Karachi Literature Festival: Jaun Elia may have been known for his verse, but compilation now gives fans prose to adore

KARACHI: So you think you have read everything ever written by Jaun Elia? Think again. And you think he never sought anyone’s approval? Think again!

In a small room, perhaps the smallest of all of Beach Luxury Hotel’s convention rooms, enthusiasts and fans of Jaun’s poetry were introduced to his prose work on the second day of the fourth Karachi Literature Festival Saturday.

A compilation of his prose, titled ‘Farnood’, was launched on Saturday in a session moderated by poet Shahida Hassan.

The book has been painstakingly compiled by Khalid Ahmed Ansari, a devoted Jaun fan, from various sources and includes essays and editorials written by Jaun since 1958, the year he moved to Pakistan.

Hassan recited a few couplets from Jaun’s first anthology ‘Shayad’, to an audience that hung on to her every word and sometimes finished her sentence for her. The most popular couplet it seemed was this damning satire that is as true for this day as it was for when he wrote it:

Yeh basti hai musalmanon ki basti; Yahan kaar-e-maseeha kyun karein hum?

(In this area, only Muslims live. Why should we do here as messiahs do?)

Journalist and writer Shakeel Adilzada, who was very close to Jaun as well as his older brothers Raees Amrohvi and Syed Muhammad Taqi, introduced the book and spoke at length about his association with Jaun.

“He was my brother, my mentor and my teacher. Everything that I have learnt is through being in his, and his brothers’ company,” he said. “The writings in this book date to 1958 when he was writing for ‘Insha’, a magazine edited by his brother Raees which is why Jaun agreed to write editorials for it. He was but a poet and all the prose he had ever written was in his love letters! So when he finally managed to write his first editorial with much difficulty, he showed to everyone for approval. It was much appreciated, and from then on he became comfortable with prose.”

“A lot of this work comes from ‘Suspense’ digest, where it became very popular because of how different a tone it took from the rest of the digest,” said Adilzada.

What set Jaun’s editorials and other prose apart, just like his poetry, was his incessant need to experiment with thoughts and with words. “He always liked to experiment with names and liked ones that sounded different. For instance, Hammorabi,” he said, pointing to Jaun’s nephew who sat in the audience.

“Jaun would often create very strange new names. Even my name is one of his creations,” he said, chuckling. “My name was plain and simple Mohammad Shakeel. He wouldn’t hear any of it and changed it to Shakeel Adilzada (Shakeel, the son of Adil). Since then, it has stuck.”

He said a special thank you to Ansari, saying that the compilation of such a book would not have been possible had it not been for him. “I would like to appreciate Ansari for his diligence and perseverance. All this work of Jaun was scattered and it took two to three years to compile it all. We are fortunate that he decided, and managed, to do it.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2013.

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