BILINGUAL poets and prose writers are not rare. We know of many poets who wrote in two languages. For instance, Saadi Shirazi wrote in Persian and Arabic, Ghalib wrote in Urdu and Persian and Samuel Beckett wrote in English and French.
But it is really rare to find someone who writes in three languages regularly and earns kudos in all three of them. Sufi Tabassum was one such poet.
Mas’ood Sa’ad Salman Lahori is said to have composed three divans: one each in Turkish, Persian and Urdu, but his Urdu divan has never been found. Insha Allah Khan Insha wrote in Urdu, Persian and Turkish. Dr Nabi Bakhsh Baloch wrote in Urdu, English and his native Sindhi.
Amar Jaleel, too, writes in these three languages. Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum composed poetry in Urdu, Punjabi and Persian. His poetry composed in the three languages earned him nods from the critics of all the three languages.
Sufi Tabassum’s Urdu poetry was once very popular and his ghazals were broadcast from Radio and TV. His Urdu poems for children have been included in textbooks and we all remember his character Totbatot, a kid depicted in these poems.
Totbatot, a collection of poems based on the character with the same name, was reprinted by Feroze Sons a couple of decades ago. In addition, Jhoolne and Tolmatol are two collections of his poems composed for children. Anjuman, the first collection of his poetry, included some of his Persian and Punjabi poetry, too. Two other collections of his Urdu poetry are; Daman-i-dil and Sarashk-i-tabassum. His collected Urdu works, Kulliyaat-i-Sufi Tabassum: Sau baar chaman mehka, has some pieces of his Persian and Punjabi poetry and some of his unpublished works, too.
Sufi Tabassum’s Punjabi poetry, most of which is said to be extempore, earned him the title ustaad (teacher) among the young Punjabi poets of the day. Nazraan kardiyaan gallan, is a collection of his Punjabi poetry.
Sufi sahib’s national songs, some of which were written during 1965 Pakistan-India war, had become much popular and Meriya dhol sipahiyya was one of them. His versified Punjabi translation of Iqbal’s poetry was published under the title Naqsh-i-Iqbal.
When Sufi Tabassum began composing poetry as a young boy, Persian was the language he chose for expressing himself. In fact it was his teacher Tughrai, an accomplished Persian poet, who inspired him to write in Persian. Later, he began writing in Urdu and Punjabi. Aside from composing his own Persian poetry, Sufi Tabassum carried out versified Urdu translations of Persian poetry of Ghalib, Iqbal and Ameer Khusrau.
His commentaries and explanatory notes on Persian poetry of Iqbal and Ghalib are much admired. The government of Iran had awarded him Nishan-i-fazeelat for his Persian works and services rendered for the promotion of Persian language and literature.
Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum was a critic, educator, editor, poet, broadcaster, playwright and translator. He was born in Amritsar on Aug 4, 1899. Having done his MA in Persian from Lahore’s Islamia College, he joined the Central Training College, Lahore, for his B.T. Sufi Tabassum taught at the Government High School, Amritsar, and the Central Training College, Lahore, before becoming head of the Persian and Urdu departments at Lahore’s Government College (now G.C. University), a post he held till his retirement in 1954.
Sufi Tabassum was closely associated with the members of Niazmandan-i-Lahore. It was an informal literary circle whose members included such luminaries as Pitras Bukhari, Abdul Majeed Salik, Imtiaz Ali Taj, M.D. Taseer, Chiragh Hasan Hasrat, Pandit Hari Chand Akhter, Hafeez Jallundhari, Abdur Rahman Chughtai and Majeed Malik.
The circle tried to counter the critics of UP who used to ridicule Urdu usage of Punjabi writers. The informal circle did not last long but it produced some remarkable pieces, some of which appeared in Karavan, a literary magazine published from Lahore.
This company of learned and creative writers and poets inspired Sufi Tabassum much and one of the reasons for his choosing to write more in Urdu in later part of his life was the time spent with these witty and vivacious friends.
After retirement, Sufi Tabassum joined Lahore’s Khana-i-Farhng-i-Iran and worked there for about four years as director. Later, he joined Lail-o-nahar, a magazine, as editor. Sufi sahib also worked for Radio Pakistan, Pakistan Arts Council and Iqbal Academy.
Sufi Tabassum’s other books include Do natak (Punjabi plays), Jah-o-jalal (translation of English play Power and glory), Intikhab-i-kalam-i-Iqbal, Teer-o-nishter, Punjab ki shaeri par farsi rivayaat ka asar, Shear-i-farsi-i-muaasir, Rooh-i-Ghalib and do guna.
Sufi Tabassum died on Feb 7, 1978, in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2016