A tribute to Jalibi sahib

January 10, 2021

Jalibi’s scholarly contribution will keep him alive in the memories of those who love Urdu as a language and as a vehicle of literary articulation.

Kudos are due to Prof Zahid Munir Amir on compiling a volume, Armaghan-i-Jamil, in honour of Dr Jamil Jalibi (1929-2019), who does not need an introduction. Putting together such a well written and edited volume in the memory of the “eminent historiographer, brilliant critic and scholar of high merit” is a highly commendable effort indeed.

Particularly noteworthy in this regard is Prof Amir’s initiative to include his graduate students in this venture. Almost a dozen of them are credited with contributions to this volume. This must have provided them the much-needed training in the art of writing serious Urdu prose – a vital skill for the young scholars to acquire. These very cogently written chapters are preceded by an exhaustive introduction by Prof Amir himself that provides a comprehensive overview on Jalibi sahib’s life, his personal traits and his services for Urdu language and literature. The volume also includes facsimiles of Jalibi sahib’s letters addressed to the editor of the volume which I found quite a valuable source of history.

It is quite disconcerting to note that people of such a lofty stature as Jalibi sahib, bid farewell to this mundane world without being adequately noticed. A news item somewhere on the back page of daily newspapers and a couple of obituaries are considered sufficient in lieu of their contribution. Academics and laureates, when they are gone, get more than their fair share of indifference from the literati, the society and the state.

The state considers it enough to bestow awards like a Sitara-i-Imtiaz or a Hilal-i-Imtiaz upon them. Jalibi sahib, too, got these awards but over the years these awards have been considerably trivialised because these have also been conferred upon many spurious characters in the past. All over the world, when people of such eminence in knowledge production die, books encompassing the life and achievements of the deceased are published. Sometimes these also contain some constructive criticism of their work.

That is the most befitting mode of paying tribute to somebody with the calibre of Jalibi sahib. It will be an understatement to say that his services for the Urdu language and literature have been astoundingly great. I think no one comes even close to what Jalibi sahib produced in a single lifetime.

Hafiz Mahmood Sheerani and Maulvi Muhammad Shafi too belong in the league but they had accomplished most of their scholarly projects before the establishment of Pakistan. Jalibi sahib’s four-volume history of Urdu literature will not let allow people to forget him. Many people with literary pretentions may find it hard to even read a book of the size, scale, and scope that Jalibi sahib’s history of the Urdu literature holds.

In his book. Urdu Adab ki Tarikhain, Dr Gian Chand studied over 50 Urdu histories and rated Jalibi sahib’s history as “the most impressive work among all histories written in and for Urdu literature and its trends.” What made Jalibi sahib’s work on history of Urdu literature unique was his providing the social and political context to the Urdu classical literature. He had been planning to update it but ill-health did not allow that. Prof Zahid Munir Amir has the potential to complete Jalibi sahib’s project which is two-volumes short.

Dr Gian Chand, in his book Urdu Adab ki Tarikhain, studied over 50 Urdu histories and rated Jalibi sahib’s history as “the most impressive work among all histories written in and for Urdu literature and its trends”.

Jalibi sahib lived to be a 90 years old. His life was well-lived and productively spent. One can draw some consolation from the fact that Karachi University has set up the Dr Jamil Jalibi Research Centre. One hopes that this Centre grows and with it the name of Jalibi sahib lasts in perpetuity.

Hailing from the family of Yousafzai Pathans, settled in Aligarh, Muhammad Jamil Khan who later came to be known as Jamil Jalibi matriculated from Saharanpur and received a bachelor’s from Meerut College. He reached Karachi a day before Pakistan was formally notified as an independent state. It was in Karachi that Jalibi sahib completed his education, earning a master’s in English literature and subsequently completing his PhD under the supervision of Ghulam Mustafa Khan from the University of Sindh.

Jalibi sahib was not an academic by profession. He worked for the Income Tax Department. However, he kept alive his passion for Urdu literature. This required striking a balance between the demands of two vastly different fields. He founded a literary magazine, Naya Daur, and from 1950 to 1954 co-edited the Urdu monthly, Saqi. Needless to say, he brought to an excellent use his skill as a text editor and edited several Urdu classical texts that broadened the literary horizon of Urdu classics among its readers. His works on Mir Taqi Mir and Jurat are great examples of his commitment and brilliance.

In him, prodigious scholarship was combined with administrative skills which were amply demonstrated when he was appointed vice chancellor of Karachi University in 1983. His tenure lasted until 1987. During these years he took many significant measures resulting in improvement of academic standards and a marked improvement in the library. He acquired over 250 micro films of rare Urdu manuscripts from India Office Library to provide the literary researchers with the precious unpublished sources. When Jalibi sahib was made president of Muqtadara Qaumi Zaban (National Language Authority), he compiled an English-to-Urdu dictionary based on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. He made it a point to complete the hefty work within his tenure.

Jalibi Sahib had a great interest in Pakistani culture and his books Pakistani Culture and Adab, Culture aur Masa’el (Literature, Culture and Problems) and Pakistan: The Identity of Culture are remarkably insightful. Literary criticism was yet another field that attracted his scholarly gaze and he produced some important books like Arastu sey Elliott Tak and Nai Tanqeed. All told, Jalibi sahib wrote and edited around two dozen books and treatises which is a tremendous feat. No matter what his detractors say, his scholarly contribution will keep him alive in the memories of those who love Urdu as a language and as a vehicle of literary articulation.

The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

A tribute to Jalibi sahib