People’s Poet

Mujahid Barelvi

Mujahid Barelvi was a friend and comrade-in-arms of Habib Jalib. After Jalib’s death he continued to spread his message through Ehbab-I-Jalib (‘Friend of Jalib’). The following tribute was written shortly after Jalib’s death. — Translator

I ask Dr. Iqbal about Jalib saheb’s treatment in London. Dr. Iqbal who is usually always smiling, says in a soft voice, ‘Jalib saheb is a precious possession for our country. Though I am a hundred per cent sure of success, yet to keep him alive after his suffering for the last four months would be cruel’. A train is passing in front of my hotel room. 

You either hear the resounding voice of Mr. Justice Kiyami at the Lahore High Court, or else you hear, at Mochi Gate, the voice of Jalib challenging dictatorship:

‘Those lamps which only the palaces illuminate
Those who look after the happiness of a few fortunate
Those who know, cunningly, how to placate
These so-called constitutional rights
These mornings sans light
I reject outright.’

This poem ‘Constitution’ shook up the mansions of the powers that be.

‘Malik saheb, believe me, this constitution will not last, will not last.’

After this poem, Jalib had to go to one prison after another. After Ayub came Yahya Khan and Jalib threw down his gauntlet: 

‘The one who before you sat on this throne
He too thought he was a God all on his own.’

After Yahya Khan followed the People’s Party Government. During the period of dictatorship Jalib stood by Bhutto. But Jalib was a member of NAP, and hence he was arrested in the Hyderabad conspiracy case and spent about a year in prison. 

‘Go to Larkana
Or else go to the thana.’

[Note: Larkana is the hereditary fiefdom of the Bhutto family. Thana means police station. The singer, Mumtaz, was asked to go to Larkana for a function and on her refusal, she was confronted by the police for this ‘crime’.]

This poem became very popular during the People’s Party rule. … After the People’s Party came the turn of General Zia-ul-Haq. … Though Jalib had become very ill in this period because of his pilgrimage to Multan Jail, he kept up his tradition of speaking the truth:

‘Darkness is Zia, the light
The storm is a breeze at daylight
A mortal is God in all his might
This I will not write.’

This poem became famous during the Zia-ul-Haq era, and because of this poem he was incarcerated for six months at Mianwali — the worst prison in Panjab. After the death of Zia-ul-Haq it seemed that Jalib had become tired and that age and illness had caught up with him. But when the ‘brave’ leaders of the People’s Party continued in the style of Muslim League, then Jalib could not remain silent:

‘Poor people live in the same old hut
Only the ministers are now upbeat
Every Bilawal1 of the land is living in debt
The Benazir’s2 are walking with bare feet.'3

My last meeting with him was on the 4 February [1993] in room number 14 of Sheikh Zaid-bin-Sultan-Alnaliyan Hospital. He said to me in a sad voice,

‘Comrade, I have been done in’.

On hearing this I became silent. What could I have said? If with the change of the government he had changed his attitude, then he could have lived in affluence.

Jalib saheb, you had to be done in.

‘I reject outright
These constitutional rights
These mornings without light.’

‘Darkness is Zia, the light.’

‘Go to Larkana, or else go to the thana.’

‘Peerless people walk bare feet.’

‘Don’t give me your life, don’t give me your heart

Just a Mill will do, for a start.’

Well, Jalib saheb, do you call that poetry? You had to be done in.

1. Raag Bilawal, a classical raag — here a musician. Bilawal is also the name of Ms. Bhutto’s son.

2. Benazir Bhutto. In the word-play here benazir means peerless.

3. This poem was recited by Jalib just after receiving the ‘National Book Award’ of Benazir Bhutto’s government.

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