself to allow a child to stumble out of her grasp, perhaps to fall, make mistakes and get hurt. She must accept that those hurts are an inevitable part of growing and changing into an adult. Interestingly, the poet makes no mention of a father anywhere in the dream, a figure that can help moderate the intensity of the emotions involved.
Also, this pattern of intense attachment to the child by the mother and the child’s resultant feeling of perhaps being smothered would be quite typical in a feudal, non-industrial culture like British India where Iqbal was born, raised and lived most of his life.
In the end, Iqbal is pleading both sides of the case. The mother describes her suffering to the child (and to us) and it is proof of her love. The child does not reject it but points out to her the consequence of excessive attachment, his difficulty finding his way, in the dream (and presumably in life) because of the effect of his mother’s tears and grief.
First Published In The Friday Times Lahore