On the 10th Death Anniversary of Habib Jalib (1928-1993)

A True People’s Poet

Syed Sibte Hasan 

Sibte Hasan was both an eminent man of letters and a leading Communist. He once said that Jalib had done more for Communism in Pakistan than the rest of the party put together. On his death Habib Jalib wrote two commemorative poems, one of which began: ‘Cultured he was, in wisdom Sibte Hasan was supreme/ His passing away was for the party a bad dream’. The following address was delivered on 25th December 1980, when Jalib was awarded life membership of the Karachi Press Club — Translator

In Urdu if a truly people’s poet has been born, after Nazir Akbarabadi, then it is Habib Jalib. Like Nazir Akbarabadi he is truly a man of the people — his way of life is like that of the common people. His style of loving, thinking and feeling is like that of the common people, and his aspirations are those of the common people. And he expresses the sadness, the pain, the voice and the desires of the common people in their language. And if thousands and hundreds of thousands love Jalib so much, and lose control over themselves on hearing his verses, then this love, this infatuation, is not without cause. 

The crime of Prometheus, in Greek mythology was that he taught the use of fire to human beings and thus divulged the gods' secret to them. For this crime he was bound to a rock, where a vulture would eat his flesh throughout the day. The gods asked him to apologize, so that he would not be tortured any further. He replied: ‘I accept this torture; but I do not accept your slavery’. This is only a symbolic story. Man has gained his wisdom not as a gift of the gods, but has solved his problems through experimentation and observation and by the power of his thought and has, thus reached the heights of perception and sagacity. But we also come across those people, who love danger, and who have taught us about the freedom of the self and made us understand the social issues. The dictatorship of Ayub Khan will always be remembered for the fact that this dark period brought forth people like the late Mr. Justice Kiyami and Habib Jalib. When the true history of this nation is written, then the world will know that these were the people who put life in the fading pulse of the nation — at this time of fear and terror, when one was afraid even to breathe. 

To wear the crown of thorns has become Habib Jalib’s destiny. To give the god news [note: ‘good news’ in the biblical sense] of how to cure this sadness has become the aim of his life. If he weeps with one eye, then he laughs with the other. And both of these are on behalf of the people. He weeps because their conditions are miserable and laughs because their future is bright. His poetry is the voice of the defeated heart and a call to arms for his passionate beliefs. He has never been afraid of the power and wealth of the oppressors; but he has unmasked the veils of those who massacre at night. 

Sometimes I think: how did this earthly mendicant get his power to say ‘No’? What is this power that makes this gentle person fight against evil and insist on truth? In fact this power is due to the love of the people and the animal spring which lends bravery and enthusiasm to Jalib comes from the people. Habib Jalib has sacrificed his personality and his poetry for the common good of the people.

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