Ustad Daman
The Poet Laureate of the Twentieth Century Punjab

fowpe sharma

‘A real poet is he, who can say
That sugar is sweet and that poison is lethal’,

Ustad Daman

On his death Habib Jalib said ‘Ustad Daman was a great nationalist. He represented faithfully the opinions and desires of the deprived folk. People cannot forget him.’

Faiz Ahmed Faiz on being asked why he did not write poetry in Punjabi, replied that he could not compete with the old masters like Sultan Bahu, Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah and others. The only one who could be ranked with them today was Ustad Daman.

Born on 3rd September 1911 in Lahore as Chiragh Din his father was a tailor and his mother a washerwomen. In an interview the Ustad said that since his mother was a washerwoman, his mind remained clean: his father being a tailor implied that he could stitch torn fragments of life with patches of love.

He went regularly to school for his primary education. Afterwards he had to work and find time for going to school and passed his matriculation examination. He could not continue his education further. However, at the young age of 7-8 years he started writing and reciting verses.

In 1930 he stitched a suit for Mian Iftikhar-ud-din. When Mian came for the delivery, Ustad Daman was singing his own verses, which impressed Mian Sahib greatly. He invited him to recite his poem at a public meeting organised by the Indian National Congress. He became an instant hit and Pandit Nehru, who was there dubbed him as the ‘Poet of Freedom’. He first wrote under the pen name Humdam, which was later changed to Daman. The title ‘Ustad’ was bestowed on him by the people. After that he became a regular participant in these meetings. He believed that the unity of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs was essential, if the struggle for freedom was to be carried on successfully. An example of his patriotic poetry may be given.

‘In China the Chinese are grand,
In Russia they do as they have planned.
In Japan its people rule over its strand.
The British rule the land of England,
The French hold the land of France,
In Teheran the Persians make their stand.
The Afghans hold on to their highland,
Turkmenistan’s freedom bears the Turkmen’s brand,
How very strange is indeed this fact,
That freedom in India is a contraband.’

During the partition in 1947 he lost his wife and child, he was later re-united with them only to lose them to disease, for which he could not afford the treatment. His poor friends had to chip in for the burial. As he was a Congressman, his house was burnt and his library and writings were destroyed. He shifted to a verandah of the Shahi Mosque, where he spent the rest of his life. After this he kept no record of his poetry and whatever is available to us today is due to the efforts (and memory) of his admirers.

After the partition, he visited India for a Mushaira, where he recited his poem (given below), ‘We may not speak but in our hearts we know/ you have lost and we too have lost in this divide.’

The poem was enthusiastically received and Pandit Nehru requested that he stay on in India. He refused, saying ‘Panditji, it is difficult to part from the soil of one’s birthplace.’ Later on many cases were foisted against him and he had to spend time in prison. On another visit to India, he was again asked to stay on, but he said, ‘I prefer to live in Pakistan, even though it may be behind prison walls.’ (To a similar request by Sardar Jafri, Habib Jalib replied ‘Here the mullahs will put me in prison and there the pandits. So where is the choice.’)

He wrote Sufi poetry and poetry against the British rule. After 1947, he continued to write about the troubles which beset the people and exposed the machinations of the so-called political leaders:

‘A Trinity of Gods rule Pakistan,
Nazim, Azam and Zafrullah Khan’.

(Those three being then the Governor General, the Commander-in-Chief and the Foreign Minister respectively). Later on he continued to write against Ayub, Yahya Khan, Bhutto and General Zia. One of his great poems is on General Zia’s ‘Martial Law’ yet, strange to say, Zia had to pay a tribute to him after his death.

However in the 1965 war against India, his stand became for a short while communal (unlike Faiz, Jalib, Farogh Bukhari and others. But here many on our side of the border were bitten by the communal bug too). There is a curious silence about the events in East Pakistan in 1971. Perhaps he was too shell-shocked or perhaps the record is no longer available.

