By Firoz Bakht Ahmed*
Hardly anyone had shown at the last rites, journey and burial of Asrar Jamayee (Abrar-ul-Haq) 83, Delhi-based eminent Urdu humorous and satire poet, the last of the series of the greatest mazahiya (humorous) poets, who breathed his last at his friend Mushtaq Alig’s house in Delhi’s Zakir Nagar after a long illness.
Owing to be a bachelor, he had suffered a lot during the last few years of his life. For the last ten years, many times he had fallen sick so badly that it appeared that he won’t survive; however, being stoic and steadfast, each time, he defeated death, but on the morning of April 4, 2020, at 5:15 am, death had the last laugh at the poet who had a penchant of laughing away at the day-to-day foibles and eccentricities of life.
Hailing from Patna, Bihar, for the last quarter of a century, Asrar used to visit me regularly to write for his monthly, “Post Mortem”. Even at 81, he used to walk a lot and carried out all his errands himself as he lived alone. Till he was 80, he was able to recite humorous nazams (poems). His last mushaira was at the World Urdu Conference 2018 by the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL). He is survived by a younger brother and two nieces, all in Patna.
He was a man of immense self-esteem and would never dine at anyone’s place. Tens of times, he would come to the Javed Nahari Wala hotel, just across the road of my house, and would consume sheermal (sweetened bread) or biryani sitting on the stool of the towel and bedsheet shop just below, but despite my forced reminders, would never come up to have food. That was his lifestyle.
Asrar was cheated multiple times–by others and by his own close relatives. Born Asrar-ul-Haq in a zamindar family in Patna, Asrar’s father Syed Waliul Haq was a student of revolutionary freedom fighter, poet-journalist Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar at Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi. Jauhar, along with Mahatma Gandhi and a few others, founded Jamia Millia in 1920 and was its first vice-chancellor. Jamia was created as a nationalist institution after a group of students and teachers of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) aligned with the Muslim League and backed its diabolical, divisive policies.
Asrar received a major setback when his own brother fudged documents to grab ancestral properties. He met Dr Zakir Hussain, educationist, former governor of Bihar and later President of India. Zakir Sahab liked his humorous poetry but, a man of vision that he was, he knew writing poetry alone would not ensure him financial stability. So he advised him to finish his Bachelor in Engineering course from BIT, Pilani. But midway this course, Asrar lost his father, returned home only to get entangled in disputes over inherited properties. Earlier, he had earned praise from India’s first President Dr Rajendra Prasad too. Few among today’s generation will believe it, but Dr Rajendra Prasad had initially studied at a madrassa and had learnt Urdu and Persian.
Dejected, Asrar came to Delhi, adopted the moniker “Jamayee” and became part of the city’s vibrant literary culture. Clad in loose trousers and shirt (in winter he wore sherwani and pyjama), tall, thick glasses framing his face, Asrar would move with a small suitcase in hand. Ministers and politicians, including four former PMs (Rajiv Gandhi, Chandrashekhar, V P Singh, Narasimha Rao) hosted him. Former CM of Bihar Karpoori Thakur was also among his admirers. He was invited over dinner by the powerful politicians whom he regaled with his satirical poems, targeted often to the politicians. His satirical poems on Rajiv Gandhi angered some Congressmen and some of Rajiv’s chamchas even threatened Asrar. When Rajiv Gandhi heard of it, he invited the poet home and enjoyed the humorous, satirical lines he had penned on him.
When the draconian anti-terrorism law, TADA, was brought in in the 1990s, Asrar composed several poems, making fun of how TADA was misused to terrorise people.
One of the couplets on TADA’s misuse went like this: Hum jo police ke dar se bumpolice mein bhage/Daroga tartaraya TADA mein band kardo (As I bolted myself inside a toilet fear the cops/the daroga asked for arresting me in TADA). Before I heard this, I did not know that public toilets were ‘bumpolice’ in the local dialect of Delhi and UP.
After the demolition of the Babri Mosque on December 6, 1992, Narasimha Rao began an “outreach to Muslims” programme. A group of Urdu editors were invited to the PM’s house as part of the programme. Asrar who then also edited a newspaper called Postmortem was among the invitees. Narasimha Rao too enjoyed his poems that took ample potshots on the shenanigans of the politicians. Explaining the exotic name of the paper, he once said: “Others do postmortem of the dead. I do postmortem of the living.”
