Remembering Ibn-e-Insha, Poet and Satirist: Jamal Kidwai

By Jamal Kidwai. Dated: 7/5/2020 12:36:50 AM

Ibn-e-Insha (15 June 1927 – 11 January 1978) would have turned 93 today. We celebrate his birthday by curating some of his best poetry, sung by leading vocalists from India and Pakistan.
Born in Jalandhar, Punjab, on 15 June 1927, he was named Sher Mohammad Khan by his parents. Ibn-e-Insha was his pen- name; loosely translated it means Ibn, son of Insha, referring to a famous 18th century classical poet, Inshallah Khan Insha.
Insha also means, simply, writing, or expression.
He did his schooling in Punjab and then migrated to Pakistan. He got his MA degree from Karachi University in 1953. He held several positions in different institutions of the Pakistan government like Radio Pakistan and the National Book Trust of Pakistan, and then went on to serve in the UN. That gave him an opportunity to visit several countries.
But Insha is best known for his poetry, razor sharp satire, prose and travelogues. Consider this provocative verse:
haq achha par us ke liye koi aur mare toh aur achha,
tum bhi koi Mansur ho jo sooli pe chadho, khamosh raho
(It’s great that we fight for our rights,
but it’s better if someone else dies fighting on our behalf,
You don’t have the guts to go to the gallows like Mansur did, so better keep quiet)
Mansur refers to a rebel who challenged the orthodoxy and declaimed Anal Haq (I am the truth). This was considered blasphemy and he was hanged. Anal Haq is now celebrated as a slogan after it finds mention in Faiz’s iconic nazm “Hum dekhenge…” first sung by Iqbal Bano.
Insha was a contemporary of some of the most celebrated Urdu poets of the sub-continent like Faiz, Sardar Jafri, Habib Jalib and others. I am told that at some point Faiz and Insha were colleagues in a newspaper, perhaps Dawn.
Here is a lovely tongue-and-cheek tribute that Insha wrote for Faiz, recited by well-known theatre personality Zia Muhiuddin, in a delightful Panjabi diction, imitating Faiz.
Insha stood out and made a mark for himself because his poetry had the earthiness of everyday conversation, an organic blend of Hindi-Urdu, which was very accessible, yet thought provoking. As many writers have pointed out, the diction and friskiness of Insha’s poetry reminds us of the 13th century poet Amir Khusro.
Like this verse, from his widely sung and immortal ghazal “Kal chaudhavi ki raat thi…”
We post a playful rendition of it below, sung by Jagjit Singh.
Kuche ko tere chodh kar jogi hi ban jaaen magar
Jangal tere parbat tere basti teri sahra tera
(I want to leave your doorstep and become a hermit,
But where do I go, you (your thoughts) are present everywhere,
forests, mountains, settlements, desert – all are yours)
Another example of his signature style is this teasingly romantic couplet:
Farz karo tumhein khush karney kay dhoonday humne bahanay ho,
Farz karo yeh nain tumhare sach much kay maykhaane ho
(Imagine how irresistible are my ways to lure you
Imagine if I tell you your eyes are the taverns of my world)
This nazm has been evocatively sung by Chhaya Ganguli
Insha was part of the Progressive Writes Association, a collective of left-wing writers, poets and artists, and knew Sahir Ludhianavi well. Like many of them, he too invoked the interplay of the personal and the political, as well as using the beloved as a metaphor of romance and revolution. However, as Raza Naeem quotes him:
But I have chosen to fight separately on the fronts of love and non-love. With me there is neither the mixture of ‘come my love the revolution’ nor do I like the gesture of turning the veil into a banner.
His poems have been published in collections titled Chand Nagar, Dil-e-Vehshi, Is Basti ke Ik Kooche Men.
One of his most celebrated poems is Insha ji Utho aur Kuch Karo which is sung by well-known Patiala Gharana vocalist Amanat Ali Khan.
Insha wrote extensive bodies of prose and satire. Of all his prose, Urdu Ki Akhari Kitab is considered to be a masterpiece of literature, political commentary and satire. It is prose, but it reminds you of the famous Urdu poet Akbar Allahabaadi. Well known daastango and dramatist Danish Hussain has adapted the book into a play. Here Danish tells you what inspired him to do the adaptation.
Insha, like some of his contemporaries Majaz and Manto died at a very young age, merely 50. He left us wondering, as we do about them, about the directions their work would have taken over the decades, had they lived.

 

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