The funeral march
On April 21, 1938, Iqbal died in Lahore. People
swarmed to his house; they included Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.
His friends selected a vacant spot on the left side of the steps
of the gigantic Mughal mosque as his burial place. The site belonged
to the archaeological authorities and hence the Chief Minister
of Punjab Sir Sikander Hayat Khan had to be contacted in the middle
of his Calcutta visit. He refused (and later got himself buried
on the other side of the same entrance). The British Governor
was more helpful and through him the permission was secured from
Delhi by the afternoon.
By that time, newspapers had printed special supplements
so that when the funeral procession started in the evening it
contained no less than twenty thousand people. Children from the
orphanage of Anjuman Himayat-i-Islam paid their homage by holding
little black flags in their hands and standing silently in a queue
on a nearby road. They lowered their flags when the procession
passed by. It was not forgotten that the poet had started out
as a fundraiser for homeless children thirty-eight years ago.
The body was lowered into the grave at 9:45 pm
after the funeral prayer had been offered twice – once in
the playgrounds of the Islamia College (where, we are told, some
fifty thousand people attended it) and a second time in the grand
Mughal mosque where he had seldom missed the biannual Eid prayers
in his life.
His last book, an imaginary travelogue to Madinah
in Persian verse was still unpublished. It came out later that
year by the title he had given to it, Armughan-i-Hijaz,
or The Gift of Hijaz. His last Urdu anthology was appended
to it as an additional section.
In March 1940, less than two years after Iqbal’s
death, the All India Muslim League held its annual session in
Lahore – at Minto Park, just outside the Mughal complex
in which he was buried. A resolution was passed to create a Muslim
state in the Northwestern provinces of India and two years after
that Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-i-Azam, published a bunch
of letters written to him by Iqbal in his last days. Referring
to the recent expansion of his party’s influence to the
Muslim majority provinces of the sub-continent, he paid tribute
to Iqbal, who had “played a very conspicuous part, though
at that time not revealed to public, in bringing about this consummation.”
The nationalists read this statement with suspicion.
They claimed that Iqbal had only forwarded a proposal for rearrangement
of provinces while he would have never approved of partitioning
the country since he too had been a nationalist once. Jinnah succeeded,
however, and Pakistan was carved out of India when the British
gave independence to the country on August 15, 1947. Since the
astrologers in India regarded the day as inauspicious, the Prime
Minister designate Jawaharlal Nehru called the first session of
his parliament on the 14th and let it linger on till midnight
when he could greet the awakening of his country with a moving
speech. The session did not adjourn until Suchitra Kirplani, who
would later become the first woman Chief Minister in an Indian
province, had sung Iqbal’s Saray jahan say achha Hindustan
hamara (Our India is better than the whole world) alongwith Jana
mana gana of the Bengali poet Tagore.
The next morning in Karachi, Jinnah hoisted a
green and white flag to start the first day’s work in the
state that was officially seen as the brainchild of Iqbal. Here,
each successive ruler would feel obliged in one way or another
to pledge commitment to the “message of Iqbal.”
The two states fought three wars against each
other in less than three decades but Iqbal remained dear to them
both. Twenty-six years later his birth centenary was celebrated
in India while the Prime Minister was Nehru’s daughter –
an apocryphal story went around to the effect that her late father
had enjoined upon her to always honor the memory of Iqbal, who
had immortalized him by mentioning him in his greatest work, Javid
Nama. She initiated a second round of accolades for Iqbal by way
of an international conference in New Delhi when Pakistan announced
its own centennial of the poet four years later. However, it would
be wrong to guess that such appreciation in India was restricted
to the Nehru family – Morarji Desai, who wrested power from
Indira Gandhi in the meanwhile, took pains to ensure that the
conference in New Delhi takes place as planned.
|These two profiles
are now household pictures in Pakistan. The first was taken
in Simla (India) in 1929, while Iqbal was at the residence
of his friend Nawab Sir Zulfiqar Ali Khan. The second was
taken in Paris in January 1933, by his friend Umrao Singh
Shergill (the father of the renowned painter Amrita Shergill).
It is commonly perceived to be a thinking pose, but the tradition
that runs in his family is that he was resting after a fit
of cold and fatigue after a walk.
Indian nationalism and Pakistan’s two-nation
theory were not the only schools of thought disputing to claim
him as their own. The ‘progressive’ writers of South
Asia, generally having a Marxist orientation, had formed an association
in 1936 and even their condolence essays on the poet’s death
affirmed their literary descent from him. In some later writings
Faiz Ahmad Faiz stated that Iqbal represented the new middle class
against the decadent aristocratic tastes in Urdu literature. This
class had emerged as a result of exposure to modern education
offered by the British, said Faiz, but it was surprising that
no other poet presented the experience of knowledge in his poetry.
