Writers Forum Canada Jon Elia Event Videos , November 29, 2015

Videos of Jon Elia celebration in Canada

Friends, Writers Forum celebrated Jon Elia, an essential Urdu poet, writer, and philosopher, in Canada.

We now share a collection of videos of the event, which will engage you and provide you intellectual bliss.

It contains a reading of Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi’s article on Jon Elia, a thought
provoking essay by Dr. Tahir Qazi, renowned artist and painter Shahid Rassam’s memory of Jon Elia.

(We will add the compositions of Jon Elia’ poetry immediately after this).
Please watch and share with friends. Click the link:

Videos of Jon Elia celebration in Canada

Jon Elia: Prometheus chained

February 6, 2005

<!–AdvStart http://../../../../adimages/liberty.swf


AUTHOR: Prometheus chained

By Ali Shameem
ACCORDING to Dr Mohammad Ali Siddiqi, Jaun Elia was among the most important and popular ghazal writers of the second half of the 20th century. I agree. Yet, in the following lines, I would like to add that he was one of the most neglected nazm writers of the same period, as part of the unfortunate general phenomenon of neglect of nazm by critics of Urdu poetry as well as the poetry lovers in the general public.

This trend has led to an amnesia-like attitude towards such stalwarts of nazm like Josh Malihabadi, Noon Meem Rashid, Akhtarul Iman, Meeraji, Majaz, Faiz, Wazeer Agha, Majeed Amjad, Sardar Jafri, Makhdoom Mohiuddin, Azmatullah Khan, Balraj Komal, Ibne Insha, Muneer Niazi, and many others, including the sole female nazm poet of major significance, Fahmeeda Riaz. The supremacy of ghazal over nazm in criticism and the public mind has its roots in a more fundamental intellectual and cultural underpinning.

Jaun Elia also became a victim of the ghazal and mushaira culture and, in spite of his unparalleled preparation for it, lost his motivation for nazm, to me a higher, broader and more vital expression of poetic endeavour. That is why I regard Jaun as a great poetic promise not completely fulfilled.

Jaun’s excellent formal education in Arabic and Persian poetry and prose, his father’s high scholarship in the same intellectual environment, as well as the intellectual and poetic shadow of his famous bothers Raees Amrohvi, the poet, and Syed Muhammad Taqi, the philosopher-journalist, laid the foundations of his poetic development. Very important to note is his father’s and his own life long and deep rooted preoccupation with charismatic and prophetic personalities of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim milieu, like Moses, Christ, Yohunna, Yermiah, Hallaj, and Gheelanay Damishqi.

All this contributed to the style of his nazm poetry. His early 1960s’ epic nazm ‘Nai Aag ka Ehed Nama’, which he did not complete, and somehow lost, could have qualified as one of the greatest poems in Urdu. Poems published in his three collections are also very significant compositions, and do reflect his intensely messianic, mythology-inspired, oratorical and lyrical style, to a level not found in any Urdu poet.

Great artists have very strong egos, explicitly expressed in social interaction and relationships (van Goh and Gaugain), or implicitly internalized, leading to high achievement motive, as well as humility and tolerance of other’s achievements (T.S. Eliot, Faiz Ahmed Faiz). Jaun belonged to the first category, with contempt for all poets past and present except Khusrau, Urfi and Meer. His tirade against Ghalib was a result of his highly egotistical competitiveness.

Three other major characteristics of Jaun’s personality were intensity of feeling (seen in Josh and Majaz), a continuous internal state of inellectual and emotional agitation, and a dramatic romanticism about life and love; he was fascinated and identified with Keats, Shelley and Byron.

To me, the most effective way of analyzing a poet’s contribution lies through a study of his or her attitudes towards beliefs about the cosmos, society and self, all three overlapping in the actual organic expression, yet separable for analytical purposes.

Jaun’ life long internal state of intellectual agitation, manifested itself in his emotional depression. This lay in his not finding any coherence, meaning and order in the universe. He was agnostically inclined and an existentialist to the core. This is reflected in most of his poems composed in his last 15 years. “Boodish”, “Burjay Babel”, “Ramzay Hamaysha”, and “Waqt” are representative examples.

Yet, the most complete and internally coherent, and powerfully metaphorical statement from him about his view of universe and man is “Wilayat-i-Khaiban”, which qualifies him for the deserved company of T.S. Eliot, whose “The wasteland”, “The hollow men” and “Prufrock” are replete with Jaun’s themes in “Wilayat-i-Khaiban” which is based on the powerful existentialist metaphor of a city whose inhabitants are in a state of deep sleep and dream and are sleepwalking when they get up for their chores.

This bustling foreign land, all its knowledge and vision, all its lofty culture

Its every success, every dazzling light, are born of

The fountainhead of daydreaming/sleepwalking Sleepwalking, indeed.

Romanticizing of gloom, noise of silent voices and half-lit ambience

Directions of confusion, warps, fear of darkness

Who knows what these are? The entire being of ours: perhaps a perpetual gloomAll this a deception; deception perhaps.

It seems as if Eliot and Jaun have met on a path, headed in opposite directions, Eliot the Catholic lamenting the death of certainty of cosmic beliefs in his western world and Jaun rejecting a system of cosmic beliefs he inherited and giving intense expression to his feeling of lack of meaning and coherence in the universe and man’s existence within it. I had heard Jaun say many a time that he was a seeker after certainty but he would not accept any intellectual illusion only to silence his agitation after finding a false facade of spiritual peace of mind. The following excerpt from ‘Waqt’ is again a beautifully composed statement of Jaun’s perception of lack of meaning in the universe:

Feeling is many a life’s problem

Expression is many a tongue’s trouble

A mist from the nucleus of faith

Up to the great summit of doubts

From the East of profit and the gain of flash-glimpse

To the west of darkness and losses

It is difficult to neatly place Jaun in the pigeonholes of the literary movements of his lifetime. Like Jean Paul Sartre, he was committed to two major literary camps, without one casting a shadow on the other. Sartre was not only a devotee but also a pioneer of his own brand of existentialism; yet, he worked with great fervour for Marxist causes. Jaun started his poetic career at the age of eleven under strong influence of romanticism. At 16, he began to be affected by the strongest literary movement of that time, that had swept through Urdu poetry, fiction and criticism, the movement pioneered by the Progressive Writers Association. On the ideological level, his poetry began to be strongly Marxist, particularly under the influence of the famous communist revolutionary activists, Naazish Amrohvi and Sultan Niazi. At 20, he wrote his famous poem “Shahrahai Tamaddun par Do Aawaazai(n)”:

You, on the payroll of capitalism, tell your Master

You, keepers and merchants of bones of the old order

Against your wishes a new civilization shall rise

A new romance, a new song, a new era shall dawn

Your Master was saying all these people are but mad

They are the voice of democracy, leaders of the world

No, they have not gone mad.

