Monday, 27 February 2017

Why didn't Iqbal & Premchand get Nobel?

R C Zehmer, the only European (Anglo-Dutch) Spalding professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics, recently questioned Nobel Committee's 'glaring omissions' of India's Munshi Premchand and Muhammad Iqbal. It's really intriguing that these two stalwarts were never considered for Nobel, despite being in the anthology of world's finest 100 literary figures of all time and even getting placed ahead of Tagore, India's sole Nobel laureate. Though I'm no admirer of Tagore, I've always felt that in spite of his rather banal English ranslations of 103 Bengali poems, there's a kind of universality in his Gitanjali  that deeply moves the hearts. And this very aspect of universality is something that's lacking in Premchand's works and Iqbal's poetry.


I may sound sacrilegious and profane, but this is an unpalatable truth, which cannot be denied. The first and foremost condition of conferring Nobel's the transcendental quality of the writer or poet's oeuvre. ' A writer should evince relatable ethos and collective universalism through his / her corpus of works.' On this count, Premchand and Iqbal both fall rather short to become truly transcendental. Iqbal, before becoming a rabidly Muslim poet with monomaniac vision of Islam being the one and only religion, was a very fine poet, who was heavily 'inspired' by his teacher and mentor at Berlin University, the redoubtable Friedrich Nietzsche.


A close analysis reveals that Iqbal's earlier works were only poetry of Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer's prose works!!! Iqbal was unabashedly influenced by Nietzschean Ubermensch (superhuman) concept. His 'Khudi' (ego, actually 'superego') is nothing new, when pitted against Schopenhauer's 'will, Free Will and Volition'. It's worthwhile to mention that Paul Egrine, a very accomplished poet and translator of European and Semitic languages, who was on the Nobel Committe for literature (1924-29), detected this unwitting 'plagiaristic facet' in Iqbal's otherwise cultured, if not sublime, poetry. He opined, 'A poet with borrowed ideas could only limit himself to his community or at the most, to his country but he can never go beyond that to be universally acknowledged.' This was his perception of Iqbal's earlier works and after that Iqbal became so pathologically Muslim that it pained even those who liked him very much. Can a poet who could write: "Rahmatein hain teri aghiyaar ke kashanon par / Barq girti hai toh bechare Musalmanon par (" You bestow your grace upon the infidels, non-Muslims /  Your blitzkreig falls on poor Muslims", from 'Shikwa', The Complaint) win a universal award like Nobel?


 Never. As for Premchand's works, though his  novels, Ghaban, Premashram,Nirmala, Kaya-Kalp and the magnum opus Godan are great, but can they be called relevant to all ages and times? His sensibilities and concerns are honest and genuine, but not universal or global. The occidental sensibilities have nothing to do with the plight of poor peasants of India, so poignantly depicted by the great novelist.

Moreover, you can't deny the occasional oversentimentalism in Premchand's stories and novels and a bit too much helplessness of his characters. Whereas, Tagore's god's universal consciousness with no sectarian leanings like those of Allama Iqbal. Furthermore, Tagore's poems in Gitanjali  are disarmingly simple with no pretensions of pedantry. But readers are free to form their own opinions, not necessarily agreeing with me.             
                                                ----Sumit Paul

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