Doesn’t it provoke curiosity in you if you find somebody who begins as a student of literature and agitating against socio-economic inequalities, joins a political movement subscribing to that kind of ideology, then going on to become a legislator and a minister and remains in that ‘murky’ world of power politics for decades; yet his creative pursuits remain undiminished? Prof. Jabir Husain (born in 1945) is one such rare figure.
In the literary sphere, Jabir Husain stands out for the fact that his fictional narratives are claimed to be a bit of diary, memoir, reportage, and travelogue all rolled into one. He, however, prefers to call it his ‘diary’. Nonetheless, his are not the diaries conforming to the conventional definition of diary being ‘an intimate journal, a personal dialogue between the writer and his private persona’. His range exceeds farther.
His accounts are more about those dispossessed and oppressed people who are often not written about. As Jabir Husain’s narratives are articulated in incredibly simple and lucid prose, comprising carefully chosen most commonly used words and framing smallest possible sentences, embedded with a lot of insights about the everyday struggle of the historically oppressed ones, as well as the melancholy of the falling fortunes of the decadent feudal elites. This earns even more of readers for his ‘diaries’. The rural distress, particularly in Bihar, occupies more of the space in his writings. The injustices which agitate him, he first let them churn within himself, and once the bitterness dilutes he puts to writing. These are therefore carrying a powerful magnetism. His diaries consist of smallest possible stories which leave the readers thinking for long. This is how he has some resemblance with Manto.
While in his earlier accounts he doesn’t shy away from exposing the real characters and places, in his latest of oeuvres, he has made it a point not to reveal the places and the characters — heroes as well as villains. He holds these back possibly to avoid bitterness and also with a noble intention of not embarrassing the villains and their descendants. However, having read Jabir’s “Yeh Shahr Lagey Mohey Ban ” (2014), Jabir Husain’s, what he prefers to call, lambi katha diary (Long Tale Diary) and then “Sakaraat: Qissa-e-Aalaam-e-Jahan” (2014), the Urdu memoir of Shah Hashim (1864-1929. The melancholy in “Sakaraat”, which literally means pains at the time of death, however ends up with optimistic note—hinting towards end of the colonial rule. This is an old man’s journey into his own past, yet it is not merely personal. It captures the world of changing times across the late 19 to early 20 centuries.
n the genre of ‘diary’ in Urdu, one of the earliest collections of Jabir Husain appeared as “Sun Aiy Kaatib” (1997; Listen! O Destiny-maker), where he refused to let his creative oeuvre be classified as any specific genre of prose. He simply called it the ‘genre of depicting social realities’. The ‘reports’ collected or recreated here reveal that the author is somebody who is extremely restless and agitated against the exploitative and hierarchy driven world. His words and sentence-framing appear like thin, and light but very sharp weapon. The metaphor of “Kaatib”, the writer (of destiny) is either for the divine Almighty or for this worldly powers-that-be, against all those injustices prevalent in the world around the author. This is a kind of angry protest rather than a polite appeal/submission. This is also an expression of helplessness of not being able to emancipate the toiling masses. It is also a diary subjecting himself to self-introspection and at times becoming little optimistic for the fact that amidst the desert some success of blooming flowers has also been registered. It contains semi-symbolic stories of feudal appropriation of democratic institutions and intimidations exercised against those on the lowest rung of the society who have got hopes to transform their fortunes through electoral franchise. There are also stories suggesting that not necessarily all the haves will always combine patronage with exploitation, and also stories of many subaltern classes who suffered contempt, humiliation besides exploitation. These stories are set mainly in those parts of Bihar where arms and ideology of the extreme Left organised the subalterns to assert for dignity and wage. One such striking story is “Chamar Toli ki Pinki” in the village Nonahigarh of Jehanabad in Bihar.
It creatively narrates the story of the violence taking place only because Pinki was the name of little babies of both the dominant and the dominated; and wherein the dominated was killed only because he refused to change the name of his daughter.
It narrates how the locality and even the local functionaries of the state had arrested the consciousness of the people to the extent that in common circulation the deceased was blamed for his own murder.
In this collection all such characters are the signifiers of the social tragedies and ironies of Bihar, and all such societies. Nonetheless, these very stories also witness characters standing up bravely to resist all these oppressions. And here lies the hope.
“Ret Par Kheema” (2002; The Camp on the Desert) is another ‘diary’ of Jabir Husain which contains stories from the villages like Nonahi, including the native village of Jabir Husain in Rajgir.
The title is taken from the metaphor of Karbala where the grandsons of the Prophet Muhammad were done to brutal death in late 7 Century AD. The kind of stories we get to read here and the kind of world we are taken into, this collection resembles “Sun Aiy Kaatib” (1992).
Nonetheless, this also contains many autobiographical tales which in itself depict many aspects of hope and despair. Thus, from first to the latest collection Jabir Husain’s writings seem to be are gradually moving towards his own memoir.
More importantly, unlike the more widely read ‘diaries’ of Anne Frank on the Nazi atrocities, Jabir Husain’s diaries make a diversified engagement capturing various aspects of human lives in our times.
For his contributions he got Sahitya Akademy Award in 2005.
He is currently engaged more in retrieving valuable Urdu manuscripts and publishing these from his movement-like cultural organization called, “Urdu Markaz- Azimabad”.