Jaun’s conviction that capitalistic society exploits and oppresses the weak, remained with him till his last years. In his last major poem “Darakhtay Zard”, he tells his son about his own childhood:

I was the most attained lad of my city

Most spontaneous, most daring of them all

I kept the foul-doing aristocrats a kick away

Placing the shoes of the working class on the pulpit

His strongest statement of his view of society is in these lines from his preface of Shayad:

I want to say that our arts and

learning duty-bind us to drag those out by the collar

Who run the casinos of capitalism. For, alongside political democracy,

Economic freedom has been and shall remain our hallmark.

In spite of all this, the fundamentalists among the left leaning writers and magazine editors of Karachi, who were his friends from youth, have not published a thing on him nor did they arrange a single condolence meeting after his death; again, in spite of the fact that Jaun lived the life of a poor man even after he was financially well off in the last five years of his life, practising what he preached. I am unable to fathom the reason.

Jaun spent the last decades of his life writing and living like Meer Taqi Meer; yet, his concept of love remained close to that of Ghalib. Meer says,

Idol, you we worshipped to such lengths

That all proclaimed you god

while Ghalib says,

Desire the idiots proclaimed worship

Do I worship that idol of no requite?

Jaun’s narcissism and ego formed his concept of love. Cosmic loneliness, alienation and a romantic sadness were the foundations of Jaun’s inner personality:

Name and name only all around, and a multitude to face

Let someone else be there too; none’s there but me

My forehead I knocked at several times today

Am I there? No, not a trace of me

To me, a great loss of Urdu poetry lies in Jaun not rising to his full potential for writing poems of epic proportions, only because of his near total surrender to fame and acclaim that the ghazal-mushaira culture gave him. His Prometheus stole the fire from the gods but could not fully deliver it to the world.

Jaun wrote his own obituary in Meer’s style:

These mad utterances we let out

Be warned, will be everlasting

We won’t keep you company

But our tales will n

— Translation of Urdu verses by Murtaza Razvi

Jon Elia : A wasted genius

A wasted genius


By Syed Husain Bin Khamis
Jaun, verily, was a philosopher, a scholar, an intellectual, a learned man and, above all, a poet. And he would have done much more had we taken care of him. Whatever he had done could be better understood and utilized if we knew him better

MY heart sinks in grief — and in shame. Another man wasted — Jaun Elia died on 8 November 2002. But who was Jaun Elia?

In a society where cast, creed, religion, and ethnic background is the primary determinant of one’s rights, duties, and stature — indeed the name might evoke surprise, incompatibility, and for some, even animosity.

But who am I to write about Jaun? I am a penitent — the favourite pastime of my kind for over a millennium — for I never had the courage to atleast walk upto him and say, ‘look — you are one of the most learned persons of my country — why don’t you share your anguish, if not your knowledge, with your countrymen’ — leave alone owning and patronizing him.

This article is only an attempt at redemption — an effort at atoning the guilt which I feel as a member of this society, which I shared with Jaun Elia — by simply talking about him. My knowledge of his work is limited to his only readily available published book of poetry — Shayad.

He was a perennial skeptic — for doubt is the first step towards certainty. Yes — I enjoy reading his poetry for it stirs in me emotions which take me a step closer to humanity and it smoothers cracks in my soul, which I never even knew existed. But what is even more fascinating in this book is the poem which is so unique in its style and content that it duplexes the pleasure of his verses. It is as if he has taught the reader what to expect in his poetry. And even more impressive is the fact that you find exactly what he teaches you, to expect in his poetry.

What we should expect in his poetry emanates from his discussion on poetry and its comparison with other areas of intellectual activity like religion, philosophy, and science. Let us first see how he defines poetry.

According to him ‘when someone rises above temporal needs and rhymes his own silence — then he is writing poetry’. He goes on to say that ‘all art is natures attempt to rise above itself’ and that ‘art is the spontaneous skilled expression of an artist’s desires’.

This is quite different from Faiz for whom ‘a poet writes under the influence of an unknown irritation or sentiment’ but similar to William Wordsworth for whom, ‘poetry is the instantaneous overflow of powerful feelings’. This spontaneity is evinced in his poetry in all its colours:

About rising above nature:

Explaining the Urdu word for verse, shair, he says that it is often mistaken by people to be an Arabic word — but the fact is that it comes from the Hebrew word, skier, which means rhyme, musical voice, or rhythm. The primary condition for poetry that he lays down is iambic rhythm (Vazn) which for ease of understanding may be referred as harmony. ‘I cannot think of poetry without harmony and musical rhythm’ he says.

The two elements of poetry which Jaun Elia has expressed i.e. ‘transcending nature and spontaneity of expression’ could not be more true. In fact all creativity that communicates is about going beyond the obvious — whether it is science, philosophy, history, or religion. We cannot say anything (except for stating what every one already knows) till we go beyond the obvious — and poetry provides us the best medium for going beyond the obvious. Because poetry is a form of expression which is free of most external influences. Prose, in any form, whether fiction or non-fiction, is demarcated and delineated. Fiction is bound by characters and fact is leashed by the confines of the writer. Poetry is almost free of connectivity, reference, and context.

Even nazm has less connectivity than prose — because it may be connected in motif (mazmoon), but is still free in locution (Tarz-e-biar).

Metaphysically speaking, there are two parts to mans existence — the spiritual and the temporal. In the words of A.K. Brohi ‘to begin with he (man) is of the earth — earthly, but in him is lodged the spirit of God which is the transcendent element’.

Whatever Jaun might have said informally — his concept of rising above nature, transcending the earthliness in poetry is only manifest of his deep understanding and recognition of the spiritual part of man.

But this does not mean that poetry is bereft of logic. Jaun says, ‘poetry is related to mind, and the purest condition of mind is manifested in logic’ — and thus poetry is not beyond logic. While he wants poetry to be free of confines of prose at one end — he also does not want it to be lost in the limitlessness and obscurity of metaphysics at the other.

