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November 16, 2017

Remembering Joyo


November 16, 2017

Ibrahim Joyo, the father of the modern Sindhi literary movement and identity, passed away this past weekend at the age of 102. Sindh’s political discourse, literary critique, identity and the secular and humanistic conceptions of Sindhiyat were laid down by Joyo.

He was a veteran intellectual, poet and writer and Sindhi society considers him one of the founding fathers of their modern awakening and identity. His death isn’t just being mourned; his life, work and character are being celebrated.

How did a society that was otherwise cursed for its failures and seen as backward produce giants like him – and that too at a time when there were not enough educational opportunities? Sindh had lost its independence and was merged with the Bombay Presidency. At the time, people had to go to Bombay to even pass a graduation exam.

Joyo’s birth gave Sindh a genius, a legend, a response to historical injustices and suppression and a light amid the darkness. How else can we explain the life of a boy born in the mountains of Lakhi Shah Sadar near Sehwan?

New York-based Jang columnist and poet Hasan Mujtaba has termed him the “Bertrand Russell of Sindh”. In a way, he’s right. Joyo laid the foundation of a renaissance in Sindh that was inspired by the Enlightenment. He discovered unity in the messages of three renowned classical poet-philosophers: Shah, Sachal and Sami. Sindhi literature stood tall on the solid basis of these three giant poets of Sindh before the British occupied the region in 1843.

Mohammad Ibrahim Joyo (1915-2017) was a respected intellectual, educationist, translator and writer who would never appear on television for an interview. Although many journalists approached him for interviews, he would always decline them because, for him, the mainstream was distorted and guided by vested interests. Once a PhD scholar from the London School of Economics (LSE) asked Joyo about his views on the Sindhi Nationalist Movement, Joyo’s views were hard to digest. He rejected the League and the Congress’s communal politics.

Joyo also resisted a tendency to comment on the present-day situation and developments. To him, understanding today’s reality without taking into account the historical context was misleading.

An intellectual of his calibre would have been tempted to speak on the current political developments. However, Joyo would restrain himself from indulging in such debates and would instead prefer to translate German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s book ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’. He started translating it in the 1980s but wasn’t able to complete it.

Sindhi has a strong tradition of producing translations of works written in other languages. This started with the arrival of the British in Sindh with the translations of Mirza Kalich Baig, Shamsul Ulma Daudpoto and a few others. Their translations focused on classical literature, stories and novels. But Ibrahim Joyo tackled subjects of the European Renaissance and the ideas that resulted in the French Revolution to promote rational and critical thinking among his Sindhi-speaking readers and end intellectual impoverishment. As Voltaire said in his book ‘Candide’: “we must cultivate our garden”. Sindh was Joyo’s garden, which he enriched with intellectual traditions that he translated into Sindhi to sow the seeds of an awakening.

The small village where he was born is now located in Jamshoro district. But back in 1915, it was part of Karachi district. Joyo started his career as a teacher at Sindh Madressatul Islam in Karachi and was sacked in 1947 after he wrote a compelling case of Sindh titled ‘Save Sindh, save the continent’ in which he showed how short-sighted politicians are sacrificing the long-term interests and freedom of their people by becoming a part of communal politics.

Joyo rose to prominence because of this celebrated political treatise, which is now widely accepted as the basis of the ‘Sindh case’. Teaching instilled in him a lifelong commitment to education and he became an educationist. He translated four books on liberating the role of education – including Rousseau’s ‘Emile or On Education’ and Paulo Freire’s works on education – because he knew that education produces freedom and social change. ‘The Children’s Life of Christ’ by Enid Blyton and Plutarch’s classic work on the education of children and a series of books on education were also translated into Sindhi by Joyo. 

Ibrahim Joyo was the editor of the Sindhi literary magazine Mehran in the 1950s and greatly enriched Sindhi literature by patronising poets and writers such as Shaikh Ayaz. Joyo also wrote long prefaces for Ayaz’s poetry anthologies explaining the themes of Ayaz’s poetry. At Sindh Madressatul Islam, Rasool Bux Palejo was among his students and their companionship thrived throughout their lives. However, Palejo often felt that Joyo was inclined to G M Syed. In 1988, when Palejo contested elections for the first time, Joyo led writers and poets to support Palejo in his election campaign.

Along with linguist and writer Sirajul Haq Memon and the former VC of Sindh University Syed Ghulam Mustafa Shah, Joyo was an active part of Servants of Sindh Society. This was a Karachi-based think tank of Sindhi intellectuals that presented Sindh’s point of view by defending its political sovereignty and economic interests, which were under assault by successive military regimes in the country, particularly General Ziaul Haq.

What governed the life of a person like Ibrahim Joyo? As Russell once said: “three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and the unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind… I would gladly live it again if the chance were offered [to] me”. That is how Joyo lived his life – with purpose and an untiring struggle for change.

For decades, he lived in his one-room residence in Hyderabad – a simple, humble but disciplined life dedicated to his intellectual pursuits. His life will continue to inspire the minds of future generations through his labour of love, which he has left with us in the form of nearly a 100 published books.


Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MushRajpar


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