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THIS year, too, as usual, quite a few books on Iqbal have appeared. But to pay tribute to Iqbal on his birth anniversary, falling on Nov 9, a brief intro to the new edition of a book, consisting mainly of an essay by Iqbal on Bergson and Bedil, would be befitting.

It is quite rare that an Urdu book, and that, too, a scholarly one, runs into a second edition. Rarer still is the fourth edition of such a book. So it takes quite a while to overcome the awe created by the fact that the fourth edition of Mutal’a-i-Bedil: fikr-i-Bergson ki roushni mein, has just come out.

Originally written in English and titled Bedil in the light of Bergson, it is an Urdu translation of a longish essay by Allama Iqbal. The fact that it bears Allama Iqbal’s name must have contributed to its popularity, of course, but it would have not been possible without a flowing Urdu translation of this philosophical work. Rendered into impeccable Urdu by Prof Dr Tehseen Firaqi, and published with a facsimile of the original manuscript, handwritten by Iqbal, the idiomatic and chaste translation is as gripping as the English text. It reminds one of the fact that Iqbal was not only a poet, but a scholar, too, something overshadowed by his status as a great poet of Persian and Urdu.

Prof Dr Tehseen Firaqi had come to know about the handwritten manuscript of this article by Iqbal and it was first published in English after Firaqi’s editing, a task that must have been cumbersome as Iqbal’s handwritten manuscript was not as legible as one would have desired (the facsimile published in the book is a testimony to this statement). Later, on the insistence of lovers of Iqbal, Firaqi translated it into Urdu. When the facsimile of manuscript and Urdu translation were put together — along with the English typescript — it took the shape of a book. Lahore’s Universal Books had published it in 1988. Later, it was reprinted by Iqbal Academy and they have just published its fourth edition.

To make it easier to understand what Iqbal has written in his article, Firaqi has highlighted its important aspects in his intro to the book. But prior to that, he has succinctly described the intellectual similarities — and dissimilarities — between Iqbal and the two colossi, Bergson and Bedil, whose ideas had inspired Iqbal. Firaqi says that since the very beginning till his last days, Iqbal had been an admirer of the dynamic concept of life as reflected by Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil Azeemabadi (1642-1720) in his Persian poetry. While comparing Bedil with Ghalib, Iqbal wrote that though Ghalib tried to follow Bedil’s language, style and ideas, he remained largely unsuccessful as the contemporaries and followers of Bedil, including Ghalib, could not find the real meaning behind Bedil’s wordings, writes Firaqi quoting from Iqbal.

Iqbal was more inspired by Bedil for his concept of reality, truth and his faith in greatness of human endeavours, though Iqbal had admitted that he had learnt much from many great thinkers and poets, including Bedil, Ghalib, Goethe, Hegel and Wordsworth. Both Iqbal and Bedil, says Firaqi, detested the kind of Sufism that was devoid of dynamic thoughts and that encouraged the mystics to remain inactive, relying too much on destiny or the will of God. Discussing Bedil’s place of birth, Firaqi says that it has been established through modern research that Bedil was born in Azeemabad (Patna) and though Iqbal has called him “Bedil of Akberabad”, Bedil was not born in Akberabad (Agra).

Henri Bergson (1859-1941), the French philosopher, had impressed and influenced Iqbal much. There are certain ideas that seem common in Iqbal and Bergson. Bergson’s thoughts on time, space, intuition and indeed his famous ‘Elan vital’ had become very popular in the first quarter of the last century. His idea of “Duration’, or “maroor-i-mehez”, as translated by Firaqi, is also reflected in Iqbal’s poetry. Bergson premised that free will could exist outside time and space as time was heterogeneous and could not be divided into parts, an idea that attracted Iqbal because of its similarity with the idea of time as presented by some of the Muslim thinkers.

Iqbal’s article emphasises the glory of humanity and, as he had done before, criticises some ideas proffered by Sufis. In the words of Iqbal: “The history of man is a stern reality and the glory of human personality consists not in gradual self-evaporation but self-fortification by continual purification and assimilation. If God, as Bedil seems to teach, is essentially life and movement then it is not through an intuitive slumber, but through life and movement alone that we can approach Him”.

The book has already been translated into Persian and an Italian translation is on its way. A scholar and writer of over two dozen books, Tehseen Firaqi, has served as head of the Urdu Department at Punjab University and now heads Majlis-i-Taraqqi-i-Adab, Lahore.

Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2018

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