Jamiluddin Aali—A Man in Search of Identity

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Jamiluddin Aali

Jamiluddin Aali

Tale of a life dedicated to the Muses

Kiyun bujh gaye ho Aatish-e-pinhan ko kiya hua
Aali tumharaey soz-e-dil-o-jaan ko kiya hua

Where has the Spark gone
And the latent Fire?
Resigned, dejected, Why;
Where, O! Aali is the Flame
Of a burning Heart,
And the restive Mind?

Jamiluddin Aali, lovingly called Aaliji, was an ambitious man with an undying, never-ending lust for fame and prominence. More than that he was an enigma, a man of many contradictions, eluding any fair assessment of his personality. His was a life full of achievements. He was a successful man as a careerist, as a poet and a writer. But he was never sure of his successes and always remained a dissatisfied man suffering from an internal strife, restlessness and a fear of being consigned to oblivion.

Born on January 20, 1925 in Delhi as Nawabzada Mirza Jamiluddin Ahmad Khan, Aaliji did not have pleasant memories of his childhood days. His mother, a direct descendant of Khwaja Mir Dard, was the fourth wife of Sir Amiruddin Khan, the Nawab of Loharu, a princely state in northern India. Aali was hardly 11 or 12 years old when his father died and the family was obliged to manage life on a meagre stipend allowed by the British-India government.

Poetry was first love of Aali for the vocation had since long been there in the family having ties of kinship with Mirza Ghalib. He started composing poetry at an early age. He referred his early compositions to Nawab Sirajuddin Khan Sail Dehlavi to learn the techniques of the art. Beginning as a ghazal poet he turned to doha after he fell in love with Tayyaba Bano whom he married in 1944. By the time he graduated from Delhi’s Anglo Arabic College in 1944, Aali had already earned for himself a name as a poet.

He along with his family migrated to Pakistan in 1947 and started his career as an assistant in the Ministry of Commerce. In 1951 he cleared the Central Superior Service examination to join the Pakistan Taxation Service. He was Officer on Special Duty at President House from 1959 to 1963. After serving as Registrar Copyright at Ministry of Education and Secretary National Press Trust, he joined National Bank of Pakistan and remained there till his retirement.

But his was a restless soul. The recognition and admiration he earned for his poetry would not quench his perennial thirst for fame and prominence. He always wanted to be in limelight and loved to be amidst one or the other controversy. But the controversy he was caught in the early days of Ayub Khan’s martial law regime continued to haunt him all through his life. As the story goes, Aali along with his few friends initiated a move in 1959 to set up what later turned out to be the Writers Guild. However, those who censure Aali for this ‘unholy sin’ were never fair in their criticism. These detractors while trying to defame Aali forgot that almost all the known poets and writers on either side of the ideological divide were very much on board in this project and became its founding members. They, however, thought that this ‘trade union of writers and poets’ would be used as a tool and propaganda machine in furtherance of the objectives of martial law regime. What added credence to these misplaced apprehensions was Aali’s posting as Officer on Special Duty at Ayub Khan’s secretariat.

But this would not dampen his spirits. He had the capacity and the ability to outwit all his detractors and critics. With his God-gifted talent for creativity, he invoked the Muses and proved that he was unbeatable.

Those were turbulent times when Aali started writing poetry. The Progressive Movement was there and its proponents were out to challenge the status quo. For this new breed of writers and poets the cultural, social and literary traditions of the past were meaningless and devoid of the potential to meet the demands of modern age. The ghazal which symbolised most the values and norms of the society naturally became their prime target. It was already being threatened by the movement of modern poetry spear-headed by Altaf Husain Hali and Muhammad Hussain Azad under the patronage of British-India government.

All this did not impress Aali and he would not subscribe to the agenda of either of the two movements. Instead he set himself out to compose ghazals. Though adhering to the traditional form of the craft, his was a fresh voice. He soon developed his own diction with evocative imagery and a lyricism that was unique. But he shows his real potential and creativity in dohas.

