OBITUARY: Dr Jameel Jalibi — a life devoted to Urdu literature

April 19, 2019


Dr Jameel Jalibi presenting his research report to then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan on the system of education in Pakistan on April 4, 1989.—White Star Archive
Dr Jameel Jalibi presenting his research report to then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan on the system of education in Pakistan on April 4, 1989.—White Star Archive

RENOWNED scholar, researcher, writer and former vice chancellor of the University of Karachi Dr Jameel Jalibi passed away in Karachi on Thursday morning at age 90. He is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters.

Named Dr Mohammad Jameel Khan, but far better known as Jameel Jalibi, he was born on July 30, 1929, into a Yousufzai family of Aligarh.

Dr Jalibi authored over 40 books on criticism, research and culture, including Pakistan: The Identity of Culture, Tanqeed aur Tajarba and Nai Tanqeed.

Other well-known works written and/or edited by him include Adab, Culture aur Masaail, Mohammad Taqi Mir, Maasir-i-Adab, Yak-Jehti — Nifaz aur Masail, Diwan-i-Hasan Shauqi and Farhang-i-Istalahaat, some of them running into multiple editions.

Tareekh-i-Adab-i-Urdu (history of Urdu literature) is however his most remarkable literary accomplishment. He planned and began writing this series in 1967. So far, four volumes — each comprising about 1,000 pages — have been published.

Going by the quantum of work involved in this series, several more years would have been required to accomplish the gigantic task. In this series Dr Jalibi stirred a controversy of sorts when he wrote that Punjabi and Urdu had the same roots, with the former being the older.

Published by the Lahore-based Majlis-i-Taraqqi-i-Adab, the series begins in the 15th century with Masnavi Kadam Rao aur Pidam Rao, one of Urdu’s oldest poems, stumbling upon it in a library in India.

The first volume of Tareekh-i-Adab-i-Urdu covers 15th, 16th and 17th centuries; the second 18th century; the third chronicles literature up to 1850 and the fourth goes to the end of the 19th century. The fifth was to cover the 20th century.

At least two institutional attempts had been made before Dr Jalibi to write the history of Urdu literature. The effort was first made in Aligarh, and the second in Lahore. Both were collective initiatives involving several researchers working on separate chapters but failed to achieve their stated objectives.

Dr Jalibi, however, did it alone. “I studied and saw where they had faltered, and I learned lessons from the mistakes of my predecessors,” he said during an interview with Dawn at his North Nazimabad residence in Karachi. “I owe a lot to them.”

Another book that he wrote which became immensely popular was Arastu say Eliot tak (From Aristotle to T.S. Eliot), which comprises translations of literary masterpieces produced by classical Western writers. Published both in India and Pakistan, the book ran into multiple editions.

Numerous articles by renowned critics have over the decades eulogised his work. At least two literary magazines brought out special numbers on him and three books, including the Pakistan Academy of Letters’ Dr Jameel Jalibi: Shakhsiat aur Fun, were written to highlight his literary achievements.

Dr Jalibi received his early education in his hometown Aligarh and passed his high school examination from Saharanpur. He did his intermediate and graduation from a college in Meerut.

After migrating to Pakistan in 1947, he went on to earn LLB, MA, PhD and DLitt degrees. Having passed the CSS examination, he joined the income tax department. After retirement, he served in the University of Karachi (KU) as vice chancellor from 1983 to 1987.

Although he had no teaching experience, he ran the institution with academic and administrative acumen. After leaving KU, he was asked to take charge of the prime state-run literary institution, the Muqtadra Qaumi Zaban (the National Language Authority), as its chairman. In recognition of his services the government bestowed on him the Sitara-i-Imtiaz.

“A 35- to 40-minute walk has been my daily routine for the last 40-50 years,” he had said during an interview with Dawn in 2008. “I work six to eight hours daily, enjoying my work much like other people who indulge in their hobbies.”

However, a couple of years later, he was seen wheelchair-bound at the Urdu Conference held in November 2011 at the Karachi Arts Council while presiding over a session of the moot.

“I have lived a very satisfying life in which I got respect, well-earned reputation and creative satisfaction. I never had a night of restlessness,” he had said in the interview. “If given a chance, I’d like to live the same all over again.”

Eminent poet Iftikhar Arif, in his condolence message, said that Dr Jalibi’s death is a great loss to the world of Urdu. “He leaves behind a rich legacy of criticism and research. His death is a personal loss,” the poet said.

Dr Jalibi’s funeral prayers were held at Masjid Abu Bakr, DHA Phase II, in Karachi on Thursday. He was laid to rest in DHA Graveyard Phase I.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2019