Iqbal calls it ‘higher poetry’. For Jaun, ‘higher poetry’ is religion. In the same line of argument, while declaring the essence of the character of a poet to be moral he does not differentiate between morals and ethics in art. For him, morality which is extra-aesthetic is not morality — it is belief. Some might misconstrue this as lack of belief which could be wrong.

Mark his words, ‘I, as a poet, reject all inclusive concept of morality. Beliefs have a contradictory relationship with unconditional beauty, goodness, and art — therefore poets of metaphysical realities may deserve a higher position (as compared to a poet of the physical) but they could not be called poets’. And his argument is simple ‘because the most abiding and deep relationship of a poet is with aesthetics — and aesthetics are not beyond space-time’. How could one differ? But again — it must be reiterated that this is not a negation of the metaphysical. Note the words ‘metaphysical realities’. He does admit the metaphysical to be real but is not ready to admit in poetry what is not within the realm of esthetics. Even if he indulged himself in metaphysical motifs he ended up materializing it:

In fact he once said that all human beings are the same as far as reality, as perceived by our mind, is concerned. It is in fact our superstition (vahm) which makes us different from each other. Our signature and our identity are not the views which we express; because these are always the ones which we can defend — and we can only defend what we learn about reality through cognition. Our icon, in fact, is our superstitions which we do not share with anyone — for they are not cognitive — and hence not defendable. How honest, how purely honest was this man.

He was honest to admit the conflict of the physical and the metaphysical. The external association of our consciousness with reality is what we look — our superstitions are what we are.

Let us now turn to another aspect of his views on poetry. Jaun points out four elements of poetry. Cognition (Ta-aqqul), sensation (Ehsas), imagination (Takhayyal), and emotion (Jazba). Science, according to him, whether directly or indirectly, is related to sensations, or senses (which Iqbal calls ‘the manifest’ — julwat). Religion is related to conception, whereas philosophy deals exclusively with cognition.

Poetry, however, deals with all these and adds to them to the moisture of emotions, which blends the three into an amalgam, which is far more palatable to human mind and soul than the stand alone forms i.e. science, religion, and philosophy.

Explaining this amalgam he says that, ‘in poetry the mind acquires an extra-ordinary functionality which provides a qualitative jump to (bring) proportionality between sensation, conception, and cognition, which has the vein and tone of the quality and quantity of emotions’.

In simple words, he believes that emotions provide a synergy to sensation, conception, and cognition — and that poetry is in fact an expression of this synergy. It is this synergy which creates an element of wonder in poetry, and it is this wonder which is the hallmark of all art. Science is powered by research, religion by certitude, philosophy by doubt, and poetry by emotions and it is emotions which provide creativity to all research, certitude and doubt. All good art must create wonder, must fascinate, must fertilize minds, and must leave behind a lingering longing which forces us to create more.

Poetry must ‘surprise and delight’ at the same time. It must express, knowledge, certitude, and doubt in a manner so holy that analyzing it would be ‘as cruel as dissecting a humming-bird’.

About this dissonant nature of poetry Jaun says that poetry demands a bi-farious or twofold person, who could ‘creatively interact with reality through cognition and emotions’ (at the same time).

Jaun talks of three dimensional relationship of our consciousness with reality. In one dimension it creates philosophy, religion, and history (PRH). In the second dimension it creates science (Sc.) and in the third poetry (P). For him PRH, Sc, and P are three dimensions of interaction between our consciousness and reality. He also refers to these dimensions as past, present, and future and claims that poetry is the only art form that brings coevality to past, present, and future.

What has been stated above is a minuscule part of the poem of Shayad. Jaun has discussed politics, history, religion, philosophy, science, literature, linguistics, and many more disciplines. But the best thing about Jaun Ella is that he does not insist on his version of any thing. Having an opinion is one thing and considering it to be the last and correct is another. He was a diehard skeptic and could never be dogmatic. For him ‘dogmatism is the obscenity of mind’.

Jaun, verily, was a philosopher, a scholar, an intellectual, a learned man and above all a poet. What burns ones heart is the fact that our society abates what men bring to it. Jaun could have done much more if we had taken care of him and whatever he had done could be better understood and utilized if we knew him better. However, the stark fact is that except for Shayad we are not even sure of access to his other work leave alone putting it to constructive and educative use.

Between loneliness and solitude

July 20, 2003

<!–AdvStart http://../../../../adimages/liberty.swf


Review: Between loneliness and solitude

Reviewed by Peerzada Salman

“I SUFFER therefore I am. When someone hurts me, only I feel the pain.” This is a famous Jaun Elia dictum. One may not go along with that, but Yani, his second collection of ghazals and nazms published posthumously, endorses the fact that ‘suffering’ is the centripetal force towards which Jaun Elia’s seemingly colloquial words (and high-falutin phrases) move.

Jaun Elia died last year at the age of 71. His first collection of poetry, Shaed hit the newsstands in 1990 when he was 59. Why he was averse to the idea of getting his poetry printed, only he knew best. The reason for Shaed’s publication was that some of Elia’s diehard fans, including late Saleem Jafrey, had railroaded him into doing so. Yani has appeared for more or less the same reason. However, inexplicably, the foreword (or preface) to the book couldn’t be published, something that Elia aficionados were zealously looking forward to. He was busy penning it for quite a number of years, delineating his philosophy of life and repudiating others.

An understatement: The ghazals that have been included in Yani are stupendous. It was Jaun Elia, the blood-expectorating poet. He was bound to produce such stuff. Shaed had made everyone anticipate astounding verse(s) in his next collection. And he didn’t disappoint them.

The ghazals in Yani are suffused with an acute sense of loneliness. It is poetry that has emanated from being alone. For almost a decade Jaun Elia hadn’t been living with his immediate family. Nor did he have any permanent abode. He sorely missed his children, his ex-wife and some of the friends who used to circumambulate around him in order to learn how to fit a line into a certain metrical composition or to know the root of a particular Persian or Arabic word. He found none around him.

Not asking how I am; nor even a greeting/Am I that close to your heart?

I am in the business of longing for you/My request: Please give me more

O’ the party of life, strange are your people/First they never came; then they went away annoyed

The cut is deep, comrades, friends/Hold me! What, have you all left?

