August 1, 2000


Search Rediff

Rediff Shopping
Shop & gift from thousands of products!
  Books     Music    
  Apparel   Jewellery
  Flowers   More..     

Safe Shopping

A giant among poets

E-Mail this report to a friend

Lata Khubchandani in Bombay

Ali Sardar Jafri, who passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer on Tuesday, was perhaps one of India's best known poets. He is fondly remembered by his friends and associates at the Progressive Writers Association and the Indian People's Theatre Association.

Prem Dhawan, a longtime friend and co-writer at IPTA, says, "He was a very dear friend. I've known him since before the Partition and we've done a lot of work together. We wrote songs together for films like Dharti ke Lal, Pardesi etc. I wrote music for a number of documentaries he made for Films' Division. He's done some fabulous work on people like the poet Iqbal. I used to compose music for these. He was a man of varied interests. I remember him making a documentary on tourism. We all belonged to the PWA and have been together for a long time. I remember the film Dharti Ke Lal was made in 1946 and Pandit Ravi Shankar had given the music while Jafrisaab and I had written the lyrics. We were all Leftists and shared many ideals. We toured the country together. Sardar Jafri received more awards than anyone I know. He worked so much for the prosperity of the Urdu language - Urdu Shairi, Urdu poetry and the language itself received a big fillip through him."

Says veteran journalist Pt Razdan, "Very few people had his felicity of expression in Urdu, it was poetry par excellence along with depth of thought - I remember his recent poems and one of these spoke of Hindu/Muslim tensions. It said, 'Guftugu band na ho'... 'Aap Lahore ko laiyiye hum Benaras laate hain'. It was just an incredibly beautiful thought. His work will stand the test of time because it reflected what he'd seen and heard and was based upon real actualities.'

Dhawan continues, "The PWA was started by Sajjad Zahir and people like Josh Malihabadi, Majaz Lucknowi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Kaifi Azmi, Sardar Jafri and Majrooh Sultanpuri were all part of it. We all used to meet on Sundays."

"Jafri has written a lot of beautiful poetry. His greatness lies in the fact that he has written books on Sant Kabir and Mirabai both in Urdu and Hindi. For the progress of the Urdu language he took a lot of concessions from the government and worked hard at popularising it and keeping it alive. He believed that if Urdu was to remain alive then the work of Urdu poets should be published in Hindi to make it accessible to those who couldn't read the Urdu/Arabic script."

"Currently he had just finished work on a book on Mir Taki Mir - it was in the printing stages. That's the kind of work he made available to the public - something that cannot be valued," Dhawan said

Javed Akhtar, an acknowledged writer himself received particular benevolence from Jafri. In fact when Akhtar's first book of poetry, Tarkash, was published recently, Jafri wrote the preface praising the coming of age of this son of Jan Nissar Akhtar.

Akhtar, on his way to Jafri's funeral, said, "What can I say? He was perhaps the biggest living poet in India or even in the sub-continent. He was not only a poet but an intellectual, a thinker and a great symbol of national integration. All the positive values that this society can think of were embodied in him. Recently when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took the bus ride to Pakistan he had taken a cassette of Jafri's poems in which he'd written about Hindustan and Pakistan and the relationship between the two countries. Sardar Jafri was a great linguist and a thinker. It's a great loss. I can't even recall how long my association with him has been - he's been part of my life ever since I became conscious of the world around me. He, my father my uncle were all in the PWA. He was very kind to me, when I was getting my book Tarkash published he was the only person I showed the book to and he wrote a beautiful article about my poetry."

Sardar Malik, father of composer Anu Malik, too was an associate of Jafri. He says, "What a fearless writer he was. If we just pay tribute to him and put away his work, that'll be doing him a grave injustice. If we can bring alive his thoughts that'll be a real tribute but just saying he was a great writer is shortchanging this man's depth. Once Faiz Ahmad Faiz said, "I'm not interested in your saying that I'm a great writer. If instead you can get my thoughts that'll be enough for me." I'd say the same for Sardar Jafri - if you close a man's mouth and then tell him to speak that's not much use - now that he's no more it would be appropriate to keep alive his thoughts. I've known him since the IPTA days. He was one of the finest writers I've ever met. His thought was so deep that most people couldn't understand him. But those who did, could write reams on him. He had so much to him," he says.

Composer Khayyam says, "He's been one of the biggest poets of our country - he was part of the progressive writers movement and in his poetry you always found a glimpse of the fact that the underdog should get his rights - he worked for unity and wrote extensively about it. All of us were enamoured of his poetry, we were enthused by what he wrote and when we sat with him we always learnt from him. We used to meet at Red Flag Hall, his place in Girgaum where Leftist meetings were held. Jafri's contribution to India is of no mean order. He was a scholar and whatever awards he got he fully deserved. It was my good fortune that he wrote for two of my films - Footpath and Dhobi Doctor - in fact two great writers Sardar Jafri and Majrooh Sultanpuri wrote for these films. As a human being he was wonderful - you felt he loved the whole of humanity - he never spoke ill of anyone. In fact even in a light moment I never heard loose talk from him. He always looked at the positive points of everybody - and this is a mark of greatness. In India's Urdu literature his place is supreme and for those who love literature his passing away is a great loss. But one should keep such artistes alive by giving importance to their work. I've been meeting him since 1947 and whenever I got to attend meetings where he was present I always learnt from him. He had so much to communicate. Just to sit with him was my good fortune. Not everyone has this good fortune."

Back to top

Tell us what you think of this report