Poet of Passion, Love and Pain: Remembering Jaun Elia on his 18th Death Anniversary

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Poet of Passion, Love and Pain: Remembering Jaun Elia on his 18th Death Anniversary

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                Kitni dilkash ho tum kitna dil-joo hoon main
Kya sitam hai ki hum log mar jayenge
– Jaun Elia

(You are alluring, I am comforter of your heart
It is a shame that both of us will die)

With his nationality divided by the partition, Jaun Elia is now remembered as a Pakistani Urdu poet. However, he was born on 14th December 1931, in Amroha, Uttar Pradesh, India. Born as Syed Sibt-e-Asghar Naqvi, he was the youngest among his siblings. His father Shafiq Hasan Elia was a scholar, astrologist and a poet and therefore, Jaun was brought up in a literary environment too. He was a polymath who had knowledge of philosophy, logic, Islamic history, the Muslim Sufi tradition, Muslim religious sciences, Western literature. He was also a polyglot who could learn languages effortlessly and that is the reason he was fluent in  Urdu, Arabic, English, Persian, Sanskrit and Hebrew. He was married to Zahida Heena in 1970 but got separated in 1992.

After about 10 years of partition, he moved to Karachi, Pakistan. He was reluctant to move to Pakistan and accepted it as a compromise. While leaving for Karachi, he said the following sher to his friends who came to see him off at the Amroha station:

Anjuman ki udas aankhon se aansuon ka payam keh dena
Mujhko pahuncha ke lautne walon, sabko mera salaam keh dena 

This sher exhibits the pain of separation from his homeland and this same sense of feeling and emotion has successfully reached and appealed to the present generation among whom Jaun has become the most searched among the Urdu poets of his times.

Jaun Elia was a poet who didn’t aspire to be one. While he wrote his first Urdu couplet at the age of 8, he published his first collection of poetry at the age of 58. His work remained quite unnoticed until his death due to the fact that he did not publish his works extensively and ‘Shaayad’ was the only anthology that was published by him during his lifetime. As a result, his work could not reach the masses and perhaps this is the reason that he remained in oblivion for a long time.  His other poetic collections like ‘Ya’ani’, ‘Gumaan’, ‘Goya’ were later published posthumously by his companion Khalid Ansari who went through each of his poems and compiled them into different collections which are known to us today.  Elia had also written another book in prose called Rumooz and translated Kitab-ut-Tawwaseen and Jauhar-e-Salqui by Mansoor Hallaj which remain unpublished.

The way in which he recited his poems at mushairas (poetry symposia) and the manifestation of pain and sorrow in his poems are second to none. This unconventional way of reciting his poetry is perhaps one of the reasons for his immense popularity today. He did not simply recite his poetry but creatively took it to another level by involving the audience while conversing with them.

His interest in history and philosophy also had an impact on his own personality and poetry and brought a tinge of otherness in them. Being an anarchist and nihilist, he had a different philosophy. He was influenced by Sufism and had a distinguished philosophy of love in his poetry. His religious views are very well explained in his verses:

Yun jo takta hai aasman mein tu, koi rehta hai aasman mein kya?
(You keep looking up towards the sky, does someone reside there?)

Poetry is used by poets as a means to entertain and influence the masses by expressing their own views on many different subjects. Jaun Elia’s poetry followed a bird’s eye view thereby covering his views on philosophy, love, existentialism, promiscuity, nostalgia etc. However, in contrast to other Urdu poets of his time, his approach was unique and unconventional and remained unparalleled. There was a lack of self-pity in his writings which were otherwise found in traditional Urdu poetry. Even his idea of romance was very different. His poetry showed a distinct philosophy of love where he believed that the beginning of separation from the lover marks the highest level of love. He believed that while romance is passionate, it is also merciless. The following couplets show his idea of love and romance.

Bahut Nazdeek Aati jaa rahi ho,
Bichhadne ka irada kar liya hai kya

(Lately you have been coming closer to me,
Have you made up your mind to part ways?)

Kaise Kahen ki tujh ko bhi humse hai vasta koi
Tune toh humse aaj tak koi gila nahi kiya

(How do I proclaim that you are concerned with me,
You have never shown any lamentation with me)

Existential angst and hardships of life were also dealt with in his poetry in a philosophical manner. He was a sceptic and non-conformist and was dejected by the uncertainty of life. His yearning for death led him to envy everyone who died before him. He was joyful when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a disease that he called ‘revolutionary’. However, he did not die young suffering from this disease.

Ek hunar hai jo kar gaya hoon main,
Sabke dil se utar gaya hoon main
Kya bataun ki marr nahi paata,
Jeete jee jab se marr gaya hoon

(It is a skill that I have acquired,
I have been removed from everyone’s hearts
What do I tell you, I haven’t been able to die
Since the time I have been dying while being alive)

But it also isn’t entirely correct to compare him with other poets as it could be equal to trivialising him because he himself never aspired to be a poet. In fact, he believed poets to be mere jesters. According to him, Ghalib did not have his own distinct style of poetry and therefore he referred Ghalib as ‘25 Sheron ka Shaayar’. On the other hand, he admired Khusro, Mir Taqi Mir and other poets from Arabian peninsula and Persia who, unlike Ghalib, had a peculiar style of their own. Such a perspective held by Jaun Elia was probably a result of the enormous understanding that he had of Eastern and Western philosophies, literature, religion and politics.

His book ‘Shayad’ has many references to the works of western philosophers like Dante, Kant, Voltaire etc. Such references also give a glimpse of his knowledge of western philosophy. Elia was also highly influenced by communist ideals which is also evident in his poetry. He wanted an egalitarian society and believed that it was a common dream of poets, philosophers, writers and thinkers. In his poem ‘Sarzameen-e-khwab-o-khayal’, he wishes for a communist revolution that would bring egalitarianism in Pakistan:

Khush badan! Perahan ho surkh tera
Dilbara! Baankpan ho surkh tera

(O beauty! Here’s to hoping your apparel is coloured red
Beloved! Here’s to hoping your adolescence is coloured red)

It was not only poetry that he mastered. Rather, he was equally great in prose and an example of the same can be seen in the preface of his anthology called ‘Shayad’. Apart from this, he also wrote on various subjects such as history, religion, philosophy and being a polyglot, he also translated some great works from other languages. ‘Farnood’ which is a collection of essays is, however, his only published work of prose.

Now known and acknowledged amongst the finest Urdu poets, his distinct style and status remain unequalled as he becomes the most googled Urdu poet. His poetry has and continues to appeal to the youth. Though now it has been 18 years since he breathed his last, his poetry is still more alive. Therefore, there is a lot more that one can explore in the vast corpus of his poetry. The void created by his death can still be filled through his writings and through his work, he would continue to live and rule our hearts forever.

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About Divyanshi Shrivastava

Divyanshi Shrivastava is a graduate from St Stephen's College, University of Delhi and is currently pursuing her Masters in A.I.H.C and Archaeology from Deccan College, Pune. She has a keen interest in learning new languages and scripts and knows English, Hindi, Urdu, Persian and Spanish. Loves exploring History, culture, art and architecture.

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