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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Jafar Zatalli- Intizar Hussain

A serious absurdist

By Intizar Hussain

Jafar, the absurdist, I mean Jafar Zatalli, was an interesting character. The elite of his time had dismissed him outright, saying that he talked nonsense and was obscene and vulgar. Jafar did not deny the charge of absurdity. Rather, he insisted upon it and had compiled his writings, prose as well as poetry, under the title Zatal Nama. And so he did not mind being called Jafar Zatalli.

The absurd, as understood by people in general, was with him a serious way of seeing and understanding things in human life. The men of opinion in his time and in later periods could hardly reconcile with this peculiar angle of vision. So his poetry was never considered worth serious treatment. Literary historians dismissed it as something non-serious.

We took nearly 200 years to realize that Jafar's Zatal was not devoid of meaning, that it carried with it a comment on the social situation of the time and human behaviour in general. So now literary historians such as Jameel Jalibi appear to recognize the significance of Jafar's Zatal. The latest work in this regard is that of Rashid Hasan Khan, the renowned research scholar from India who, after much research, has compiled the collected works of Jafar Zatalli and has brought them out under the title Zatal Nama.

The book has come to me as a precious gift from a friend in New York. He is Abdulwahab Khan Salim. He has a large circle of friends in the world of letters. He is fond of sending gifts to friends and it is always some precious book. In fact, he keeps an account of the intellectual needs of his friends. He has correctly assessed my intellectual needs and has sent me Zatal Nama.

Rashid Hasan Khan feels obliged to Ali Sardar Jafri, who felt unhappy the way Jafar Zatalli was ignored, and exhorted him to work on the poet. The scholar who was the first to point out the significance of Jafar Zatalli's verse was Mahmood Sheerani.

Mir Jafar Ali, more known as Jafar Zatalli, grew up during the reign of Aurangzeb and was murdered in King Farrukh Syer's time at the latter's orders. Rashid Hasan Khan calls him a bitter poet, a poet determined to speak what he sees and feels plainly and bitterly. This cost him his life. He, according to Rashid Hasan Khan, fares better than the so-called revolutionary poets of our time.

Rashid Hasan Khan has, on the basis of Jafar's verse, debunked some of the assumptions which have come to stay as admitted facts in respect of Urdu poetry and the Urdu language. One assumption is that the ghazal is the starting point of Urdu verse in Delhi and that it took a start the day when Wali Deccani's collection of ghazals reached the city. The other assumption is that the Urdu poetic tradition is essentially the tradition of the ghazal. One more assumption is that Urdu poetry is mainly Gul-o-Bulbul poetry revolving around the emotion of love, and is devoid of any kind of social criticism.

Rashid Hasan insists that Urdu verse in Delhi had already taken a start with Jafar Zatalli in the forefront, and that Jafar was not a ghazal writer. Wali Deccani's collection of ghazals reached Delhi well after Urdu verse had made a non-ghazal start.

As suggested by Rashid Hasan one can, keeping in view Jafar's verse, say that Urdu verse in Northern India took a start not as the poetry of love, but of social criticism. Jafar's verse was poetry of social criticism par excellence.

Zatalli was essentially a satirist. We find in his satire an admixture of the ridiculous and the sublime. He was acutely aware of the deteriorating social conditions around him. What is more, he had the honesty and the courage to say what he saw. He did not spare even the kings and princes when commenting on the corruption rampant in society. He was in the service of Prince Kam Bakhsh, the son of Aurangzeb, when he wrote a satire on him. In consequence, he was dismissed from his service. But when he wrote a satire commenting bluntly on the ruling ways of King Farrukh Syer, it cost him his life.

Zatalli's satirical verse gave birth to a new mode of expression, which soon evolved into a new genre known as Shehr Ashob.

Rashid Hasan has also tried in his introduction to determine the role of Zatalli in the evolution of Urdu as a language. Those were the times when Urdu was still in a formative stage. The odd linguistic innovations of Zatalli helped accelerate this process. The way he injected Persian words and expressions into Urdu couplets and newly-coined Urdu words and phrases in Persian couplets, and the way he coined new words, phrases and idioms appears odd.

But this kind of linguistic expression on his part went a long way in the linguistic evolution of Urdu. In his verse, Urdu appears to be speedily advancing towards becoming a developed language.


Blogger sarah islam said...

Thank you for this entertaining read :-) Any idea where one can read Zatalli in Urdu? Thank you

March 29, 2013 1:37 AM  
Blogger temporal said...

i will ask around

March 29, 2013 6:02 PM  
Blogger temporal said...

here is a link on jafar by shamsur rehman faruqui saheb

March 29, 2013 6:13 PM  
Blogger Tarun said...

Ms. Sarah, you could try ordering a copy of the book 'Zatal Nama' from Anjuman Tarraqi Urdu's New Delhi office. You may contact them at +91-11-23236299, 23237210 or send them an e-mail :

February 22, 2015 4:05 AM  
Blogger Tarun said...

And here is the link to the 'Zatal Naama' e-book :

February 24, 2015 4:17 AM  

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