Remarkably, this sense of loneliness, just when it begins to have a placebo effect, turns into a longing for solitude. This particular aspect of Jaun Elia is a tad difficult to fathom. He was a perpetually dissatisfied individual. Happiness to him was an evanescent commodity. Surprisingly, he despised grief with no less disgust. This is an aspect that’s not to be found anywhere else in Urdu literature, but in Elia’s poignant poetry. One of Shaed’s ghazals carries the couplet:

These moments begrudge each and every condition/Don’t put your trust in sorrow

With the same creative force Jaun Elia yearns for solitude, albeit implicitly, in Yani.

Desire for empathy and favour is oppression indeed/And oppression it is to be proud of these

That someone who set time to see me today/Made me happy by not making it

Strange is my nature; see, today/I felt relieved when you didn’t come

What needs to be noticed minutely is when two lines of a couplet contradict one another in a poetic manner, imperceptibly sliding loneliness into solitude.

I await myself day and night/Now, you send me back to me

This ‘tanhaee’ leads him to compose poetry. And when he dips his quill in ink to doodle, Jaun Elia actually expectorates blood — his definition of writing verse. Even in his first collection, the most unique poet of Urdu language churns out many a couplet involving the phrase ‘khoon thookna’ (spitting blood). Yani is no exception.

O’ blood-spitting Jaun/ What trick are you going to show now?

Blood I have spat in mocking always/Do always mock me for it

Those who harbour the notion that they were close to Jaun Elia or knew him intimately are deceiving themselves. He was a loner; a compulsive one, but a poet to his fingertips who constantly needed to know that he was a creative entity and that his suffering was not a futile exercise. He used those who wanted to achieve immortality by attaching their names to Jaun Elia by making them help him in everyday chores. And his aversion to other poets was no secret, for their grief was/is being marketed to optimum success.

The short-sighted now make all decisions/That is to say the far-sighted are well

Skill has been destroyed quite skillfully/And the skillful are well

But this is nothing. Jaun Elia commits intellectual blasphemy in Yani.

Though Ghalib was utterly ignorant/But original he was among us many

One shouldn’t take offence here. There is some semblance of reverence underneath the crude exterior of blasphemy. It’s not that Yani is replete with bleak creations. The incorrigible romantic that Jaun was doesn’t lag behind the grief-nurturer that we know. He manages to produce the weirdest, yet convincing, of praises for his beloved that one can imagine in Urdu poetry.

Why do you look into the mirror?/You’re more beautiful than yourself

Who would say to his beloved that ‘you are more beautiful than yourself?’ What would that signify? Still, it appears to be the most powerful way to eulogize the ‘mehboob’. The nazms in Yani are explicitly personal, but equally articulate. There are also some pieces that tackle delicate issues of existence in an overly profound and exaggeratedly eloquent fashion. “Boodish” and “Wilayat-i-Khaiban” are two nazms that would need a man of T S Eliot’s learning to unravel their meaning. Having said that, a commoner should not refrain from delving into them.

Despite not being Jaun Elia’s true representative work, Yani is a masterpiece. That’s why it pains his admirers to know that the bulk of Jaun Elia’s unpublished ghazals and nazms (which would amount to at least half a dozen collections like Shaed and Yani) has been missing ever since he passed away. Whoever has kept it is an enemy to a genius — a genius who was neither a skeptic nor an agnostic, but a God-fearing perpetual sufferer.

The day I rendezvous with End/All decked up shall I be sent off n

English translation of verses: Murtaza Razvi


By Jaun Elia

Alhamd Publications, Rana Chambers, 2nd Floor, Lake Road, Lahore

Tel: 042-7310944, 7231490

200pp. Rs150

Jon Elia

December 1, 2002

<!–AdvStart http://../../../../adimages/liberty.swf


By Zulqarnain Shahid
“This is the poetry of a person who was always a failure,” Jaun Elia, who died on November 7, wrote in the foreword to his poetic collection. “Why should I shy away from the fact that I wasted myself. In fact, it was my destiny to waste myself. A son, whose imaginative and idealist father had taught him no skills to lead a successful practical life, and had instead instructed him that knowledge is the finest honour bestowed upon a person, and books the dearest treasure, was bound to waste himself.”

In one of his couplets, Jaun, the innovative master says:

Scenes become heavy on the eye/ Stay often away from where you live

Jaun Elia was blessed with a most influential nexus of the traditional and the modern verse. His ghazals had the golden touch of that most sensitive short-meter master, Meer Taqi Meer, after whose sehl-i-mumtana Jaun fashioned his couplets.

How will life pass?/ When love has no appeal left

Meeting me so cordially/ Have you totally erased my memories?

Jaun looked at life from his own scholarly trajectory, but wished to converse with the common man. This incredible difference of elevation made him reach out with his particular vocabulary, to touch terra firma from his literary desk. He loved his people, he felt their innate sadness, but at the same time, he despised the levels of mediocrity to which the people had descended. Thus, the eternal romantic poet with a vision, and a grasp of historic realities, endeavoured to take along that layman in his literary pursuits. That produced something very fresh, tinged with the same bitterness that revolves excruciatingly in the heart of the afflicted mankind.

Strange has become the city of mystics of late/ Of majesty everyone is wary, you heard?

The youngest son of Allama Shafiq Elia, a respected scholar and writer, Jaun who had been named Jaun Asghar at birth, took his father’s pen name when he started his literary career. Of his brothers, Jaun himself tells us in the preface of his collection, Shayad: “Both my elder brothers (Raees Amrohvi and Syed Mohammad Taqi) were nationalist communists and wore khaddar clothes. If I had been mature at that time, I would also have been a nationalist communist.” Being a nihilist and an anarchist, he flouted the norms of the conformists in his poetry.

All the brothers from this distinguished family of Amroha carried the cultural essence, literary flourish and a distinctive imprint of a rich heritage. This is a very important feature of their contribution to Urdu language and literature, making their works a treasure trove for posterity. The departure of this last member of this family of brilliant litterateurs has left a vacuum in our cultural life.

In Pakistan, the major disciples of Meer were Nasir Kazmi, Ibn-e-Insha and Jaun Elia. Both Nasir and Jaun were gifted with their own distinctive styles, although they wrote the same school of verse. Nasir Kazmi, for most part, can be called a poet of the shehr aoshob (urban sensibilities), while Jaun Elia fully encompassed the existential essence of the universe. Nasir Kazmi’s tragic world had taught him to store all his pathos in the depths of his thoughts, putting them into poetic words with spontaneity, but with the delicacy of an artisan. Jaun Elia had the poetic license of being bitterly critical of his surroundings.

