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The Poet Of A Revolution: Habib Jalib

The Poet Of A Revolution: Habib Jalib

A poet of the people, for the people and by the people; condemning oppression, one couplet at a time. Habib Jalib’s poetry has often been quoted whenever people have faced troubled times in context with leadership. This is due to the relevance of his writings today despite being written in the middle of last century. His honest description of politicians and their cunning ways strike a cord and targets where it hurts the most!

Born in undivided India, Habib Jalib’s early tryst with Delhi’s literary circles found him in good stead. He completed his early education from the Anglo Arabic School in Delhi and moved to Karachi soon after Partition. It was against his will to do so because he was staunchly against the theory of division, since its very inception. His family had a settled business in Delhi but they left it for the port city in the newly born neighbour. This immigration had adverse consequences on their economic status.

During his early days in Karachi, Jalib worked as a proofreader for the daily newspaper Imroze. It was edited by another contemporary of his, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Both Faiz and Jalib shared similar ideas with regards to politics as they were members of the Communist Party of Pakistan and this reflected in their works. They were also an important part of the Progressive Writers Movement along with Saadat Hasan Manto, Ahmed Faraz and Sajjad Zaheer among others.

Habib Jalib’s growth as a poet can be measured as inversely proportional to Pakistan’s evolution as a democracy. He took his pen name from Jalib Dehlvi and took to writing. By the time Jalib was in his early 40s, he was being invited for mushaira from various places. This could be attributed to his use of simple poetic language and emotion-filled style of recitation. Using simple language made him easy to connect with and approachable for the common public. 

The moment which propelled him from being only a poet to the People’s Poet happened during an annual mushaira in the serene and beautiful town of Murree. Political atmosphere during this time in Pakistan was very volatile. Gen. Ayub Khan had seized control and each pillar of the so called democracy was being made to play as per his whims. This poetic symposium was broadcasted all across the country from the Rawalpindi Studio of the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation.

Sardar Iqbal J., a well-known jurist and Chief Justice of the Lahore HC was presiding over this annual mushaira. Jalib met Iqbal J. while on a stroll before the event where the judge asked him about what his recital that evening would be. In his emotional manner Jalib replied that he would be reciting a poem titled 'Dastoor', focusing on the constitution introduced by Gen. Ayub Khan. The judge advised him not to go ahead with it as he could be jailed.

As soon as Jalib finished reciting his poem, the crowd went wild. The gathering was stopped in between and he was arrested along with the station’s director. It was the very first of his many arrests which would be made after such recitals. Thereafter, he was banned from participating in public gatherings. The basis of his arrest as mentioned by the prosecution was for knifing a goon. It came as a surprise to everyone and was also an embarrassment for the Government.

The quick spread of this poem made him a voice for the oppressed. 'Dastoor' has stood the test of time to such an extent that it became a battle cry for the recent Anti-CAA movement in India. It was also used at multiple times in the subcontinent’s history wherever oppressors were at the helm of affairs.

Another instance where Jalib showed the magic of his pen happened during the time of General Ayub. This incident was also picturized in the film 'Zarqa' with a song titled Raqs e Zanjeer, wherein the legend Mehdi Hasan sang Jalib’s words.

An actress who went by the screen name 'Neelo' was called on to entertain Iran’s Shah Reza Pehlavi, who happened to be visiting Pakistan. She declined the request as she felt that performing at private dinners was against her morals. Thereafter, the police was sent to arrest her and she was brought against her will to perform in front of the autocrats. She attempted suicide in order to evade performing but luckily recovered after a heavy treatment. Jalib captured this abuse in his couplet which reads:

"Tu ki nawaqif e adab e shahenshahi thi

Raqs zanjeer pehan kar bhi kiya jaata hai"

He wrote it before meeting 'Neelo' at the hospital while she was undergoing treatment.

During Gen. Yahya’s time, Jalib read a couplet looking at a portrait of the ruler so as to imply that he was speaking to him. He would also go onto do something similar during the Gen. Zia Ul Haq’s regime. Looking at the photo of Gen. Yahya, he recited:

"Tum se pehle jo aik shaḳhs yahan takht nasheen tha

Uss ko bhi apne khuda hone pe itna hi yaqeen tha"

During the regime of Gen. Zia Ul Haq he recited the following couplet while performing the aforementioned actions:

"Sar sar ko saba zulmat ko Zia

Bande ko khuda kya likhna"

This couplet depicted the General as darkness despite his name being a literal translation of the word light. 

Jalib campaigned for Fatima Jinnah against Gen. Ayub’s regime and again for Benzair Bhutto against Gen. Zia Ul Haq. Despite being very close to the Bhutto family, he did not back away from showing them the mirror when they were in power. This shows that his main motive was the betterment of people, contrary to the fact that he was seen as an opportunist by some. One may say that Jalib brought too much of politics into poetry but if it were not for him, this aspect of Urdu may not have been what it is today. 

Jalib was known for his groggy habits and the police used to be on the lookout for apprehending him. A humorous anecdote Jalib once shared was that while traveling in a car he got arrested on the charges of drinking along with a Maulana. Their urine samples were to be sent for tests. Jalib exchanged his sample with that of the Maulana’s. Since, the other personality was well respected in the society, the police couldn’t take any action against him while Jalib got off scot free.

He wrote for the people till his last days. It may be argued that he made the most of political benefits but the aim of his work was to assist people of a nation. If one wrote for a moment of fame, the poetry wouldn’t stand the test of time. Jalib’s poetry is immortal against all oppression. He now rests at his graveyard in Lahore. 

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