Gifted with a melodious voice and an understanding of classical music, Aali would take the listeners to a state of ecstasy and leave them in trance. His poetic sensibility is better captured and expressed in his dohas than his ghazals. Though laden with erotic themes, there is no lewd sentiment or base thought in his dohas. He broke new grounds while experimenting with its form and technique which he would later referred to as Aali Chaal (Aali’s style or innovation). Aali deviated from the centuries-old strict rules of Hindi doha and took the genre to new heights by redefining its thematic boundaries and altering its form. A considerable part of his ghazals and dohas is autobiographical. But elsewhere social sensibility and concern about the contemporary issues also find expression.

His most original and greatest contribution to the world of literature is his long poem Insan. Though still incomplete, it took Aali more than five decades to write more than 10,000 lines. Such dramatic, allegorical poems had their origin in ancient Greek drama. But it was rarely used even in Western literature and had no precedence in Urdu at all. Crafted on the pattern of drama, Insan is divided into different acts or cantos which merge with each other lending it a thematic and contextual unity. It is indeed a superb mix of dialogue, monologue, soliloquy and narrative and all these techniques are deployed to retain the variety and peculiarity of expression to suit the demands of different characters.

Aali also composed songs or geet and a few of his national songs, like the Pakistani anthem he wrote for the first summit of heads of Muslim states in 1974 or the Jevay, Jevay Pakistan, earned him laurels. These unconventional songs are remarkable for their lyricism and rhythmical tone.

He was a prolific writer of Urdu prose as well. He wrote hundreds of forewords for the books published by Anjuman Tarraqi Urdu. His travelogues, which were serialised in Urdu daily Jang, have been published in three volumes. Besides from 1967 till 2010 he wrote a regular weekly column for the same Urdu daily. Contrary to his poetical compositions, he cared less for the clarity of thought and sanctity of language in his prose writings which were more journalistic and hardly literary. But few of his forewords not only indicate the depth of his scholarship and comprehension of the literary subjects but also reveal that how good a writer he could be when he wanted to be. His essay on Sail Dehlavi is simply an outstanding literary piece and a real contribution to the art of sketch writing in Urdu literature.

There is another side to his personality and that is the role of a crusader and saviour he played for the establishment and growth of a number of institutions in the field of education, literature and language. Never willing to accept defeat for his commitments, especially when it came to the issues of Pakistan and Urdu, Aali fought many battles, earned the hostility of many, but ultimately managed to have his way.

He took pride in being successor of Baba-e-Urdu Moulvi Abdul Haq and saw to it that his his mission was carried forward and his dreams were realized. It is another agonising chapter of Aali’s life when he manoeuvred and fought in the corridors of power and out-witted all the schemers who had planned to sideline Moulvi Abdul Haq and to deprive Urdu of its national status. How he struggled to save Urdu College when it was nationalised in 1972, how he struggled for its survival and later to take it to the status of a university is a long tale and subject of another article.

The Anjuman Tarraqi Urdu is another institution that would have died long ago had Aali not been there at the helm of its affairs. He took over as honorary secretary of the Anjuman after the death of Moulvi Abdul Haq in 1962 and did everything humanly possible to ensure its survival and growth. (He has left the seeds for another controversy behind that may haunt him even after his death, i.e. his decision to ‘bequeath’ the Anjuman Tarraqi Urdu to his son.)
Aali could also be credited as a saviour of the grand 22-volume Urdu Lughat project of the Urdu Dictionary Board.

It is, however, not known how and why Aali drifted into politics. Was it was once again his impulsive behaviour for fame and prominence or there were some other unavoidable and inescapable compulsions? Aali would always evade questions about this side of his personality. What this writer can gather, Aali never wanted to swim in this ocean, the depth of which he did know.

He was ‘compelled’ to contest the 1977 National Assembly elections on Pakistan People’s Party ticket only to lose to Munawwar Hasan of Jamaat-i-Islami. His second stint in politics was when in 1997 he became a Senator as a nominee of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

All these successes, all these achievements and all these laurels notwithstanding, Aali’s was a restless soul — dissatisfied and disenchanted and in his own words:

Jewan aanch nay kiya bakhsha ik sachay sur ki piyas
Woh sacha sur laga nahein aur Aali gai Udas

What has this Existence bestowed?
A burning Soul and a longing
For a Sur, the heavenly tune
To unveil the secrets of Life;
But Lo! failing to invoke Muses,
Goes Aali, forlorn and cast down.

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