Saturday, June 30, 2007


This Above all
The little known side of Iqbal
KHUSHWANT SINGHKHUSHWANT SINGH

I am beholden to P.V. Rawal of Jammu for sending me a photograph of Allama Iqbalís Kashmiri Brahmin family taken in Sialkot (now Pakistan) in 1931. By then Iqbal, in his mid-fifties, had risen to the top as the greatest poet of Urdu on level with Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib as well as a prominent Muslim politician. Though he was proud of his Brahmin descent, he had nothing to say about his Hindu relations. In this picture the elderely lady seated in the middle is his grandmother Indirani Sapru, nicknamed Poshi, wife of Pandit Kanhaya Lal Sapru. The man standing left in a shawl is his cousin Amarnath Sapru; note the close resemblance to the poet.

The family trace their origin to one Birbal. They lived in village Saprain (hence the surname Sapru) on Shopian-Kulgan road. They moved to Srinagar where most of them were born. Birbal had five sons and a daughter. The third one Kanhaya Lal and his wife Indirani had three sons and five daughters. He was Iqbalís grandfather. His son Rattan Lal converted to Islam and was given the name Nur Mohammad. He married a Muslim woman Imam Bibi. The Saprus disowned him and severed all connections with him. There are different versions of Rattan Lalís conversion. The one given to me by Syeda Hameed, who has translated some of Iqbalís poetry into English, maintains that Rattan Lal was Revenue Collector of the Afghan Governor of Kashmir. He was caught embezzling money. The Governor made him an offer: either he converted to Islam or be hanged. Rattan Lal chose to stay alive. When the Afghan Governor fled from Kashmir to escape its takeover by the Sikhs, Rattan Lal migrated to Sialkot. Imam Bibi was evidently a Sialkoti Punjabi. Iqbal was born in Sialkot on November 9, 1877. As often happens, the first generation of converts are more kattar than others, Iqbal grew up to be a devout Muslim. It is believed that once he called on his Hindu grandmother, then living in Amritsar. But there is no hard evidence of their meeting and what passed between them. Iqbal did not write about it. Though he had many Hindu and Sikh friends and admirers, he felt the future of Indian Muslims lay in having a separate state of their own. He was the principal ideologue of what later became Pakistan.

Standing (second from left): Late Amarnath Sapru, first cousin of Iqbal.
Sitting (from left): Raj Kishori Rawal, d/o Amarnath Sapru; grandmother of Iqbal; and Pt. J.N. Rawal, h/o Raj Kishori

Iqbalís mother tongue was Punjabi but he never wrote in itó only in Persian and Urdu as did many Urdu poets before him.

There are many aspects of Allama Iqbalís personal life which have not been fully researched by his biographers. We know he married two or three times and that his favourite son was Javed. He became a Judge of the Lahore High Court. Iqbalís affair with Atia Faizi of Bombay when they met in London is well known. There must have been some correspondence between them to show the kind of relationship they had. When in Heidelburg (Germany) he was taken up by his young German tutor Emma Veganast.

This was divulged by the Mayor of Heidulberg in his speech naming a part of the bank of the river Neckar after him, Iqbal Veg. The Pakistan Ambassador to Germany had the Mayorís speech mentioning the girlís name suppressed. Iqbal and Emma continued to write to each other till the end of his days.

Inflated ego

A couple of lines by Guru Nanak which I often recite to myself to preserve my mental balance run as follows:

Haumain deerag rog hai

Daaroo bhee iss maahen

(Ego is a foul disease
  Its cure also lies in itself).

I agree with every word of the Guruís advice. Egoism or self-esteem is a disease like cancer. If not nipped in the bud, it infects other parts of the body and ultimately makes a person a deadly bore who loves talking about himself and wants others to praise him. Every one of us is prone to catch it and must evolve his own methods of fighting it.

Since I get more than my share of flattery from men and women who want me to write about them in my columns, I have to battle against them in different ways. Most tell me how they have read everything I have written and how much they liked it. I know it is not true; so I try to put it out of my mind.

I have found a more effective antidote. It is by making fun of myself. I narrate incidents when I made an ass of myself. I did so many times. Everyone has a hearty laugh at my expense and thinks I must be the kind of fool I make out myself to be. It purges a lot of ego-poison out of my system. Try it out.

Recently I had to undergo an endoscopy to clear or confirm cancer in my belly. Needless to say I wanted everyone to show concern about my health. It is another form of feeding oneís ego. As I had calculated, I got a lot of exaggerated show of affection for me. After it was over, I felt I should restore my ego-balance to its earlier level.

I wrote about it in detail. Since it had to use a lot of indelicate vocabulary which I feared publishers of my columns would find unacceptable, I sent it to Vinod Mehta, Editor of Outlook. He is the only man I know who would understand what I wanted to say without censuring how I said it. In that piece I wrote in detail of the humiliation and loss of esteem an endoscopy entails. It did cleanse my system of false notions I had about myself. I felt much better.



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