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August 1, 2000
Urdu poet Ali Sardar Jafri passes away
Jnanpith award-winner and legendary Urdu poet Ali Sardar Jafri passed away on Tuesday morning at the Bombay Hospital. He was 86.
Jafri, who had been suffering from cancer, had been in hospital for two months.
The poet, who was a freedom-fighter, was closely involved with the Indian People's Theatre Association.
Last year, Jafri was invited to accompany Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the latter's bus journey to Lahore, but the poet had to decline owing to ill-health. However, the PM took with Jafri's album, Sarhad, that reflects the desire of the Indian people for a peaceful solution to the disputes that have divided the two neighbours.
Sardar Jafri was born on November 29, 1916 in Balrampur, Uttar Pradesh. He wrote songs for films like Zalzala, Dharti Ke Lal, [which was made by K A Abbas in 1946 with Ravi Shankar] Pardesi and Footpath. In Zalzala he wrote for legendary music director Pankaj Mullick in 1952. He worked with Khayyam in Footpath in 1953, which was made by Zia Sarhadi. He was a member of the All India Peace Council. One of his greatest desires was to film the life of Habba Khatoon, the great poetess, which never came to fruition. He had written a book on her.
His poetry has been translated variously. His book My Journey which has his selected Urdu poems from 1949 to 1997 was translated by Baidar Bakht and Kathleen Grant Jaeger and published by Sterling paperback. Others include Nayi Duniya ko Salaam, Khoon ki Lakker, Asia Jaag Utha and Lahu Pukarta Hai.
Sardar Jafri received various awards including the Padma Shree, the Jnanpith award, the Soviet Land Nehru award, the UP Urdu academy award, the Iqbal Samman and the Sant Jnaneshwar award.
He made his debut in writing with a collection of short stories, Manzil in 1938 and thereafter made a mark in poetry with his book Parvaaz and The Flight in 1943. Attracted both to nationalism and communism, he became the undisputed leader of the progressive writers' movement.
He penned a collection of verses Pathar ki Deewar when he was jailed during the freedom struggle. He was editing a six volume encyclopaedia of Urdu poetry when the end came.
Singer Seema Saigal brought out a cassette of Jafri's poetry, which she both composed and sang under the title Sarhad. Most people were under the mistaken belief that Jafri's only wrote dry revolutionary poetry but Saigal's album showed the romance and reality in his writing. It was this cassette that Vajpayee carried with him to Lahore.
Sadly no music company was willing to produce the album, so the singer brought it out privately at her own cost.
With Ali Sardar Jafri's passing, India has lost one of its greatest literary figures, a man of great benevolence and a fine sense of humour. Recently when there was a fatwa out for Shabana Azmi after she tonsured her head, Jafri said smiling, "I would never have known she had such a shapely head if she hadn't shaved it off!"
Sardar Jafri was a true lover of humanity and a truly progressive man - very modern in his perceptions and traditional in his courtesy. With his passing, an era of grace has ended.
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