Ladies and Gentlemen,
To highlight Ameer Hussain Jaffri’s background,
I would like to share some excerpts from the book titled
AKHTER HUSSAIN JAFFRI AND MODERN POETRY
that will be published soon.
Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi wrote, “Akhter Hussain Jaffri is an enlightened humanist who hates dictatorship, fascism and totalitarianism because he loves freedom of thought, speech and action. He wants to inspire his fellow countrymen to become more cultured human beings.”
When in a writers’ conference in 1985, General Zia-ul-Haq threatened poets and writers by reading stanzas of Akhter Hussain Jaffri’s poems without mentioning his name, all the writers turned their heads to look at Jaffri, as those stanzas were from his popular poems. Zia-ul-Haq was trying to prove that such poets were traitors. He said, “The third group consists of those writers who dislike Islam and Pakistan. They live, eat and breathe in this country but worship some other land. They are in the minority but their poison is spreading far and wide.” (Ref 2, page 193)
When I asked Ameer Hussain Jaffri about the background to this incident, he said that after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the democratically elected prime minister was hanged in 1979 by Zia’s government, the progressive and socialist poets of Pakistan like Ahmed Faraz, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi and Akhter Hussain Jaffri wrote poems protesting against the army dictatorship. Zia-ul-haq was not happy with that protest, so he did his best to silence those poets. Ameer and his older brother Manzar were quite young at that time. Their father called Manzar from the conference and asked him to gather together some of his clothes and books, as he might be sent to jail. The whole family became quite distressed as they had heard painful and tragic stories of other writers and political activists who were being persecuted and punished, even executed. There was a lot of fear in the country as Zia-ul-haq was enforcing his fundamentalist religious and oppressive political ideology everywhere. But Akhter Hussain Jaffri remained firm in his commitment to his philosophy and was prepared to make sacrifices for his ideals. The more he was challenged by the army dictatorship, the more passionately he wrote his poetry of resistance.
When I asked Ameer Hussain Jaffri about his father’s involvement with the Progressive Writers Movement, he shared that Akhter Hussain Jaffri was inspired by progressive ideas and socialist ideals as a student, and became active in the movement. At one stage when the Communist Party was banned in Pakistan and Sajjad Zaheer, the Communist leader of the Progressive Writers Movement, had to go underground, Akhter Hussain Jaffri was arrested and charged with giving Sajjad Zaheer asylum. Akhter Hussain Jaffri might have spent extended period of time in prison, but his father, who was quite influential in the government at that time, got him released. Ameer noted that his mother, Kaneez Sughra, has also been a political activist. She was involved in many political activities as she shared with her husband the dream of a just and peaceful world. No wonder Akhter Hussain Jaffri dedicated his collection of poems jahan darya utarta hay to her—his friend, lover, soul-mate and fellow comrade. He also wrote the following poem about her.
She loved my children
and died yearning for me.
But I, who lived for her alone,
am still alive.
with their sad sleepy eyes
pass the night waiting for me.
In the desolate courtyard,
Far far away from the yard,
Blossoms the solitary white rose
Along the edge of a black bough.
Translated by Sajjad Sheikh