ONE of the most distinguished contemporary research scholars of Urdu, literary historian, critic, lexicographer, translator and former vice chancellor of Karachi University, Dr Jameel Jalibi, passed away in Karachi on April 18, 2019. He was 89.

Dr Jalibi had also served as chairman of the National Language Authority and president of the Urdu Dictionary Board, in addition to holding the post of honorary treasurer at Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu Pakistan for quite long. He had held many other coveted positions, served on numerous committees, attended a myriad of conferences, addressed countless symposia, won many prestigious awards and ... and what not.

But all these mundane successes and material achievements do not matter much when we evaluate the life of a great literary figure. In the final analysis, it is not how many medals you won or how many high posts you held that counts. Rather, what is taken into account at the end of a long academic journey is the tally of how many milestones you passed, what great discoveries you made all along the road and what intellectual legacy you left behind for the posterity to make their lives fuller. The literary output and everlasting academic contributions that a scholar of a great stature makes is what is left and counted at the end of the academic journey. And on that count, too, Jameel Jalibi stands head and shoulder above the rest.

As for Jalibi Sahib’s literary achievements and academic accomplishments, one can mention a large number of works that will survive and will always serve as guiding light, since during his long career that spanned about 70 years, he penned some very impressive research and critical works. His editing of Masnavi Kadam Rao Padam Rao, for instance, a poetic work of Urdu, consisting of 1,033 verses, made Jalibi a colossus. Written between 1421 and 1435 AD and hitherto considered Urdu’s first ever written literary work, it pushed back the history of Urdu literature by some one-and-a-half century. Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu Pakistan published in 1973 the edited version of the 600-year-old manuscript of Kadam Rao Padam Rao with its facsimile. Its publication is often reckoned as one of the most important events in the history of Urdu literature.

Apparently, ‘Kadam Rao’ is the Raja and ‘Padam Rao’ is his vizier in the tale. But, according to John T. Platts, ‘Kadam’ is the name of a tree and ‘Padam’ is a flower. But ‘kadam’ can also be used for someone who exists and ‘padam’ also signifies something non-existent, says Jamiluddin Aali. The tale is based on Hindu mythology and both ‘Kadam’ and ‘Padam’ are shown busy discussing some issues in this versified story. So, metaphorically, the tale discusses the mystical issues related to being and annihilation. But Jalibi resurrected this tale from a worn-out manuscript. Also, Jalibi’s edited versions of Divan-i-Hasan Shauqi and Divan-i-Nusrati are significant contributions to Urdu literature.

Jalibi has to his credit other important research and critical works, but Tareekh-i-Adab-i-Urdu, or the history of Urdu literature, his four-volume magnum opus, has become a classic of the genre. In fact, it has almost overshadowed his other invaluable literary works and made him one of the leading figures in contemporary Urdu literature.

Tareekh-i-Adab-i-Urdu spreads over four volumes and is published by Lahore’s Majlis-i-Taraqqi-i-Adab. The first volume traces the history of Urdu literature from beginning to 1750 AD in 791 pages. The second volume, divided into two parts and containing 1,248 pages, covers the other half of the 18th century. The third volume, a 1,095-page tome, describes Urdu’s history in the first half of the 19th century and the last one has 1,626 pages that cover the second half of the 19th century as well as some parts of the early 20th century.

These 4,700-or-so pages are not mere history counting the books and writers. This is in fact a highly authentic encyclopaedia of Urdu literature, compiled single-handedly over a period of some 40 years with meticulous and back-breaking research, based on rare manuscripts, unpublished works and thousands of published works. It is also a social, cultural and intellectual history of Urdu that takes into account political and historical events, social and economic trends and linguistic developments; and that too in a lovely, flowing and chaste language. Research is a dry and drab job and this writer feels that there are hardly few research scholars in Urdu who could write such alluring and vivid prose, the other being Hafiz Mahmood Sherani.

This monumental work of Jalibi’s has itself become a part of history of Urdu literature and along with it its author too. Though criticised for some flaws by some critics, especially by Rasheed Hasan Khan, Jalibi’s history of Urdu literature is unrivalled among all other 50 or so histories of Urdu literature written so far. Dr Gian Chand, a great scholar of Urdu, has paid glowing tributes to Jalibi’s history of Urdu literature. Despite some lapses, Jalibi’s Tareekh-i-Adab-i-Urdu is an amazing feat of research that will live forever and with it Jameel Jalibi, too.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2019