ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS

Recently, a dear friend of mine, Professor Ghulam Qadir Azad, asked me if I would write an article on a book by Khawaja Tariq Mahmood. The book comprises a collection of couplets by Mirza Asadullah ‘Ghalib’ (December 1797 – 15 February 1869) and Allama Muhammad ‘Iqbal’ (9 November 1877 – 21 April 1938). Initially, I was hesitant, as poetry is not my area of interest. However, due to my great respect for the professor, I reluctantly accepted the challenge. The book gave me an opportunity to understand the message of the two great poets of the subcontinent as it provides rhymed English translation of their selected Ghazals (couplets).

After reading certain parts of the book, I began to wonder what do great minds crave the most. The answer came; they desire to generate creative change. Then the question arose, why the desire to change? The answer came; the burden of watching their civilisation in distress was too much for them to bear. Then another question arose, what do I want from them? The reply came; I want to understand their cause, as having a cause is considered vital for bringing out the best in a person.  Psychologists tell us that man is at his best when he is driven by some sense of long-term purpose, and that, he ‘goes to pieces’ when he lacks all sense of purpose.

I feel Ghalib and Iqbal were men of their time. To understand their visions and perspective more clearly, one has to envisage the era they lived in. Where Ghalib witnessed the downfall of the Mughal Empire by the hands of the British, Iqbal’s visionary words inspired the creation of Pakistan as an independent state for Muslims whence the British leave India.

One thing they both had in common was their pain for a civilisation under occupation. Ghalib expressed it eloquently by indirectly laughing at his own desolation. Iqbal said it in his ‘Shikwa’ and ‘Jawab e Shikwa.’ Iqbal who had lived and studied in the UK, as well as Germany, had a greater understanding of the western, as well as the eastern cultures and this is reflected in his poetry, particularly the ‘Iblees Ki Majlis-e-Shoora.’

As we stand on the shoulders of these two giants of Urdu poetry, what do we see? Through their poetry, we see our relationship with the living world and the universe from a whole different perspective. Although it is difficult to pinpoint Ghalib’s poetry, in my view, he delved extensively on human relationships and focused on hope through love for the beloved. Iqbal was much more revolutionary and encouraged people to realise their real potentials and purpose of life. He gave hope to Muslims while exposing the West’s spiritual hollowness.

For example, in the last 70 years, we have seen the capitalistic media pushing societies to pursue the lowest and immoral impulses to gain worldly and materialistic satisfaction. Our intellect has in the course been severely damaged in pursuit of this misleading mirage. The western and now also the eastern people have become so obsessed with the external world that they are unable to make proper use of their inner resources. They find themselves in a permanent state of dissatisfaction and discomfort. Two facts are undeniable now; the minds of the people have become too dispirited, and secondly, the western philosophers and thinkers are incapable of leading us all out of the quagmire they have put us in.

It is said that both poets (Ghalib and Iqbal) were well ahead of their times and their poetry continues to have an impact even in the modern age. Their ideas were very profound. They realised that the true historical upheavals are not those which astonish us by their grandeur and violence. Hence, they tried to make profound modifications in the minds of the people through their poetry. The real power lies in conquering the minds and not in the bombing and destroying properties. We are undergoing another global upheaval now. Whenever civilisations undergo upheavals, this affects ideas, conceptions and beliefs too.

It is self-evident that we are heading towards destruction, in terms of environment and ecology as well as human health and the human spirit. We need to change and be serious in our efforts towards redeeming ourselves. Perhaps, revisiting the ideas of Iqbal should be our first step in our attempt towards Restoring the Mind.

Please find below two scanned images from the book of Ghalib (top) and Iqbal’s (bottom) poetry.

I enjoyed reading the book. Truth be told, one needs an advanced degree in Urdu language and a good knowledge of Farsi language to really grasp the message of Ghalib and Iqbal. Whenever I do read Ghalib or Iqbal, I try to make sure an Urdu dictionary is close at hand. Brigadier Khawaja Tariq Mahmood, if I may say has surpassed even queen’s English with his choice of words while translating. I am afraid his English translation is not for common readers. But as it is a rhymed translation, I must commend him for his hard work and admire his courage and determination for undertaking this huge task. Brigadier Sahib, Bravo!!!

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