COLUMN: Amar Jaleel: the spoken silence of a soul

Published May 4, 2014
Amar Sindhu is a Sindhi language poet and teaches philosophy at Sindh University, Jamshoro
Amar Sindhu is a Sindhi language poet and teaches philosophy at Sindh University, Jamshoro

“To the children of Holocaust. I dedicate my book to the children who were conceived to the millions of miserable Hindus, Muslims and Sikh women dishonoured during the devastation of 1947 in the wake of the partition of India. They were born the following year in 1948. This year, 2008, they have turned senior citizens in both India and Pakistan.” Thus Amar Jaleel dedicated his book of mystic stories titled Love, Longing and Death published in India.

A widely-read columnist and fiction writer, and the author of 15 books, Jaleel further wrote ‘A Cry In The Wilderness’ as a preamble to this book. Partition, which serves as the backdrop to almost all major works by Jaleel, is a bleeding wound, ever alive on the body politics of the subcontinent. However, containing the autobiographical account of the writer, the preamble illustrates the emotional turmoil and the mental agony of the generation born in the undivided land and witness to the atrocities of Partition. Thus he narrates: “The ones who lived through holocaust, experienced the heat of this day, it was a volcanic inferno and hellfire.”

Jaleel was 11 years old when a new land was created for Muslims. His school, named Rattan Talao, was set on fire by the newcomers in Karachi. Ever since, the childhood memories of that horrific scene at his school, where he used to sing ‘Sarey Jahan Sey Achaa Hindustan Hamara’ with his school fellows, continue to haunt him. “Several juvenile witnesses to the horrendous scenarios elsewhere have never lived a normal life since then,” he says. “They have remained psychologically and emotionally perturbed.”

“Why was India partitioned?”

“Why was Pakistan created?”

“Why did the All India Muslim league carve a separate homeland for the Muslims of India when the two communities of Hindus and Muslims had lived together for centuries?”

The word “why” abruptly arose to the itinerant soul of the author when he was 11 years old. Watching the burning school, he raised his arms, clenched his fits and cried “why, why, why?” He writes, “The ‘why’ settled in the soul of the 11-year-old boy who had seen his school in flames.” This question remained the constant element in his writing, consequently a reader can sharply hear the sound of this silent cry in every word written by Jaleel. Later on, the word ‘why’, which confronted him in his childhood, led his wandering soul to different avenues of the literary world.

Jaleel started his literary career with short stories, worked for the radio, earned fame as a playwright and even tried to write for the silver screen. He also contributed articles in newspapers of different languages, Sindhi, English and Urdu. The mixed flavour of all three ‘rs’ — romance, resistance and revolution — in his writing made him an iconic figure for the youth of Sindh. The index of his popularity never declined since the days of the tyrant Ayub Khan and Amar Jaleel remains the favourite and most quoted writer among young readers today.

While the artistic courage to shake the system with the nib of a pen is not rare, it is very difficult to express the same anger, anguish and agony in one’s writings when one becomes old. But Amar Jaleel is the living example of sustaining the same pace in his writings even after his hair turned from black to gray and then to white. His pen is as sharp as it was in his youth. The reason behind this consistency is Jaleel’s anger against the rotten system, which only favours the powerful and pushes the weaker against the wall. Hence he dares to dissent against power in all its forms. His writings are the voices of suppressed nations, marginalised minorities and the sigh of the rejected lover.

Jaleel’s fight has continued on many fronts. About Partition he wrote, “The year 1947 was more horrifying than the invasions of Mahmood Ghaznavi, Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali. The dreadful year was more atrocious than the final phase of the Second World War that had culminated two years earlier, in August 1945, after Americans dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” On the other hand he curses the pillars of local power in Sindhi culture, the feudal lords, the pseudo politicians and the pirs, who manipulate the illiterate. He very vividly and boldly wrote, “In Sindh, one should either be a wonders-working Pir, or be a dangerous dacoit. Both occupations are alike, both have an equivalent earning.”

Though Jaleel was threatened many times by different governments for his writings, his short story, ‘Sard Lash jo Safar’ (The journey of a cold dead body) was banned by the first-ever democratic government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The story was about the sad incident of Kandhkot where the Hindu community was being looted and rapes were reported but the police became a party with the accused and refused to register FIRs. Later on, the Zia regime banned many of his stories.

Unlike past governments, which used to introduce black laws to curb unwanted voices, now self-proclaimed moral brigades have become apparent, armed with the task to teach a lesson to those who dare to cross the lines and to set standards for freedom of expression. In the recent past, Jaleel fell victim to this self-proclaimed moral brigade when he spoke against the distortion of history regarding some spiritual and political personalities in the history of Sindh. He was publicly abused and his effigies were burnt by provoked mobs of ‘mureeds’ in different cities and towns of Sindh. At the same time, though, he was fully supported by his secular readers and progressive admirers.

Satire works as an excellent tool for Jaleel to disguise his anger while the taunt is used as a tool to hit the very fabric of society. Thus the characters in Jaleel’s articles and short stories are not supernatural heroes with high ambitions, standing victorious, their heads held high, but are almost defeated souls with shattered dreams and empty eyes. They belong to the lowest strata of society. Jaleel pens the miseries of their creeping lives, their unending pain, their cries of social and political injustices and their questions about inequality, both against the gods of heavens and land.

“I am the author of shattered dreams,” Jaleel says, “of glum springs and soundless music. I lead the convoy of words and sentences into the wilderness and wander, following the desert of interpretations.”

Keeping the zest and diction of both Krishan Chander of Hind and Khalil Jibran of Lebanon in his writings, Jaleel is successful in giving life to the sentiment of broken hearts, lost spirits and rebel souls. However melancholic and forlorn, the restless being of Rohri-born Amar Jaleel finally found refuge in the tent of mysticism and called himself a Sufi. The later works of Jaleel would be counted as an informal way to reach and define mysticism as he writes, “Mysticism in its purest form eliminates abhorrence, and nurtures love and tolerance. It subdues rigidity and fundamentalism in religions. Mysticism inculcates understanding and brings divergent people together.”

Most of his recent work comprises biographical accounts and is based on personal experiences of spiritual and metaphysical descriptions. Jaleel tries to negate the image and the romance of his persona: “Those who commonly say that Amar Jaleel writes a warrior and rebellious type fictions, I bow against their thoughts and not opine on the opinion of these friends. I will only say that Amar Jaleel is apparently dark and inelegant like Karonjhar, has a perturbed soul hidden behind him, is in a quest for unselfish and stubborn love like Sindhu since eternity. Amar Jaleel is not the name of a personality.” He further characterises himself as “different parts or pieces. These pieces are independent, separate from one another. Out of these parts, one is stubborn and rebellious, the second is an artist and a lover of Ayaz, the third is a worshiper of love, the fourth is a hermit and the fifth is wrapping a shroud around his head and standing in a queue of the intoxicated. These parts have their separate dispositions. But all the pieces are linked in a chain and the second end of that chain is plunged in the abyss of Sindh.”

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