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A committed poet

Yusuf Hasan was known for championing the cause of the underdog; supporting the common man in his struggle for social and economic equality in society

A committed poet

The death of Yusuf Hasan has saddened not only his friends and contemporaries but also those who espouse the cause of the oppressed and downtrodden people, the way he did all his life.  One of the reasons why his death has left rational and progressive people bereaved is because his was a voice which always stood by the common people in their struggle for social and economic equality in society.

Born in 1948 in a village near Jhelum, Hasan did his masters in Urdu Literature from Lahore and started his career as a school teacher; he later joined the college cadre. During his long teaching career, he taught at various colleges, however, a major part of his service was spent at Asghar Mall College Rawalpindi. He retired as an associate professor of Urdu in 2008. Even after his retirement he was always available for budding poets or political workers who sought his company to share their ideas with him and seek guidance.  Although his fame rests on his poetry, Yusuf Hasan was much more than that — a diehard Marxist and left wing political worker till his last breath; tagging him as a mere poet is a little unfair.

During the darkest days of Zia’s dictatorship, he actively took part in the struggle against the regime along with other comrades. He used to distribute revolutionary material among his comrades. Jahangir Imran, himself a poet and one of his closest aides, claims he was one of the few leftist workers who had read the entire works of Karl Marx. He first met Hasan in 1985 and right up until his death they used to have regular meetings to discuss everything under the sun — from Urdu literature to Karl Marx etc.

“At first he was enamoured of the writings of Ali Abbas Jalalpuri and Sibte Hasan, who popularised the socialist doctrine in Urdu, but later he read the original writings of Marx which is why he was well- versed in Marxist philosophy than many other people,” says Imran. “His love and adulation for Marx was beyond words and when many of his contemporaries deviated from the Marxist path, he remained firm.”

Imran further adds that Hasan was a perfectionist as far as his poetry was concerned, as he used to chisel his ghazals over and over again —  and this is why he couldn’t get his poetry book published in his lifetime. Imran fondly remembers how they both attended the historic arrival of Benazir Bhutto in April 1986, as “Yusuf Sahib admired the role of PPP during the draconian days of Zia-ul-Haq”.

“He was always available for those who sought his advice, but nobody stood by him when he was denied his right. It’s quite typical of our society, which treats its writers as callously as in the case of Yusuf Hasan”.

Fiction writer Irfan Ahmad Urfi knew him as a close friend of his maternal uncle Khaqan Khawar, who was also a poet. He met Hasan every once in a while, and nostalgically remembers the moments spent in his company over all the years. He met Hasan just a day before his death while he was hospitalised but found the poet in high spirits. “He was in fine form on his death bed too, although he knew his time was up”, says Urfi. “He was passionately talking about Marx and told me he had downloaded and read quite a mammoth material related to Marx in recent years and planned to read more on his favourite writer.”  According to Urfi, Hasan started a publishing house many years ago under the banner Gandhara Books and published fifteen books before it ran out of funds and had to be closed down. “He published outstanding books in terms of quality but couldn’t run it for long due to his bohemian lifestyle.”

Idris Babur, one of the most innovative and well-read poets of his age, was all praise for Yusuf Hasan as a poet. Babur thinks he was a committed poet, with a great aesthetic sense. He laments that after his retirement, Hasan didn’t get full emoluments and dues. “He was always available for those who sought his advice, but nobody stood by him when he was denied his right. It’s quite typical of our society which treats its writers and political workers as callously as in the case of Yusuf Hasan.” However, he hopes that someone will get Hasan’s poetry and other writings published in the days to come.

Altaf Hussain Asad

altaf asad
The author is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad.

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