Mirza Ghalib and Allama Iqbal

On the Urdu sky, there are two moons; Ghalib and Iqbal. If Ghalib represents prodigious vogue, then Iqbal is all about passionism, splendid and imperishable excellence of sincerity and strength.

Ghalib was without any doubt passionate and dauntless soldier of a forlorn ray of elusive hope, who, ignorant of the future and unconsoled by its promises and wishes, nevertheless waged against the stereotypical of the old impossible and shackled world so fiery battle; waged it till he perished, – waged it with such splendid and imperishable rigor of strength. Whereas Iqbal lived in a different world with the same vigor and with the same zeal and zest.

Iqbal has an insight into lasting origins of joy and consolation for mankind which Ghablib has not; his poetry and the underlying ideas gives us more which we may rest upon than Ghalib’s, – more which we can rest upon now, and which men may rest upon always. The eternal ideas of Iqbal, which ignited the passion than, are illuminating our worlds even now, and they are here to stay, even surpass us, guiding our posterity.

Ghalib was Zauq’s inverse in almost every respect. He disapproved of Zaug’s trite statements and run-of-the-mill notions, clothed in idiomatic and smooth verses. Himself, like Browning he was rough and rugged, obscure and elliptical, full of far-fetched conceits and imagery. He was rebel in and out, and he revel in the revolts and loved to swim against the tide.He revolted against the contemporary style and very often coined his own original, through at times rather unhappy, metaphors from all kinds of origins, which made him, obscure and incomprehnsible for his people.

They very first couplet of his Diwan is a formidable obstruction to his readers and had found as many interpretations as there are annotators, thought he himself explained it in a letter.

Against whose bold brush are all these pictures complainants?
Disgustedly dressed in flimsy, paper raiment’s.

The reader is dumbstricken at the very start, but Ghalib on coining obscurer and obscurer images to suit his purpose. In his very first poem, to spend the night of separation is like (Farhad’s) digging the canal of milk out of a mountain. The curve of the sword-blade indicates the lover\s eagerness to be killed. His poetry is as elusive as the mythical bird, ‘anqa, and cannot be caught in the net of understanding, however wide. In his captivity (of love?), he is in extreme torture and his chains have burnt down to become ringlets’. If the start was so forbidding, what wonder that, to begin with, readers ridiculed him. The same fate met Browning, who ground his teeth then he found Tennyson’s works going through edition after edition, whereas his own would not fetch even their const price. Ghalib, further, believed in the brevity of style, even ellipses, like Browning, and omitted connectives and sometimes whole clause.

You and the dressing of you curls!
I and my far-flung thoughts!

Numerous Commentators have applied their wits to fathom his thoughts, and have gone wool-gathering. Painters have grown lyrical over it in their pictures. Here is another couplet out of a hundred.

People may be unhappy with rivals, but Zuleikha is happy
With the women of Egypt who got infatuated with Joseph.

Economy is characteristic of all poetic style. Ghalib knew it and felt proud of it.

Prolixity is enamoured of my ambiguity;
My economy pours out like amplification.

Iqbal, like Tennyson, in comparison, was sharp and clear-cut. His metaphors were mostly conventional and familiar, though used in ever and ever fresh context, and his thoughts, well argued out. There was no vagueness or ambiguity about them. He repeated them again and again and as soon as the work khudi or ‘ishq or faqar was mentioned, the reader knew what to expect. He had read it a dozen times before. Iqbal had to make an appeal as a precept and could no afford to leave his readers guessing. He made direct and forceful statements and delivered repeated hammer-strokes to make his point. He did not confuse or mystify. His thought was lucid and his diction polished and chistled, though he himself preferred a little obscurity in poetry. In his note-book dated 1910, he jotted down, “Mathew Arnold is a very precise poet. I like, however, an element of obscurity and vagueness in poetry, since the vague and the obscure appear profound to the emotions.”

Vagueness or obscurity, as such, is no merit, but the subtlety of feelings is often too deep for clear expression, however great the poet’s mastery over language. Clarity often indicates that the content is not deep enough. Dr. Richards Writes:

“The truth is that very much of the best poetry is necessarily ambiguous in its immediate effect. Even the most careful and responsive reader must re-read and do hard work before the poem forms itself clearly and unambiguously in his mind.”

T.S. Eliot goes to the length of saying that the poet himself cannot wholly understand what he writes. When Goethe was asked what his masterpiece, faust, meant, he was puzzled, ‘as if I know’.

Here a few parallel quotations from both.

Ghalib: I am brimful of complaint, as the musical instrument is of Song.
Iqbal: We are the silent instruments of music, brimful of complaint.
Ghalib: they dole out wine according to the capacity of the cup.
Iqbal: The distribution of wine here is according to the capacity of the cup.
Ghalib: Against whose sketching is the picture complaining?
Iqbal: I am a picture that has a grievance against the painter.
Ghalib: My pain did not accept the obligation of the remedy.
Iqbal: The remedy of the wound consists in non-obligation of dressing.
Ghalib: The seven skies are revolving like a pair of compasses round as a centre.
Iqbal: All this circle is by the rotation of my pair of compasses.
Ghalib: You, being a nightingale, have been encaged for music.
Iqbal: They encage them who create sweet music.
Ghalib: whoever became a savant in religion did not please his-ancestors.
Iqbal: If imitation were a virtue the Prophet (P.B.U.H) too would have gone the way of his ancestors.
One could go on in this manner to any length. Stretch to new lengths, and there little remains in the Urdu literatue which cannot be discussed in the light of these two. It was, therefore, no idle boast when Ghalib claimed that he had smoothened the path of is successors.

The thorns got burnt due to the heat of my steps;
My successors, on this path, will be under my obligation.

A golden era of Urdu poetry started from Ghalib and ended at Iqbal. Urdu wouldnt be what it is today without both of these kings. They both are the greatest monument of idealism in Urdu poetry, where Iqbal touches the mind, and Ghalib does wonders with the heart.

Remarks: I am so thankful to Prof. Armughan for his contribution to this post.


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