On Josh Malihabadi who never shied away from controversies

Published February 12, 2024
(From right) Zehra Nigah, Iftikhar Arif and Moeen Nizami in a session on Josh Malihabadi. — White Star
(From right) Zehra Nigah, Iftikhar Arif and Moeen Nizami in a session on Josh Malihabadi. — White Star

LAHORE: Urdu poet Iftikhar Arif said Josh Malihabadi was made controversial though there was criticism written on his works by the great critics of his time before the Partition but when he migrated to Pakistan, enough criticism was not written on him while those he left behind in India also got careful about him.

Arif went on to say that Josh himself also did not leave any stone unturned for making himself controversial because he was too outspoken and if anything was left out in Yadon Ki Baraat, he would say it without giving it much thought.

He was speaking at a session on the unpublished works of Josh Malihabadi, titled Mehmal-o-Jars at the Faiz Festival on Sunday.

“When Josh Sahib was living in Malihabad, he would offend Fiqh Jafria as he would speak against Zakireen and Majalis, despite writing the best Marsiyas himself.”

Unpublished works of classic Urdu poet launched at Faiz Festival

Iftikhar Arif said he also wrote against Pirs, Mullahs, Brahmins and even against the progressive writers.

“Josh had started writing strong resistance poetry against the British even before the formation of the Progressive Writers Association and no other writer in Urdu, Hindi, Tamil, Gujarati wrote as much against the British as Josh did.”

Arif raised the question that why Josh was ignored by the critics both in Pakistan and India despite publication of his Kulyaat in recent years when even lesser poets had research papers written on them.

Zehra Nigah said the critics did not write about Josh because whenever anybody who wanted to write on him consulted him, he would point out mistakes even in the visitor’s conversation. “He once scolded even Sajjad Zaheer over some matter”.

She said Josh had written a poem against the British, titled East India Company Kay Farzindon Kay Naam, and criticised the Raj to his heart’s content.

“In India, Josh’s greatest friend was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who loved him a lot. But he would get frank with even Nehru, forgetting that he was the prime minister of India.”

She told a funny anecdote involving Josh, Nehru and Sardar Patil.

Zehra said Nehru even offered Josh to live in both countries, Pakistan and India, when he decided to migrate but Josh was an innocent person, he came to Pakistan and the promises made to him here were never fulfilled.

Zehra said that Josh used to write very good ghazal but he later started writing only poems for some unknown reasons, perhaps it was the influence of the progressive writers. He recited some couplets from the old ghazals of Josh as evidence of his mastery over the form.

“Theme in poetry is its main element but Josh had so much knowledge of language that sometimes diction and vocabulary would overshadow the theme in his poetry but then his diction was excellent too.”

Iftikhar Arif said Josh wrote poetry for 80 years, the longest span of time for any writer in Pakistan. Besides this new book, another book remains to be published. “Josh used to talk about his epic poem, Harf-i-Akhir. That book was stated to be missing but after now it has been told that the manuscript is available and it might be published in the near future. Another of his book, a diary, his lost prose book, was also made available and Hoori Noorani (Maktaba-i-Daniyal) published it.” He said Hoori published such books as were rejected by other publishers and some of them were confiscated too.

Urdu and Persian scholar and former head of the Oriental College Moeen Nizami termed it a great literary tragedy that Josh’s works had been published after a delay of about half a century. Before this, he was being published regularly.

“A voice gets more relevance if it gets published in its contemporary world,” he pointed, adding that it was must to have the complete works of Josh to give him full credit for his achievement. The current book (Mehmal-o-Jars), he had compiled in 1972 or 1973 but it remained unpublished till now.

Nizami said Josh was born to oppose and revolt against everything, including himself, family, sect and area but did not leave his standpoint and did not regret his stance ever. He said Josh had so much mastery over language that sometimes it gave the impression that his poetry had less focus on meanings and themes, which was not right.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2024

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