Habib Jalib, London 1985
A Photo Profile
Habib Jalib visited London thrice – first in the summer of 1985. The following year his collected works were published under the title ‘Harf-e-sar-e-dār’ (Words from the Gallows) by Urdu Markaz, a subsidiary of the Third World Foundation. He was in his element. He moved in a 3-piece woollen suit and enthralled his admirers with his poetry sung in style both in private and public gatherings. His second visit was sponsored by Urdu Markaz, and occurred the following year
Three years later, he visited again. He was suffering from what turned out to be his terminal ailment. He was under intensive treatment for various illnesses in Cromwell Hospital and then moved to a hospice before returning to Lahore, where he died a few months later
On both the occasions I took his photographs and recorded his interview in Punjabi, which is now deposited in the British Library Sound Archive.
Disturbing images of Jalib while he was in hospital lay hidden in boxes all these years. Now I have scanned these with some courage and I think I can talk about them in a matter of fact way.
I knew Jalib through his life long comrade Amin Mughal. They both had seen best of times, worst of times together in Lahore. Their photo bears witness to it.
I had seen my father dying with silent pain. Perhaps while photographing Jalib I was coming to terms with my own grief which started quite late.
In no way was I violating his private space. He did not mind me taking his photos. He rather willingly posed. See the child-like expression on his face, of the one who is unaware of the imminent.
To see your loved one with oxygen tubes stuck to his face is certainly not pleasant.
The photo of his hand is haunting. Recently it was published as a portrait in a Punjabi magazine with a simple caption – Habib Jalib. I used the image in one of my poems:
Roots remind me
The hand of father lying dead.
The roots of my poems are in his heart.
I am made in his own image.
He is alive in me.
Amajit Chandan, London 2008