With intermittent spells of military rule while civilian governments, when in place, ranged from authoritarian and/or inept, Pakistan’s polity has not been very kind towards its people through most of the country’s history. But a resilient spirit of opposition always persisted despite all attempts at repression – and a few intrepid Urdu/Punjabi poets were right in the vanguard.
A hybrid language that developed to let the subcontinent’s disparate peoples communicate with each other while used (in a more refined version) by the elite, Urdu, with its courtly background and wide intelligibility, is well suited for expressing protest – with courtesy! And poets were quick to use it – though they suffered for their effrontery!
Urdu’s first satirist Jafar Zatalli’s ridicule of Aurangzeb’s inept successors led to one of them, Emperor Farrukhsiyar, condemning him to death in 1713. His fate didn’t deter his literary successors.
In modern times, “Shair-e-Mashriq” Allama Iqbal, in “Shikwa” (1909), addressed his protest to the highest authority conceivable (“Shikwa Allah se khakam badahan hai mujh ko”) and Faiz Ahmed “Faiz” displayed quite an anti-authoritarian stance – e.g. ‘Ham Dekhenge’ (and Iqbal Bano’s live, spirited rendition in 1985 at the height of Zia-ul-Haq’s reign).
When Iskandar Mirza and Ayub Khan’s military coup ended Pakistan’s first turbulent spell of democracy, the new dispensation came under attack – by poets too. In 1959, a year after Ayub assumed sole power, a poet in a ‘mushaira’ being broadcast live from Rawalpindi declaimed: “Kahin gas ka dhuan hai/Kahin golion ki baarish/Shab-e-ahd-e-kam nigahen/Tujhe kis tarah sarahein”.
The programme was abruptly taken off, the director transferred and the poet jailed. It would be the first, but certainly not the last prison term for Habib Ahmad “Jalib” (1928-93).
He attacked Ayub’s 1962 constitution in “Dastoor” with its uncompromising refrain: “Aise dastoor ko/Subh-e-be-noor ko/Main nahi maanta, Main nahi jaanta” (reprised in subsequent stanzas: “Zulm ki baat ko/Jahl ki raat ko/Main nahi maanta, Main nahi jaanta”, “Is khule jhoot ko/Zehn ki loot ko/Main nahi maanta, Main nahi jaanta” and finally “Tum nahi charaagar/Koi maane magar/Main nahi maanta, Main nahi jaanta”)
The prevalent crony capitalism inspired: “Bees gharane hai abaad!/Aur croroon hai nashaad!/Sadr-e-Ayub zindabad!”
In Yahya Khan’s time, Jalib, addressing his portrait at a mushaira, said: “Tujhse pehle wo jo ek shaks yahaan takht-nasheen tha/Usko bhi apna khuda hone ka itna hi yaqeen tha”. A latter work bemoaned: “Dakuan da je saath na dende pind da pahredar/Aj pairaan zanjeer na hondi jeet na hondi haar/Paggan apne gal wich pa lo turo pet de bhar/Chadh jaye, te mushkil lehndi bootan di sarkar.”
In Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s time, the peremptory summons to a prominent actress to perform for the Shah of Iran at the prime minister’s Sindh mansion led to the iconic: “Larkane chalo/Warna thaane chalo/Apne hoton ki laali lutane chalo/Warna thaane chalo/Jism ki lauh se shame jalane chalo/Warna thane chalo/Gaane chalo/Warna thaane chalo.”
Zia-ul-Haq was pilloried in “Zulmat ko Zia” (literally darkness to light): “Is zulm-o-sitam ko lutf-o-karam/Is dukh ko dawa kya likhna/Zulmat ko zia, sar sar ko saba/Bande ko khuda kya likhna”.
Jalib’s Punjabi counterpart was Chiragh Deen “Ustaad Daman” (1911-84), a legend of pre- and post-1947 Lahore whose creed was: “Istage te hoyi te asi Sikandar honde han/Istage ton thale uthriye te asi Qalandar honde han/Jab ‘Daman’ ulajh jaaye hukumat se/Te asi chup-chap andar honden han”.
He made his first trip to jail, when at a mushaira early into the Ayub era, he recited: “Sadde mulk diyan maujan hi maujan/Jithe dekho faujan hi faujan”.
Further trouble came when Daman questioned Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto: “Ae ki kari jaanaa, ki kari jaanaa/Kadi Shimle jaanaa hai, te kabhi Murree jaanaa/Ae ki kari jaanaa, tada tar jaanaa hai, tada toos jaanaa hai/Jithe jaanna hai, ban ke tu jaloos jaanna hai/Kadi Cheen jaanaa, kadi Roos jaanna hai/Kadi ban ke Amriki jasoos jaanaa/Oye ki kari jaanaa/Laae khes jaanna, khichi dari jaanaa hai/Qaum da tu kaddi phloos jaanna hai” (as recited by new “Khabar Naak” host Naeem Bokhari in a recent episode). A police raid on his house led to “bombs” being found and it was jail again.
Daman also provided the best requiem for 1947. “Bhanve mouhon na kahiye, par vicho vich/Khoye tusi vi o khoye asi ve aan” and ending: “Lali akhiyan di payi das di ae/Roye tusi ve o, roye asi ve aan”. Its recital during his India visit reduced Pandit Nehru to tears.
The point is lost if we treat them as Pakistani poets only and forget the larger message of politicians and their hubris is not confined to their country but has wider application in the region and especially now!
(27.09.2015 – Vikas Datta is an Associate Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )