There was a time when revolutionary poets not only existed in Pakistan, but also held the people’s hearts in their hands. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a popular poet today whose ideological orientation is explicit, let alone find one with truly mass appeal. You can quite literally read one and walk away with absolutely no sense of his/her ideological sensibilities.
Things were different in the past. Habib Jalib’s politically inspiring verses were not just appreciated by a small and exclusive club of the intellectual elite. “His fan club was composed of admirers from wide swathes of society, including critics, general readers, labourers and political activists,” remarked Prof Fateh Muhammad Malik, Rector International Islamic University. He presided over a seminar organised by the Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) to commemorate the revolutionary poet’s death anniversary who died on March 12, 1993.
Akhtar Usman, shedding light on the life of the poet, derided political activists for reducing Jalib’s poetry to political slogans. In his view, the luminary’s poetic aesthetic and deep sensitivity had largely been ignored, leading to an “erroneous assessment of his rightful place in literature”.
Those who think Pakistan has not had its share of writers and intellectuals ready to make lofty sacrifices for society need only read Jalib.
According to Dr Ravish Nadeem, Jalib, who was a Marxist and deeply opposed to authoritarianism in all its forms, was never a “sellout”. He successfully conveyed the problems and aspirations of the common people of his time to the ruling clique, often at his own expense.
Poet Jalil Aali expressed his admiration for the poet’s commitment to his ideology and to the cause of the people never compromising on principle. He lauded Jalib’s ability of completely capturing his audience’s attention and arousing passionate fervour with emotionally charged recitals of his own ghazals or verses.
In a rather broad exposition of the poet’s work and social impact, Prof Yusuf Hassan noted that Jalib’s timeless message “lay not in his nazm but in his ghazal”. He remained hopeful that the mature and refined artistic beauty of his poetry would live on well into the future.
Since the PAL Chairperson was unable to join the gathering, the academy’s director-general, Abdaal Bela, thanked the guests on the former’s behalf.
Some, including Prof Malik, proposed that studying the works of luminaries such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Jalib may elucidate Pakistan’s history much better than any textbook, and thus, help us deepen our understanding of our country’s past and present. It is lamentable that many of our greatest intellects presently exist in the far margins of our people’s consciousness.
For those with a literary bent of curiosity, PAL has recently published an introductory book on Jalib titled ‘Makers of Pakistani Literature’ and plans to publish a special issue of Adabiyat on his life and work.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2011.