“The poetry of ideas reached perfection through Iqbal in
our own times,” he wrote a year after Iqbal’s death.
“The task required a great personality.” He used the
case to prove that poetry of ideas could be spontaneous too.
In the earlier writings the progressives had denounced
Iqbal – for instance, the seminal essay by their thinktank
Akhtar Husain Raipuri in 1935 accused him of being a fascist.
Their change of heart came from a realization that without him,
the progressive thought in Urdu poetry might not have been possible.
Their own contribution to the understanding of his works was to
create a widespread confusion about whether he was a socialist
Yet another type of opinion was represented by
those who felt envy, resentment or aversion. He was not a poet
and could hardly write a line without making errors, was a common
slogan of the school that had its origins in the pangs of jealousy
felt by contemporary poets when at the age of twenty and something
he attained more renown than any other Urdu poet had acquired
at a similar age. In the beginning he attempted to refute such
objections with philological arguments and precedents from authentic
texts but soon gave it up with a sarcastic indifference: he was
a messenger and didn’t wish to be known as a poet, he said.
Like all other celebrities, he too was a popular
subject for gossip. In his own lifetime he was sometimes enigmatic
and therefore always under the risk of being misrepresented, as
he himself complained even in his earliest poems. Later, his fame
gave rise to a wholesale industry of synthetic fables about his
life, especially private life, until there were people claiming
to have been his neighbors in cities he had never visited. Consequently
there emerged a group of scholars who, perhaps finding the area
of serious discussion saturated, turned their attention to a ‘psychological
study’ of his mind – of course excluding his thought,
which could have been too tough for these popstars of the academic
world. The letters of Iqbal to Atiya Faizi (written in 1909-11
but published in 1947) were a godsend, and soon there were half-baked
psychological studies of Iqbal. On closer analysis they were neither
psychological nor succeeded in studying anything. The shortcomings
of such writings gave birth to the complaint that Iqbal’s
life was whitewashed and the true picture could emerge only if
there were more details. Supply follows demand, and rumors came
forward to fill the gaps.
Last, but not least, was a group of hardworking
and sincerely devoted but artistically challenged scholars who
suffered from an irredeemable overdose of Western philosophy and
an unctrollable urge to display their familiarity with difficult
subjects. ‘Iqbal and Bergson,’ ‘Iqbal and post-Kantian
voluntarism,’ ‘Iqbal and Schaunpenhaur,’ and
every other possible conglameration of this sort became the vogue
and produced copious volumes of unreadable essays, papers and
books. On the shelves of Iqbaliyat in public libraries, colleges
and universities these lethally boring products pushed aside the
slim and slender volumes of Iqbal’s own cheerful and alive
prose, which was now regarded incapable of explaining his thought.
Readable efforts at critical appreciation of his works (of which
there were many) came to be seen as less prestigious.
tomb of Iqbal outside the grand mosque built by the Mughal
emperor Aurangzeb. Bottom: The cenotauph inside the
tomb. The marble was donated by the government of Afghanistan
in recognition of Iqbal's special love for that country.
Meanwhile, Iqbal’s friends had been busy
erecting a suitable mausoleum over his earthly remains. One design
was rejected because it had a Catholic ethos. Another design,
submitted by an architect from Hyderabad (Deccan) was found more
suitable but rather too delicate. Its architect Zain Yar Jang
was called to Lahore where Iqbal’s trustee Chaudhry Muhammad
Husain took him to the poet’s grave. “Look, Nawab
Sahib!” He said, “On one side is the moseque, which
represents the religious glory of the Muslims; on the other is
the fort, which represents their worldly power. The tomb between
them would look nice only if it effuses simplicity with strength.
Besides, these were also the prominent aspects of Iqbal’s
Construction started towards the end of 1946 according
to Zain Jang’s second design and was completed in 1950.
Funds came from devotees without necessitating a general appeal
to the public. The Government of Afghanistan donated lapis lazuli
for the platform, sarcophagus and tombstone – Zahir Shah
was the king at that time and Iqbal had raised funds to support
the struggle of the Shah’s liberal father to gain the throne,
visited Afghanistan on his request and mentioned him in his poems.
That same year the provincial government of Punjab
in the newly created Pakistan also established an Iqbal Academy
in Lahore. The name was changed to Bazm-i-Iqbal when an act of
Parliament created another Iqbal Academy under the federal government
in Karachi in 1953 (which has since then also moved to Lahore
and currently functions under the Ministry of Culture and Sports).