He also wrote a few film songs in Punjabi and Urdu – due to the insistence of the progressive actor Allau-ud-din Khan (who also roped in Habib Jalib). However, he made a great contribution to the genre ‘Heer’. He had great respect for Waris Shah’s poetry but complained that Waris Shah’s Ranjha had less the features of a Punjabi peasant– he was more of a dandy of the Lucknow style. The musical rhythym and lyricism of Heer has a distinctly Punjabi flavour and is not amenable to translation, and I have not been foolhardy enough to try it. However, sometimes, his ‘Heers’ became a song of protest:

‘A man can do whatever he wants,
Agreed, that calamitous times are still ahead.
Let Ranjha just set of Takht Hazare
Soon Jhang of Syals will crumble under his tread.’

(Here Ranjha stands for the exploited class and the Syals for the exploiters.)

In November 1984 he was suffering from very poor health. Faiz visited him and requested him to shift to a more comfortable place but Daman refused. However he had to be shifted to the Services Hospital medical ward, where Habib Jalib was a fellow patient. Faiz died on 20th November and Daman said that, despite his illness, he would go to lend his shoulder to Faiz’s bier. Habib Jalib was also ill. As the Punjabi poet and author Ahmed Saleem reports,

‘The (Faiz funeral) procession was stopped. Ustad Daman, a mentor of Faiz, who was hospitalised, insisted on being carried and stood there unwilling to leave his side.’ A few days later, on December 3, 1984 Ustad Daman too passed away. Many tributes were paid to him (including as mentioned above, by General Zia). Habib Jalib wrote two Punjabi poems and one in Urdu on his death. Jalib’s collection of Punjabi poems was dedicated to Ustad Daman. One of his Punjabi poems is given below in translation.

‘He lived in a hut, but wore the poets’ crown,
Amongst people, as Daman, he won renown,
        This poet who wore the crown.

He did not became a courtier, as others did,
Not even in forgetfulness did he do the establishment’s bid,
For poor deprived people he laid his life down,
        This poet who wore the crown.

The oppressors were laid low by his poetic might,
Amidst tempests, his lamp continued to give light,
With pride he will be remembered in every village and town,
        This poet who wore the crown.’

One can only say ‘Amen’ to that.

The Poetry of Ustad Daman

Translated by fowpe sharma

1. General

A real poet is one who can say
That sugar is sweet and that poison is lethal.
Whatever may happen, he should not be afraid to say
That mercy is human and that brutality is brutal.
He may have to sacrifice his life, but he should say
That a city is a city and that a jungle is a jungle.
Daman! He may have to drown in a sea of misery
But he should call a river a river and a channel a channel.


Daman! If you do not want to be cut into pieces
Don’t distribute your wisdom amongst the ignorant.


Youth, now it is here, now it is gone, like a house full of thieves
Like the string of a kite, now it is in your hand and when cut it leaves.


Spit out the bitterness, keep your palate sweet,
Mix honey with your talk, in this world’s domain;
Those abodes are the abodes of peace.
Amongst mankind, let sweetness reign.


This City of Lahore

Oh my, oh my, this city of Lahore!
Oh my, oh my, this city of Lahore!
Colourful, trendy, dandy,
Is everyone there to the core,
Oh my, oh my, this city of Lahore!
Oh my, oh my, this city of Lahore!

Other cities are a poor sight
This city is blazing bright
The seal of saints lends it its light
This city of Lord, we adore.
Oh my, oh my, this city of Lahore!
Oh my, oh my, this city of Lahore!

Time and again, there is a change in weather,
There are fairs, where people gather,
In eight days, there are nine fairs altogether,
Buffaloes and cows at every door
Drink yoghurt-milk, there is butter in the store
Oh my, oh my, this city of Lahore!
Oh my, oh my, this city of Lahore!

Flowers that blossom are all around,
Lovely birds with their twittering sound,
Blissful angels, this city surround,
Pleasant wares make merry sound.
There is never a less or more,
Oh my, oh my, this city of Lahore!
Oh my, oh my, this city of Lahore!

It’s the loving heart of the faraway passerby,
It looks at the hungry, the ones who cry,
Our great flag you uphold, keeping it high.
In this city are dwelling there:
Happy, laughing : sons and daughters galore,
Oh my, oh my, this city of Lahore!
Oh my, oh my, this city of Lahore!

Your youth with its beauteous tone
And wealth, now here, now it is gone
In other cities, your tale is well known
Daman! One who Lahore has not seen
He does not indeed know the score.
Oh my, oh my, this city of Lahore!
Oh my, oh my, this city of Lahore!


