WHO KILLED MOHAMMAD IQBAL?by HUMRA QURAISHI June 2 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 45 secs
Humra Quraishi laments the blatant targeting of everything termed un-Hindu by the present government and the systematic elimination of India’s wealth of poetry and heritage.
Even the long dead Mughal emperors, poets, philosophers, political leaders, and significant personalities are not spared. Entire chapters on them are being eliminated from the syllabus and textbooks. The latest to fall off the syllabus is the poet whose verse towers and is precious to the subcontinent: Mohammad Iqbal.
It is important to give a background to Mohammad Iqbal. He lived from 1873 to 1938. He received his PhD (Heidelberg) and Barrister at law (London), also received doctorates in literature and philosophy from other universities. He is one of the best known poets of this part of the world. There is an instant connection with his verse because he wrote in both Urdu and Persian. His verse is simply worded and direct. Nothing flowery, complicated. It is stark.
Alas, today’s communal politics hasn’t spared him either.. If you recall, the Uttar Pradesh police slapped charges on a government school headmaster and a teacher of the state last year after a video of students reciting Mohammad Iqbal’s famous Urdu poem (written around 1902) “lab pe aati hai dua banke tamanna meri…” went viral on social media. It was reported that a particular Right-Wing group objected to the poem, in fact to one line of the prayer, “Mere Allah buraie se bachana mujhko (My Allah save me from doing or facing the wrong).”
As school children we used to recite this as well as other songs and poems of Iqbal. Needless to say, we’d recite without fear because there was no fascism or fascists lurking around in those days. Teachers and students were not threatened, hounded and bullied by lumpens. Today it is painful to see things deteriorate to an extent that it is making people insensitive, and as mute spectators we are allowing the decay to spread, destroying our syncretic culture, letting the goons forcefully re-engineer our behaviours.
A headmaster, a teacher, was almost ousted from service for making school children sing Mohammad Iqbal’s verse, after objections were expressed by someone - the administration actually acted upon them! What if the headmaster was heard reciting one of the headier verses of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azmi? It’s frightening to think what the goons will do when they hear revolutionary poetry.
This makes me cry! Why haven’t all the present-day poets of the country stood in support of the headmaster and teacher? Where are the rebel poets and writers of the day? They ought to have been marching in support of poets, poetic verse and lovers of it! Also, progressive education enthusiasts should have intervened, offered the headmaster and teacher jobs in one of the schools of New Delhi. A teacher’s dignity and status ought to be maintained. After all, what was his crime? Nothing except making the children recite a verse in Urdu, written by none other than poet Iqbal!
Also, it is not a question of one schoolmaster, but there’s that bigger and bleaker picture that looms large. Which school teacher in the State of Uttar Pradesh or for that matter in any of the Right-Wing ruled states will ever find the courage to make his or her students recite Urdu verse at the risk of his or her livelihood? Aren’t we depriving an entire generation as well as future generations of the best of poetry, brimming with varied emotions and intense passion - poetry that encourages and nudges one to think beyond the mundane?
Yes, a strange kind of deliberate bruising, destruction and hurting of sentiments seems to be the agenda - as though our past literature and prose, is being given a slow death and the pain and turmoil that it is leaving behind is giving immense pleasure to the sadists who will never be questioned for what they are doing. After all, there’s no blood that flows when heritage is made to die.
Can we not see what’s happening in the case of the sexual exploiter? How the Olympians who made our country proud are being made to grovel for justice? While the country’s top women wrestlers plead for justice, the predator roams free and, above that, dares the system. The irony is just too painful to describe. Several years ago, an auto-driver taking me around Srinagar, said to me that in Kashmir if A murders B, then it’s C who will be caught. Never mind if C was only a bystander! Well, today this grimness is not confined to the conflict-hit region of Kashmir alone, it seems to be spreading across India.
I’ll leave today with the words of Mohammad Iqbal from ‘Celebrating the Best of Urdu Poetry’, selected by Khushwant Singh & Kamna Prasad, and Translated with an introduction by Khushwant Singh (Penguin Viking).
Man of Faith: You ask me for the signs of a man of faith/When death comes to him he has a smile on his lips.His this verse too
Stormy Life: May God grant you the experience of a storm/The waves of your life’s ocean are too calm.
Faith, Conduct, Compassion: Man’s weapons in life’s battles are three:/Conviction that his cause is just/Courage to fight for it till eternity/Compassion that embraces all humanity.