Nasir said:

Where will you go in this city of no lights?/ Night of separation, come home with me

Jaun exclaimed:

Recitals, at the palace of pleasure last night, Jaun/ Were all the treasures belonging to the poor

Jaun Elia, with his immense potential and fascinating capabilities, has a standing of his own. His poetry collection, Shayad, holds enough masterpieces to prove that. This will soon be further affirmed when his next collection, Ya’ni storms the market shortly. As for the test of time, his 60-year-long career is crowned with almost perpetual applause. Wherever he appeared in a mushaira, throughout the country, he literally dominated and startled the listeners with ghazal after ghazal.

In this context, it must be said that Jaun bhai, as he was lovingly known throughout the literary community, wrote brilliant poems, which reflected his ideological views. In the fame and hype built around his ghazals, it is quite unfortunate that his poems were neglected. A man with socialistic ideals, Jaun was forever hung between the two literary poles, like most of the literary people are prone to be. The existential underpinnings of his poetry slowly nudged him towards nihilism and anarchism, which is always noticeable in his poems like “Saza”, “Aziyyat kee yaddasht”, “Burj-i-Babul”, “Shehr Aashob”, “Jashn ka aaseib”, etc.

A very pertinent point revealed through his prose in the preface of his only collection is that Jaun was highly addicted to theatre in his teens. According to him, in 1943, when he was 12 years old, he wrote poetry and idolized Kahlil Jibran. There was a small drama club in Amroha, named Bazm-i-Haq, where stage plays based on Islamic history were presented regularly. Jaun also got involved in it, and would memorize the dialogues of some of the Islamic heroes who were portrayed.

He was so influenced by it that he tried to establish his own drama club, and even wrote and presented his play for it. Jaun wrote many strongly vocal, socialistic poems in those days, and admitted later that the dialogue and conversational element that had become his style in his poetry, was drawn from his involvement in drama. Those who saw him closely through life would know that his personality was attuned to theatre.

What people thought to be his antics were actually his love for timing and spontaneity, with even punchlines for the occasions, and above all, a most exciting conversation that mesmerized the people. In the mushairas, he would make a small introductory speech before reciting his poetry. This never failed to reinvigorate the listeners, even during the most boring of proceedings. To his credit, he never used this theatre in a negative pursuit, to undermine or bring down anybody.

But neither did he shower praises on the top men in office. His cheerful remarks made the mushaira a pleasure for the listeners. During one such function, when he started to recite his poetry, he felt he should take off his glasses. To fill that awkward moment, he said: “Ainak kee zuroorat naheen. Jamaliyat par claim khatam ho jata hai”

Despite all such evidence, he boldly declared: “Very respectfully, I’d comment that drama, in all its potential manifestations, is a secondary genre to poetry!”

And talking of his boldness and commitment, one can’t forget the most unfortunate incident during a mushaira, when some ruffians of a local ethnic party beat him up, for saying, “mushairay ke kuch adab hotay train. Kalam ke beech mein yeh kya hullarbazi hai?” (Mushairas have an etiquette. What is this raucousness in the midst of recitation). Everybody knows what a thin and weak man he was, and such physical violence could hurt him fatally. Those who were present during the incident, tell us that when he was rushed to the hospital, he was bleeding profusely.

Jaun was a man of principles and would not compromise on them. Even though he knew that his elder brother, Raees Amrohvi, to whom he was greatly devoted, was killed holding his fort, Jaun never faltered. He boldly voiced his dissent when he didn’t agree with the ways of society and its so-called guardians.

During the mushairas, he would address his colleagues, contemporaries and young poets to draw their attention to the couplet he was reciting. “Bhai Mohsin, yeh maqta dekho” or “Himayat bhai aap kee nazar hai” were his typical lines to liven up the proceedings. His style of reciting poetry became such a rage that many young poets tried to imitate him. One could detect a hint of theatre in that as the rhythm of his verses cast a spell on the audience.

At times this spell was broken when having had one too many he lost control and uttered abuses which he didn’t mean. Like some of his ilk, he was also ready to spark a controversy, but again, not without any substantive reason behind his claims. Due to his fondness for thought-provoking discourse, he was always surrounded by youngsters with whom he conversed like a friend. Only that we had such literary figures around so that the youth of this country would develop an interest in literature.

An oxymoron of a man


An oxymoron of a man

By Hammad Ghaznavi

Jaun Eylia was a giant whose stature never diminished — not even in the absence of distance which renders important everything far off

“Jaun Bahi, what shall I write in your obituary?” I asked Jaun Eylia a couple of years ago. First, he smiled, then wore a solemn look. Gazing into distance, he said: “Exaggerate my poetic talent as much as you can. Just prove to the world that your Jaun Bhai was the most prominent Urdu language poet of Federal B Area, Karachi.” I told him he was asking for too much and I would lose all credibility as a writer if I inflated his stature to such implausible proportions. Then he almost begged to be mentioned at least as “one of the” most prominent poets of Federal B Area. And I, magnanimously, agreed.

In one of his letters written about six years back, he gave me directions about his funeral. “I come from a Semitic race, so it’s your duty to ensure that according to our tradition my funeral is grand and profound, with millions of mourners wailing, beating their chests, and throwing dust towards the sky.” Later, when we talked, I promised to carry out his wishes.

Jaun Bahi died last week. I could not even attend his funeral. Now I will break my other promise as well. I will not describe him as one of the most prominent poets of any Karachi neighbourhood.

Writing Jaun Bhai’s obituary is tough for me. Though I have written many, I have no experience of writing the obituary of someone so close, so dear. I don’t know what to say. Analysing the finer points of his poetry or uniqueness of his prose here seems stupid. Or perhaps it is not. I really don’t know what to say, where to start from.

Jo Guzaari Na Ja Saki Hum


Hum Nay Woh Zindagi

Guzaari Hay

These were Jaun Eylia’s first lines that I heard as a school boy in late 1970s. I did not know then whose couplet that was but I liked it. It was about a decade later that I first saw Jaun in a TV mushaira where he recited his famous Do Ghazla (Maira Ik Mashwara Hay Iltija Nahin; Tu Meray Paas Say Is Waqt Ja Nahin). I felt he was my kind of poet. Jaun’s rock star looks and his unique way of reciting certainly contributed in attracting me towards him.

