His was a façade of darkness and morbidity. His face was lined with stress and ill temper, and his behaviour was crude, harsh, and rough, often angering many who were close to him, while tolerated by several others because they loved him.
But despite this, the brilliant verses that fell from his lips and left indelible marks on the hearts of many, the verses that were punctuated with unique poetic metres and enriched with many words and phrases that he often coined himself; verses whose expressions jolted young people with their splendour of heavy existentialism, they will always remind us of one of the greatest poets of all times, especially in the subcontinent. November 8, 2002 was the day Jaun Elia, passed away, leaving many mourners and admirers behind, who flocked like lost sheep to his funeral.
Born Jaun Asghar in 1931, Elia later adapted his father’s last name. Jaun belonged to a very prestigious family of Amroha. Both his brothers Rais Amrohvi and Syed Muhammad Taqi were well known in literary circles. His former wife, Zaheda Hina, is also a known scholar and columnist. He dabbled in communism during his youth and was averse to the partition of the country but succumbed later and shifted to Karachi in 1957 where he lived for the rest of his life. Once in Karachi, his poetry began to attract many fans. He was held in both admiration and opprobrium, being rather direct, outspoken and bold in his approach.
POETRY: Perhaps the most dominant feeling that Jaun’s poetry betrays is his sense of loneliness. In fact it would not be wrong to say that he was in reality a lonely man, separated from his immediate family including his children, but at the same time being flocked around by several dozens of admirers. He loved being the centre of attention, but at the same time yearned for solitude.
‘Ajeeb hai meri fitrat, keh aaj hi maslan
Mujhay sukoon mila hai tiray na aanay se’
(Strange is my nature, for today only
I felt relieved, that you never came)
‘Aik shakhs jo mujh se waqt le kar
Aaj aa na saka tou khush hoa hoon’
(A person who set time with me today
made me happy by not making it).
This indicates that Jaun was perpetually dissatisfied, never completely happy. In fact happiness to him was temporary but he was contemptuous towards grief itself too.
The most important facet of Jaun’s poetry is his use of colloquial words, inviting not just well-read poetry critics to read his work, but even the ordinary person. Most of his fan circles had young people in them, already dealing with their existential crises, and finding in Jaun someone who said exactly what they felt,
His themes involved pain and suffering; yearning for a lover (Jaun often yearned for his ex-wife), his existential dilemma, romance and sex (often Manto-esqe in expression), and coughing up blood. This last was a known obsession with Jaun, sometimes rather darkly humorous for listeners.
In one of his write ups literary critic Salmaan Peerzada, who has a strong hold on what Jaun is about, writes:
“He (Jaun) manages to produce the weirdest, yet convincing of praises for his beloved that one can imagine in Urdu poetry.
“Kiss liye dekhti ho…aaina
Tum tou khud se bhi khoobsurat ho”
(Why do you gaze into the mirror
When you are even more beautiful than yourself?)
Who would say to his beloved that ‘you are more beautiful than yourself?’ What would that signify? Still, it appears to be the most powerful way to eulogize the ‘mehboob’.”
Openly nihilistic, sometimes Jaun mixed ‘love’ or obsession, with a fierce kind of destruction.
“Who mera khayal thee so who thee,
Main uss ka khayal thaa, so main thaa,
Ab dono khayal marr chukay hain.”
(She was a perception of mine, so she was
I was a perception of hers, so I was;
But now both perceptions are dead.)
On top of everything, Jaun was a lover of theatrics since his youth so all his poetry performances (mushairas) were very theatrical in nature. He often said and did many things that struck a chord of black humour, rendering ripples of laughter or enjoyment within the audience. Jaun never took poetry recital as simply that. He raised it to another level, conversing with friends in the audience, turning it almost to a type of ‘rock concert’.
Once, it is said, he conducted more than half of the mushaira with his back to the audience, as if holding nothing but contempt for them. Sometimes in his theatrics Jaun would become rude and harsh but still many of his fans would flock around him.
One person who was close to Jaun during one time of his life said, “Jaun Elia is often either seen as black or white. There is no grey it seems. They either love him or hate him. This is a biased view. In actuality, Jaun was a highly aggressive and even abusive individual so much so that many of his close friends left him, dejected by his behaviour. His poetry was great, but his personality had many defects which caused great pain to others. There was a vast difference in the man who wrote and the man who he was,” opined a former friend who wished to remain anonymous.
Meanwhile regarding the technical aspect, poet Pirzada Qasim has described him to be “very particular about language”. He said, “While his diction is rooted in the classical tradition, he touches on new subjects. He remained in quest of an ideal all his life. Unable to find the ideal eventually, he became angry and frustrated. He felt, perhaps with reason, that he had squandered his talent.” Jaun is also known to have invented new metres which have never before been heard in Urdu poetry.
Elia’s divorce with Zaheda Hina in the 80s left him worse off. He became an alcoholic and even more depressed and alone. More than often this reflects very palpably in his poetry. Darkness was Jaun’s life, a kind of sheath covering him. He was bound to loneliness and misery, because of his own contradictions. Even his negative space was only just grey.
Today it is nine years since Jaun passed away. This scholar, biographer, philosopher and poet now lives in the minds of his admirers. But for many, even his memories are a bleak mist that shrouds his image. But one thing remains, he can never be forgotten.