ISLAMABAD: Josh Malihabadi, the ‘poet of revolution’, the ‘hazrat’, the ‘kaafir’, was given yet another title on Tuesday at the Aiwan-i-Urdu during a conference marking his 29th death anniversary. The conference’s participants agreed that the honour due to him had gone unpaid and conferred upon him the epithet ‘poet of rebellion’.
Renowned poet Iftikhar Arif, the chief guest at the occasion, said that the “trend-setting poet” had left behind not just a monumental body of poetry but also an equally impressive body of prose, which is often ignored.
Dr Ghazanfar Mehdi lamented the fact that no public officials were present at Josh’s funeral, illustrating the depth to which the poet was maligned by the establishment. He said he was grieved that Josh, considered by many as the “identity of Urdu literature” had not been given the honour due to him. In a well-timed comparison, he noted that even Faiz Ahmed Faiz was not given the kind of reception or applause in a poetry recital as Josh.
Since education is now a matter of provincial discretion, Mehdi urged Farooq Sattar to work towards convincing Sindh’s educational institutions to convene more Josh events and “own him”, as he was “one of us, not a kaafir.” Josh’s grand-daughter Tabassum Akhlaq, who is also the president of Josh Memorial Committee, lauded the PPP for always upholding the cause of poets, writers and artists but expressed disappointment over the fact that no road or avenue in Islamabad was named after her grandfather.
Sattar felt that in order to be exonerated in front of Josh, we would have to raise a loud voice of rebellion against all the cruelties and injustices of the world. He said it was a falsehood to think that Josh went unappreciated only under dictatorial governments, as the case did not seem to be very different under any democratic government either. He said, “it is not possible for someone like Josh to be honoured by the very establishment to whom he is showing the mirror.”
Following Sattar’s address and the sudden disappearance of almost half of the participants, Afshan Malik observed that Josh’s rebellion was directed against three elements: society’s archaic customs, the government of Britain and his own inner man. In her opinion, “rebels bring change to the world.”
Shabnam Shakeel said that Josh commanded honour even from those who bitterly disagreed with his views. In a personal narrative, she shared her own story of discovering what an “emphatic and compassionate soul” he actually was.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 24th, 2011.