Friday, November 14, 2003

Iqbal's Soul

Iqbal's Soul

The hotel bellboy, Iqbal helps me to hail a cab on most mornings. Usually we will exchange some pleasantries and if I am not in a hurry, I will ask him about life in his hometown of Bukittinggi, Sumatra. That's how I learn my Indonesian geography.

Today, I woke up late and it was already 9.15am when I came down to the lobby to hail a cab with Iqbal's help. I asked Iqbal how he is able to wake up so early (5.00am) every morning to go to work. He replied: "Pak, you can get your soul to wake you up".

My taxi came and I spent the entire ride to office pondering those intriguing words from Iqbal. I never knew the soul could be summoned to run errands like an obedient butler. It is an interesting thought.

Many mystics and occultists believe that our souls go wandering about while we are asleep. Instead of allowing them to loiter everywhere, we might as well assign them to do some productive work. Can I get my soul to fetch the morning papers and serve me breakfast in bed too?

Iqbal's comment provided me with food for thought for an entire morning. I was suddenly reminded of Yeats' poem, A Dialogue of Self and Soul which I had read during my college days. The poem was in my copy of Faber Book of Modern Verse, my regular bedside companion then.

I immediately searched for the poem through the Internet and reread it again. It is one that is rich in thought and imagery: The Soul and the Self are engaged in a debate; the former is lofty and idealistic, with an intellect that "ascends to Heaven", seeking deliverance from mortal bonds that are "emblematic of love and war". The Self, however remains steadfast in its mortal struggles and attempts to find contentment in its "frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch".

If my soul is a bit like Yeats' Soul in the poem, then I don't see how it is possible to get him to give me morning calls. It will be beneath him to descent from his "winding ancient stair". Maybe there's a way to convince your soul to do such menial work. I think I must consult the bellboy Iqbal again.

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