How Syed Mohammad Jafri’s satirical take on PIA went from comic to tragic

But reading Jafri’s vicious satire after another horrific tragedy is not an attempt to gloss over the loss of lives

Raza Naeem June 04, 2020
It has been a revelation reading and re-reading selected poems of the great Urdu humourist poet Syed Mohammad Jafri during the physical lockdown brought about by Covid-19, and the material lockdown brought about by the recently-concluded Ramazan. From his satirical poems parodying classical Urdu greats like Nazir Akbarabadi and Mir to the foibles of our politicians, the frailties of the United Nations (UN) and the frustrations of living in Karachi, to the lampoons of Pakistan’s Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, Jafri offers sharp comic relief from the banalities and mediocrities of life, even in Naya Pakistan. However, the poem of his which immediately came back to – no, haunted – me as soon as I heard of the disastrous crash of PIA flight PK-8303 in Karachi was “PIA Se Safar (Travelling by PIA).

However, almost two decades before I read this poem, the national airline of my beloved country was introduced to me on a chilly evening in Leeds during my postgraduate studies by my Japanese classmate when she described PIA as ‘Perhaps I Arrive’. While all of us laughed it off as a joke at the time, I was quite embarrassed in hindsight knowing that the reputation of PIA had fallen to such an extent that it was no more one of our worst-kept national secrets; it had clearly gone international, like its unique selling proposition (USP) ‘Great people to fly with.’

The value of reading Jafri’s vicious satire is not an attempt to gloss over the loss of lives in the recent tragedy, but rather to notice how it was still possible to laugh at the imperfections of the national airline during the 1960s and 70s since they had not yet become fatal. Re-reading this poem today made me realise that it is now no longer possible to poke fun at PIA in the relatively light, giggle-inducing manner evident throughout this poem, which was Jafri’s forte. More specifically, I am thinking perhaps had he been alive today, Jafri would have had sufficient reason to rewrite the second verse of this poem as ‘Aur is men bujh raha hai meri umar ka diya’ (And within it the lamp of my life is being extinguished).


PIA Se Safar by Syed Mohammad Jafri

At a height of so many thousands of feet is PIA

And within it the lamp of my life is burning away

This universe of angels, this blue expanse

And this wealth of life floating within like happenstance

Evident are the features of the colourful face of the regions

Those nets of the paths, those folds of the mountains

On the horizon everywhere that foggy day

And on the velvet floor those streams curling away

Like a carpet the clouds are at the feet below

Like the beauty of a soft and white pillow

May in these clouds keep revolving the soul of the human

And they are kissed too by the light of the sun

When the food was served such that there was just the leg of a rooster

The tourist class was told do not demand anything further

 Between cold and hot too was poised the coffee

Like a suspicious beloved bent on treachery

Was it an orange whose youth had faded

Or that gaze of the beloved which became totally jaded.”

Raza Naeem
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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