Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Habib Jalib: The word of truth

Today is the 20th death anniversary of Urdu poet Habib Jalib (Jalib was born on March 24, 1928 and died on March 12, 1993.) , additional box quotes have been added to the original article and attributed- ed note

By M. Taqi

“Aur sab bhool gaye harf-e-sadaqat likhna
Reh gaya kaam humara hi baghawat likhna
Kuch bhi kehtay hain, kahain shah kay musahib Jalib
Rang rakhna yehi apna, issi soorat likhna.”

Everyone else forgot how to write the word of truth
It was left to me to write of dissent and disobedience 
Whatever the king’s companions may say Jalib
Maintain this colour of yours, and write just as you do. 

These two verses of Habib Jalib’s ghazal inscribed on the inner flap of his collected works just about sum up his approach to poetry — and resistance. The great Palestinian revolutionary poet Mahmoud Darwish once said that every beautiful poem is an act of resistance. But in the case of Jalib, every act of his revolutionary resistance turned out to be a beautiful poem. An anthology of Jalib’s poetry reads virtually like a chronology of the people’s resistance movements against tyranny in Pakistan.

Yeh aijaz hae husn-e-awargi

ka Jahan bhi gaye dastan
chorr aye

This the miracle of our wandering

Wherever we went we left a story
Dr A Mirza
According to Professor Sinan Antoon, Darwish considered himself a poet of the
Trojans, “recollecting and reconstructing the voices of the defeated”, because “the Trojans would have expressed a different narrative than that of Homer, but their voices are forever lost”. As intriguing and interesting as it sounds, one is not sure whether an after-the-fact reconstruction is an act of resistance or lamentation. In the person and poetry of Jalib, on the other hand, the oppressed had a unique voice — a clarion call and their storyteller rolled into one — that was writing an alternative epic as history unfolded. While deconstructing the official narrative, he called the masses to action with the words and slogans they could relate to. His idea of resistance was not to write an elegy of the vanquished but to lead and cheer the subjugated to topple the proverbial Bastille.

Jalib showed no mercy in deflating the bloated egos and flaying the fa├žade of military dictators and their henchmen. He himself had narrated that once he ran into the court poet and arch reactionary Hafeez Jullundhri and intended only to make small talk. But Jullundhri apparently went off on a grandiose speech about being appointed the advisor to the military ruler Ayub Khan and how Ayub took his counsel on matters large and small. To top it off Jullundhri added that he had advised the Field Marshal to fix that miscreant Jalib! His response to the ilk of Jullundhri and his benefactor was, of course, his immortal poem Musheer (political advisor).

During a Balochistan Students Organisation meeting in Quetta's Ayub Park, Jalib Sahib read this historical poem that directly addressed the Nawab:

Listen Akbar Bugti

I say the upsetting truth

This is a people's movement

It can't be stopped no matter what you try

Listen Akbar Bugti

These Baloch people are like mountains

Your destination is the throne

Theirs, freedom

Now beg of politicians 'cause

Nothing else will save you now

Listen Akbar Bugti.
-translation by Babar S Mirza
Jalib’s poetry steers clear of ideological grandstanding and literary pomposity. It is clearly the work of an activist who had been in the trenches and unfolds an action plan rather than a nuanced critique of a nebulous oppressor. Converting lofty ideals into issues, characters and words that are tangible for the common man is something that perhaps no progressive Urdu poet except Jalib could do in Pakistan. This is most likely why the great Faiz Ahmed Faiz called Jalib the only awami shaair (people’s poet) of Pakistan.

When asked about his comparison with Faiz sahib, Jalib had quipped: “Woh toh wilayati whiskey hein aur mein chirri marka thurra” (Faiz is imported liquor while I am bootleg moonshine)! But this was perhaps his usual unassuming attitude as he had the hardest task of all the Urdu poets — reaching out to millions whose mother language was not Urdu, in a version of Urdu that they could grasp. In a language whose tradition boasts of a fusion of the Arabic meter, Persian vocabulary and figures of speech anchored in the cultures and history of those languages, it is a herculean task to create political literature pegged to the native culture.

Jalib’s revolutionary poetry is in a league of its own in Urdu literature. Unlike the many greats including Faiz, Ahmed Faraz and Iftikhar Arif who were influenced by the Progressive Writers Movement as well as classical Urdu poetry and world literature, Jalib’s verse is rooted deeply in the land and idiom of those whom he wrote for. There is little if any impact of the North Indian Urdu tradition on Jalib’s verse despite having spent time in Delhi, listening to the masters like Bekhud Dehlvi. Habib Ahmed’s nom de plume Jalib — adopted because it rhymes with Ghalib — is perhaps the only exception.

While the rise of other leading progressive lights was on the Anglicised university campuses, Jalib had joined Comrade Haider Bux Jatoi’s Marxist outfit Sindh Hari (Peasants) Committee (SHC) at a very early stage, providing him contact with the masses and a hands-on experience that many lacked. When the SHC joined the National Awami Party (NAP) in 1957, it started Jalib’s association with the NAP and its various successors that ended only with his death.

They say I don't have any love for the homeland

And are using machine guns to teach me the love

I can't call oppression a blessing, a fool that I am,

And that's the title they have given me.
-trans by Babar S Mirza
Jalib visited Peshawar to address the ANP’s election rallies in 1988 and 1990. During the 1990 visit he fell ill. As a third year medical student, no less, I was summoned to care for him. After a few hours of treatment he suddenly got up and
said, “Bhai Taqi, I have to leave now.” A senior Pashtun doctor and family members, who had arrived by now, told him that he was not well enough to leave. He responded that he had to recite at the rally that night and must leave forthwith. When confronted with the fact that the rally was in the late evening, he finally said: “Mujhay sherni ka doodh peena hai” (I have got to have the lioness’ milk). The Pashtun friends were a little perplexed. Finally, after I interpreted for them that Jalib has to get in the right mood for the rally, he was freed from the Pashtun hospital and hospitality. More on conversations with him some other time, but among the politicians he had nothing but praise for the late Wali Khan and Aitzaz Ahsan. For Aitzaz he would say: “Oh te saada baalka ai” (He is like a son to me).

Habib Jalib was an era, and that cannot be squeezed in one column’s space.

(English translation of verses from Waqas Khawaja.)

-this article was first published by the Daily Times of Pakistan on the 8th of March 2012 It has been republished with no copyright infringement intended.

The writer can be reached at mazdaki@me.com. He tweets at http://twitter.com/mazdaki

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