Tag Archive | Iqbal

Tagore and Iqbal: Comparison and Contrast: Aamir Butt

Tagore and Iqbal: Comparison and Contrast

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Mohammad Iqbal (1877-1938) are arguably two of the greatest intellectuals Indian subcontinent has produced during the 20th century. Among their respective followers there have been attempts to compare them with each other. Such attempts are always difficult as they wrote in different languages and generally had somewhat different attitudes to the events of their times. The two never met and never corresponded with each other which is rather strange and unfortunate. There is the story of Tagore calling on Iqbal in Lahore but Iqbal was out of town. Later on due to the welcome extended to Tagore by monarchs of Persia and Iraq as well as Saudi Arabia there looks to be some sourness on Iqbal’s part.
Following this Iqbal who has never commented on Tagore in literary or other topics wrote to an Iranian diplomat Ghulam Abbas Aram and warned him that Tagore’s visit was an attempt to forge Aryan affiliations between Hindus and Persians and suggested that perhaps this might lead Iranians to revert to Zoroastrianism!! In his letters Iqbal also accused Tagore of misleading the Muslims of India into accepting the British rule or purposing freedom as a change of masters.
Some also think that Iqbal had resentment about Tagore receiving the Nobel prize but it seems that it was Iqbal’s admirers who were more unhappy about this than Iqbal.
On his part Tagore mentioned Iqbal on several occasions and always said good words about him. Once talking to one of Iqbal’s friends he asked if Iqbal wrote in Punjabi, when he was told no and that Punjabi was not a language but a dialect Tagore remarked this was most unfortunate for if someone of Iqbal’s calibre had written in his native language this would have established Punjabi as a major literary language. This may well be true as we can see men like Pushkin and Tagore were responsible for the literary birth of Russian and Bengali languages. I doubt Tagore was aware of Iqbal’s letters to Aram for in a letter to Iqbal’s friend Dr Abbas Ali Khan dated February 7 1933 he writes, ” Your letter and poem have touched my heart. It has given me deep pleasure to know that you have found an inner affinity between my poems and those of your great poet Sir Mohammad Iqbal. Not knowing the languages in which he writes his original poems I am not in a position to reach the depths of his creative production or to properly evaluate them but I am assured through the wide fame they have won that they carry the majesty of eternal literature. It has pained me often to find a certain class of critics trying to create misunderstanding by ranging my literary works against those of Sir Mohammad Iqbal on a competitive basis. This is an entirely erroneous attitude to take towards literature which deals with the universal. I am sure both myself and Sir Mohammad Iqbal are comrades working for the cause of truth and beauty in literature and meet in a realm where the human mind offers its best gifts to the shrine of Eternal Man”
Tagore also paid glowing tributes to Iqbal in his message on first Iqbal day in 1937 and his condolence message of 1938 calling him a person whose work is not limited to few but is universal.

As I said above Iqbal more or less ignores the existence of Tagore, at least publicly for his letters to Aram was private correspondence till late. However he once remarked to CV Raman, the renowned physicist and Nobel Laureate that, ”Tagore preaches rest but practices action; Iqbal practices rest, preaches action.” And certainly looking at the lives and works of these two great men this appears to be a very apt analysis.
It should be noted that when Iqbal’s collection of books was catalogued, six English translations of Tagore’s works were part of it.

So what can make out of the conflicting attitudes of these giants towards life and towards each other? Well I think we need to analyze and evaluate them in light of what these two were in personal terms.
Tagore was born in a well off household, his family had land and money. He did not need to struggle to make ends meet. Tagore did not even complete his formal education knowing he is not dependent on a job for income and devoting his life to literary pursuits early in his life.
Iqbal had no such luck, he had no family fortune, he struggled all his life to provide for himself and his family. Iqbal had to complete formal education and skills of a solicitor to find work.
Tagore was born in a reformist Hindu household while Iqbal was born in a conservative Sunni household.
The above factors seem to have influenced the works and attitudes of Tagore and Iqbal. Not having to face the harsh realities of life as far as putting food on the table is concerned Tagore retains his gentle, generous and magnanimous soul. Iqbal on the other hand, frustrated with the needs to balance time for income generating work with his literary passion perhaps developed the hardness and even some bitterness which spills over in his work and attitude towards Tagore. Added to this was that Iqbal was part of the minority Muslim community of India and had the defensive attitude minorities tend to develop, especially if they believe they are being threatened.
As Rafiq Zakria sums up, ”Tagore brought out the romantic in man; Iqbal the heroic. Tagore exulted in feminine beauty; Iqbal in masculine strength. There was music in Tagore’s poetry; there was fire in Iqbal’s. Tagore was humble; Iqbal was proud. Tagore was always active; Iqbal easy going and lazy.”

Dr Aamir Butt first posted this on his Facebook page on the 27th of December, 2014.
I am very grateful for his permission to share the article here.

