The Immortal Life of Asrar Jamayee

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The Immortal Life of Asrar Jamayee

Suyashi Smridhi on how the pension board declared the eminent Urdu poet dead even when he struggled to prove to them that he was alive and well

When Lemuel Gulliver, in the land of Luggnagg in Book III of Gulliver’s Travels was asked of his scheme of living if he was born a struldbrug (immortal creatures, recognized by a red dot above their left eyebrow), Gulliver had a directory of grand dreams chalked out as if it were reality. Alas Asrar Jamayee, renowned for his humorous Urdu poetry who lived Gulliver’s dreams for a momentary lapse of time has a different tale to tell of immortality.  

But dreams are often based on fatal assumptions and an unconscious concealment of obstacles and difficulties grounded in reality. Lemuel Gulliver, after his impassioned speech on the design of his life if his desire for immortality became his reality, was met with whispers and laughter in the language of Luggnaggians which he did not comprehend. He was explained by his interpreter that he, in his desire for an eternal, universal life, had assumed that youth was a part of the package, when in fact, despite being immortal, the struldbrugs were prone to aging, that they grew old and senile, like any other living creature. Often, struldbrugs grew melancholic and dejected and were incapable of friendship.

Jamayee’s life resembles those of the struldbrugs in more ways than one. The struldbrugs while immortal , lived, in a state of abject melancholy. Likewise, Jamayee, immortalised by his words has lived in a space of constant loss and suffering. But as time passes by, Asrar Jamayee’s plight has become almost congruous with the life of struldbrugs. As soon as the struldbrugs reach the age of 80, they are proclaimed dead by law. Their properties are taken away and given to their heirs and only a small allowance is kept aside for their support. Those who possessed no property and lived in poverty were maintained at public charge. Since the struldbrugs are dead by law, they are declared incapable of any employment of trust or profit, are denied the right to purchase land or take leases and are disallowed to be witnesses in any cause or dispute.

Jamayee at his ramshackle residence in Batla House

Jamayee was born in Patna in 1937 as Abrar-ul-Haq in the family of Syed Wali-ul-Haq, a zamindar, and participant of the Khilafat Movement. Jamayee started reciting his poems at public gatherings from his days at the Birla Institute of Technology in Pilani, his verse got him much attention and even a prize from the 1st President of India. He has published 4 books of poetry and various books on Indian History.  While he dedicated to the uplift of Urdu has immortalised himself as a satirist in a language fast disappearing, his life has been wrought with personal sufferings. His father passed away when he was still away at college and he was forced to return to Patna, where he opened a coaching institute for aspirants of engineering and medical. The following years brought little respite, for he was embroiled in property disputes leaving his family in shackles. Jamayee’s mother passed away too and his relationship with his younger brother, Iqbal Yousuf is replete with discord. He never married, remaining committed to his absolute love for Urdu. When he returned to Delhi, his room was occupied by goons and land sharks, but more than the loss of his room, he mourned the loss of his books, published pieces and original compiled poetry, all of which were annihilated in his absence.

In 2013, the Social Welfare Department of South Delhi declared Asrar Jamayee as dead, depriving him of his Rs 1500 stipend per month allotted to the aged. “I told them, ‘I am standing in front of you, what could be greater proof [that I am alive]?” he’d informed Sabrang India. “The official replied that he knew that I was alive, but he couldn’t help me because the records insisted I was dead.” His appeal to the Delhi government( both of Sheila Dixit and Arvind Kejriwal) have been unsuccessful. Jamayee’s appeal to the local MLA, Amantullah Khan has only brought him humiliation and while, after much effort, he was given a Jammu and Kashmir Bank cheque of Rs 1000 by the Okhla MLA, he was unable to encash it. Jamayee now 80, currently lives in a small rented single room in the by lanes of Batla House containing his few, worn out possessions. His health has been continuously deteriorating and he cannot move into an old age home due to a lack of money.

His invitations to various mushairas have declined and he, in an attempt to earn some money, has been trying to sell his latest humorous book, Tanzparey, priced at Rs 300, but there are hardly any buyers. Even big Urdu platforms like the National Council for the Promotion of Urdu Language, Urdu Academy, Ghalib Academy, and highly circulated Urdu newspapers like InquilabRashtriya SaharaSahafatHamara SamajHindustan ExpressJadeed KhabarJung Delhi and Mera Watan, all of which are based in Delhi and are aware of Jamayee’s conditions, have done very little to help him out. In the midst of his difficulties.  Asrar Jamayee writes in Tanparey

Hamdard ki lazzat bant rahey hein khushion ke paimaney mein/
Kitney dukhi insan hein, yeh koi nahin pehchaney he
Mulkon, mulkon, basti, basti shor hamari jurrat ka/
Bachcha, buddha, buddha, tanz hamari janey hei!

(They are partying all and celebrating with goblets full of happiness/
No one knows the trauma and angst of my life’s sadness/
O, the bravery and boldness of my poetry is internationally known
What to talk of adults, even the children are aware of my sadistic groan! )

Unlike the struldbrugs, however, who were condemned, despised and hated by the people, things are looking up for Asrar Jamayee. Firoz Bakht Ahmed, a social activist and a friend of the poet’s, has been helping out the poet to get what is his due. Ahmed wrote an article for Sabrang India, highlighting the miserable plight of Jamayee and his repeated humiliation by public authorities. On Monday, the Delhi Government ordered the restoration of pension. On the same day, on orders on the Deputy Chief Ministry of Delhi, Manish Sisodia, Social Welfare Minister, Rajendra Pal Gautam. As reported by an unnamed official to PTI, Gautam has asked Jamayee’s caretaker to furnish the necessary documents required for the restoration of his pension.

When Lemuel Gulliver finally grasped the conditions of struldbrugs, he felt ashamed of the pleasing visions that he had formed about immortality and its advantages. Asrar Jamayee has lived on in dire conditions of poverty, receiving little help despite his eminence. Let us hope that his dignity and health are restored and he attains peace after a lifetime of conflict, loss and suffering.  Meanwhile he says that, “Papers are a better proof of my survival than my beating heart. There was a time when I used to go to their office every day and tell them that I am alive, but they wouldn’t believe me.”


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