Revisiting Syed Mohammad Jafri’s biting poem ‘Ruet-e-Hilal Committee’
The moon – even the Eid version of it – is a recurrent theme in world literature, signifying beauty and joy. However, in countries like ours, it can also become a divisive issue, especially when politicised. Pakistan’s minister for Science and Technology has repeatedly called for the dissolution of the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, the body responsible for the sighting of the new moon. In the past there have been repeated clashes between the clerics in Peshawar and the central committee in Islamabad, and recently between the government and the committee itself.
Notwithstanding the controversies and politics over the sighting of the moon and the age-old schism between faith and science, some of our humorous poets have expressed the situation in Pakistan in a light manner. One such poet is Syed Mohammad Jafri, who though held his own while he was alive, unfortunately could not become a household name after his untimely passing away in 1976. He is one of our few humorous poets who reached the high standard of social and political satire and comedy vacated by the great Akbar Allahabadi. The poem presented below, my original translation of his work simply titled Ruet-e-Hilal Committee (Committee for Moon Sighting), is a fine example of Jafri’s trademark humour.
The poem was written in response to an event in Ayub Khan’s Pakistan whence the committee was composed to sight the Eid moon in 1962. The lone news regarding the new moon came from the Malakand Agency at midnight, on the basis of which Eid was announced in Pakistan. The people, however, were totally unsatisfied with this decision. Because the announcement of the Eid moon was done on an official level, only the sympathisers of the government and government officials celebrated Eid that day.
A few literary and cultural metaphors occurring in the poem need to be explained here for the uninitiated reader. A line in the second stanza (“And in homes there was such disharmony”) in the original poem refers to jootiyon me daal batna, implying discord and dispute. While the very last couplet – which as the reader will note is in quotation marks – ‘I was amazed…my next destination’ – is actually Ghalib’s verse with Jafri’s slight alteration. This serves as a fine example of inserting a verse of Ghalib in Jafri’s own poem to create humour, something which was Jafri’s forte. So read on and may the Eid moon be with you.
Ruet-e-Hilal Committee by Syed Mohammad Jafri
“That Committee for the Sighting of the Forbidden deserves congratulation
For terminating the fasting before the expected duration
And they organised the evidence in such a manner
That the people were separated from the government officer
The perches for the iftars were all ruined
Raised from the hotels, for the brains the curtains now became destined
The deputy commissioners finally saw the new moon
At the home of the Ramazanis, life became a misfortune
Shawwal entered their homes with great dignity
And in homes there was such disharmony
‘I was amazed whether to cry out my heart or subject it to flagellation’
I asked everybody where should be my next destination’.”
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