Sunday, June 01, 2008

How Thomas Hardy Introduced Me to Allama Iqbal

I have a few obsessions in life: old Hindi film music (specifically Lata Mangeshkar songs) and Urdu poetry. My initiation into the wondrous world of old Hindi film music was through a Lata Mangeshkar compilation called I Remember Madan Mohan, so Madan Mohan is also special. Although I wouldn't call it an obsession, I'm very fond of reading classic literature as well.

It isn't very often that all of one's obsessions converge in the same thing. At the time when I had just started dabbling with Urdu poetry, I watched a 1967 Dharmendra-Nutan starrer Dulhan Ek Raat Ki on video. My primary reason for watching that film was that it was based on Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. While Indian literature had been a source for Hindi films in the 50s and 60s, there hadn't been very many instances of Hindi film taking inspiration from an English classic.

The film was expectedly quite Indianized, but retained the primary thematic thread of the original. But it isn't great cinema. What stayed with me was the soundtrack that had some melodious compositions by Madan Mohan, which included the lovely Mohd. Rafi solo Ek Haseen Shaam Ko and exquisite Lata Mangeshkar solos like the Piloo based Maine Rang Li Aaj Chunariya, the quintessential piano song Kai Din Se Jee Hai Bekal, and the melodious Sapnon Mein Agar Mere. But the song that I got completely obsessed with was the qawwali Kabhi Ae Haqeeqat-e-Muntazir. The heavily Persianized Urdu of the lyrics were very difficult for me to understand at that time, but the sound of the language appealed to me and was, in a way, an incentive to get deeper into Urdu as a language.

Watch this video that has all my obsessions converging: classic English literature, Madan Mohan, Lata Mangeshkar, Qawwali, Urdu Poetry:

I was so fascinated by this qawalli, that I wrote a poem on this tune. Since I did not understand the lyrics, I didn't realize the coincidence that my poem was about religious tolerance and the original has strong religious undertones. This is what I had written:

फ़ितरत नहीं ऐसी बची है आज कल इन्सान में
जो गुफ़्तगू हम से करे इन्सानियत की ज़ुबान में

है दीन क्या, मज़हब है क्या पूछा किये हम से सभी
है काम क्या ईमान का इस आपसी पहचान में

दीन-ओ-धरम के नाम पर कटते हैं कितने सर यहाँ
गीता में है क्या ये लिखा और क्या यही फ़ुरक़ान में

ये मन्दिरों की घन्टियाँ जैसे हों ख़न्जर की खनक
देती सुनाई मातमी आवाज़ आज अज़ान में

ये जज़्बा-ए-इन्सानियत गर कुफ़्र है काफ़िर हूँ मैं
आये नज़र है बेइमानी मज़हबी फ़रमान में

It was much later that I found out that the poem was written by Sir Mohammed Iqbal (best known in India for Tarana-e-Hind aka Sare Jahan Se Achchha, and officially recognized as the national poet in Pakistan). Thus began my quest to learn more about his poetry. I haven't read a lot of his work, but I have read his most famous poems Shikwa and Jawaab-e-Shikwa. These two poems constitute a poem-set in that they should be read together to get a complete insight into Allam Iqbal's strongly religious bent of mind. Shikwa is a complaint of a frustrated Muslim to Allah, while Jawaab-e-Shikwa is Allah's response to the complaint. It does not matter whether or not one is a believer of Islam, the eloquence, language and conviction in the two poems can be felt by anyone.

Kabhi Aye Haqeeqat-e-Muntazir also has strong religious undercurrents. In the opening verse the poet is asking God to come in an illusory form so that he can prostrate before Him. What is interesting is the way the poet uses two theologically opposite terms – haqeeqat vs. majaaz – in the first line. Urdu poetry is replete with instances of ishq-e-haqiqi (divine love) and ishq-e-majaazi (earthly love), and here the poet sort of requests for a merger of the two in the opening lines. The poem comes a full circle in the closing lines where the poet realizes that he is so engrossed in earthly love that there's no need to seek divine love. This can be interpreted in many different ways. One could be the belief that if you seek God, you need to denounce earthly love. But the way I read it is that ishq-e-majaazi is another way to reach Him.

Kabhi ae haqeeqat-e-muntazir nazar aa libaas-e-majaaz mein
Ki hazaaron sajde tadap rahe haim meri jabeen-e-niyaaz mein
Jo main sar ba-sajdah hua kabhi to zameen se aane lagi sada
Tera dil to hai sanam-aashna tujhe kya milega namaaz mein

Honestly, I don't think I have really understood this poem completely. There are still a lot of open questions. That, in a way, is the beauty: you keep working your mind to 'get' it.

It is not the intent of this post to get into the philosophical profundity of Allama Iqbal's work. I just wanted to point to an instance where a song composed by my favourite music director and sung by my favourite singer in an old melodramatic Hindi film inspired by Thomas Hardy led me to explore the profound writings of a great Urdu Poet.