Isn’t it surprising that in our rigid social hierarchy Ustad Daman (1911-1984), the son of a lowly tailor master, was loved by the people and hated by the rulers regardless of their ideological inclinations? The reason was that he resisted tyranny in all its forms. His simple verses with an air of genuine spontaneity uplifted the people’s spirit with their emancipatory tone but hit the oppressors like bullets. He confronted the most powerful men of his times including colonial administrators, Ayub Khan, Z.A. Bhutto and General Ziaul Haq without an iota of fear.

A few episodes of Ustad’s life will give you some sense of the kind of man he was. During Bhutto’s regime he was arrested on the trumped-up charges of terrorism for composing a poem which derided Bhutto’s shenanigans as he backtracked on his promises made to the down-trodden in his political campaign. The much-quoted poem was “ki kari jana ain/ ki kari jana ain/ Kidi Shimlay jana ain /kadi Murree jana ain/ Lahi khes jana ain/ Khichi dari jana ain.(What the hell are you doing? You shuttle between Shimla and Murree/ you snatch [people’s] wrap and drag the matt [from under their feet]”.

Tanveer Zahoor in his book ‘Ustad Daman’ stated that “he was locked in the Tibbi police station. A young man imparted the news when I was with Advocate Mushtaq Butt in his office at Shalmi Gate. We rushed to the police station. Advocate Butt introduced himself and we were allowed by the station house officer to see Ustad who was lying on the floor of the lock-up along other petty offenders. Advocate Butt assured Ustad that he would get him bail next morning. Next day he was produced in a magistrate’s court. The news of his arrest was all over the place. A large number of his fans gathered. A host of lawyers thronged the court and started arguing. Before the hearing of Daman’s case, a gangster Majhu Dacoit was presented in the court. As the magistrate was about to remand him in custody, lawyer Malik Aslam Hayat shouted; ‘don’t you know the difference between Majhu Dacoit and Ustad Daman? History’s eye is watching you. If he isn’t remanded on bail, you would be damned forever. Then advocate Akbar Lahori [a fine fiction writer of Punjabi language] started reciting Firdausi’s verses which denounced Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna. Pressured by lawyers the magistrate granted the bail. Alauddin, celebrated film actor and Daman’s adopted son, deposited the surety bond. Ustad was brought to the bar room packed with lawyers who said ‘pay us our fee sir’ ‘what’s the fee I owe you?’ ‘Just recite some of your verses for us’. Teary-eyed, he recited two verses: ‘ Koi dabana chahway dabaa nahi sakda/ koi kinna e lae dumm khum niklay/ Daman shair di kothri vich sunya/ do revolver te dasti bomb niklay [No one can make him bow down whatever power they may wield/ from the poet Daman’s hut, I hear, two revolvers and hand grenades have been recovered]’.

Tanveer Zahoor narrated dramatic encounter between Ustad and dictator Ziaul Haq. “Chaudhry Zahur Elahi [Ustad’s friend and fan] invited Ustad to his son’s wedding ceremony. He accompanied by his friends went to Gujrat. Gen Zia was also there. Ustad was given a separate room at some distance to avert a chance meeting between the two. Ustad had already composed a poem which was a scathing attack on Zia’s brutality. ‘Mery mulk de do khuda / la elah te Martial Law/ ik rehnda a arshan uttay / duja rehnda farshan uttay/ (My country has two gods; celestial one and Marial Law / the one is up in the heaven and the other resides on the earth /the former is called Allah and the latter is known by the name of General Zia / wow! who can say to you general; march on’. Zia had already heard this poem. Chaudhry told Zia about Ustad’s presence. Zia expressed his desire to see him. Chaudhry took Ustad and his friends to Zia’s room. General was a hypocrite. He would not express his grudge and grouse. He apparently received Ustad warmly and began the conversation. After a while Gen requested Ustad to recite his verses for him. ‘Even the one you wrote against me will do’. Ustad wasn’t prepared to be duped. ‘Sir, it’s not the time for poetry. We are here to celebrate a marriage. I will definitely recite it in some gathering sometime later’. And then added ‘Mr. General, I am not a radio. So you can’t tune in to Lahore Radio or Jalandhar Radio at will’. The pun intended was highly apt and bold. Remember Zia was a migrant from Jalandhar”?

“During his last days Ustad was admitted to the Services Hospital, Lahore. Lieutenant General Ghulam Jilani, the governor of the Punjab, planned to visit him. Ustad had his bed in a general ward. The hospital staff wanted to shift him to a private room before the arrival of the Governor. Ustad refused point-blank. Raja Riaz who was his attendant stated that ‘Governor Jilani came accompanied by Dr. Iftekhar. He presented the bouquet which I received and put it at the side table. The Governor enquired about Ustad’s health and said that if he wasn’t happy with the treatment, the Punjab Government could send him abroad to avail better medical facilities. Was there anything he could do for him? The big boss [Gen Zia], he said, also enquired about his health. He could connect Ustad to his boss on telephone if he liked. Ustad kept silent and didn’t respond to any query. While leaving the Governor handed me an envelope meant for Ustad. I opened it and discovered it contained a bill of Rs10,000. Ustad asked who the visitor was and what was in the envelope. I told him everything. He ordered me to rush to the General Post Office and post the bill to the Governor which I did. When I came back he heaved a sigh of relief. ‘I would not have slept with this bill on me’, he said. ‘They are beggars. How can they help me?’ The nub of the matter was that All India Radio had broadcast the news of Ustad’s illness which somehow compelled the Governor to visit the dying Ustad”.

Ustad Daman was literally a heroic figure. He was an emblem of eternal defiance that represented our collective aspirations for non-oppressive society. He fought all the tyrants and tormentors of the people. We would not see the like of him again in our life.

Note: Source material for this write-up is the book ‘Ustad Daman’ compiled by Tanveer Zahoor and published by Sachal Studios. Ustad’s 107th birth anniversary is being observed this month.—

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2018