I started looking for his collections of poetry. Most of Lahore booksellers were not even familiar with his name. I didn’t give up and asked a friend in Karachi to do me the favour of sending a collection of Jaun’s poetry. After a few days, my friend called and revealed that I was looking for something nonexistent. He clarified it was not that Jaun’s collections of poetry had run out of print — they were never published, not a single book.

In 1990, I read a small news item in daily Jang: Jaun Eylia’s first collection of poetry — Shayad — published.” In a few hours, the book was in my hands. For the next few weeks, it remained in my hands. It was a unique experience to read the book. Jaun was even more amazing as a poet than I had been expecting. An absolute surprise was his prose, the 30-page preface of his book. His prose was a rare mix of spontaneity and erudition. It was distinct. Jaun appeared as a fictional character in Shayad’s poetry and prose; someone who desperately wanted to suffer from tuberculosis and spit blood and die young for that was all considered ‘revolutionary’ those days; someone who would swallow the food in his mouth without chewing it if his beloved entered the room for he considered chewing food in front of her a vulgar and unaesthetic act; and someone who, on the other hand, discussed major philosophical debates with a master’s ease. “Is he real?” I would ask myself every time I read Shayad.

Poet Shehzad Ahmad told me on the phone one day in 1993: “Jaun Eylia is in town.” I was thrilled. Jaun was staying with actor Munawar Saeed, who is his close relative. It was not difficult to find Munawar Saeed’s phone number. I dialed the number and asked for Jaun Eylia. Shortly afterwards, he was on the line. I vividly remember that conversation. I was formal, he was not. I tried to seek an appointment with him the next day. He said ‘why not today’. I recited one of his couplets (Hasil-e-Kun Hay Yeh Jahaan-e-Kharaab; Yay hi Mumkin Tha Itni Ujlat Main). He said ‘these lines are yours now’. I was at his place in an hour.

Meeting celebrities, especially poets and artists one admires, is a dicey thing. At least my experience in this context is not great. In the absence of the illusion that distance creates, giants do not necessarily look giants. Some even prove big yawns when they are, say, not singing or reciting poetry. I was hence well aware of the hazards of seeing Jaun Eylia.

He was barefooted as he came out to receive me at the door. As a reply to my greetings, he kissed my forehead. “Jaun Sahib, I am…,” as I started my sentence he interrupted me: “Call me Jaun Bhai.” I said, “Jaun Bhai, I’m your fan.” He said, “And I’m your fan.” I told him I wanted to interview him. He said: “What interview? You know me, you know my views on every issue. Just write what you want.” Till three in the morning, we kept talking. I asked him if he was an atheist. “Why did you ask this question?” he asked me. I quoted one of his couplets: Ay Khuda (Jo Kahin Nahin Maujood); Kya Likha Hay Hamaari Qismat Main. He smiled and explained: “At least from these lines you cannot prove me an atheist. It is the biggest ‘kufr’ to say that God exists in any one direction as He is direction-free. Haven’t you heard this verse — Fa’ayna Ma Tawalloo Fasamma Wajhoallah (Whichever way you turn, Allah is in that direction).”

After a while he was talking in detail how his sensitive nature had affected his love life. “While I was still in Amroha, I would go in the afternoon to my fiancee’s, whose mother was my student. It was a routine. One day as I reached her place I was told she was asleep. It hurt me. I felt she was taking me for granted after the engagement. That was an insult to my love. I somehow came out of that relationship, an act that changed the course of my life.” Then he narrated another incident from the 1960s. “I liked a girl. One day we met in a famous restaurant of Karachi. While making tea she asked me how much sugar I took. One and a half spoons, I told her. Next time, after a month or so, we met in the same cafe´ and while making tea she asked me the same question. I was devastated. It was against my idea of love to forget basic things about your lover. I walked out of the relationship.”

The opinion I formed about Jaun Bhai that day never changed.

The next day I decided to have a small gathering with Jaun Bhai as the chief guest. To be honest, I wanted to share my ‘find’ with some of my friends. I was curious to see if Jaun Bhai charmed everyone the same way. I can never forget that evening. Jaun Bhai talked about culture, history, religion, languages with amazing grip on all these subjects. On most of the ‘established facts’, his point of view was different and thought-provoking. Then he began to recite his poetry. We all were enthralled. He suddenly stopped and said he wanted to recite some cantos of his incomplete epic and for that he needed something to hide his dress. His argument was that since his poem was timeless he needed unstitched cloth to hide his dress that represented a certain era of human history. We could manage a blanket which he happily wrapped around himself, stood in a corner of the room, and began to recite those marvelous cantos in an extremely dramatic way. The audience was spellbound. As he finished the cantos, he almost fell on the floor and kept quiet for the next few minutes. After a while he got up from the floor and for the next hour he discussed the poetic techniques of Persian Ghazal poets, particularly Roadki, perhaps his favourite.

He was a curious mix of opposites — a highly learned man who could dance without the faintest of hesitation any moment to express joy; who mentally lived in bygone centuries though he could discuss relativity for hours; who desperately wanted to look attractive but refused to comb his hair for days; who was a Shia but had attended Deoband; who was a majzoob with a surprisingly sharp mind and memory.

About five years ago, Markaz-e-Sadaat-e-Amroha organised a function where Jaun Bhai was to be tried in a fake court for his literary crimes. Jaun Bhai invited me, along with Professor Aqil Rubi, from Punjab as a defence lawyer.

As a journalist, I have had the privilege of meeting celebrities from all walks of life — showbiz, sports, politics, literature. Some of them were impressive and attractive, for different reasons. To be honest, I have never met anyone more mesmeric than Jaun Bhai.

One night, at about three in the morning, we were talking randomly, digressing from topic to topic when Jaun Bhai revealed the name of his next collection of poetry. I objected to it. After a while everyone present agreed that we had to find another title. We all suggested various titles but could not agree on any. After a long pause, when we had almost given up, someone said ‘how about Yaani’. Jaun Bhai was excited and started discussing various meanings and nuances of the word Yaani. The more we thought about it, the more we were convinced of its appropriateness. Yaani would be the name of Jaun Bhai’s next book, we all agreed.

