Ustad Daman lived and wrote poetry as someone always on the wrong side of the establishment
By Dr. Afzal Mirza
Ustad Daman was last seen on the funeral of Faiz Ahmad Faiz on November 20, 1984. He appeared terribly ill but he had managed to make it to Model Town to attend the funeral in a rickshaw. Although the mourners were visibly shocked by Faiz's death but whoever saw Daman was shaken by his condition. Those who had seen his wrestler-like figure in good old days could not believe their eyes to see the skeleton-like Daman arriving in the gathering with the help of two people.
There was a close friendship between Faiz and Daman and only a few days prior to former's death both of them had attended a dinner together at Munnoo Bhai's residence. At Faiz's funeral, Ustad kept repeating that it was his turn now. He joined his friend in death only thirteen days later on December 3.
Ustad Daman, whose real name was Chiragh Din, belonged to Lohari Gate, inside the old city of Lahore. His father was a tailor who ran a small shop of his own. His elder brother Feroz Din joined his father in running the shop but young Chiragh was not interested in pursuing the family profession. He instead wanted to get education and find a clerk's job. So he went to school, though this could not get him a clerk's job. Disappointed, he reverted to tailoring and started his own shop. But his heart was sold out to poetry. He would neglect his shop and attend poetry reading functions. He adopted Damdam as his pseudonym, following in the footsteps of his mentor Ustad Hamdam, but changed it to Daman after some time. The break came when he received his first remuneration for reciting poetry in a public meeting. And then there was no looking back.
In the beginning, Daman wrote poetry on traditional subjects like matters relating to heart but as the independence movement gained ground in pre-partition, India political themes also entered his poetry. Ustad Daman, in fact, belonged to that group of traditional Punjabi poets who would read poetry extempore while their pupils would keep the record. That is why they were called Ustads (mentors).
Faiz was right in calling Ustad Daman the Habib Jalib of Punjabi poetry. I remember having seen him first in the early months of 1950 in a public meeting outside the historic Mochi Gate of Lahore. The meeting was organised by newly-founded Awami Muslim League of Husain Shahid Suharwardy. Later this party was rechristened as Awami League. It was perhaps the first gathering of an opposition party in then newly set up Pakistan. Besides Suhrawardy some other political leaders of Punjab were also present in the meeting. Ustad Daman was called on to the stage before Suharwardy's speech. A wrestler-like figure clad in white Punjabi clothes, he emerged from behind the stage and started reciting some humorous verses full of jibes against the then prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan. Then he switched to a poem which he recited in the rhythm of famous Punjabi folk tale Mirza Sahiban.
Mainoon das oay Rabba mairia
hun das main kithay jaan
Main ohthay dhoondhan payaar noon jithay puttran khani maan
Jithay qaidi hoiyan bulbulan tay
bagheen bolan kaan
Ohthay phull p'ay leeran
jaapday tay kalian khilian naan
(O God, tell me where should I go
I am searching for love at a place where children disgrace
Where nightingales are caged and crows are left to shout in the
Where flowers appear as rags and buds are not allowed to
The whole poem was so moving that it brought tears to the eyes of the listeners. After reciting the poem, Daman withdrew from the stage amidst the shouts of "more, more" from the crowd.
It seems Mirza Sahiban's rhythm was Ustad's favourite because on the same rhythm he had written a hit song before the partition for a golden jubilee Punjabi movie Mangti.
Aithon udd jaa bholia punchhia
way toon apni jaan bacha
Aithay hasday phull gulab day
veri suknay dainday paa
Aithay dub dub moian sohnian
aithay lahu bharay darya
Aithay ghar ghar phaiyaan gadian beeba chhurian haith
(Fly away innocent bird; save
Here the blooming roses are
spread to dry in the sun
Here Sohnis are destined to drown and rivers are full of
There are gallows in every house; my friend, save yourself
During the pre-partition days poets were also invited to political meetings organised by various political parties to enliven the atmosphere and create sympathies for the parties' respective ideologies. Every political party indeed had engaged a poet for their public meetings. For example, Ustad Ishq Lehr used to recite from Muslim League's platform whereas Daman at the meetings of India National Congress.
Daman, therefore, was first introduced to public recital of his poetry from the stage of Congress at a meeting also held at Mochi Gate. The star speaker of the gathering was Jawaharlal Nehru who so much liked Daman's presentation that a personal rapport instantly developed between the two. Many years later when Daman went to Delhi (India) to participate in an Indo-Pak mushaira he found that Nehru who had then become the prime minister was also present on the occasion. Daman stole the show at that mushaira with his verses that brought tears to the eyes of the audience:
Lali ankhian di pai dasdi ay
Roay toosi vi o roay asi vi aan
(The redness of the eyes tells us
That both of us have wept)
The partition, in fact, jolted Daman badly. He felt shattered by the loss of friends and pupils, many of them being Hindus and Sikhs. His miseries were compounded by the death of his wife at the same time in riot stricken Lahore. It is said that Daman had to hire labourers to carry her coffin to the graveyard. The incident made him an introvert and he shifted to a small room near Bhati Gate. He lived the rest of his life there as a hermit and received all his friends, many of them being celebrities, in that room.
Soon after the partition, most of the progressive writers' activities shifted to Lahore. Daman too joined their fold. He recited one of his famous poem Inqilab in one of the annual conferences of Progressive Writers' Association.
But the period of political freedom proved to be a short-lived in Pakistan. Under pressure from its new ally, the United States of America, Pakistani government banned the Progressive Writers' Association and its active workers were put behind bars.
Daman reverted to his room in Bhati Gate and started working on his project of writing a new Heer. The project couldn't materialise due to various reasons. During that period, he would sometime come to YMCA to attend the meetings of Punjabi Majlis organised by Safdar Mir. In one such meeting presided by Maulana Abdul Majid Salik, I saw Daman and Manto competing in reciting Punjabi bolis particularly of vulgar variety.
Like Habib Jalib, Daman was not an opportunist and always stood on the wrong side of the establishment. Many politicians would remain on friendly terms with him as far as they were in opposition. But once they would land in power, Daman would become a forbidden name for them because he would not mince his words and would criticise their actions in his verses.
It happened with him when Bhutto government came to power. In his usual style, he wrote some poems criticising the actions of the government. One such poem was against Bhutto's trip to Simla. Daman castigated Bhutto in this poem for raising the slogan of fighting India for 1,000 years on one hand and then going to Simla to meet Indira Gandhi on the other. The poem Ki kari janaan ain ki kari janaan ain became an instant hit.
A surprise police search of Daman's room followed and a 'bomb' was recovered, allowing authorities to register a case against him. This fake case left Ustad deeply depressed. His friends suggested that he should leave Lahore and hide at some other place for sometime. They took him to Sharaqpur but he returned the next day saying that he could not live without Lahore. Daman had earlier spurned Jawaharlal Nehru's offer to migrate to India because he couldn't leave Lahore.
The case finally fizzled out after sometime and Ustad continued with his literary pursuits. But now he spent more of his time in reading than writing. He stopped going to literary functions and would prefer remaining alone in his room. This loneliness together with pecuniary problems badly affected his health. For a year or so he continued to be in and out of hospital. In December 1984 his condition worsened and he finally breathed his last only two weeks after Faiz's death. Late Yunus Adeeb, Kanwal Mushtaq, Zaheer Akhtar and other friends of his have since then made valuable efforts to preserve and publish his writings.
December 3 was Ustad Daman's 18th death anniversary.