Being a cornucopia of ethnic and linguistic diversity, Pakistan exhibits a rich cultural and literary variety. But somehow, if you survey university students in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, there will be little evidence that our young people know much about Balochistan and Sindh or their educators , poets, scholars and writers.
In the space of two months, Sindh has lost three of its outstanding personalities who have left an indelible mark on Sindh’s educational and literary heritage. Imdad Hussaini, Mama Juman Darbadar and Dr. Habibullah Siddiqui have contributed their distinctive style to our understanding of the challenges Sindh has faced over the past decades, if not centuries. All had a desire to explain the intricacies of Sindh’s past and present through their writings, which were compiled into books. Imdad Hussaini and Juman Darbadar had their distinguished style of poetry while Habibullah Siddiqui was a pedagogue and researcher.
Syed Imdad Ali Shah Hussaini was a famous poet who died in Karachi at the age of 82 in August 2022. Last time I met him at the Sindh Literary Festival in March he was fragile, always with a spark of creativity . After losing the towering personalities of Sobho Gianchandani in 2014 and then Ibrahim Joyo in 2017, Imdad Hussaini was arguably Sindh’s oldest literary pillar. It was always such a stimulating experience to listen to his poetry which he recited with his characteristic tone and tenor.
A few years ago our young journalist and SLF organizer Naseer Gopang introduced me to Imdad Hussaini who was kind enough to sign his books for me. He was quite encouraging with the younger generation of Sindhi poets and writers and commanding immense respect in Pakistani literary circles. Asked about the secret of his mastery of languages, he would attribute it to his father Ghulam Asadullah Shah Fida who was himself a poet and scholar of Arabic, Persian and Sindhi, with a political leaning towards the Khilafat movement.
Imdad Hussaini’s understanding of popular literature and Sindhi tradition was exemplary and he could talk about it for hours; this may be due to his early work as a librarian with the Sindhi Adabi Board and as a research associate at the Institute of Sindhology. In addition to poetry, his contribution to the Sindh Textbook Board was outstanding as he was responsible for editing curricula for schools and colleges. His literary life spanned over 50 years during which he was tireless until his old age when he began to suffer from severe asthma attacks and lung problems.
Hussaini remained associated with various Sindhi publications such as ‘Gul Phul’, ‘Mehran’ and the monthly ‘Surtiyoon’. As one of the most acclaimed and recognized Sindhi poets, he received dozens of awards during his lifetime. Although his main claim to fame was poetry, he also contributed drama, fiction, and non-fiction prose. His production and script for the TV show “Jar Gul Gulab” carried the idea of childhood development and was very informative. The Sindhi film industry could never take off, but anyway, Hussaini wrote songs for three Sindhi films “Dharti lal Kunwar”, “Hazar Saeen” and “Sonhra Saeen”.
Few Sindhi poets also dabbled in Urdu poetry; after Shaikh Ayaz, among others, it was Imdad Hussaini who wrote excellent poetry in Urdu. He was also a leading translator and through his translations tried to bridge the gap between different languages. He translated the famous novel “Zeenat” by Mirza Qaleech Baig into Urdu. His other Urdu translations were historical epic tale “Sindh” and “Dodo Chanesar”. His published works included “Hawa Jay Samhoon ‘Shehar’, Imdad Aahay Rol, Kirney Jehro Pal”. He has also translated Farid and Madhu’s Punjabi and Saraiki poetry into Urdu.
Juman Darbadar, who passed away on October 20, 2022 at the age of 78, was a totally different breed of poets. Thanks to Professor Amar Sindhu and Arfana Mallah, I had the chance to meet him at the Hyderabad Festival. He belonged to Umerkot and apart from poetry he distinguished himself as a veteran activist who raised his voice for farmers’ rights. He was truly a poet of the people whose verses resonated in political rallies as well as in literary events. At any social gathering, if you found Mama Juman, he would be the star attraction. With a wonderful sense of humor, he mesmerized his audience.
Satire was also his strong point, which he brilliantly combined with a feeling of rebellion against all the oppressors of Sindh. His rebel anthem “Wathi Har Har Janam warbo” (In every age we shall return) is very popular throughout Sindh. It’s so heartbreaking that if you understand Sindhi well, it’s hard not to get goosebumps. Many famous and popular singers sang this anthem, but the way Mama Juman delivered it was second to none. It would not be out of place to reproduce here Asad Alvi’s brilliant translation of this hymn:
“Waves rising in the Sindhu River, that’s all we want; The poor bathing in the Sindhu, that’s all we want; We have been living in misery for centuries now, my Lord; Let the waves rise in Sindhu now, that’s all we want; In every era we will return; My love, on the banks of the Sindhu we will meet; When the darkness passes, on this full moon night, we will meet; This long and implacable war which is ours, we will defend it like wild stallions; The enemy will finally die – on this fragrant day we will meet; The martyrs of our land have done us a million favors. On their crimson altars we will meet.
Those familiar with Sindhi poetry will instantly remember Shaikh Ayaz’s ‘Teerhi Pawanda’. We used to sing it with Shahid Bhutto and friends while working for the Dastak theater group in Karachi during the dark days of General Zia. It goes something like this: when the flowers bloom, we will meet and when the cranes come back making noise and in a group, we will meet. Mama Juman could instantly develop a camaraderie with all her listeners and anyone who spoke to her. Ali Zahid has written a worthy biography of Juman Darbadar that is well worth reading.
Jami Chandio – a renowned scholar and writer – paid tribute to Juman Darbadar in the following words: “Mama Juman was a bohemian who never claimed to be a great poet, politician or scholar. His greatness lies in his complete lack of pretensions, as he has never suffered from any identity crisis of existence. He was a free spirit at heart.
Dr. Habibullah Siddiqui was basically an educationist and researcher who died at the age of 85 on October 22, 2022. After serving as principal of several government colleges in Sindh, he educated thousands of students. As Director of Bureau of Curriculum and Chairman of Sindh Textbook Board, he has contributed immensely to the education sector in Sindh. I didn’t know much about him until I came across his wonderful book, “Education in Sindh: Past and Present”, which the Institute of Sindhology published in 2006. Then I had the chance to work for a time on an education project with two family members Abdul Latif Siddiqui and his son Amir Latif.
Habibullah Siddiqui had a doctorate in Muslim history and wrote over a dozen books in English and Sindhi, including the two-volume “Insaan Ki Tareekh” (Human History) and “Son of the Desert” which is a biography of ZA Bhutto. Imdad Hussaini, Juman Darbadar and Habibullah Siddiqui have enriched Pakistan with their distinct educational, intellectual and literary works.
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The author holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK.