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November 13, 2022

In keeping with tradition, Iqbal’s poetry too has been sung and composed by some of the best-known artistes

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n a last-minute surprize, the government has restored the Iqbal Day public holiday, withdrawn a few years ago. The younger brother has done what the elder brother had undone. Undoing the holiday had been a surprise of sort considering Iqbal was seen by many as a model. For her part, Justice Nasira Javeen Iqbal (retired) has rejected the gesture. She has even accused the government of affording Pakistanis the leisure of gorging themselves up on their traditionally rich cuisine on this holiday as on any holiday, rather than working as envisioned by the Allama.

Iqbal is being used for immediate gains. He has been hauled over for decades to prove one thing or the other. Usually, it is the mellowing tinge of culture that Iqbal comes in handy as against the very rough edges that have scarred the ideological surface especially in the recent past.

The set up was not radical in any sense of the term. The many spins given to Iqbal’s message in the course of history ended up in him becoming the excuse for any contested move by the government or some pressure or cover up from within the ruling set up.

Iqbal became our icon, the symbol that motivated the cultural profile of the country, quite early. A poet, well acceptable; a political visionary, well that too; the anti-performing arts advocate, very acceptable. What was not acknowledged was his love for music. This was, over the years, conveniently ignored and was seen at best a training regimen for him to recite his verses in tarannum.

He was hugely sought after for his tarannum as he was for the content of his verses. It is said that in later years as his heath declined the throat ailment damaged his vocal chords. Still he was requested, almost bullied, to recite his verses rather than read them out. To many, as for him, it was a painful experience, and he could no longer perform as he had done earlier. On the centenary celebrations of Altaf Hussain Hali in Panipat in 1937, just a few months before his death, Iqbal was repeatedly asked to recite his poetry, but could not oblige. To many immersed in the mushaira tradition, this was the critical edge that made him stand out among his contemporaries and hence the insistence.

Iqbal became a favourite with qawwals after the creation of Pakistan. The state radio led the charge. Shikhwa and then Jawabe Shikwa were a regular listening item. 

Iqbal used to play the sitar and perhaps made an attempt to be a vocalist as well. Limited talent, unwillingness to do overvaulting riaz and social approbation may have been reasons to concentrate only on the lafz rather than the sur. Still, his love for the sung phrase was well-known as was his adulation of those who could sing well.

In keeping with tradition, Iqbal’s poetry, too, has been sung and composed by some of the best-known artistes. His Saray Jahan Say Achaa Hindustaan Hamara became hugely popular and was sung across the length and breadth of colonial India. Even when the decision was taken for the national anthem of an independent India it was up there and given a serious thought along with Bande Mataram till the dice of the final choice was cast in favour of Jana Gana Mana by Rabindronath Tagore.

Iqbal became a favourite with qawwals after the creation of Pakistan. The state radio led the charge. Shihwa and then Jawabe Shikwa as a chastening roll out were a regular listening item.

Though all the leading vocalists of Pakistan have sung Iqbal, it is difficult to pinpoint whether any truly outstanding piece of music has been created. Noor Jehan, Medhi Hassan, Fareeda Khanum, Ghulam Ali, Malika Pukhraj, Pervez Mehdi, Naheed Akhter, Asif Javed, Nayyara Noor, Suraiya Khanum, Gul Baghar Bano, A Nayyar, Shabnam Majeed and Rahat Fateh Ali have all attempted valiantly. Contemporary vocalists and groups like Abrarul Haq, Junaid Jamshed, Hadiqa Kiyani, Jawwad Ahmed. Ali Azmat and Shahzad Roy, too, have rendered him.

There could be many reasons for it, one being that ghazal, which lends itself to music easily, was not Iqbal’s representative form. There is a long tradition of ghazals being sung, the two lines that make a verse and the apparent independence of each verse gives the required freedom to the vocalist to explore musically the intricacies of the raga in which the composition has been made. Nazm that Iqbal took to great heights has not really being sung and attempted with the required musical abilities.

The writer is a culture critic based in Lahore

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