The words of others

Faiz Ahmed Faiz with friends: Faiz’s poetry is now being used to advertise phones

Habib Jalib: anti-establishment

Opposition to the military regime was marked by a liberal ethos, a value-system that stressed constitutionalism, rule of law, and the independence of judiciary, rather than identifying with the politics of redistribution or attacking Pakistan’s problem uno supremo: poverty

My piece published in the Friday Times last week

For decades, Pakistan’s poets and writers have defied conventions and the almighty establishment. Rooted in the progressive writers’ movement, the literature of resistance was a pro-people ideology that kept redistribution of power and resources at its core. The great poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz was often jailed and kept on the margins of the literary and cultural establishment and castigated as a “foreign agent” and “anti-Pakistan.” Scores of other writers had to suffer torture and silencing by the state when they challenged its arbitrariness. Habib Jalib faced similar treatment and died a poor man after decades of acting as the poetic conscience of a nation.

It was the lyrical, direct poetry of Habib Jalib that stirred the street for decades, echoing the vision of the world from below. Jalib’s expression was popular and immediate, and could be related to easily by the average listener. During the rule of General Ayub Khan, from 1958 until 1969, Jalib particularly represented the public conscience when he chanted his poem Dastoor (Constitution), which was about Ayub Khan’s tailor-made “constitution.” Later, this work was utilised in support of Fatima Jinnah’s (the Quaid-e-Azam’s younger sister’s) campaign against the general:

Aisay dastoor ko,

Subh-e-baynoor ko,

Mein naheen manta,

Mein naheen janta

(I do not accept/I do not recognise/A constitution that resembles/A morning with no light).

In 2008, we saw the Punjab Chief Minister chanting these lines. The poetry has come full circle. While the Chief Minister’s […]