Habib Jalib–A Tribute

Yesterday (March 12) was the death anniversary of Habib Jalib (1928-1993). Jalib was born Habib Ahmed in a village near Hoshiarpur, British India.  He migrated to Pakistan at Partition and worked as a proofreader for the “Daily Imroze” in Karachi.   “He was a progressive writer and soon started to grab the audience with his enthusiastic recitation of poetry.  He wrote in plain language, adopted a simple style and addressed common people and issues.  But the conviction behind his words, the music of his voice and his emotional energy coupled with the sensitivity of the sociopolitical context is what stirred the audience” (Wikipedia).

One of his most famous poems, “Dastoor”, was written in 1962 after Ayub Khan enforced his tailor-made constitution in the country.  A rough English translation reads:

The light which shines only in palaces

Burns up the joy of the people in the shadows
Derives its strength from others’ weakness
That kind of system,
like dawn without light
I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept
I am not afraid of execution,
Tell the world that I am the martyr
How can you frighten me with prison walls?
This overhanging doom,
this night of ignorance,
I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept
“Flowers are budding on branches”, that’s what you say,
“Every cup overflows”, that’s what you say,
“Wounds are healing themselves”, that’s what you say,
These bare-faces lies,
this insult to the intelligence,
I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept
For centuries you have all stolen our peace of mind
But your power over us is coming to an end
Why do you pretend you can cure pain?
Even if some claim that you’ve healed them,

I refuse to acknowledge, I refuse to accept.

Jalib continued to struggle against various regimes. During the Zia dictatorship, he wrote a poem in which he asked how he could write darkness as light (“Zia” literally means light in Urdu).

Darkness as light, Hot desert wind as a morning breeze

How can I write a human as God?

After the return of democracy under Benazir Bhutto, Jalib was asked if he felt any change in the nation and he replied:

Haal ab tak wahi hain faqiroan kay

Din phiray hain faqat waziroan kay

her Bilawal hai Dais ka maqrooz

paoon nangay hain Benazeeroan kay

The status of the poor is still the same

the days of the ministers have indeed changed

every Bilawal (name of the only son of Benazir Bhutto) of the country is under debt

while Benazirs (i.e the poor) of the country walk without shoes

Jalib died in Lahore on March 12, 1993.  On March 23, 2009, he was posthumously awarded the highest civil award by the President of Pakistan, which was received by his daughter,  Tahira Habib Jalib.

Here is a rendition of “Dastoor” in Jalib’s own voice:

And here is a beautiful ghazal by Jalib called “Dil Ki Baat Labon Par Lakar” sung by the great Mehdi Hassan:

Author: Kabir

I am Pakistani-American. I grew up in suburban Maryland, right outside Washington, DC. I hold a B.A. degree from George Washington University, where I majored in Dramatic Literature and minored in Western Classical Music. During my undergraduate education, I spent two years at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) where I studied Social Sciences, including Anthropology, Sociology and Political Philosophy. I have studied Hindustani Classical Vocal from a young age. I have won several awards at the Annual Indian Music and Dance Competition held in Baltimore, Maryland. I have also performed at the All Pakistan Music Conference in Lahore. Currently I am teaching an undergraduate course on the history of music in South Asia at LUMS. At BP, I intend to write on art, music and literature.

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