‘Tagore and Iqbal: Views’ by Aamir Butt

Iqbal and Tagore

A friend complained that I have written Tagore was the greatest poet India has produced, he was unhappy as he thinks this title belongs to Iqbal. Well actually I never wrote this in the first place, what I had written is that Tagore is acknowledged as the greatest poet India (and here I meant Indian Sub-Continent) has produced in the last 200 years. Well there is little doubt about this, is there? Tagore was the first non-White to win a Nobel prize, his poems form the national anthem of two countries and if there is a poll across the Sub-Continent asking the question who is the greater poet among them I have no doubt Tagore will win. So the fact remains that Tagore is acknowledged as the greatest poet India has produced in the last 200 years, but is he the greatest poet India has produced in the last 200 years? This is an entirely different question as here we are asking a personal opinion and everyone will have their own opinion, some I am sure will think that neither of them deserve this title. We will therefore leave this for now though at some stage it would be interesting to compare their works and ideas.

As such there is a lot of overlap between their philosophy and poetry. Both seem to be heavily influenced by Rumi and Shirazi and though Iqbal at times writes in terms of Islamic specific poetry Tagore remained by an large a pantheistic/mystic poet throughout his life.
 I was curious if they ever met each other or exchanged letters for they both lived in the same country at the same time, Tagore was 16 years older than Iqbal but outlived him by 3 years.
To my astonishment I found out that the two never ever met, not only that, they never exchanged any letters and curiously Iqbal never even acknowledged Tagore in any way!
As for Tagore the story is slightly different. Tagore admired Iqbal and this is apparent from the message he sent to  Inter-collegiate Muslim Brotherhood of Lahore which celebrated Iqbal Day in January 1937, in this message he openly acknowledged Iqbal’s greatness and  the universal quality of his poetry. 
I have been unable to find the dates but it has been recorded that once when Tagore was in Lahore he went to see Iqbal at his Mayo Road residence. Iqbal at that time had gone to Bhawalpur so no meeting took place. When Iqbal came back he was informed of Tagore’s visit and his desire to meet him, he never tried to contact Tagore, never wrote to him or anything, how strange! Why?! No one knows for sure though many have often wondered why. A few years ago one of Pakistan’s leading Iqbal scholar M Ikram Chughtai who was Director of the Urdu Science Board published a research based article on this subject. Mr Chughtai claims that the reason Iqbal gave a cold shoulder to Tagore was envy, or perhaps even jealousy. Chughtai calls it ‘The Award Complex’ and claims that the reason was Iqbal’s resentment on Tagore being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1912 and the fact that Iqbal was never considered for this prize (another anti-Muslim conspiracy perhaps). Chughtai says “Tagore’s award had been hovering on Iqbal’s mind throughout his life and he, directly or indirectly, could not free himself from this ‘award complex’.

 Soon another development was to take place which was to further sadden Iqbal: King Raza Shah Pahlavi of Iran extended an invitation to Tagore to visit his country. He went there in 1932. As a royal guest, he was given tremendous welcome in many cities of Iran. While in Tehran, he received a similar invitation from the King of Iraq. In Baghdad, Tagore was received by King Faisal himself. Tagore had also been invited by Einstein to his Berlin home in January 1930.

Chughtai assures us that Iqbal was greatly ‘shocked’ by these invitations and warm welcomes extended to a poet who he considered to be his rival, especially by fellow Muslim leaders as in one of his recently discovered letters, he wrote to Ghulam Abbas Akram, the then foreign minister of Iran, that Tagore was a non-Muslim and that “Tagore did an injustice to the Indian Muslims. He told the Muslims of Mesopotamia to persuade the Indian Muslims to cooperate with the Hindus for the freedom of India.”
Chughtai has also made a detailed mention of the abortive efforts made by Iqbal and his well-wishers to get a Nobel for him. Even to this day the fact that Iqbal was not given a Nobel prize and perhaps for some of greater irk Tagore was is not forgotten, as an article I came across from a 2012 addition of the Millie Gazette shows, titled, ”Why wasn’t Iqbal awarded a Nobel? The writer tells us,” It’s one of the biggest mysteries that Dr Muhammad Iqbal didn’t get Nobel despite his profound poetry and the corpus of literary work of the highest calibre. Iqbal and Tagore were simultaneously writing poetry in the sub-continent and if the level of poetry of both the masters is assessed dispassionately, Iqbal has an edge over Tagore. Both were mystics and they were heavily influenced by Persian mysticism of Attar, Jami, Hafiz, Sanai, Khaqani and the most sublime of all, the redoubtable Jalaluddin Rumi. Iqbal called Rumi, his ‘ruhani ustaad’ (spiritual master), whereas Tagore was influenced by Hafiz Shirazi. While Tagore almost plagiarized Hafiz in his 103 poems in Gitanjali, that won him 1913’s Nobel, Iqbal’s inspiration was devoid of pilfering.”

I found it interesting and a bit ironic that the Millie Gazette claims to be the leading newspaper of Indian Muslims while as I mentioned above Chughtai sahib is from Pakistan and one would expect things to be the other way around! Also as far as I can tell Shirazi’s influence on Iqbal’s poetry is well known and has been acknowledged by Javed Iqbal.

So there we are, these two great men, philosophers and poets,  the best that India produced in the last 200 years never met and never put their heads together to produce any work and mankind is all the poorer for this.

So while I am not saying who is the greater poet among the two but one thing can be said, if (and please before anyone gets upset please note the IF), if what Mr Chughtai has claimed is true, then there can be little doubt who was the greater man.