Asrar had a checkered life and was extremely fond of distributing his couplets to one and all. He used to get these typed in Urdu at my place many times through my typist, Tanvir, who never charged him a single penny.
While he had settled at the house offered by advocate Mushtaq, his old age pension of Rs 1,500 was started by the ex-MLA, Asif Mohammed Khan, but when the duration expired sometime in the tenure of the present MLA, Amanatullah Khan, it never got revived, though he met the MLA many times. No relief, except lip-service came to him!
What is very heart-rending is that he was declared dead by the Social Welfare Department of South Delhi of the Delhi government in 2013 that deprived him of his Rs 1,500 per month pension/stipend for the old and aged. After that, he fell on bad days.
Dejected and depressed, he came to me and confided in me the entire proceedings. When he took all the relevant papers to prove his right for the old age pension, the officers there became belligerent. He stated, “I told the officials that I am standing in front of you, what else can be the biggest proof? The officials replied that they knew I am alive, but couldn’t help as the records mentioned me to be dead!”
I got this reported in the major dailies, including “The Hindustan Times” and “The Hindu”, and a couple of TV channels, but nothing moved and he remained a pauper. Since then he had requested to the two Delhi governments headed by late Sheila Dikshit and Arvind Kejriwal, but nothing had been done except the dilly-dallying that the politicians usually do.
Since then, Jamayee called it a day. However, Jamayee was appreciative of the previous MLA, Asif Mohammed Khan, owing to whose efforts, this pension was restored for him. He was often helped by Mushtaq Alig, Azeem Akhtar, an Urdu columnist, Zaki Tariq, a writer, and Sirajuddin Qureshi, president, India Islamic Cultural Centre. Asrar’s couplet fits in this position well:
“Hamdard ki lazzat baant rahey hein khushion ke paimaney mein
Kitney dukhi insan hein, yeh koi nahin pehchaney he
Mulkon, mulkon, basti, basti shor hamari jurrat ka
Bachcha, bacha, buddha, buddha, tanz hamari janey hei!”
(They are partying all and celebrating with goblets full of happiness
No one knows the trauma and angst of my life’s sadness
O, the bravery and boldness of my poetry is internationally known
What to talk of adults, even the children are aware of my sadistic groan!)
|With Firoz Bakht Ahmed|
In the room where he lived, in the cupboard, a pile of his recently published book containing his humorous poems lies under a thick layer of dust that he had been trying to sell for his survival. I bought some besides another friend of his, M Afzal, the editor of the “Akhbar-e-Nau” (now closed).
Though Asrar did not leave any will, he confided in Shandar, the son of Mushtaq Alig, that if any monetary assets, the same should be passed to his nieces who he loved and treated as his own daughters. Nevertheless, they did not bother to take him home to look after him. He had no links with his brother who had encroached upon Asrar’s landed assets.
It’s not that Jamayee hadn’t seen good days. He was appreciated and awarded by the first Indian President, Dr Rajendra Prasad
Jamayee sacrificed his life for the uplift of Urdu. As I have known him for a long time as a sincere friend, I helped type and design the poems and his signature type visiting card slips containing sardonic couplets full of sarcasm, pertaining to the present times, like the one on paucity of drinking water:
“Jis desh mein Ganga behti hei
Us desh mein pani bikta hei.”
(Ganga flows on the Indian land
Ironically, potable water, here is sold)
It is a matter of serious concern that big Urdu platforms like the NCPUL, Urdu Academy, Ghalib Academy and the highly circulated Urdu newspapers like “Inquilab”, “Rashtriya Sahara”, “Hamara Samaj”, “Hindustan Express”, “In Dinon”, besides others, all Delhi-based, did nothing to uplift about the pathetic state of life of Jamayee. Only lip service was offered, no concrete help.
It’s not that Jamayee, a worthy son of Patna, hadn’t seen good days. While he was still young, he had been appreciated and awarded by the first Indian President, Dr Rajendra Prasad, who Asrar called “Babuji” out of fondness for him. Besides, owing to his comical poetry, he had also been the guest of APJ Abdul Kalam, Rajiv Gandhi, and Karpoori Thakur, former Bihar chief minister, besides others, all connoisseurs of his comical satire.