During the last three years, Jaun Bhai asked me at least a dozen times to write a brief note explaining how the name of the book was decided. He wanted that note to be part of his next collection. I could not write it. And I have no excuse for that.

I know I am being incoherent. It reminds me what Jaun Bhai used to say when he appeared incoherent: “There is an internal coherence in what I am saying.” It seems he was right.

“I have no claim as a poet. But when it comes to language, I am Urdu personified,” he would say. He used to claim that he could tell the meaning of an Urdu word even if he had never heard it before. Whenever I wanted to know the meaning of a word, I would call him. “Jaun Bhai, what does Dhaak mean in Dhaak Kay Teen Paat?” I asked him recently on the phone. Pat came the reply. It was not restricted to an ignoramus like me alone. Even people considered authorities on the language used to call him for the same purpose. Urdu was an issue with Jaun Bhai. He could talk for hours on the language’s right usage, on how to popularise it, about the changes that its spelling needed and so on.

One of the bitter facets of his life was his failed marriage. And the distance that various factors had created between him and his children. He had places to live, but did not have a home for many years towards the end of his life. “Ghalib had a home, Iqbal had a home, Faiz had a home, but I’m homeless. I’ve suffered more than all of them,” he would say. Living without a ‘caretaker’ was really tough for Jaun Bhai, a man who actually could not do even the easiest tasks for personal upkeep.

Mohabbat Kuchh Na Thi Juz


Woh Band-e-Qaba Hum Say

Khula Nahin

I’m sure it was a real life situation. “I’ve failed to do two things properly in life, taking medicine without choking myself and kissing a girl without choking her,” he would sadly announce while struggling to swallow his tablets. But, on the other hand, perhaps for less mundane matters, his mind was laser sharp, his memory was fascinating.

About three weeks ago as I was flying back to Pakistan from the UK, where I stayed over a year for studies, I decided that my first documentary would be on Jaun Bhai. A documentary on an intriguing character like Jaun Bhai! I was excited about the idea. I wanted to visually document him; I wanted to show that such a mythological character actually existed. I could not do it. Jaun Bhai died.

Jaun Bhai was angry with me for various reasons. “Stop wasting your time in journalism and do something serious,” he would advise me many a time. I promised him every time that soon I would start doing something meaningful. “I’m shocked at the absence of a lota in your toilet. You are custodian of a culture,” he would angrily say. I always promised him but could never get one. I promised him to write a few introductory lines for Yaani but couldn’t do it.

I had decided to break yet another promise. But now I have changed my mind. I will fulfill that promise. I hereby declare Jaun Eylia one of the most prominent poets of Federal B Area, Karachi.

Jon Elia – the intimate stranger


Jon Elia – the intimate stranger

As all would die, so did Jon Elia. During the last 40 years Death
stared in his face many a time but he kept on eluding it. A chronic
TB patient in the mid-50s, he escaped from the clutches of Death due
to sheer will power. May be his fervent faith in the immortality of
his poetry overcame the frequent summons of Death. Finally he bowed
out on 7th November, leaving behind thousands of his fans to mourn
his loss.

I saw, over five decades of close association with him, numerous
batches of young poets flocking in to him for inspiration and
guidance but it is an irony of fact that not many of them proved
constancy to be their main virtue. One saw them vanishing in thin air
thinking that they had reaped the harvest and could survive on their
own. I do not want to name numerous poets and writers who benefited
from Jon Elia’s Greek Academy like discourses on philosophy and

Some of his pupils have acknowledged their indebtedness to him, some
died before committing themselves to Jon’s contribution to their
upbringing as poets and writers and some still cherish the day when
Jon Elia, along with his two illustrious brothers Raees Amrohvi and
Syed Muhammad Taqi, contributed a great deal to the cause of a
serious intellectual culture in this country, the way Voltaire’s old
man did in the Candide – not carrying about the harvest. The sowing
of seeds was more important than the thought of reaping the resultant

The way Karachiites – in fact Pakistani writers – have received the
news of Jon Elia’s death – is quite reassuring to all those who
thought that poetry and literature had ceased to enjoy any priority
in our scheme of things. I have seen some of those writers who never
came out of their houses for years thronging the condolence meetings
held to pay homage to Jon Elia. To tell you the truth some of them
appeared to have come from their graves!

It appeared that a lifetime of active participation in literary and
cultural life of the City had made Jon Elia an icon – a symbol of our
literary legacy – and the City intellectuals rose like one monolithic
body – to mourn Jon Elia’s death as a loss of some very precious
possession which could have been taken for granted while Jon was
alive. However it become when it became a certainty that Jon Elia was
no more to keep us unaware of his worth as a gift of Providence.

His first collection of poetry, brought as part of the Duabi Jashn
1990 was not a representative selection of Jon Elia’s poetry. It was
not the selection which his Mahram – a phrase formed with the initial
letters of the group of friends comprising Mumtaz Saeed, Hasan Abid,
Rashid Saeed and I – had compiled keeping in viewing the gradual
development of Jon Elia’s poetry but a collection of some Mushaira
stuff interspersed with the real 22-carat Jon Elia poetry –
sparkling, penetrating and highly innovative. Any how his next
collection Yaani, soon to be published, is going to be quite
representative of Jon Elia’s poetry.

I have written a number of articles on Jon Elia’s poetry in English
and Urdu – in fact a monograph of my writings on Jon Elia could be
brought out and, perhaps, it will appear in due course of time but
Jon Elia deserved a lot more.

I believe that there are many writers among the mourners who could
share their impressions about him. Jon Elia was not only a brilliant
poet. He invented scores of new metrical schemes in his poetry – more
than many classical poets of Urdu. He also gave birth to hundreds of
unusual phrases – similes and metaphors – which no other poet of his
age has done so far.

Besides Jon Elia has use well-rhymed Nazms and free-verse poems with
an unusual command over the form and content. There is no doubt that
he has no peer in the area of innovative form of creativity. As a
Mushaira poet he dominated the Mushairas and quite a few popular
poets feel compelled to refrain from participating in Mushairas
fearing that they would be eclipsed by Jon Elia. I have seen the
audiences he bewitched as a magician overseas and the least that
could be said bordered on the superlative: he was amply dazzling. He
had the unusual gift of turning a Mushaira into a great event.

