Professor Inayat Ali Khan passed away on Sunday in Karachi. He was 85.

Inayat Ali Khan was the last gunner in Akbar Allahabadi’s army and he stuck to his guns till the very last. He was a poet, teacher, children’s wri­ter and an educationist who excel­l­ed in writing textbooks of Urdu and Islamiyat. But above all, he was a firm beli­ever in the eastern mor­es and Islamic values and, just like Akbar, took pride in local culture, local language and national feelings.

Inayat Ali Khan originally belonged to the Pathan tribe named Tareen and his forefathers had migrated from Pishin, Balochistan, to Sambhal, near Moradabad in UP. Later on, his ancestors moved to Tonk, where Inayat Ali Khan was born in 1935.

In October 1948, he migrated to Pakistan along with his family members and settled in Hyd­e­­­rabad, Sindh. To earn his livelihood, he had to do some odd jobs in the beginning and worked as a clerk at PWD and then at Sindh Prisons Department.

His education was disturbed due to political unrest during the Pak­i­stan movement and he resumed it aft­er a brief hiatus. He went on to earn a master’s degree in Urdu with flying colours. In 1956, he joined a school in Hyderabad as a teacher and thus began a career in teaching and writing that earned him name and respect. He later on taught at college and retired as professor.

Inayat Sahib’s father Hidayat Ali Khan Nazir Tonki was a poet. His maternal grandfather, paternal grandfather and uncle too were poets. So poetry was in his blood.

In 1970s, he began writing humorous poetry seriously and became quite popular in Hyderabad. Soon he was being invited to mushairas (poetry recital sessions) in other cities and Radio Pakistan, too. From the late 1980s, TV made him more popular. He either wrote or co-authored several books for the Sindh Textbook Board but his humorous and satirical poetry had made him so well-known and popular that many did not know that he was an educator and educationist, too.

Inayat Sahib was so popular that his participation in any mushaira was a surety that it would be a success. His witty and satirical verses lured the crowd and made him one of the most sought-after poets at mushairas.

What gave his humorous poetry an edge was his keen eye for current affairs, ongoing political situation and passing fads on cultural fronts. He would usually express his satirical comments in verse with masterful use of language. His peculiar style of reciting the verses was a bonus.

Inayat Ali Khan’s humour as well as his views on culture and religion reminded one of Akbar Allahabadi. It was Akbar who raised the standard of humour in Urdu verse to a sublime level, though there have been a number of poets who wrote humorous verses in Urdu before Akbar.

After Akbar, very few could follow him in the true sense as quality humour or subtle satire do not aim at making people laugh only, but they, at the same time, must also make the reader think. Akbar’s social and political critique was based on a system of beliefs, albeit cloaked in humour to make it look less offensive.

Akbar believed that the spread of the Western culture and mores with the rise of the British in India was detrimental to local culture and beliefs and it was a must, especially for Muslims, to protect their creed and culture. Whether one agrees with Akbar or not, one has to admit that at least he had a point of view and knew how to present it in a highly poetic manner and with subtle linguistic and rhetorical cues.

Akbar was suspicious of the change that the British were bringing in because he knew that with change many good things too are swept away.

Those who could successfully follow in the footsteps of Akbar Allahabadi can be counted on the fingers of one hand. One can recall, for instance, Syed Muhammad Jaferi, Syed Zameer Jaferi and, maybe, to some extent, Dilawar Figar while looking for high-quality Urdu poetry that criticised cultural and societal shortcomings in a hilarious and enjoyable way. It needs a vast study, practice, a unique vocabulary and a mind deeply steeped in the traditions of Urdu poetry — the ingredients that Inayat Sahib had inherited.

Collections of Inayat Ali Khan’s poetry include Az Rah-i-Inayat (1989), Inayaat (1992), Inayaten Kya Kya (1997) and Kuchh Aur (2003). His collected works Kulliyaat-i-Inayat was published in 2003. A selection of his poetry titled Nihayet had appeared in 2005. Recently, another selection of his poetry was published by Oxford University Press. Aside from satirical columns, he wrote four books and a large number of poems and stories for children.

With Inayat Ali Khan’s passing away, we have lost a cultural critic and the likes of him would be very difficult to find, if not impossible.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2020