WRITTEN by the grandson of the legendary Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi, Josh Malihabadi: Malihabad sey Islamabad Tak is a biographical narrative describing life in the city of Malihabad, 13 miles from Lucknow, where Josh was born in an affluent family, circa 1895. There are also references of other locations — Lucknow, Aligarh, St Petersburg College, Agra, Hyderabad Deccan, Calcutta, Akbarabad and Bombay — where Josh went in pursuit of education as well as to make a living.
The author, Farrukh Jamal Malihabadi, was born after Partition, and in the book does not make any scholarly claims about being a man of letters, calling himself a “student of literature” rather than a “literary personality.” He reiterates this disclaimer at the end of the book. Nonetheless, Farrukh Jamal has laboriously researched and traced most of the places where Josh lived as a student, the schools and colleges he attended, his companions, the jobs he worked at after the death of his father and the appropriation of his inheritance by his uncles.
Farrukh Jamal has also selected and included in the book many of Josh’s poems, those written while in India up to 1956, and before his death in 1982 in Pakistan. In ‘Haqeeqat-i-Dil’ he responds to accusations about not taking his studies seriously as a student.
When he left Malihabad for the first time to work in Hyderabad Deccan, Josh expressed his feelings in these words in ‘Alwida’a’:
*Aye Maleehabad ke rangeen gulistan alwida’a,
Alwida’a aye sarzameene subhe khanda alwida’a
Alwida’a aye kishware sher o shabistan alwida’a
Alwida’a aye jalwa gahe husne jana alwida’a*
Farrukh Jamal recalls with nostalgia the period he spent with his grandfather, first in their family home in the Sindhi Muslim neighbourhood in Karachi, and later in New Town near the office of the Urdu Tarraqi Board where Josh was appointed honorary trustee. Among the visitors recalled by the author were Hakeem Nadeem, Saber Thariani, Ragheb Muradabadi, Advocate Yawar Abbas, Dr Aaliya Imam and singer Muhammad Rafi. In 1967, the whole family moved to a newly built spacious house in Federal B Area, Karachi. This house became a hub of cultural activities frequented by prominent personalities of the time, including Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Mustafa Zaidi and Nasir Kazmi, until Josh moved to Islamabad. Josh spent 16 years in Karachi before shifting to Islamabad for the last 10 years of his life and living there in despair.
The author showers praise on Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto for his patronage of Josh, and laments his official victimisation after General Ziaul Haq came to power. In a letter to his family written in 1973 after he had moved to Islamabad, Josh writes to invite them to join him. Referring to his grandsons — including the author — Josh writes for them to “come over and bring the children for the sake of their higher education. Remember, if they stayed on in Karachi, there are hundred per cent chances that they will be ruined.” Josh had developed an aversion for Karachi and a fondness for the weather and surroundings of Islamabad, in spite of his unfavourable financial situation in the city.
About Josh’s wariness with Karachi, Farrukh Jamal refers to the monthly Afkaar of 1982 where Josh says, “Karachi iss kurra-e-arz ka sabse bara dushman-e-ilm o nazar shehr hay.” On another unspecified occasion, Josh says, “Karachi nay chhoton ko ubhara aur baron ko dafna diya.”
Although various letters, poems and articles by and about Josh from various sources have been included in the book, a substantial part consists of lengthy excerpts from Josh’s renowned autobiography, Yadon Ki Baraat. An outspoken personality, Josh lashes out at the rulers and “opportunists” in his poetry and prose, those who dominated the newborn country and who, in his opinion, were instrumental in distorting the vision of Pakistan with their greed and corruption. He criticised political and religious leaders and held them responsible for the moral decline in the Pakistani society.
Farrukh Jamal has made a commendable effort to address the three major accusations which Josh’s detractors levelled against him. One was about his faith, the second about his patriotism, and the third about his drinking.
According to the author, during Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s rule, Josh was requested to give an interview to Radio Pakistan with the promise that it would not be aired during his life. Josh spoke frankly about the Quaid-i-Azam and Allama Iqbal in that interview, remarks which, in his opinion, were not derogatory. However, the interview was published in Zindigi, a magazine of a religious party, in violation of the promise. Consequently, a delegation of religious scholars met the dictator General Ziaul Haq demanding withdrawal of all state privileges, including a house allotted by the government to Josh. These facilities were not revoked, but Josh was blacklisted from the official media, and his work was removed from textbooks. Farrukh Jamal criticises the silence adopted by other literary figures, which further added to Josh’s isolation.
To defend Josh’s conviction in the ideology of Pakistan, Farrukh quotes his poem ‘Waqt ki Awaz,’ published in 1945:
*Khud dekh apnay uskay tarano mein ikhtilaf
Wahmon mein ikhtilaf, gumanon mein ikhtilaf
Qisson mein ikhtilaf, fasanon mein ikhtilaf
Lehjon mein ikhtilaf, zubanon mein ikhtilaf
Ho aik hi rawash pe, magar chaal aur hai
Go maika to aik hai, susraal aur hai
Har nehaj se ghalat ke hazoori hi khoob hai
Qurbat mein ho fasaad to doori hi khoob hai*
There is little about the creative or literary accomplishments of Josh in this book and more about how people and, mostly the official quarters, treated him and turned a cold shoulder toward a man who deserved better. The way we treat our distinguished individuals or heroes is an ongoing tragedy in Pakistan, particularly at the official level.
Josh Malihabadi: Malihabad sey Islamabad tak
By Farrukh Jamal Malihabadi
Poorab Academy, Islamabad