Surf the internet and you will find that “Main Baghi Hoon” (I Am a Rebel) has become a popular slogan for many young activists and politicians nationwide. While the slogan has become a staple for various movements, not many know that the phrase is taken from Dr Khalid Javed Jan’s poem of the same name which was written in the late 1970s and has become the heart of resistance poetry today.
“During a visit to India, I was asked why there is this form of militancy and protest in our poetry as compared to other countries,” recalls Jan. “The reality is that it’s the need of a society that generally defines its culture and poetry. And because there has been suppression, dictatorship, violation of human rights in our society, the outcome has been in the form of resistance poetry like in Palestine.”
No pain, no gain
Jan, who wrote his first poem while he was in seventh grade in school, has always been closely associated with the struggle against oppression. The poem “Main Baghi Hoon” was written before martial rule began in 1977 and later became a staple in popular culture due to its revolutionary tone. “This poem was used in underground protests as a weapon against Ziaul Haq.”
Jan had been the leader of a student group called the Eagles, which was protesting martial rule. However, as Joseph Stalin said, “You cannot make a revolution with silk gloves”, Jan also had to undergo his share of harsh times for the cause he was fighting for. During a protest in which an effigy of Zia was burned, Jan’s legs were severely beaten to the extent that he was hospitalised.
However, ironically this incident, apart from bringing pain and permanent scars, also brought him good luck. During his stay in the hospital, some underground activists who had been running a magazine called Struggle, decided to publish “Main Baghi Hoon”. It was through this magazine, which was published in Holland, that the poem was later found in the hands of Pakistan’s future prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who recited it publicly many times.
Power of the pen
Apart from that, Jan has written extensively in both Urdu and Punjabi. His books tend to critique society and the social issues plaguing the country. His latest book of poetry Ishq Khuda tries to address the concept of religious fundamentalism in the hope of promoting love and humanity. At a grassroots level, poetry still remains an important cultural activity and Jan asserts: “Some people don’t have to go to big universities or big schools to learn; there is a thing called folk wisdom. Even today, especially among the working classes, revolutionary poetry and songs are very prevalent.”
Additionally Jan believes that resistance poetry is now more commonly being done in the form of songs by popular mainstream musicians (like Shehzad Roy), who are trying to be direct while referring to political and social issues. “This music may not have been looked at as poetry 25 years ago but things are changing and it is now,” says Jan.
The role of media
Meanwhile, while talking about how mass media has helped the process, Jan says, “The difference between then and now is that people are now openly speaking about these poems through social media platforms such as Facebook. Because the world is so interconnected, the authorities can’t silence you anymore.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 27th, 2012.