Reading Iqbal

Growing up as a Muslim in India I had ambivalent feelings about Iqbal. One wants to sing ‘saare jahaan se accha…” from the top of his lung but then how do I reconcile the fact he was the first person to make public demand for Pakistan.

But it is impossible to avoid Iqbal growing up in Urdu-speaking households. One can grow up without singing nazm “bache ki dua” popularly known as “lab pe aati hai dua.” Then there are numerous ashaars of Iqbal quoted during discussions, speeches, and even in everyday conversations.

To truly appreciate Iqbal you need to have good understanding of religion, history, and philosophy not to mention a good dictionary to look up meanings of difficult words (many in Persian and Arabic), reasons that made me avoid Iqbal for so long.

Recently, on a request from a friend, I made an effort to start reading Iqbal and I finally I opened my copy of bang-e-dara, bought 15 years ago. With “Firoz-ul-lughat” by my side, I started with his first nazm titled “Himala” (Himalaya). What a treat it was to read and understand this nazm, Iqbal at his finest was on display in this nazm, even though it is reported to be his first nazm ever recited or published.