Two influential poets Ghalib and Iqbal

Nasir Khan

Mirza Ghalib (1797 – 1869) and Mohammad Iqbal (1877 – 1938) are two great poets in their own ways. Iqbal is also a politician, a populist, an ideologue of Islam where he expounds Islam along mystical and unclear paths (his ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ being a clear expression of his confused thinking and lack of clarity despite his pedantic English that only few can understand or digest!). But his command of Urdu and Farsi in conveying his poetic message and ideas is impressive.

His poetry covers many areas and it can’t be labelled under any one theme. His revolutionary and progressive ideas are appreciable but his tilt towards religiosity, mysticism and Islamic nationalism in the latter part of his life was a big waste of the intellect of a good man. The Pakistani reactionary political establishment took full advantage of his shoddy Islamist ideology and transformed him into a mullah which he was not!

In contrast to Iqbal, Ghalib was only a poet and not a politician or messenger of any political revolution. In his verse, he conveyed his sublime ideas in a way unmatched in this language. His word has enriched the Urdu language by his poetic expression and his style of prose (see his letters). If we can extend the area of philosophy to general wisdom, deeper insights in human psychology and human condition then Ghalib stands far higher than Iqbal in such areas. He is a universalist, not bound by faith, creed or ideological nihilism as Iqbal seems to be. Iqbal’s origin as a Kashmiri Pandit, which, no doubt, I feel happy about as a Kashmiri myself, but that is not decisive when I assess him. I end this piece with a verse of the immortal Ghalib:

Ham kahan ke danaa the, kis hunar main yakta the
Be sababb hua Ghalib, dushman aasman apna

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