Baba-i-Urdu had left no will for his burial — Jamiluddin Aali

By Naseer Ahmad


The living room of Dr Nawabzada Mirza Jamiluddin Khan Aali’s 6th floor apartment is heavily decorated with pictures – hanging on the walls and sitting on the bookshelves and other pieces of furniture. In one picture, as a child Aali is seated in a chair with an elder brother standing beside him. Then as life proceeds, he is depicted in various roles. Pictures show him with various presidents -- Ayub Khan, Rafiq Tarar and Ghulam Ishaq Khan – with foreign dignitaries, in literary delegations on foreign lands. There are pictures of his ancestors, the rulers of Loharu state, which is now a sub-division of Indian Punjab. Jostling for space are shields, framed references and certificates and various awards he has received over the decades.

Born on January 20, 1925 in Delhi into a literary and princely family, Aali embarked on his poetic journey at an early age. As most Urdu poets do, he began with the ghazal (lyrical poem). He drifted to the doha (poem describing a whole idea in two lines) when barriers were erected between him and the girl he loved and wanted to marry. Unlike Majnoon, Punnoo, Farhad, Ranjha and other Romeos, he was fortunate enough that the issue got resolved amicably and he tied the nuptial knot at age 19 when the bride was over 25. The two, blessed with three sons and two daughters, have been living happily since.

He passed the CSS examination in 1951 and joined the Pakistan Taxation Service. His career saw many ups and downs and he joined the National Bank of Pakistan as its vice president in 1967 and retired from it as its senior executive vice president in 1988.His poetry, however, found a renewed stimulant when he took a fancy to a boy, who grew up to be a senior police officer and died from cancer in his lap. Tears welled up in Aali’s eyes while he described the day when the dying man’s mother telephoned him to be with her son at his dying moments. “People say what they may, but there was nothing carnal or immoral about it. I loved him intensely and wrote couplets about him. I even dedicated one of my books to him.”

Before him, only a couple of Indian poets were known for writing dohas. But after him there have been many who wrote in the genre and earned a name for themselves. Aali appreciates their efforts. Partau Roheela of Lahore is one of the big names. “Some of them have written very good dohas. I have published only 418, but some poets have as many as 1,000 in published form,” he said in interview on Saturday.

At mushairas Aali recited dohas in his melodious voice, which became instant hit and made him one of the most sought-after poets at poetry recitals. Some critics, however, say Aali’s dohas are not in the correct Hindi form. ‘Insan’, a poem containing some 7,500 lines, is the latest feather in his cap. “Some 2,500 lines were censored out.” Critics find it as an unusual feat of perseverance and hard work. He says people might take a few more years to study and understand the merits of this poem. His poetry collections include Ghazlain, dohay, geet, Lahasil, Aye meray dasht-i-sukhan and Jeevay, jeevay Pakistan, which contains his popular national songs such as Aye watan kay sajeelay jawano…, Aye mao, bheno, betio, …. and Jeevay, jeevay Pakistan, sung by Shehnaz Begum. He has visited many countries and written travelogues about three of them, including Iceland, a country no other writer from the subcontinent has written on. He has been writing a weekly Urdu column for over 45 years and the columns have filled several volumes. He has written prefaces to books published by the Anjuman and their number has crossed the figure of 250, most of them published in four volumes. At least eight theses and books have highlighted his literary achievements.

Aali, however, plays down his literary achievements, saying he could not focus on literary work hard enough as he had taken upon himself several jobs at the same time. He was a top executive of the National Bank, honourary secretary of the Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu, a founding member and secretary of the Writers Guild. He also campaigned for the establishment of the Pakistan Academy of Letters. He has done a lot for the welfare of scholars and poets, and helped hundreds of people get jobs.

He was abroad in 1962 when he received a telegram that Maulvi Abdul Haq, reverently called Baba-i-Urdu, was on his deathbed and wanted to see him. He cut short his visit and returned to be with the man who had devoted his life to the cause of Urdu. “He handed over to me the reins of Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu he had founded more than 50 years before, and made me its honorary secretary,” recalls Aali. He has held that position since, but has not yet found a suitable person to don the mantle after him. Under him, the Anjuman has published more than 300 books. He also seeks PhD theses of Karachi University’s Urdu department for publication and pays for them.

“In recognition of his great services to the Urdu language, I found it befitting to bury Maulvi sahib on the Anjuman’s premises. I knew it was not legal and even the property had not been transferred to the Anjuman’s name. But I asked a group of students to dig up a grave. The death had been announced through radio and newspapers and a mammoth crowd had gathered on M.A. Jinnah road for Maulvi sahib’s funeral.

“After the prayer, when the funeral procession moved towards the grave site, the then commissioner inquired where we were heading. When I explained it to him, he was incensed. ‘No’, he said. ‘You can’t bury him on the Anjuman’s premises. That’s not a burial place’. I said, ‘Well, that was Maulvi sahib’s will. But if you think it is illegal, you make the crowd understand your viewpoint.’ And I grabbed the mike and announced through the public address system that the commissioner was not allowing the burial on the Anjuman premises. The crowd became furious, the commissioner panicked and escaped the scene, saying that he would have the body exhumed and buried somewhere else.

“A group of students kept a day-night vigil on the grave for 40 days when we had it cemented, and averted the row.” He, however, admits that the ‘will’ claim was just an excuse to ensure Baba-i-Urdu’s burial and, “In fact, there was no such will left by Maulvi sahib”.

For the sake of education, Aali deems justifiable trivial moral aberrations. “Maulvi sahib had advised me several times to have established an Urdu university. An opportunity presented itself as I saw a large tract of land along University Road. I reminded the then administrator of the Karachi Development Authority, who was from Punjab, that Punjab had always done great service to Urdu and if he could allot that piece of land for an Urdu university, it would be a great service to the cause of the language. He agreed but insisted that we pay a nominal price of Rs3 million. We did not even have Rs30,000, but I promised that I will arrange the money. So I went to moneyed people such as Seth Daud and collected and paid Rs100,000 to the KDA and took possession of the land on the promise that the remaining amount would be paid in instalments. But somehow we got away with it and then came the era of nationalization and the KDA received its dues from the federal government.”

The many awards he has received include the President’s Pride of Performance Hilal-i-Imtiaz, Canadian Urdu Academy Award, Sant Kabeer Award and Kamal-i-Fun Award. Besides, he has received honorary DLitt degrees from a private university and Karachi University.

Updated Jun 05, 2008 12:00am

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