Speaking the truth, gets you the hangman’s noose
Having thus spoken, people all amazed
While falsehood is like a glittering coin,
On its sight, the eyes get dazed.


The poor await the judgement day,
The mighty ones open their agencies
Whether we have Friday markets or not,
They have got their notes and currencies.


Thankful are some if they can be hewers of wood
The others, on them, their orders bestow.
Why have the people lost their mind?
For every one the Almighty has a loving glow.
People are the real masters of this world
Orders do not from the handle of a sword flow.
The ones, Daman, who have forsaken God,
Those Nimruds are laid low at very first blow.


Why do they not talk of this earth,
Those people who are mere puppets of dust?
With bread to eat, they can just talk, talk, talk
With a floury dough, the tabla1 gives a sound burst

1. An Indian Drum

2. Wine


I asked the saint, tell me this I pray:
Where do we come from, where do we go; and show me the way.
Where do we come from, where we go, don’t let it bother you.
Drink up if you can, offer it to others if you can pay.


Saqi came as I was boozing, and I thought.
Let me have with him somehow a compromise.
He said: you should give up drinking.
I told him: ‘why should I do as you advise?
If I stop drinking, then tell me this:
Should I forsake heaven and take the path in which hell lies.
For the sake of wheat, Adam forsook heavens
Should I forsake wine so that to heaven I should rise?
He who drinks wine does no need any other bliss,
Should I then the ancient tale of Adam revise?
For the sake of wheat he sacrificed the hereafter
Should I give up wine in order to go to paradise?’


Why this offer, sip by sip?
Let a full cup be my treat.
My body might just crumble into dust,
This cup is a cheat.
From my hands, surprised, the cup fell down
On seeing that my inebriation had so grown.
I did not tire and I went on drinking,
The cup admitted defeat.

3. India


If the ignorant fight, it does not matter
The learned don’t fight, they only incite.
They put the daggers in our hands
And the cream they devour with utter delight.
Amongst the sects they sow discord,
Our country they can thus rob, left and right
Then Daman1 too we will tear to pieces,
Those who throw up our turbans to show us their might

1. Daman used in dual sense: (a) the poet’s nom de plume (b) the skirt of a garment.


If he were in front of us we would talk to Him,
What is he doing there in the skies, where he resides?
He made this world and is so bursting with pride,
While down here we want to drown, committing collective suicide.


The mosque may be bedecked with pearls,
Inside nary a Hindu goes.
The temple may have the resplendence of a Kaaba,
Not a Moslem goes there for taking his vows.
Both of them when they go on fighting,
They see to it that in it their profit grows and grows.
It would have been much better to build wine shops
Anyone could drink up what he likes, and forget his sorrows.


The rich live behind doors that are shut tight,
Windows and doors do not the poor’s dwellings grace.
Every month they dun us for the interest on our debts
As if death is getting ready for a tight embrace.
We hanker after awards and honours
Our brains have been corrupted by the British race.
Daman, how long will this oppression last,
The day will soon come, when we take over this place.


The one who shot the Mahatma
The axis of the world he turned around.
Peace amongst people he preached,
His voice was throttled by that hound.


Laws: they are meant for the poor
Whether they are whites or whether they are blacks.
The powerful know how to bend these laws.
They can offer gold and money filled sacks.


On the stage, you become an Alexander clone
Off the stage, you are the holy one.
If you fall foul of the powers that be
You find yourself inside a prison.

4. India and Pakistan


Wagah and Attari1 do not exchange blows
Nor do Gita and Quran engage in a fight
Between apostasy and Islam, there is no bickering
Only profit and loss must always be kept in sight.

1. Two adjacent border towns of India and Pakistan.


We may not speak but deep in our hearts we know,
That you have lost, as we too have lost in this divide.
With this false freedom, towards destruction,
You ride, and so too do we ride.
There was some hope, there is life to be found
But you died, and so we too died.
While still alive, inside the jaws of death
You were hurled inside, as we were hurled inside.
Fully awake, they robbed us till they had their fill
You kept sleeping, leaving care aside, we too left care aside.
The redness of the eyes tells the tale.
That you have cried, and so we, too, have cried.


