By Dr. Ali Hashmi
Muhawaraa Maa Bain Khuda-o-Insan (Dialogue between God and Man):
The third poem in this selection, ‘Muhawaraa maa bain Khuda-o-Insaan’ features one of Iqbal’s favorite styles, a dialogue or interplay between earthly and celestial figures. It also employs one of Iqbal’s favored poetical styles, the Socratic Method (or Socratic Debate), named after the Classical Greek philosopher Socrates, a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate rational thinking and to illuminate ideas. It is a dialectical method, often involving an oppositional discussion in which the defense of one point of view is pitted against the defense of another. One of the most famous examples of this genre is Iqbal’s lengthy poem ‘Shikwah’ or ‘Reproach’ in which Man(representing the Muslim faith) complains to God about the shabby treatment meted out to Muslims by God inspite of the sacrifices that Muslims have made on God’s behalf. The poem, which caused quite a stir when first read by Iqbal in public, is a bold criticism of God’s indifference to a people who feel they deserve better:
‘Ae Khuda, shikwah-e-arbaab-e-wafa bhi sun lay
Khoogar-e-hamd say thoda saa gilaa bhi sun lay’
‘O God, listen to this remonstrance from your faithful
Listen to the lament of those who forever praise you’
Many people were scandalized in those conservative days of the British Raj when Iqbal dared to address God in so brazen a manner and eventually, Iqbal ended up writing a ‘Jawab-e-Shikwah’ or ‘Reply to Reproach’ in which God takes Man (Muslims) to task for daring to complain while failing miserably in all manner of things practical.
‘Dialogue’ is just such a poem. It is brief, a mere six verses, three each allowed to God and Man with, tellingly, the last word by Man. It is in Persian, Iqbal’s favored language and flows in his typical style.
God starts first, remarking to man:
‘Jahan raaz yak aab-o-gil aafridum
Tu Iran-o-tataar-o-zang aafridi
Man az khaak polaad naab aafridum
Tu shamsheer-o-teer-o-tafang aafridi
Tabar aafridi nihal-e-chaman ra
Qafas sakhtee tair-e-naghma zan ra’
‘I created this world from the same water and earth
You created Iran, Tartaria and Nubia
I forged from dust, iron’s pristine ore
You fashioned the sword, arrow and gun
To fell the garden tree, you made the axe
You fashioned the cage to imprison the singing bird’
‘Tu shab aafridi, chiragh aafridum
Safaal aafridi, ayaagh aafridum
Man aanam kay az sang aaina saazum
Man aanam kay az zehr noshinaa sazum’
‘You created night, I the lamp
You created clay, and I the cup
You-desert, mountain peak and valley
I-flower bed, park and orchard
It is I who grind a mirror out of stone
And brew elixir from poison’
The striking thing about this exchange, other than its lyrical flow (lost in translation somewhat) is the insolent nature of Man’s response. It is all the more surprising considering that Iqbal is revered throughout Pakistan as a champion of the Muslims and a staunch defender, till his last days of the somewhat problematic concept of ‘Pan-Islamism’, the notion that all Muslims, all over the world are one ‘Ummah’ or brotherhood. This has been a rallying cry of poets, writers, reformers and leaders through the ages although there has never been an effective political event that came close to realizing the dream. This would seem to demonstrate the idea’s inherent weakness i.e. the difficulty that any new faith has always had taking strong root in a new land unless it adapts and incorporates local traditions, customs and beliefs. In spite of exhortations to the contrary, the banner of faith has never been able to unite disparate nationalities, ethnicities and languages simply because loyalties to family, community, ethnicity and nation (in the broadest sense of the word) predate religion by thousands of years.
Man’s response in the poem is also a good example of one of Iqbal’s central poetical themes, that of ‘Khudi’ or ‘self hood’, the ‘sense of evolution and history through advance and struggle, of the development of a dynamic individual personality developed through practical activity in the world as against the lingering Sufi ideal of passive contemplation and mystic absorption’ according to Kiernan.
The poem’s chief strength appears to be Man’s declaration of supreme confidence in his abilities to face any challenge, rise to overcome any obstacle, even one thrown up by the Almighty. It also points to another important psychological turning point, particularly in a man’s life: the struggle, beginning according to Freud at a young age, and continuing throughout life to overcome and surpass the legacy of a dominant father. Freud termed this the ‘Oedipus complex’ after the mythical Greek king, Oedipus, who, unknowingly, kills his father and marries his mother, an act which is expressly forbidden in all major religions on pain of eternal damnation. In this poem, Man, the defiant son, challenges his heavenly Father and proudly defends his accomplishments while God benevolently (and perhaps ironically) looks on and chooses to allow Man to have the last word.
