Ustad Daman’s Dera was regularly visited by the intellectuals of his time who would mix with the masses — a culture missing these days
By Ammar Ali Jan
A tiny room below a mosque in the midst of the infamous Bazaar-e-Husn. The empty room is filled with only two chairs and a bed with spider webs visible all around. No sign or tribute on the entire street for those who lived and visited this room-cum-house. Yet, it is this house that witnessed one of the giants of Sufi tradition, Shah Hussain, as well as the legendary Punjabi poet of the 20th century Ustad Daman.
The room, which is now called ‘Ustad Daman Academy’ has great historical significance for the cultural scene in Lahore. Shah Hussain resided in it and wrote much of his poetry from here. In those days, it was known as Hujra-e-Shah Hussain, named after the great Sufi poet.
Later, Shah Hussain left the house in pursuit of the Sufi way. However, during Ustad Daman’s life, this place reached mythical popularity with artists, poets, writers and common people all of who visited this place frequently.
Some of the bigwigs that have been to this place include Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Habib Jalib, Akhtar Sain, Qamar Yorash, actor Moahammad Ali, ‘Queen of Melody’ Noor Jahan besides many others. The culture that developed at Ustad Daman’s place included not only renowned thinkers, but also common people who would come to share ideas with those who had accomplished many milestones in their respective fields.
The doors of Ustad Daman’s house remained open all the time for everyone and the place saw frequent visitors. This led to the evolution of one of the most legendary ‘Baithaks’ in Lahore’s recent history known as ‘Ustad Daman ki Baithak’ which stands second only to the Pak Tea House that became another focal point for the inetellectuals of the city.
I had heard many anecdotes about the ustad’s Baithak from my elders, waiting for an opportunity to visit the baithak as such places for open and frank discussions have been limited across the length and breadth of the country. As I entered the same room, much to my dissapointment, it was almost empty and the excitement of an intellectual discussion was nowhere to be seen. I met Advocate Mohammad Iqbal Mohammad, a literary man who has been running the Ustad Daman Academy for the past two decades. A student of Ustad himself, he feels it is imperative for the young generation to understand the late Ustad’s message. For this purpose, he has taught Punjabi to hundreds of young students in Lahore. However, he too misses the hustle and bustle at this baithak that was there during the Ustad’s heydays.
“The cultural paradigm has changed in Pakistan. Today, you do not see the same amount of public discourse that was prevalent 30 years ago. Intellectuals in today’s day and age are removed from the masses. Ustad Daman, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Habib Jalib were intellectuals who regularly intermingled with the masses. We need to bring back that culture.”
Mohammad Iqbal had a valid point there. Growing up in Lahore during the nineties, we as youngsters were completely engulfed in sports, video games, TV and other such activities. We did not witness any literary debate, we did not see a young poet who matched the calibre of Faiz and all those who were alive. Ahmad Faraz, Munir Niazi etc. were from the previous generation. One of the worst parts of this literary downfall has been the erosion of these small gatherings where people could discuss and debate contemporary issues. The lack of such intellectual hubs denies youngsters the opportunity to streamline their thoughts as well as provide them an opportunity to share their ideas with others.
Many reasons are given for decline of such Baithaks. Some blame the emergence of corporate culture which lays more emphasis on material benefits rather than such intellectual activity. Others blame the fall of the left as a possible reason for this unfortunate situation. Some have even blamed the media for bringing sensationalism which has harmed the culture of serious analysis.
“One of the major reasons for the decline of the cultural activity has been the government’s attitude. Let alone patronage, the government has always condemned any material that challenges the views of the establishment.”
Again, I couldn’t agree more with Iqbal, especially sitting in front of a historic palace and witnessing it rot as the government remains oblivious of it’s condition. Remembering the misery Ustad Daman had to face, Iqbal could hardly hold back his tears.
“Ustad ji was part of the Congress before partition. Nehru invited him to India in 1952 and begged him to stay there as he feared there will not be much respect for him in Pakistan. However, Ustad told Nehru that he will live in Lahore, even if he is put in jail. Such a loyal man was repeatedly put behind bars by Ayub Khan, was made to lay naked on ice by Bhutto and his poetry was banned by Zia. However, Ustad lived forthe people and he lives in their hearts.”
I liked the rhetoric, but I didn’t know exactly which people Iqbal was talking about. I could only see empty chairs inside the Baithak while outside, the corporate culture has become so deep-rooted that it seems like no one has time to honour our icons. I wished Ustad Daman was alive to say a few couplets on the shameful and self-centered state that most of us find ourselves in.
Not all is gloomy. It was heartening to see that Iqbal convenes a meeting of intellectuals every Sunday to discuss literary, cultural and political issues. It may not attract ‘analysts’ who only prefer to be on TV but it sure gives an opportunity to people at the grassroots to share their ideas. Maybe , one day more people will become active in such endeavours so that the progressive legacy of Faiz , Habib Jalib, Abid Hasan Manto, Ustad Daman and others can be safeguarded and our new generation can grow in an environment that is stimulating. I end with a couplet from Ustad Daman himself that I recently heard and which seems perfectly relevant to the sorry state of affairs this unfortunate nation finds itself in.
Loki chan te ponch gaye ne
Asi pohanchi wich zameen de haithan
(The World has reached the moon
We have gone beneath the ground.)
First published in the News on Sunday