By Lal Khan
In the wee hours of last Friday, Munnoo Bhai passed away in Lahore at the ripe age of 84. He was known as a renowned poet, journalist and a playwright. He wrote columns for mainstream newspapers for more than sixty years. Few writers and journalists could make such a claim. But Munnoo Bhai was far more than that. He was one of the most renowned progressive writers in Pakistan and a firm believer of Marxist ideology. This aspect of his life and struggle is less known and undermined in the mainstream narrative. His sympathies for human kind were neither sentimental nor based on morality and ethics prevalent in this society of class oppression. In early life, he suffered class discrimination and later in the company of various progressive writers and left wing intellectuals Munnoo Bhai understood the scientific causes of this inequality and exploitation. As a playwright, Munnoo Bhai always exposed the class contradictions in society with immaculate versatility. He was well versed in the art, culture, history and literature of the region. He had a vast knowledge of the revolutionary movements and literature of resistance in South Asian history. In his writings, poetry and plays Munnoo Bhai underlined the class bias in social life, love culture, relationships and the state’s role in perpetuating this class coercion.
Throughout his life, he struggled with his pen for the rights of the oppressed. He also participated as an activist for the rights of the workers in the media industry. During the dictatorships of Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan, he was victimised by the regimes. While Munnoo Bhai was organising a public meeting of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) in Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi, the information minister General Sher Ali approached him and tried to bribe him by giving 10,000 rupees. He rejected the offer. On this defiance he was transferred to Multan and faced ramifications for standing up against the regimes. He confronted this repression with courage and dignity. Munnoo Bhai was deeply influenced by the revolutionary upheaval of 1968-69 and participated in the movement by organising protests of journalists. He lived in the Arya Mohalla neighbourhood of Rawalpindi. Coincidentally, this uprising had started in Rawalpindi where on November 6th a student of the Poly technical college was killed. This incident triggered a revolutionary storm that swept across the whole country. These historical events further motivated his belief in the viability of class struggle.
In an interview for the book, Pakistan’s Other Story-The 1968-69 Revolution, Munnoo Bhai revealed some exclusive anecdotes’ of the upsurge. “At a public meeting in Ichra, Lahore, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Maulana Maudoodi held a piece of bread in his one hand and the Holy Koran in the other. He asked the crowd, ‘Do you want roti (bread) or the Koran?’ The people had replied, “We have the Koran in our homes, but we don’t have bread.” In another telling anecdote Munnoo Bhai told the author that, “I was travelling by car on GT road from Lahore to Jhelum with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto during the election campaign in the summer of 1970. Late Punjab governor Mustafa Khar was driving and Hanif Ramay (later chief minister of Punjab) was sitting on the backseat with me. When we reached the town of Gujrat, there was a procession of shirtless workers from the local factories who stopped our motorcade and asked Bhutto to give a speech. Some were lying down on the hot tarmac and blocked the road. Bhutto was reluctant as they were already late for the meeting. Sensing the delicate situation, Khar persuaded Bhutto to come out and say a few words. Bhutto gave a fiery speech. When he came back into the car and motorcade moved on towards Jhelum, the naked chested workers were shouting slogans of ‘Socialism! Socialism!’ and were beating their wrists on the bonnet of the car. After a few minutes into the drive Bhutto turned back from the front seat and addressing Ramay and myself said, ‘we may not mean it but they really mean it!’
After Bhutto’s assassination in an interview with Munnoo Bhai, editor of Mussawat at the time, Mrs Nusrat Bhutto had told him that when she met Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for the last time in his death cell in Rawalpindi, Bhutto had complained, “Why is the party not doing anything for me? I have done so much for the masses and the party.” On this Nusrat had replied, “Zulfikar, you didn’t leave behind a Bolshevik Party so how could you expect them to launch a decisive movement for your freedom?”
During the darkest period in Pakistan’s history under the vicious Zia dictatorship, Munnoo Bhai continued to write his columns critical of the regime. He had to face incarceration and repression by this theocratic regime stifling every progressive feat. He had great hopes when Benazir came back from exile in April 1986 but was disappointed and dismayed by her policies when she came to power. In the 1990s, he again began to support and encourage those involved in left politics. He was closely associated with the Marxists active around the magazine, “Class Struggle” in Pakistan. He wrote exclusive columns from a Marxist perspective in ‘The Class Struggle’ magazine for several years. Munnoo Bhai always supported the comrades who were carrying out these activities in whatever way he could. He played a crucial role in the publication of some of the Marxist Classics in Urdu. Some of his best Punjabi poetry exposing the degeneration of the system was written in those days. His innumerable articles assiduously explain the disastrous consequences for society in Pakistan and internationally under this decayed capitalism.
Munnoo Bhai was a loving human being, a sincere fried, a dedicated comrade and a devoted teacher. He loved, art, music, travelling and literature. Even in his twilight years he passionately kept expanding his knowledge of Marxist philosophy, economic analysis and dynamics of historical development. He had an ardent desire for putting an end to this misery and deprivation the human race was suffering. His legacy of struggle to change society shall live on.
(The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at email@example.com)
By Lal Khan