Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Iqbal vs. Tagore

Iqbal vs. Tagore? Is it a fair comparison? Tagore's family were rich, cultured, honoured and lived a sophisticated, cosmopolitan life.
Iqbal's grandfather was a Kashmiri Hindu given the choice of death or conversion to Islam after a charge of embezzlement was brought against him. Iqbal's father was a well to do tailor who did his best to enable his son to come up educationally. Thus, whatever his personal qualities, or however pious and upright the conduct of his father, Iqbal was not classed as 'Ashraf'- he was a mere plebeian from the point of view of the Muslim aristocrats of Punjab.
Unlike Faiz, for whom Persian was a family language, Iqbal did not learn elite diction from 'the old women' in his paternal house. Urdu purists claim to detect 'Punjabisms' in his language, while his Persian poetry- through praised by Iran's Supreme Guide- is not idiomatic and hence lacking in lyrical fervor.
Iqbal's English is very good- but it is the language of the academic- and Iqbal's philosophy, such as it is, more concerned with keeping up with current European fads and relating them, by no means critically, to Islamic thinkers- in other words, his work is simply an exercise in chauvinistic special pleading for a sectional interest within the British Empire.
However Iqbal, unlike Tagore, is very much a living force today. His characteristic confusion of ideas, grandiose diction, and sense of inferiority and injured racial pride are the hallmark of Post Colonial discourse. He was a true Prophet in that his works helped create, and now help sustain, a Nation which is nothing but his very own pathology writ large, poised to infect the whole world with its madness.
Tagore, on the other hand, after an early flirtation with the Revolutionaries, warned against chauvinistic nationalism, set his face against militarism, and preached a Humanistic Universalism at precisely the time when that message was most needed. Isaiah Berlin praises Tagore. E.M. Foster prefers Iqbal. India, for Foster, was nothing but muddle, confusion and noise. Iqbal, then, was Indian. Tagore merely High Victorian pi-jaw.

Googling Iqbal vs. Tagore, I found this- on a Pakistani discussion board-

'Now one of our notable research scholars M Ikram Chughtai, Director of the Urdu Science Board, has come up with a clear answer based on some new research. The current issue of the Lahore-based monthly Al-Ma'arif carries his revealing article on Iqbal and Tagore.

Chughtai has presented some interesting details. He tells us that despite being contemporaries and compatriots, the two poets never met each other. They did not even exchange letters. No written proof of a contact between them is traceable. However, it is said that once Tagore, while in Lahore, tried to meet Iqbal. He paid a visit to his Mayo Road residence but Iqbal was absent, gone to Bhopal for his medical treatment. Once back in Lahore, Iqbal perhaps could have written to Tagore and express his regrets. He did not. And there was a reason; Iqbal resented Tagore receiving the Nobel Prize. Chughtai says "Tagore's award had been hovering on Iqbal's mind throughout his life and he, directly or indirectly, could not free himself from this 'award complex'.

Chughtai has also made a detailed mention of the abortive efforts made by Iqbal and his well-wishers to get a Nobel for him. Soon another development was to take place which was to further sadden the Iqbal: King Raza Shah Pahlavi of Iran extended an invitation to Tagore to visit his country. He went there in 1932. As a royal guest, he was given tremendous welcome in many cities of Iran. While in Tehran, he received a similar invitation from the King of Iraq. In Baghdad, Tagore was received by King Faisal himself.

Chughtai assures us that Iqbal was greatly 'shocked' by these invitations and warm welcomes extended to a poet who he considered to be his rival. In one of his recently discovered letters, he wrote to Ghulam Abbas Akram, the then foreign minister of Iran, that Tagore was a non-Muslim and that "Tagore did an injustice to the Indian Muslims. He told the Muslims of Mesopotamia to persuade the Indian Muslims to cooperate with the Hindus for the freedom of India."

Tagore's attitude towards Iqbal was different. It can be felt in his two messages, one sent to Inter-collegiate Muslim Brotherhood of Lahore which celebrated Iqbal Day in January 1937 and the other of condolence on Iqbal's demise in 1938. In these messages the Bengali Nobel Laureate acknowledged Allama's greatness as a poet and universal value of his poetry.

Against this background, it is not surprising that the compilers and editors of the speeches and statements of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah have expurgated the Quaid's statement issued on Tagore's death. The Quaid had paid rich tributes to the Bengali writer, saying "I am certainly grieved to hear the sad news of the death of one of the greatest of India's poets, philosophers and social workers. I had the privilege of knowing him from my younger days and the last time I had the honour of meeting him was in London in 1929. His very frank and illuminating discussions were a great source of encouragement. Above all, he was a true patriot and was always ready to understand and appreciate the opposite point of view. In his convocation address to the Gurmukhi University he made very weighty and frank observations about the slogan 'India is one and indivisible' which should be studied by every Indian. "It is an irreparable loss to India. Poet Tagore will live through his works with us".

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