The Deceit:
The non violent philosophy of the Mahatma,
Won for him, in the world great fame.
Through cannons they broadcast their message of peace,
Some became ministers, others could headship claim
Squabbling over and seizing the princely states,
They became guardians of the Asian frame
With so much pride they came to Pakistan,
But despair became here the name of the game.
But those who slept, somehow, woke up
They woke up and then freedom to them running came.
The challenge:
The old had the inebriation of youth
To be lionised was the young dandy’s aim.
Some became soldiers and warriors of God,
Mighty wrestlers they became, who were otherwise tame.
These the enemy could not withstand
They hurled challenges and as Rustams won acclaim.
Sindhis and Punjabis and Baluchis one and all
With Bengalis and Pathans, they all became one and same.
All five got together, as if they were a fist,
But flaring up this fist set them all aflame.
Take a look at the borders of my holy land
The brave enemy was laid low here in shame.
Graveyards belong to the faithful folk,
But there’s a cremation, when they take Ram’s name.
How can there be a greater miracle than this.
That the Islamic credo could even Daman reclaim.

5. Pakistan


What does the Begum say?
What does her garrara1 say
About our minister,
Why do you ask?
When a tour comes their way,
You find them going to USA.

1. Women’s loose trousers.


Long live U.S.A.!
From all the afflictions it keeps you away.
Long live U.S.A.!!!



What a house, this Pakistan,
Above live saints, down thieves have their run
A new order has come into force
Up above twenty families, below the hundred million.
Other people conquered mountains,
We live under the divisions heavy ton.
Other people may have conquered the moon.
But in a yawning precipice a place we’ve won.
I ran and ran and was aching all over,
I looked back and saw the donkey resting under the banyan.


Traitors to the people, shout out, exult
The British are gone, but don’t you bid them good-bye.
Nation, one and all you have broken, into pieces,
People too are shattered; go on, crucify.
Go on, eat up; who is there to unmask you?
Go on, eat up the pie, and go on raise a hue and cry.
People fed up with hunger, like cocks they crow,
Drink up your meat soup and your cravings satisfy
Arms are aplenty, and the dust is swirling around,
Build your stone mansions, edifices that kiss the sky.
The uncle gives to the nephew, the nephew gives to the uncle
Take your share, your share of the pie.
From the blind man blind women gets blows, the slave girl gets it on the nose
Let injustice prevail, on this you can rely.
Go to the Murree Hills for your stay, spend there your holiday,
But show the road to Kashmir, to the poor fry.
Eat up to the fill, the hungry folk are superfluous,
Pacify them with tall tales go on, go on, lie.
Wine is now forbidden, oh, what a prohibition it is!
Send cases to those who can pay, ensure a steady supply.
The poor you can cheat, take away whatever they have,
Go to America: car after car there you can buy.
Go on, eat up, who is there to unmask you?
Go on, eat up the pie, go on, raise a hue to cry.


Look, wayfarer, going on your way,
Ayub is done, now Yahya is at his play.
There is no work, but let’s sing today,
Oh, my lovely soldier boy, heigh-ho-heigh.


The country it saved from a civil war,
For this my Army, I would offer any sacrifice.
Like a spectacle it sits on the nose,
But holds both of our ears in a vice.


The division of Pakistan is, oh, so strange
There is something less here, something less over there.
These surgeons, how can they ever heal?
The ointment is here, the abscess is over there.
There is no sign of modesty or shame,
They are shameless here, they are shameless over there.



The prince, in his frenzies get his high,
Bhutto, the lovely lad, when he gives his call.
Only then the mullah offers wine,
While drunk, he is about to fall.
He goes on and on with his boasting bouts.
While there is an outcry against him by one and all
He goes on talking as he goes on walking,
It seems he stands up tall, when he starts to crawl.


Martial Law

Two gods hold my country in their sway
Martial law and La Illaha have here their heyday.
That one rules there over in the heavens
Down here this one’s writ runs.
His name is Allah Esquire.
This one is called Zia, the light of truth in full array.
        Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
        Whoever can make you go away.
Ecstacy does my land surround
All around the Army is to be found.
Hundreds of thousands were surrendered as POWs.
Half of the land was bartered away in the fray.
        Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
        Whoever can make you go away.
On TV you give recitations from Quran
With fables and traditions you go on and on.
Here we are engulfed in a brouhaha
While up there you are still there, my Allah
A pretender has staked his claim today
        Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

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