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Cleansing the system Try out this purgative

This Above All - Khushwant Singh Published 30.06.07, 12:00 AM
Unity in diversity

I am beholden to P.V. Rawal of Jammu for sending me a photograph of Allama Iqbal’s Kashmiri Brahmin family taken in Sialkot in 1931. At this time Iqbal was in his mid-fifties. He had already risen to the top as the greatest Urdu poet, at par with Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib. Although he was proud of his Brahmin descent, he had nothing to say about his Hindu relations. In this picture, the elderly lady seated in the middle is his grandmother, Indirani Sapru, nicknamed Poshi, wife of Pandit Kanhaya Lal Sapru. The man standing on the left in a shawl is Iqbal’s cousin, Amarnath Sapru; note the close resemblance to the poet.

The family traces its origin to one Birbal. They lived in the village of Saprain (hence, the surname Sapru) on Shopian-Kulgam road. Then the family moved to Srinagar where Iqbal and most of his cousins were born. Birbal had five sons and a daughter. The third one, Kanhaya Lal, and his wife, Indirani, had three sons and five daughters. Kanhaya Lal was Iqbal’s grandfather. His son, Rattan Lal, converted to Islam and was given the name Nur Mohammad. He married a Muslim woman — Imam Bibi. The Saprus disowned Rattan Lal and severed all connections with him. There are different versions of Rattan Lal’s conversion. The one given to me by Syeda Hameed, who has translated some of Iqbal’s poetry into English, maintains that Rattan Lal was the revenue collector of the Afghan governor of Kashmir. He was caught embezzling money. The governor offered him a choice: he should either convert to Islam or be hanged. Rattan Lal chose to stay alive. When the Afghan governor fled from Kashmir to escape its takeover by the Sikhs, Rattan Lal migrated to Sialkot. Imam Bibi was evidently a Sialkoti Punjabi. Iqbal was born in Sialkot on November 9, 1877. As often happens, the first generation of converts are more kattar than others. Iqbal thus grew up to be a devout Muslim. It is believed that once he called on his Hindu grandmother, then living in Amritsar. But there is no hard evidence of their meeting and of what passed between them; Iqbal did not write about it. Though he had many Hindu and Sikh friends and admirers, he felt that the future of Indian Muslims lay in having a separate state of their own. Iqbal was the principal ideologue of what later become Pakistan. Iqbal’s mother-tongue was Punjabi but he never wrote in it. He used only Persian and Urdu, as did many Urdu poets before him.

There are many aspects of Iqbal’s personal life which have not been fully researched by his biographers. We know he married two or three times and that his favourite son was Javed, who became a judge of the Lahore high court. Iqbal’s affair with Atia Faizi of Bombay when they met in London is well-known. There must have been some correspondence between them to show the kind of relationship they had. When in Heidelberg, he was taken up by his young German tutor, Emma Veganast. This secret was divulged by the mayor of Heidelberg in a speech in which he named a part of the bank of the river Neckar after him — Iqbal Weg. The Pakistani ambassador to Germany had the mayor’s speech mentioning the girl’s name suppressed. Iqbal and Emma continued to write to each other till the end of his life. The correspondence should be available in archives in Lahore and Heidelberg. Lovers of Iqbal, among whom I count myself, deserve to be presented with a fuller picture of their idol. We have biographies of Rabindranath Tagore revealing all his love affairs but none of the Allama telling us of the kind of man he was.

Cleansing the system

A couple of lines by Guru Nanak which I often recite to myself to preserve my mental balance run as follows:

Haumain deerag rog hai

Daaroo bhee iss maahen

Ego is a foul disease

Its cure also lies in itself.

I agree with every word of the Guru’s advice. Egoism or self-esteem is a disease like cancer. If not nipped in the bud, it infects other parts of the body and ultimately makes a person a deadly bore who loves talking about himself and wants others to praise him. Every one of us is prone to catch it and must evolve his own methods of fighting it.

Since I get more than my share of flattery from men and women who want me to write about them in my columns, I have to battle against them in different ways. Most tell me how they have read everything I have written and how much they liked it. I know it is not true; so I try to put it out of my mind. Others lay it on thick, that is, makkhan lagoing, when they come to see me. I do my best to change the subject. Despite that some of it sticks because later I find I am pleased with myself. I have found a more effective antidote: it is to make fun of myself. I narrate incidents in which I have made an ass of myself. I did that so many times. Everyone has a hearty laugh at my expense and thinks I must be the kind of fool I make out myself to be. It has a cathartic effect. It purges a lot of ego-poison out of my system.

Try out this purgative

Recently, I had to undergo an endoscopy to clear or confirm cancer in my belly. Needless to say, I wanted everyone to show concern for my health. It is another form of feeding one’s ego. As I had calculated, I got exaggerated shows of affection for me. After it was over, I felt I should restore my ego-balance to its earlier level. I wrote about it in lurid detail. Since I had to use a lot of indelicate vocabulary, which I feared publishers of my columns would find unacceptable, I sent the copy to Vinod Mehta, editor of Outlook. He is the only man I know who would understand what I wanted to say without censuring how I said it. In that piece I have written in detail about the humiliation and loss of esteem an endoscopy entails. Writing about it did cleanse my system of the false notions I had about myself. I felt much better.

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