While Asrar was past his prime some eight years ago, nobody was concerned. Pointing at his shervanis, once Jamayee told me, “Gone are the days when these used to travel to Dubai, Kuwait and Europe.”
Though born in Patna in 1937 as Abrar-ul-Haq, his father, Syed Wali-ul-Haq, was a student of the eminent Khilafat movement leader and companion of Gandhi, Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar, besides being a zamindar (landowner).
Jamayee was lucky to come to Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia under the tutelage of Dr Zakir Hussain, ex-President of India and a celebrated Urdu scholar, who, witnessing his multi-pronged calibre, asked him to pursue his engineering at Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, and side by side also carry on with his passion for humorous poetry. It was at this time that he added the moniker “Jamayee” in his name and started reciting his poetry publicly that ensued a huge response.
Half way through his engineering course, Asrar got the sad news of his father’s demise and returned to Patna, where he started an institute for coaching young aspirants for medicine and engineering. His graduation was in engineering, yet his cup of tea was Urdu poetry at which he had excelled more than he might have by erecting malls or markets! In the meanwhile, because property disputes and discord in the family, he suffered immensely and even lost his mother.
|Asrar’s couplets in Hindi|
Owing to all this mess, he could not get married. Of course, he is wed-locked to his poetry, his first and last love! His younger brother, Iqbal Yousuf, is not on good terms with him as he has been under the influence of some detractors of Asrar. His is a common family property dispute story where he is the sufferer.
Again, Jamayee came back to Delhi only to see his room being occupied by some land sharks, who he could not fight. More than the room, he lamented the loss of his lap top, books, published pieces, original compilations of poetry that were all destroyed in his absence. He suffered this unsurpassable loss of his huge literary record and collection and still is not out of it.
Long time ago Jamayee deserved an award like the Padma Shri or the Urdu Academy Award but was denied each time as these were rendered to people who could manage political lobbying. Recently during the previous winter, while Jamayee fell sick and was not seen outside, many thought what the pension officers had thought about him — that he was no more.
That’s why, the poet wrote in “Tanzparey”, his latest humorous book:
“Shayar, adeeb aap se jaltey hein kis liye
Poochha to boley Jamayee, mukhlis hein sab merey
Jaisey ke ek chiragh se jaltey hein kuchh chiragh
Shayar, adeeb mujh se bhi jaltey hein is liye!”
(Poets and writers are most envious of me
Know you all that I am a well wisher of thee
Aghast at my exceptional talent of poetry
That I might walk away with an award, they are scary!”
Nevertheless, Jamayee published four books on humour-cum-satirical Urdu genre that is unique to him in the comity of Urdu’s comical poetry besides some booklets on Indian history.
He has written on topics like “Delhi” and “Ram Darshan”. He also used to publish an entertaining Urdu fortnightly, “Post Mortem” that contained caricatures of the who’s who when he was able to save from his mushaira earnings, but at the fag end of his life, he has almost turned into a pauper.
As he kept on falling sick even fell quite a few times in the house, he had become absolutely frail and nobody from his family was there to take care of him except a distant relative of Mushtaq Alig, that is, Faizan and his sons, Shandar and Tajdar. Asrar Jamayee also wanted an accommodation in one of the old age homes in Delhi but could not do so as he could not afford the high rent there.
Besides, he was refused by some of these old age homes for any concession. Usually the rent of the old age home us paid by the son or the daughter of the person and Asrar had none. His absence from the fabric of humorous Urdu poetry will be badly felt by the connoisseurs of his poetry — myself at the forefront in this regard! Very truly in his own words:
“Samjhoge usey kaisey, jo Asrar he Haq ka
Asrar ka Asrar faqat naam nahin hei!”
(It’s not easy to understand the righteousness in his name/
Eternal is the secret of the truth of Asrar’s fame)
Recently several organizations tried to raise funds for him to improve his condition. But due to ignorance by either literary societies or the government, the poet has been finding it difficult to sustain himself.
“Wazn kitna hai kisi fankar ka
yeh pata chalta hai kaise aur kab.
Jamayee Asrar bola jaan lein
jab uthate hai ise kandhon par tab”
(“How does one realise
the true worth of an artist?
Jamayee Asrar says:
When his coffin is being shouldered, only then.”)
—*Chancellor, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad; grandnephew, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad