Chintan Girish Modi reports on an English translation of Iqbal's poetry launched in Mumbai's Kitab Khana recently
Taking Issue & Allah's Answer, the English translation of Allama Iqbal's Shikwa and Jawaab-e-Shikwa was launched in Mumbai, India on June 1. Mustansir Dalvi, who is a poet, columnist and professor of architecture, is the translator of this seminal Urdu work. He read out excerpts from this new translation published by Penguin Books, India, at the Kitab Khana bookstore opposite Flora Fountain, one of Mumbai's most famous landmarks. At the event, Dalvi was also in conversation with Ranjit Hoskote, who is an acclaimed poet, cultural theorist, and translator of Kashmiri Sufi mystic Lal Ded's poetry into English. The floor was later thrown open to questions from the audience.
Dalvi began the interaction by invoking English novelist E. M. Forster's lines, "His (Iqbal's) couplets urge us to live dangerously. We are to be stone, not glass; diamonds, not dewdrops; tigers, not sheep." These lines also feature on the blurb of Dalvi's book. He said, "My fascination is with Iqbal's language. Forster's quote at the back of my book best describes it. When you read Iqbal in the original, that's exactly what his work evokes. I was completely taken up by his poetry, its property to rouse emotions, the way he uses standard literary tropes in Urdu literature and makes them his own."
As Dalvi rightly pointed out most Indians know Iqbal, who is celebrated as the national poet of Pakistan, as the composer of the poem 'Saare jahaan se acchha Hindustan hamaara'. He also wanted to share things about Iqbal that the audience might not know, including the fact that Iqbal wrote many poems about Indian geography, a memorable one about Guru Nanak and Gautama Buddha, and also translated the Gayatri mantra from Sanskrit into Urdu as 'Aaftaab'.
Hoskote said that it was a deeply moving moment for him to be asked to launch the book. He was interested in listening to Dalvi speak about the project, its multiple contexts and how it came to be. Dalvi shared that Iqbal first recited Shikwa in 1909, lamenting the sorry state of Muslims in the world and implicating Allah for this,and that there was an immediate outcry at the audacity with which Iqbal addressed Allah. Jawaab-e-Shikwa was composed in 1913, and is about how one does not deserve the benevolence of Allah unless one is willing to correct one's path.
Dalvi said, "If we go back to Islamic first principles, there is no intermediary between a person and Allah. If he is doing shikwa, he is going back to Islamic first principles. He is critical of the mullah. Why should you have someone else to articulate your thoughts when you can speak directly?"
Hoskote was interested in the readership and reception of Iqbal's work, and how his notion of 'Khudi' or self-assertion has been understood particularly in Iran and Egypt. Hoskote brought up the multiple contexts of Iqbal's influence and asserted that Iqbal's poetry cannot be seen only as a cultural product of its time, because Dalvi insists that these poems of Iqbal must be read in the context in which they were written.
Iqbal has been read, sung and discussed before. What is so different about Dalvi's book? "This book is heretical to the way Iqbal is looked at," explained Dalvi. "I have tried to translate h
Wednesday, June 06, 2012
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