Nayi Deewar-i-Cheen
By Ibrahim Jalees
R.B. Publishers
207pp.

Occasionally, my school invited well-known personalities to address and interact with the students as a part of extracurricular activities. I was a student of Class Seven in the institution located on Shaheed-i-Millat Road, Karachi, in the late 1960s.

I remember a big (notwithstanding that all things look bigger at that age) well-dressed cheerful gentleman on the stage of the school auditorium. Ibrahim Jalees was popularly known for his humorous Urdu column, Waghaira Waghaira, in the daily Jang newspaper. He spoke jovially with us; though I don’t recall what he said.

I was reminded of my school days when I picked up this recent reprint of an Urdu book by that gentleman, originally published more than 65 years ago. The book is intriguing on a number of levels, not least given the close relationship now between Pakistan and China.

Nayi Deewar-i-Cheen by Ibrahim Jalees covers a six-week tour of China by a Pakistani delegation invited to join in their second independence celebrations in October 1951. Jalees accompanied the group as the coordinating secretary of the delegation.

A reprint of journalist Ibrahim Jalees’ Urdu travelogue from a trip to China in 1951 offers a fascinating look into Chinese vision and drive as well as insights about Pakistan and Urdu from 70 years ago

The book is basically a personal travelogue and running commentary of an individual (not a tour report of the official delegation) of those six weeks in China, penned by a keen and knowledgeable intellectual. It dwells on the history of China as well as that of the Chinese revolution led by Mao Zedong.

Short, crisp chapters lucidly highlight in detail the transformation of multiple sectors in China after their independence, including education, industry, fine arts, movies, military, infrastructure, women and children’s rights, social equality and reforms, agriculture, justice, architecture and the future goals and promises of the country.

What China envisaged back then — and Jalees effectively captured and projected that resolve in this book — is validated by the accomplishments of China in all fields that we are witnessing today, more than 70 years later!

Jalees writes that, “In the absence of the Iron Curtain and complete freedom to move around, I tried to meet a maximum number of citizens during my brief stay and to observe the many dimensions of new life in China.

“Therefore, I met President Mao Zedong, Vice President Liu Shaoqi, the Commander in Chief, Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, and the vice premier. I also met the waiter Chang at the Peking Hotel and the rickshaw driver Shao Chang.

“On the one hand, I laid flower wreaths at [early 20th century revolutionary leader] Dr Sun Yat-sen’s and great Chinese writers’ graves, while I also visited the maternity homes where new Sun Yat-sens and Lu Xuns were being born.

“While I had tea with the Lady of the East, Madame Soong Ching Ling (widow of Dr Sun Yat-sen), I also had dinner with a woman labourer Mashiah Chu, working at a Shanghai fabric factory. She was a prostitute before the revolution and liberated into becoming a respectable married woman now.”

Jalees recounts that the history of China begins around 200 BCE, when the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huang, conquered the whole of China and laid the foundation of Greater China.

Then, in the 13th century, the Mongols invaded China. Kublai Khan was the founder of this new government. After the conquest, many Mongols settled in China. In the 17th century, the Manchu tribe attacked from the north and conquered the whole of China. Manchus also settled in China but were antagonistic towards the Chinese people.

During their oppressive reign, the people of China degenerated into living a morbid and destitute life. During Manchu rule, China was like a “wounded, near-death beggar who pleaded for his life on his own threshold.”

Eventually, in 1911, an ordinary man, Dr Sun Yat-sen, led the intensifying fierce anger of the “beggar” China against the Manchu empire and toppled the king. That is historically known as the 1911 Revolution. It was founded on the major principles of equitable distribution of land, nationalisation of large industries, encouraging state investment, organising farmer and labour trade unions, rights of nationalities, gender equality and education for all.

This long revolutionary process culminated when Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China, on October 1, 1949.

Jalees describes his visit to the 1,100-mile-long Great Wall of China, located 70 miles from Peking (Beijing now), and highlights its symbolic and historic significance briefly and comprehensively.

The book was first published in 1958, and its second edition came in 2023, thanks to Jalees’s sons, Shaharyar and Shahnawaz Jalees. The author explains the seven-year delay in the publication of the first edition of the book by alluding to unfavourable lobbies in Pakistan that were under the influence of anti-communist and anti-China, Western sentiments.

Another segment of society spread rumours that Jalees went to China to spy for Pakistan and a superpower! Jalees makes it clear at the very start that he is neither a communist nor has he been a member of any such organisation directly or indirectly, although he was accused of being one, on and off.

A foreword of the book by a longtime colleague and friend, journalist Rasheed Butt, candidly describes his association with and the lively talented personality of Jalees. It also depicts the general environment, life and social atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s.

Nayi Deewar-i-Cheen not only stirred my own childhood memories but, in a subtle way, illustrates the comparative deviation in Urdu language and expression over the intervening years. Overall, Jalees represents a liberated, uninhibited, and free of pretences and hypocrisy tone that has perhaps become rare in Pakistan in later years.

Jalees also authored several books of short stories including Chalees Karorr Bhikari and Tikona Des, and the novel Chor Bazar. He died of a brain haemorrhage during the traumatic period of the struggle for freedom of the press by journalists in Pakistan in 1977, at the age of 53.

The reviewer is a freelance writer and translator.

He can be reached at mehwer@yahoo.com

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, March 17th, 2024

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