A forgotten centenary

By Dr. Naazir Mahmood

We have seen so many centenaries observed in Pakistan since the turn of the century. From Faiz, Manto and Sibte Hasan to Sajjad Zaheer and several others, there have been conferences and seminars to pay tributes to our intellectual and literary figures who have contributed to our understanding of society through their activism, poetry, and prose – both fiction and non-fiction.

But most of these celebrations revolved around writers who wrote in Urdu. Somehow, our mainstream newspapers and media tend to overlook intellectual contributions coming from languages other than Urdu. One such example is Abdullah Jan Jamaldini whose centenary falls in 2022 but he received hardly any coverage or celebrations to mark 100 years of his birth. In Quetta, progressive intellectuals such as Dr Shah Muhammad Marri and Abid Mir organized a couple of gatherings whose photos and videos attracted attention of a limited readership on social media. People outside Balochistan remained oblivious of the event.

On my travels to Balochistan, my friend Dr Amir Bakhsh Baloch takes me to bookshops in the heart of Quetta and other places. Attending gatherings and meetings there, you invariably hear about Abdullah Jan Jamaldini who died in 2016, and left Balochistan and the rest of Pakistan poorer in literary and progressive heritage.

For Urdu readers, Ramzan Baloch – author of a couple of informative books on Lyari – has also written a good book titled ‘Baloch Roshan Chehray’ (Bright Baloch faces) published by Mustang Foundation in 2019. In this book, Ramzan Baloch has written about 42 outstanding Baloch personalities. He has placed Abdullah Jan Jamaldini on top of the list. His seven-page sketch of Mama Jamaldini – as he was commonly called – is brief but enlightening.

Ramzan Baloch gives us personal anecdotes about Mama Jamaldini and his contributions. Jamaldini emerges as a caring and loving senior fellow who encouraged at least three generations in his 94 years. He was a contemporary of the likes of Baba Bizenjo, Gul Khan Naseer, Attaullah Mengal and many others who have left their impressions on the democratic struggle of not only Balochistan but of Pakistan as well.

A more detailed account of Jamaldini’s life and works can be found in Dr Shah Marri’s book that he wrote for the Pakistan Academy of Letters. Another good book is ‘Balochistan ki Adabi Tehreek’ (Balochistan’s literary movement) – also by Dr Marri and his Sangat Academy in Quetta – that gives us details of contributions various literary organizations and personalities of Balochistan have made in the past hundred years or so. This book also mentions Jamaldini’s pursuits in several genres of multiple languages such as Balochi, English, Pashto, and Urdu and how he managed to guide the young Baloch in their academic and literary careers.

“For a public intellectual, good memory and long life are two blessings. Abdullah Jan had both. Hardly anybody else in this region had such exceptional memory as he commanded. With his extraordinary vivid recall, he could narrate about events and personalities that he encountered in over 90 years. He could also enlighten his listeners by discussing ideologies and movements from across the world that impressed him. He had an ability to explain geographical and political changes in a coherent and organized manner.” This is how fondly Dr Marri remembers his mentor Mama Jamaldini.

Abdullah Jan was a humanist to the core and this made him one of the most loved personalities in Balochistan. Two of his most favourite fields of action were literature and politics. His literary output emanated from his enlightened and progressive outlook, while his politics revolved around fighting against imperialism and for democratic socialism. He had immense love for his land and people and remained involved in most of the political movements of his times. He was the first professor of Balochi language and literature at the University of Balochistan.

It is interesting to note that in the intellectual and political circles of Balochistan and among common people too, the word ‘Baba’ is only for Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, ‘Babu’ for Abdul Karim Shorish, and ‘Mama’ for Abdullah Jamaldini. Such is the affection and love that the people of Balochistan shower on their guides and leaders. Common people are not fools and know their right from wrong. No artificial leadership and no affected patriotism can mislead the folks who can see through all ruses. In addition to Mama, Abdullah Jamaldini also had the distinction of enjoying lovely monikers of ‘Jan’ and ‘Mir’ added to his name.

Mama Jamaldini had multiple talents to his credit: he was a journalist, teacher, a researcher, a scholar, and a writer. Many young Baloch consider him an icon of progressive politics, others look at him as an ideal Baloch from Chagi, where the mountain changed its colour in the aftermath of the nuclear detonation underground in 1998. Chagi also has Saindak in its fold, where gold, iron, and silver abound but which is one of the most undeveloped areas in Pakistan. That’s where Gul Bibi fought against British imperialism and became a symbol of resistance.

This writer has had an opportunity to travel through Chagi and notice the nomadic life of the local people who lack basic amenities of life; water is hard to come by, food is even scarcer, education facilities are next to nothing, and healthcare is scanty. That is where Abdullah Jamaldini opened his eyes in 1922 amid an extremely conservative setting but his enlightened father made all the difference. Abdullah’s elder brother Abdul Wahid Azat groomed himself to be one of the most prominent poets of the Balochi language. Ten-year-younger Abdullah followed in the footsteps of his elder brother.

For the past over a century – be it under British rule or within Pakistan – the Baloch have been projected as an angry lot for mysterious reasons. Since they are angry they need pacification by songs and by encouraging them to not show their rage. They are led to believe that their areas remain underdeveloped because they themselves – and their tribal leaders – take up weapons to take revenge for generations, and this gun-toting hampers their development. Mama Jamaldini had a different take on all this. He made it clear to his readers and followers that these are all half-truths.

Jamaldini in most of his non-fiction writings and through his literary outputs, analyzed tribal and feudal culture and its political dynamics. He explained that Baloch society is not voluntarily enclosed within tribal and feudal structures, which are actually imposed on them. Given a democratic choice, the Baloch are well in position to elect the best leaders from amongst themselves. They can break the shackles of an unrepresentative system, provided unpopular and undemocratically ‘elected’ leaders do not get help and support from known and unknown quarters. This was the gist of his message in his articles, books, essays, and his teachings which benefited thousands of his students – and millions of his readers.

Those who knew Mama Jamaldini well – and not so well – all remember him as a kind and soft-spoken elder who wrote short stories, practiced journalism with integrity, and advocated progressive politics for Balochistan and for the rest of the country. He was an indomitable fighter for social justice that he preached from his ‘Lutt Khana’ where he taught Persian to his students and unfolded the intricacies of poets from Firdausi and Hafiz to Saadi and Rumi. Baloch poet Must Tawakkali was his favourite as were Bullah, Fareed, Lateef, Rehman and Waris.

He extracted their secularism and left out all that could be interpreted as narrow. His centenary is this year, and he deserves better and more tributes.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK. He can be reached at: mnazir1964@yahoo.co.uk

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