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RAZA Naeem discusses Jalib at T2F on Sunday evening.—White Star
RAZA Naeem discusses Jalib at T2F on Sunday evening.—White Star

KARACHI: “Main nahi maanta, main nahi jaanta”, the rallying cry of revolutionary poet Habib Jalib, has become the stuff of legend in the social and political history of the country. And at T2F on Sunday tribute was paid to Jalib while exploring his verses and persona on the occasion of his 90th birth anniversary.

At the hub of the talk was Raza Naeem a Pakistani social scientist, book critic, and an award-winning translator who is currently the president of the Progressive Writers Association. Naeem also teaches history and he took the opportunity to effortlessly narrate the life and times of Jalib which piqued the interest of the audience.

The lecture charted the people’s history through the lens of Jalib’s verses which lent credibility and empathy to otherwise historically stilted narratives.

Naeem explained how Pakistan has a rich tradition of resistance poetry and Jalib is an important part of that tradition. He spent around eight years of his life behind bars writing against authoritarian regimes and for the cause of the people of the country.

“Jalib’s poetry is the people’s poetry because it encompasses the whole postcolonial epoch of Pakistan. If you read his poems sequentially you can compose the whole poetic history of Pakistan as it talks about not only the context in which they were written but also the struggles that they represented.”

Be it during democratic governments or dictatorships, Jalib has been a witness to different regimes, and his verses galvanised the people to stand up for their rights.

“His poetry was written in urgent times and allows us to compose a catalogue of the history of Pakistan. Jalib’s critics wrote him off and called him a poet of moments. But those moments have not ended and we can understand the pain and grief he felt when he wrote his poems even in today’s time.”

Naeem explained how the poet wrote to support the rights of the marginalised communities in the country. “His poems teach us our rights and how to take back power from the usurpers.”

With reference to Jalib’s poem Dastoor against Ayub Khan, Naeem called it an integral part of Pakistan’s social history as it taught people why it is important to challenge a dictator and for which he was imprisoned.

In jail, he was not given any pen or paper to write down his verses and Naeem recounted how Jalib told his jailors that his poems would still reach the whole country through word of mouth. “Dastoor then became a headache for the Ayub regime.”

East Pakistan was also an event that greatly saddened Jalib and he was among the few Pakistanis who openly criticised what was a massacre, explained Naeem.

Jalib did not shy away from writing about controversial issues and he was an international poet who not only wrote about domestic happenings, but also wrote about the Palestinian cause, and even India, among others.

Naeem said that in light of Jalib’s revolutionary verses that aimed to empower the common person, he paid tribute to heroic women who had strived on a similar path. “I dedicate this lecture to Sabeen Mahmud, Asma Jahangir and Madeeha Gauhar.”

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2018