KARACHI: Jon Elia knew how to capture the imagination of the audience at a Mushaira. A hush fell over the audience at the 12th Aalmi Mushaira a few months ago when Jon, looking very haggard and emaciated, hobbled towards the centrestage. Running his fingers through his dishevelled hair, Jon promised the audience that he would recite a new ghazal. “If only I could remember where the poem is,” he said in his characteristic disarming manner, hurriedly turning over the pages of his notebook with tremulous hands, looking for the ghazal. The audience, comprising young men for the most part, went into raptures as Jon recited one evocative poem after another. He had cast a spell over the audience.
Born in 1931 in Amroha, 80 miles off Delhi, Jon was a child prodigy. He evinced a precocious talent for philosophy and literature. His father, Shafiq Hasan
Elia, who was a self-effacing luminary, was a prolific writer but he never brought out his writings. Jon’s siblings were equally bright: Raees Amrohvi, Syed Mohammed Taqi and Mohammed Abbas. Little wonder that in family gatherings, conversations often veered around philosophy, astrology, linguistics, mathematics and other arcane subjects.
Jon was naturally impressed by his father’s breadth of outlook. Yet he felt that he would have achieved much more had his father not instilled in him a love for books and knowledge. In a prefatory note to his only anthology of poems, hesitatingly titled Shayid, Jon says: “I was fated to be a failure. It is no wonder that the person whose idealist father did not teach him the ways of the practical world and told him that knowledge was wealth, failed singularly in life.”
A close relation of Jon’s, Syed Mumtaz Saeed, recalls that Jon went to Syed-ul-Madaris in Amroha, a Madressah affiliated with Darul Uloom, Deoband. “Jon had a way with languages. He could learn them effortlessly. Apart from Arabic and Persian that he had learnt at the Madressah, he acquired great proficiency in English and a smattering of Hebrew.”
Jon came over to Pakistan in 1957. Before long, he became popular in the literary circles of Karachi. His poetry, which bears ample testimony to his catholic reading habits, won him acclaim and approbation. Poet Pirzada Qasim says: “Jon was very particular about language. While his diction is rooted in the classical tradition, he touches on new subjects. He remained in quest of an ideal all his life. Unable to find the ideal eventually, he became angry and frustrated. He felt, perhaps with reason, that he had squandered his talent.”
Jon was a great admirer of Mir Taqi Mir. From him, Jon learnt the use of facile expressions, intelligible to both the initiated and laymen.
He and his wife, Zahida Hina, separated in 1992. Jon was devastated. Apart from his estranged wife, he loved his children very much. His daughters, Sehnaana and Saheena, and his son, Zaryoon, will miss him very much. So will hundreds and thousands of Jon’s admirers.
BURIAL: Noted poet Jon Elia was laid to rest in Sakhi Hasan graveyard on Saturday afternoon, adds APP.
His Namaz-i-Janaza was offered at Masjid Khairul Amal in Ancholi after Zuhr prayers.
CONDOLENCES: The chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, has expressed grief over the death of poet Jon Elia, and said he had devoted his life to poetry and literature.
In a statement, the chief of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Altaf Husain, also expressed grief over the death of Jon Elia.