‘Had I passed away last year These sorrows too would have ended last year The hands raised in enquiry are now paralysed with fear My patrons were not like this last year’ (Habib Jalib, On My Birthday, 1975) If Urdu, as a language, has produced any ‘people’s poet’ after Nazeer Akbarabadi, then it is Habib Jalib. Both Habib and Nazeer were representatives of common people and voiced the feelings and opinion of marginalised people. Like his predecessor, Habib knew the art of translating sorrows and aspirations of the common man into a poetic language that would subsequently appeal to masses with its spellbinding effect. The crime of Prometheus, the hero of Greek mythology was that he had taught man the use of fire; and in so doing, he revealed a divine secret to men. For this crime, the gods had Prometheus tied to a rock, where a vulture would eat away his flesh all day. Despite this agonizing punishment, whenever the gods would ask him to seek forgiveness and rid himself of this torment, he would say that he accepted this agony but that their servitude was unacceptable. Now this is a secret, a fable otherwise the disposition of consciousness and awareness never comes from the court of gods. In fact, man has always attained the stages of research and creation and reached the summits of understanding and perception with the help of his experience, observation and faculties of mind. Extinguishing the thirst of thorns became the purpose of Habib Jalib’s life; and narrating the glad tidings of a remedy to sorrow became habit of his existence Despite oppression and persecution of the speakers of the truth, there have always been brave souls in every period of our history — souls who taught us the lesson of emancipation and sharpened the flame of our social consciousness. Similarly, Ayub Khan’s dictatorial era will never be forgotten and forgiven for its brutal persecution of people like Justice Kayani and Habib Jalib. These two men stood as a source of light in the darkest of days. Extinguishing the thirst of thorns became the fate of Habib Jalib’s life; and narrating the glad tidings of a remedy to sorrow became his habit of existence. If he cried with one eye, and laughed with the other both his crying and laughter was with reference to the people; he cried at the sorry state of the people and laughed on their bright future. His poetry is a call of defeat and also a defiant shout of the passion of truth. He was never afraid of the heart-rending destitute and powerless, but whenever the worshippers of darkness wore another veil after their nocturnal ambush, Habib Jalib tore it away. Sometimes I think from where this dust-dwelling dervish got this daring of defiance; what is that power which disposed this kind-hearted and gentle-tempered man to fight evil and admit truth. Actually, that power was the love of the people and that animal spring which granted spirit and passion was the power of the people. Habib Jalib had devoted his personality and poetry to the people. His poetry does not walk using the crutches of impressive symbols and metaphors. He protests against social inequalities, and does it openly. He does not wrap it up in velvet, in that according to his faith, any conversation about the observation of truth must be direct, albeit not under the curtain of wine and goblet or amid the heap of big tomes. Habib Jalib was undoubtedly a poet of moments but how long is this moment that despite the passage of centuries, the pain of this moment does not subside. This moment is a never-ending tale of our decline and defeat, our helplessness and oppression, our struggle and sacrifices which the bleeding pen of Habib Jalib has narrated dressed up in art. His poetry is the poetic history of Pakistan, an album in which he has sketched every prick and palpitation of the moment very sincerely. As Jalib himself says so lyrically: ‘All others forgot to defend the word of truth, alas To write of revolution I was left alone at last ‘Do not write that nights are dark,’ they warned me in their fear But I never sought to write with permission, my dear (Like Ghalib) I crave no reward nor desire praise But in support of the downtrodden, my voice I raise Not even by oversight sang I an ode to the king Perhaps this adds rhythm to my poems when I sing What greater acclamation could this poet hope for? Than that my writings annoyed those that were in power I admit that I forgot amid this stark oppression To write of youthful beauty, and call it devastation Jalib, the king’s courtiers are free to say what they feel None can hide the crimson colour my poems reveal.’ The writer is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic, and an award-winning translator and dramatic reader currently teaching in Lahore Published in Daily Times, March 25th 2018.