This belief in struggle and the resulting development of self-hood is a favorite theme in Iqbal’s work. Kiernan pointed out that Iqbal could never reconcile the Materialist and Metaphysical aspects of his personality and this is evident in his poetry.
There is no evidence that Iqbal ever wanted to reconcile his two opposing natures, his poetry seems to lean now one way, now the other, and, as with all great poets, everyone can find in it what they are looking for. Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Iqbal’s ‘spiritual successor’, whose progressive, anti-Imperialist poetry remains widely popular on both sides of the Indo-Pak divide, deeply admired Iqbal’s poetry (while remaining sceptical of Pan-Islamism). It is often thought that Faiz, being a socialist and humanist, did not care much for Iqbal’s poetry. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only was Faiz an admirer of Iqbal’s poetry, Faiz’s father and Iqbal were contemporaries and friends from their days at Cambridge Law School. Iqbal presented Faiz with one of his first awards for winning a poetry competition when Faiz was still a teenager and later wrote a letter of recommendation for Faiz’ admission to Government College, Lahore. Upon Iqbal’s death, a sorrowful Faiz wrote a moving elegy titled ‘Iqbal’:
‘Aaya hamare des main ek khush nawa faqeer
Aaya aur apni dhun main ghazal khwaan guzar gaya
Sunsaan rahen khalq say aabad ho gayin
Veeraan maikadon kaa naseeba sanwar gaya
Ab door jaa chuka hai woh shah-e-gadaa numa
Aur phir say apnay des kee rahen udaas hain
Par uss kaa geet sab kay dilon main muqeem hai
Aur uss kee ley say sainkaron lazzat shanaas hain
Yeh geet misle-shola-e-jawwala tundo-o-tez
Iss kee lapak say baad-e-fana kaa jigar gudaaz
Jaise chiragh wehshat-e-sar sar say bekhabar
Ya shama bazme-subh kee aamad say bekhabar’
‘A sweet singing saint arrived in our land
Sang his songs and moved on
Desolate pathways and deserted taverns came alive
Far away is he now, that regal beggar
And forlorn once again are the streets of our land
His song remains in our hearts
And enlivens countless souls with its sweetness
The song, like a fiery flame
Dispels even the wind of Death
Like the lamp, fearless of the blowing gale
Or the candle-flame, unaware of the coming morn’
Of Iqbal’s place in Pakistan, Kiernan wrote ‘In the new State that now had to find its place in the world, Iqbal was canonized as a founding father. That dead poets should molder in government shrines while living poets molder in government jails is a not unfamiliar irony of history. (However) A poet’s influence is Protean. Among those numerous Hindus and Muslims who in the nightmare days of 1947 saved the lives of members of the other community at the risk to their own, there must have been many who had breathed Iqbal’s verses with their native air. It was, after all, his lifelong teaching that the spirit is more than the letter, that religion must always be on guard against the dogmatist and the charlatan and that a people must go forward or die’.
At its best, Iqbal’s poetry is a magnificent call to action against all forms of injustice, tyranny and oppression, a call that is as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago.
The author is a Psychiatrist practicing in Arkansas, USA.
* First Published By The Friday Times, Lahore.
Bibliography (Entire Series):
1. Kiernan, V.G. Poems from Iqbal; Translated by V.G.Kiernan. Oxford University Press, 2004.
2. (Aasan) Kulliyaat-i-Iqbal,Urdu. Alhamra Publishing, Islamabad, 2004.
3. Kanda K.C. Allama Iqbal Selected Poetry; New Dawn Press, 2006
4. Vassilyeva, Ludmilla. Parvarish-e-Lauh-o-Qalam; Translated by Osama Farooqui and Ludmilla Vassilyeva. Oxford University Press, 2004.
5. A Desertful of Roses. The Urdu Ghazals of Mirza Asadullah Khan “Ghalib”; available at http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ghalib/
6. Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings by Abolqasem Ferdowsi (Author), Dick Davis (Translator), Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc, 2006.
7. “The October Revolution”; writings of members of the Party that made the October 1917 Revolution in Russia., available online at http://marxists.org/history/ussr/events/revolution/index.htm
8. Ten Days that Shook the World by John Reed, 1st published by BONI & Liveright, Inc. for International Publishers, 1919. Available online at http://marxists.org/archive/reed/1919/10days/10days/index.htm