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Tributes paid to Dr Laeeq Babree

July 19, 2003

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ISLAMABAD, July 18: Friends and admirers remembered Pakistani scholar in French language, Punjabi poet, and a link between Urdu and French literature through his translations of Iqbal, Ghalib and Faiz, Dr Laeeq Babree, who died last month, at a literary reference arranged by the Islamabad Cultural Forum on Friday evening at the TVO Auditorium.

Ashfaq Salim Mirza of the Forum, introducing the departed scholar, said after studying in The Government College Lahore, Babree did his PhD in French Literature from Sorbonne University (in Paris) and taught at Government College, Lahore and National Institute of Modern Languages, now National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad. Later on, he served as its chairman. He also joined Ummul Quran University at Mecca. He drew attention to his translations from Urdu and French and vice versa, of great poets and authors in both the languages. Under the influence of French symbolism, he published two collections of Punjabi poetry “Ghoggo Ghorey” and “Khinger”.

The chairman of the Academy of Letters, Iftikhar Arif, drawing attention to his work in French said as compared to the Greek and the English tradition in literature and the arts in South Asia, the French presence is not generally felt on that level. Mentioning the tradition set in this field by people like Mohammed Hasan Askari in literature and Prof Dr Hamidullah in Islamics in French, he said Dr Laiq Babree introduced poets like Iqbal, Ghalib and Faiz to the French reader through his translations in French. Talking of his Punjabi poetry, he said it was distinguished for its expression in contemporary idiom. Referring to rather “thin” collections, he said “a poet becomes great not because of large volumes that he writes but the way he adds to the language.” He quoted French translation of an Arabic poet Tahir Bin Jalon done by Laiq Babree from French in which the poet says the death of a friend seems to be the beginning of the death of us all.

Calling him a many-splendoured genius, Prof Khawja Masud said Babree was a great poet of Punjabi. He also brought the influence of modern French symbolists to his poetry and he dealt within the microscopic depth of his word the “macroscopic” vision. Giving the example of the title of his book Kingher, he said to him it exhibited the whole “Eliotsian” Wasteland of the last 50 years. He said Babree, who had great interest in mysticism, it seemed, had especially studied Loius Messignon, because he was among the firsts, who discovered Mansur Hallaj and Sarmad for the first time in the West.

Prof Alamgir Hashmi said Babree was a scholar in French studies, and a creative writer, the like of whom would not be easy to replace. He remembered his association with him in Government College Lahore, and the way he was selective about his Punjabi poetry. He gave him one of the first copies of “Ghoggo Ghorey”. He said like a great poet, he wrote in a language that was followed by the younger generation. Influenced by the melange of the traditions that he had imbibed, he added resources of other languages to Punjabi poetry. Prof Hashmi said rather than only probing the sociological relationship of the languages, for him the word introduced a whole life to the meanings that he wanted to convey. He quoted a poem “ Asi likhan waley” from Kingher: Likhtan karan/karey na opray/assi likhan waley/sarey mussafir/kallam kallay/sada prhia likhya/ sab kuch gaya bikar.

Dr Khalid Saeed Butt, who had been with Dr Babree in the hostel at Sorbonne, called him a great researcher and thought for the kind of multi-dimensional genius that he was, the treatment meted out to him by the society was pathetic.

Prof Tariq Rehman emphasized the need to have an institutional arrangement in society to help a great man like him and thought that his vision of assimilation of foreign languages could have been better utilized. He also praised him for being a real scholar who would not flaunt his scholarship.

Sarmad Sehbai said people like him did not die. “They live in our hearts through their great achievements.” He quoted from his poem “Deas apnay diyan Khairan” (Chal haram sharif wich/mangan chlyea/ rab suchhay ton/deais apnay dian khairan...).

Dr Hamid emphasized his interst in “tassuwuf”, Irshadullah spoke of his close association with him and Ms Najma talked of scholarship to be instituted in his name. Babur Sohail, Amir Bilal, and Asif Mujaddadi also paid their tributes to him.

With tears rolling down her eyes (as she quoted the famous poem of Tennyson beginning with “Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean) Mrs Khalida Babree, hersrself scholar, talked of the commitment of her husband to his work and his uprightness. She also read a tribute written by his son Adeel Baree to his father, and ended her speech on an Urdu translation of a prominent French poet of the twentieth century Supervielle entitled Tanhai (loneliness). Fateha was also offered for the departed soul. — Mufti Jamiluddin Ahmad