Jaun Elia believed that poets were mere jesters, entertainers at the best. He never liked them much. He never aspired to be one. He lived a life of a pagan, and he died as one. Therefore, calling Jaun Elia a poet, or comparing him with other Urdu poets, is actually belittling Jaun.
Rarely have Urdu poets enjoyed a cult following like that of Jaun Elia. The simplicity of his diction conveyed life’s little ironies in intriguing ways. Jaun Elia’s unique expressions sparkle with an originality that stands out within the traditional form of ghazal. Although he has been an influence on many of today’s young poets, he is still to receive the public and nationwide recognition he deserves.
Jaun’s knowledge and understanding of eastern and western philosophies, history of religions, logic, global literature and politics was so vast and deep that poets like Majaz and Jigar could only amuse him for a short period of time. It is therefore no surprise that his beloved poets hailed from the Arabian peninsula, Babylon, and Persia, with an exception of Meer Taqi Meer, whom he considered the most underrated Urdu poet of all times. He criticised Ghalib endlessly. He used to say ‘Mian Ghalib to pachchees sheroN ka shaa’ir tha’ (Ghalib had only 25 good couplets). By that he meant that Ghalib had no usloob (no peculiar style of his own) unlike Urfi, Khusro, or Meer. Before Jaun, only Yaganah had the courage to make such a comment about Ghalib.
Jaun Elia was an aalim in the true sense of the word. He had a command over many languages including Arabic and Persian, and like his father he could also read Sanskrit and Hebrew. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of philosophy, religion, Islamic mysticism.
Jaun Elia’s first collection of poems ‘Shaayad’ was published when he was 58. He has written in the preface to ‘Shaayad’ that he procrastinated publishing his first book for nearly 30 years. According to Jaun Elia, he promised his father Allama Shafique Hasan Elia, a scholar of the highest order, that he would publish his works when he grew up. Jaun didn’t publish them. Jaun didn’t grow up. Somehow all manuscripts of Allama Elia’s writings got lost and Jaun suffered from a guilty-conscience so bad that he loathed the idea of publishing his own works, which he considered inferior in comparison to his father’s writings. While Jaun’s nazms and ghazals became hugely popular among the literary and intellectual circles of Pakistan soon after his migration from Amroha in 1957, there was no collection of his poems that could reach out to the masses. Jaun, therefore, remained mostly in oblivion till the late 1980s.
According to Jaun Elia, it was the late Saleem Jaffri who forced him to publish his first book. ‘Shaayad’ (1989) became immensely popular with intellectuals as well as the masses. But Jaun always despised the idea of publishing his work. ‘Yaani’, his second book, came posthumously in 2003, which Jaun Elia had delayed again for several years. It was Khalid Ahmed Ansari, who, after Jaun Elia’s death, published the main corpus of his works.
‘Gumaan’, ‘Lekin’, and ‘Goya’, were published by Mr. Ansari in the span of eight years, which was never an easy task. Jaun’s writings were scattered and hardly legible. Mr. Ansari had to go through each and every poem before making it public. It also involved a great deal of research work on Jaun. Jaun was a bohemian poet, and he never cared to compile his poems in a proper manner. Jaun’s prose work ‘Farnood’, a collection of Jaun’s essays has also hit the stores.
Jaun’s life cannot be summarised in few paragraphs. He was too enigmatic, too larger-than-life to be narrated in words. Perhaps, Jaun’s life and his poetry can be better understood through his portrait on Shaayad’s cover, immortalised by renowned artist and Jaun’s nephew Iqbal Mehdi. The portrait is reminiscent of Jaun Milton’s magnum opus ‘Paradise Lost’. It captures the moment when Lucifer rises up against the authority of God. Jaun always looked down upon creation, despised authority–both worldly and divine. His poetry, therefore, is not a love song or an elegy; it is a chant of a rebel. By reading Jaun Elia you will embark upon the odyssey to sceptical knowledge, Agnosticism, and Nihilism. It will make you perpetually disturbed, for this was something Jaun wanted his readers to be—remain thirsty for knowledge.
As all would die, so did Jaun Elia. During the last 40 years Death stared in his face many a time but he kept on eluding it. A chronic TB patient in the mid-50s, he escaped from the clutches of Death due to sheer will power. May be his fervent faith in the immortality of his poetry overcame the frequent summons of Death. Finally he bowed out on 7th November, leaving behind thousands of his fans to mourn his loss. Numerous batches of young poets locking in to him for inspiration and guidance but it is an irony of fact that not many of them proved constancy to be their main virtue. Some of his pupils have acknowledged their indebtedness to him, some died before committing themselves to Jaun’s contribution to their upbringing as poets and writers and some still cherish the day when Jaun Elia, along with his two illustrious brothers Raees Amrohvi and Syed Muhammad Taqi, contributed a great deal to the cause of a serious intellectual culture in this country.
Jaun Elia was not only a brilliant poet, he invented scores of new metrical schemes in his poetry – more than many classical poets of Urdu. He also gave birth to hundreds of unusual phrases – similes and metaphors – which no other poet of his age has done so far. Besides Jaun Elia has use well-rhymed Nazms and free-verse poems with an unusual command over the form and content. There is no doubt that he has no peer in the area of innovative form of creativity. As a Mushaira poet he dominated the Mushairas and quite a few popular poets feel compelled to refrain from participating in Mushairas fearing that they would be eclipsed by Jaun Elia.
Jaun Elia was a scholar of great merit. He translated numerous classics of Arabic and Persian e.g. Masih-i-Baghdad Hallaj, Jometria, Tawasin, Isaghoji, Rahaish-o-Kushaish, Farnod, Tajrid, Masail-i-Tajrid, Rasail Akhwan-us-Safa – perhaps the kind of work which no single person could ever think of attempting – and Akhbar-ul-Hallaj etc. He has also authored four works Ismailiat, Sham-o-Iraq Mein, Ismailiat, Jazair Arab Mein, Ismailiat, Yemen Mein and Hasan Bin Sabbah. Since the above works were translated or authored for Ismailiat Association and Islamic Cultural Centre, Karachi, it is expected that these learned bodies will make arrangements to publish these works.
Jaun Elia, it has not been often conceded, is an important stylist of Urdu prose as well. He had a peculiar stamp of originality deriving its strength from the modern Arabic stalwarts of prose and he excelled in the prose – style characteristic of the revealed or inspired Semitic classics. Perhaps he was the Khalil Jibran of Urdu. In fact his Mushaira image never allowed him to turn to these areas of accomplishments. He thought that his labour of love in prose will be looked after by the organizations he worked for. But this has not come to pass.
Jaun Elia is dead but he will live on because his poetry touches the chords of our intimate but unusual feelings so often that he emerges as the most intimate stranger. Jaun was a perfectionist; like all great artists he aspired to perfection yet he failed. Jaun Elia’s stature in Urdu poetry has largely been determined. Critics and masses have hailed him as one of the finest Urdu poets of all times. The world of literature will get to know more about him as the time passes by.