ISLAMABAD: The awam turned out in great numbers for Saturday’s session on the shayer-i-awam (the people’s poet). This seemed to be the one session that people showed up early for. There were all sorts; the beautiful people, young and old, moms and dads, intellectuals and laymen, and even celebrities were waiting in the wings to be seated even before the session began.

Amid brilliant camera flashes and the glare of rolling cameras, Mujahid Barelvi greeted the audience and pronounced Zehrah Nigah the chair for the session.

This session, just like the rest, began with the panellists thanking the organisers. At the outset, Barelvi confessed that it was difficult to pick one of Jalib’s verses to start with, but he chose the one he thought had become a slogan for the people of Pakistan:

Koi to parcham le kar nikle apne gariban ka Jalib Charon janib sannatta hae weerane yad aate haen He then passed the responsibility of introducing Jalib to Taimur Rehman, the youngest member of the illustrious panel, who narrated the poet’s life and times with a brilliant slideshow, featuring some of Jalib’s most famous verses, given in the context of what prompted them to be written. Rehman’s introduction, entitled ‘Do oceans ever flow into rivers?’ encapsulated the life and times of the master poet brilliantly.

The near-fifteen minute presentation was punctuated by Barelvi’s interjections, who kept motioning for Rehman to hurry up.

Whenever a particularly biting verse from Jalib’s repertoire was quoted, it seemed that the only people who got the jokes were the older lot. Most of the younger ones were silent, only chuckling out loud when one of the poet’s more famous poems, such as ‘Dastoor’ were read out. They were perhaps too young to remember what a character Jalib was.

Zehrah Nigah told the audience: “I do not want to make a speech, but there’s something about Jalib that makes me want to talk about him.”

Ayaz Amir recounted the story of a rally in Chakwal, held when he was a young student at Lawrence College. Fatima Jinnah was running for president against Ayub Khan and Jalib was leading her campaign.

He described Jalib as a young man with long hair and fire in his eyes, ‘a Byronic figure’. Later, Jalib may have lost his hair and Byronic good looks, but his works retained his signature energy and rhythm.

Arifa Syeda observed that people tend to dismiss Jalib as a revolutionary poet, adding that any poet who says what we hold in our hearts is always branded a revolutionary Barelvi recounted how, when Jalib was in prison, the poet was taunted by the warden that he would not have access to a pen or paper.

Jalib retorted saying that my verses don’t need pen and paper to spread. “I recite my poem to your guard, he will recite it in the town square, and so it will reach Lahore,” Barelvi quoted the poet’s words.

Arifa Syeda also stunned the crowd when she sarcastically referred to the former dictator as “my beloved General Zia”. He was a ‘chikna munafiq’, he’d say one thing, do another, Arifa remarked comically about General Zia, adding that he’d set off somewhere, but the path would take him somewhere else.

“When nobody can read the writing on the wall, that’s when you need Jalib the most,” said Arifa in praise of the people’s poet.

At a time when all writers of ‘substance’ were increasingly ‘Persianising’ their language, Taimur Rehman pointed out Jalib wrote his inspiring verses in a very colloquial manner which was accessible to all.

Taimur Rehman also strummed a rendition of Musheer, better known as the Laal song ‘Mein ney uss sey yeh kaha’, but not before apologising to the audience for his raspy voice.

But it was disappointing to note that of the several booksellers that had set up shop at the venue, not one had a single copy of Jalib’s work in stock.

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