PAKISTAN

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ustad Daman, Nationalist Punjabi Poet


The Poet Laureate of the Twentieth Century Punjab
On his death Habib Jalib said ‘Ustad Daman was a great nationalist. He represented faithfully the opinions and desires of the deprived folk. People cannot forget him.’
Faiz Ahmed Faiz on being asked why he did not write poetry in Punjabi, replied that he could not compete with the old masters like Sultan Bahu, Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah and others. The only one who could be ranked with them today was Ustad Daman.
Born on 3rd September 1911 in Lahore as Chiragh Din – his father was a tailor and his mother a washerwomen. In an interview the Ustad said that since his mother was a washerwoman, his mind remained clean: his father being a tailor implied that he could stitch torn fragments of life with patches of love.
He went regularly to school for his primary education. Afterwards he had to work and find time for going to school and passed his matriculation examination. He could not continue his education further. However, at the young age of 7-8 years he started writing and reciting verses.
In 1930 he stitched a suit for Mian Iftikhar-ud-din. When Mian came for the delivery, Ustad Daman was singing his own verses, which impressed Mian Sahib greatly. He invited him to recite his poem at a public meeting organised by the Indian National Congress. He became an instant hit and Pandit Nehru, who was there dubbed him as the ‘Poet of Freedom’. He first wrote under the pen name Humdam, which was later changed to Daman. The title ‘Ustad’ was bestowed on him by the people. After that he became a regular participant in these meetings. He believed that the unity of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs was essential, if the struggle for freedom was to be carried on successfully. An example of his patriotic poetry may be given.
‘In China the Chinese are grand,In Russia they do as they have planned.In Japan its people rule over its strand.The British rule the land of England,The French hold the land of France,In Teheran the Persians make their stand.The Afghans hold on to their highland,Turkmenistan’s freedom bears the Turkmen’s brand,How very strange is indeed this fact,That freedom in India is a contraband.’
During the partition in 1947 he lost his wife and child, he was later re-united with them – only to lose them to disease, for which he could not afford the treatment. His poor friends had to chip in for the burial. As he was a Congressman, his house was burnt and his library and writings were destroyed. He shifted to a verandah of the Shahi Mosque, where he spent the rest of his life. After this he kept no record of his poetry and whatever is available to us today is due to the efforts (and memory) of his admirers.
After the partition, he visited India for a Mushaira, where he recited his poem (given below), ‘We may not speak but in our hearts we know/ you have lost and we too have lost in this divide.’
The poem was enthusiastically received and Pandit Nehru requested that he stay on in India. He refused, saying ‘Panditji, it is difficult to part from the soil of one’s birthplace.’ Later on many cases were foisted against him and he had to spend time in prison. On another visit to India, he was again asked to stay on, but he said, ‘I prefer to live in Pakistan, even though it may be behind prison walls.’ (To a similar request by Sardar Jafri, Habib Jalib replied ‘Here the mullahs will put me in prison and there the pandits. So where is the choice.’)
He wrote Sufi poetry and poetry against the British rule. After 1947, he continued to write about the troubles which beset the people and exposed the machinations of the so-called political leaders:

‘A Trinity of Gods rule Pakistan,Nazim, Azam and Zafrullah Khan’.
(Those three being then the Governor General, the Commander-in-Chief and the Foreign Minister respectively).

Later on he continued to write against Ayub, Yahya Khan, Bhutto and General Zia. One of his great poems is on General Zia’s ‘Martial Law’ yet, strange to say, Zia had to pay a tribute to him after his death.

However in the 1965 war against India, his stand became for a short while communal (unlike Faiz, Jalib, Farogh Bukhari and others. But here many on our side of the border were bitten by the communal bug too). There is a curious silence about the events in East Pakistan in 1971. Perhaps he was too shell-shocked or perhaps the record is no longer available.
He also wrote a few film songs – in Punjabi and Urdu – due to the insistence of the progressive actor Allau-ud-din Khan (who also roped in Habib Jalib). However, he made a great contribution to the genre ‘Heer’. He had great respect for Waris Shah’s poetry but complained that Waris Shah’s Ranjha had less the features of a Punjabi peasant– he was more of a dandy of the Lucknow style. The musical rhythym and lyricism of Heer has a distinctly Punjabi flavour and is not amenable to translation, and I have not been foolhardy enough to try it. However, sometimes, his ‘Heers’ became a song of protest:

‘A man can do whatever he wants,
Agreed, that calamitous times are still ahead.
Let Ranjha just set off to Takht Hazare
Soon Jhang of Syals will crumble under his tread.’
(Here Ranjha stands for the exploited class and the Syals for the exploiters.)

In November 1984 he was suffering from very poor health. Faiz visited him and requested him to shift to a more comfortable place but Daman refused. However he had to be shifted to the Services Hospital medical ward, where Habib Jalib was a fellow patient. Faiz died on 20th November and Daman said that, despite his illness, he would go to lend his shoulder to Faiz’s bier. Habib Jalib was also ill. As the Punjabi poet and author Ahmed Saleem reports,
‘The (Faiz funeral) procession was stopped. Ustad Daman, a mentor of Faiz, who was hospitalised, insisted on being carried and stood there unwilling to leave his side.’

A few days later, on December 3, 1984 Ustad Daman too passed away.

Many tributes were paid to him (including as mentioned above, by General Zia). Habib Jalib wrote two Punjabi poems and one in Urdu on his death. Jalib’s collection of Punjabi poems was dedicated to Ustad Daman. One of his Punjabi poems is given below in translation.

‘He lived in a hut, but wore the poets’ crown,Amongst people, as Daman, he won renown, This poet who wore the crown.
He did not became a courtier, as others did, Not even in forgetfulness did he do the establishment’s bid,For poor deprived people he laid his life down,
This poet who wore the crown.
The oppressors were laid low by his poetic might,Amidst tempests, his lamp continued to give light,With pride he will be remembered in every village and town,
This poet who wore the crown.’

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