Jon Elia was a scholar of great merit. He translated numerous
classics of Arabic and Persian e.g. Masih-i-Baghdad Hallaj, Jometria,
Tawasin, Isaghoji, Rahaish-o-Kushaish, Farnod, Tajrid, Masail-i-
Tajrid, Rasail Akhwan-us-Safa – perhaps the kind of work which no
single person could ever think of attempting – and Akhbar-ul-Hallaj
etc. He has also authored four works Ismailiat, Sham-o-Iraq Mein,
Ismailiat, Jazair Arab Mein, Ismailiat, Yemen Mein and Hasan Bin

Since the above works were translated or authored for Ismailiat
Association and Islamic Cultural Centre, Karachi, it is expected that
these learned bodies will make arrangements to publish these works. I
know that the financial resources of the above named organizations
were quite adequate and they could really ensure that these works of
one of the most important writers of his age would enrich Islamic
studies as well as Urdu.

Tajrid is one of the most difficult works and so is the Rasail-i-
Akhwan-us-Safa. Only one or two Rasails of the Akhwan-us-Safa (the
famous work of the Brethren of Purity of the Abbasid period) could
only strengthen the modern generation’s perspective of a grand
intellectual legacy. I believe that Jon Elia could have a place for
him in the annals of our intellectual history if his translations,
compilations and original works in prose were published. They could
prove to be a landmark.

Jon Elia, it has not been often conceded, is an important stylist of
Urdu prose as well. He had a peculiar stamp of originality deriving
its strength from the modern Arabic stalwarts of prose and he
excelled in the prose – style characteristic of the revealed or
inspired Semitic classics. Perhaps he was the Khalil Jibran of Urdu.
In fact his Mushaira image never allowed him to turn to these areas
of accomplishments. He thought that his labour of love in prose will
be looked after by the organizations he worked for. But this has not
come to pass.

I believe it is about time his editorials in Monthly Insha, Alami
Digest and other periodicals are compiled so that the pieces of
vibrant, yet reflective, prose are available for those who did not
have the opportunity of going through his ‘stray reflections.’ I hope
that these writings will open the door of perceptions about a writer
who has been intellectually active for over five decades.

Jon Elia is dead but he will live on because his poetry touches the
chords of our intimate but unusual feelings so often that he emerges
as the most intimate stranger

Jon Elia Ghazal: Raqs KareiN

Please set the character encoding of your browsers to UTF8

آ کہ جہانِ بے خبراں میں بے خبرانہ رقص کریں

خیرہ سرانہ شور مچائیں خیرہ سرانہ رقص کریں

فن تو حسابِ تنہائی ہے شرط بھلا کس شے کی ہے

یعنی اُٹھیں اور بے خلخال و طبل و ترانہ رقص کریں

داد سے جب مطلب ہی نہیں تو عذر بھلا کس بات کا ہے

ہم بھی بزمِ بے بصراں میں بے بصرانہ رقص کریں

ہم پہ ہنر کے قدر شناساں ناز کناں ہیں یعنی ہم

سازِ شکستِ دل کی صدا پر عشوہ گرانہ رقص کریں

تختئہ گُل ہو عذر انگیزِ آبلہ پائی اپنے لئیے

ہاں سرِ نشتر ہا ذکرانہ تا بہ کرانہ رقص کریں

مرضی مولا از ہمہ اولیٰ شوق ہمارا مولا ہے

ہم وہ نہیں جو بزم طرب میں پیشہ ورانہ رقص کریں

بر سرِ شور و برسرِ شورش بر سرِ شبخوں بر سرِ خوں

چل کہ حصار فتنہ گراں میں فتنہ گرانہ رقص کریں

کوئی نہیں جو آ ٹکرائے سب چوراہے خالی ہیں

چل کہ سرِ بازارِ تباہی بے خطرانہ رقص کریں

بعدِ ہنر آموزی ہم کو تھا پندِ استاد کہ ہم

با ہنرانہ رقص میں آئیں بے ہنرانہ ر قص کریں

اپنے بدن پر اپنے خوں میں غیر کا خوں بھی شامل ہو

بار گہہِ پرویز میں چل کر تیشہ ورانہ رقص کریں

Jon Elia Ghazal: Aao Chalo Dargaah ChaleiN

To read this in Urdu script, please set your browsers’ character encoding to UTF8.


شام ہوئی ہے یار آئے ہیں یاروں کے ہمراہ چلیں

آج وہاں قوالی ہو گی ، جون چلو در گاہ چلیں

اپنی گلیاں اپنے رمنے اپنے جنگل اپنی ہوا

چلتے چلتے وجد میں آئیں راہوں میں بے راہ چلیں

جانے بستی میں جنگل ہو یا جنگل ہو بستی میں

ہے کیسی کچھ نا آگاہی ، آو چلو ناگاہ چلیں

کوُچ اپنا اُس شہر طرف ہے، نامی ہم جس شہر کے ہیں

کپڑیں پھاڑیں ، خاک بسر ہوں، اور بہ عزّ و جاہ چلیں

راہ میں اُس کی چلنا ہے تو عیش کرادیں قدموں کو

چلتے جایئں ، چلتے جائیں ، یعنی خاطر خواہ چلیں

Jon Elia Ghazal: Allah Hoo Kay Barrey MeiN

To read this is Urdu script, set your browser’s character encoding to UTF8.

فرقت میں وصلت برپا ہے، اللہ ھُو کے باڑے میں

آشوبِ وحدت برپا ہے، اللہ ھُو کے باڑے میں

روحِ کُل سے سب رُوحوں پر وصل کی حسرت طاری ہے

اک سرِّ حکمت برپا ہے، اللہ ھُو کے باڑے میں

بے احوالی کی حالت ہے شاید یا شاید کہ نہیں

پُر احوالیت برپا ہے، اللہ ھُو کے باڑے میں

مُختاری کےلب “سلوانا” جبر عجب تر ٹھہرا ہے

ہیجان غیرت برپا ہے، اللہ ھُو کے باڑے میں

بابا الف ارشاد کناں ہیں پیشِ عدم کے بارے میں

حیرتِ بے حیرت برپا ہے، اللہ ھُو کے باڑے میں

معنی ہیں لفظوں سے برہم “قہر خموشی عالم” ہے

ایک عجب حجّت برپا ہے، اللہ ھُو کے باڑے میں

موجودی سے انکاری ہے اپنی ضد میں نازِ وجود

حالت سی حالت برپا ہے، اللہ ھُو کے باڑے میں