One of the first initiatives of Bazm-i-Iqbal was to commission
a standard biography from a renowned journalist, Abdul Majeed
Salik, who had personally known the subject. Zikr-i-Iqbal was
published in 1955. Among those who vehementaly criticized it were
Agha Shorish Kashmiri, another journalist, who did the right thing
for the wrong reason. Representing the morbid conscience of the
masses, he complained, not that the book was superficially written
as it was, but that it did not present Iqbal as a perfect role
model for the youth of the nation; he should have been presented
as a flawless human being.
With a few exceptions owing to individuals who
ran these organizations at different times, both Bazm-i-Iqbal
and Iqbal Academy commendably resisted to act as censors and remained
busy with organizing and disseminating knowledge on Iqbal’s
life and thought. The world of Iqbal scholarship will be endlessly
indebted to the efforts of these institutions as well as numerous
private publishers, authors and amateurs, who laboriously preserved
invaluable primary data that would have been otherwise lost with
Morbid censors have existed in the society, however,
and mainly known by three names: textbooks, newspapers and television.
Each of these (with the recent exception of some private channels
on television) have usually been guided by trends that reduced
the discourse on Iqbal to a handful of harmless and meaningless
clichés. The man who was known for an exuberant sense of
humor in his own lifetime is often presented on these mediums
as one who might never have said or done anything of the slightest
human interest. Showing reverence to this incongruous effigy and
quoting him as your favorite poet, philosopher and guide is a
national duty, these sources tell the unsuspecting masses –
innocent children included.
The process of recognition beyond his own region,
which started in his lifetime, did not diminish after his death.
In England and Germany there are university chairs in his name
and scholarship on him exists in many more countries, including
the US, the Soviet Union and many countries in Africa and Asia.
Within the Muslim World his position as the last
flowering of the Persian wisdom poetry, and an important thinker
of the modern times, is pre-eminent. Divergent opinions, however,
are present – accused by some mystics for criticizing Hafiz,
and by some staunch radicals for being too mystical, Iqbal seems
prophetically true to his early verses: “Some think that
Iqbal is a Sufi, while others accuse him of running after lovely
dames. I am right there before everyone and yet opinions differ
so much about me – what would happen if perchance I were
A new era of Iqbal Studies
by Saeed Akhtar, one of the most popular and widely respected
painters in Pakistan. See how the Western attire (as seen
in the original photograph above) has been replaced with the
Kashmiri shawl from the Simla photograph (above), and a book
has been given in his hand. The indoor background has also
been replaced with the vast expanse of the clouded sky sky,
signifying the magnificent atmosphere of his works.
India celebrated the Iqbal Centenary in 1973 and
Pakistan in 1977 (owing to disagreement over his date of birth).
In retrospect the two centenaries seem to be the closing of curtains
on the first phase of scholarship in the field, which remained
dominated by his peers and younger contemporaries. They were too
close to his own times and, more significantly, they had witnessed
the unfolding of his ideas so gradually that they were set against
elemental difficulties in taking a bird’s eyeview of his
life and thought. Their contributions were crucial – without
them the existing bank of primary sources would not have been
as large. However, reorganization and reassessment was needed.
A new age of Iqbal scholarship dawned and its
harbinger was, not coincidentally, Javid Iqbal. He was the younger
son whose name had been used as a metaphor of the future generations.
From 1979 to 1984 he published the first authoritative biography
of his father in three volumes, Zindah Rud. “I was only
thirteen and a half at the time of Iqbal’s death,”
he wrote in the foreword of the first volume. “Therefore
I cannot claim to be his contemporary but my distance from his
times makes it easier for me to keep an objective approach.”
With the same intellectual humility that was a prominent feature
of his father he stated that he was writing this book for those
who would come after him because they might be able to understand
his father better than him; “after all, Iqbal is a poet
of tomorrow and of the future.”
Merely a couple of years after the publication
of the last volume of Zindah Rud came the first variorum edition
of Iqbal’s poetry – although restricted to the early
period. Incidentally, it was compiled by a Hindu scholar from
India. The next important resource book also came from the same
side of the border; it was a complete collection of letters arranged
in chronological order.
The landmark works of the new age of Iqbal scholarship
have made it possible for the present cohort to take a holistic
view of him. The older stylistics, where a favorite line was arbitrarily
picked up and subjectively expanded or a fleeting emotion taken
as guideline for an entire thesis is now giving way to a newer
set of more detached but also more balanced writings on the life
and works of Iqbal.
Filtered and refracted through these layers of
meaning, emotion, and contradictory opinions – “a
thing inseparable from him alive or dead” – the voice
of Iqbal has come down to us.
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