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Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2008 > May 3, 2008 > P.N. Jalali — Homage to an Uncommon Man

Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 20

P.N. Jalali — Homage to an Uncommon Man

Friday 9 May 2008, by Shyam Kaul


Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, during his second tenure as head of the Jammu and Kashmir Government, inducted a prominent National Conference (NC) leader from Baramullah, Mubarak Shah, into his Cabinet. After Shah had got ensconced in his ministerial position, he one day invited mediapersons to his official residence near Zero bridge in Srinagar for an informal chat with him. During the course of interaction with him, we found Shah to be an engaging talker. He told us many interesting things about the political movement in Kashmir, and his association with Sheikh Abdullah. Shah also told us that he and P.N. Jalali, who at that time represented the PTI in Srinagar, had been active as “underground workers of the NC”, headed by Sheikh Abdullah, who had launched the ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement in 1942, against the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir.

As Shah was giving these details, I intervened and told him: “Mr Shah, you have long since come up overground while Mr Jalali is fated to perpetually remain underground.”

What I actually meant to tell Shah was that the role, services, and sacrifices of most of those active during the ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement had been well recognised and rewarded, but P.N. Jalali was one among others who never found any political accreditation or recognition, let alone any recompense or reward.

Jalali had been drawn into the political movement, set in motion by Sheikh Abdullah, as a student, and stood associated with it as an enthusiastic activist of the youth wing of the NC, right up to early 1950s. He suffered the wrath and excesses of the Maharaja’s regime, including imprisonment, as did many other young and educated workers, who included both Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims.

Sheikh Abdullah took a liking for youthful Jalali who, he found, had a deep and captivating singing voice. Jalali would often recall how he, as a student, was asked by the Sheikh to climb up to the stage at the NC public rallies, and sing a revolutionary song or two to enthuse the gathering.

As a youth worker, Jalali would recollect, he was assigned some tasks by the party leadership. One such task was to be with the workers of the government-run woolen miles in Srinagar and impart elementary political education to them, with a view to making them aware of their rights and also educating them on the political developments in the State.

It was during those early formative years of his life that Jalali, under the influence of his senior colleagues, and his own craving for knowledge of intellectual and political movements, made extensive study of communist literature. In fact it was trendy for the educated youth of mid-twentieth century to read Marxist literature. Jalali, like quite a few other Kashmiri young men, found it in perfect consonance with his yet fresh and unprocessed political aspirations. For the rest of his life Jalali remained uncompromisingly wedded and committed to the Marxist ideology. From the NC he graduated to Leftist politics, associating himself with the Communist Party and staying so all his life. He would also speak of his disillusionment with the NC and its leadership, because he felt that the high ideals it had set for itself were jettisoned half-way through, and instead it became a race for material benefits rather than the fulfilment of ideals.

His peregrinations, as a student, into the active, and often hectic, politics of the day, cost Jalali fairly heavily in his studies. It took away at least three precious years of his college education. It was only after 1947 that he resumed his studies, did graduation and then proceeded to Lucknow to join MA classes in political science in the university there. But within a few months his ill health prevented him from pursuing his studies. He was hospitalised for surgery, but he left the hospital and after some time proceeded to Czechoslovakia with a youth delegation of the Communist Party and also for treatment of his ailment. It was there that he first met his future wife, Sumitra, a Bengali girl, also associated with the communist movement.

Back in India, Jalali took up journalism as his wholetime profession, though before that also he had been occasionally writing columns for progressive periodicals. He worked for weekly Blitz of Bombay and Patriot of Delhi and also contributed to a news agency. In the 1960s Jalali joined the Press Trust of India (PTI) in Srinagar, when Harpal Nayyar was the Chief of Bureau. As years rolled by, Jalali rose to become the Bureau Chief of the PTI for Jammu and Kashmir, and retired as such. But he still continued to write for some journals and newspapers and stayed a journalist till the last breath of his life.

Having known and having been closely associated with Jalali, as a deeply committed political being and as a mentor and intimate professional colleague, one can say with conviction that Jalali was a dyed-in-the-wool Kashmiri and an unwavering upholder of Kashmiris centuries-old civilisational legacy of peace, non-violence, humanism, secularism, harmony and brotherhood of man. Even during nearly two decades of his exile from Kashmir, Jalali kept himself incessantly engaged, working for the preservation and promotion of this noble heritage of Kashmir, all the time striving to contribute whatever he could to bring back normalcy and sanity in Kashmir, in the shape of a life of harmony, brotherhood and togetherness of all sections of the Kashmiri society. He inspired many a young man and woman who continue to be dedicated to the realisation of this dream.

THE most striking attribute of Jalali’s personality was his inborn humanistic and secular convictions and his professional excellence as a journalist. As a student, I used to attend some of the political study circles, conducted by Jalali as a Communist activist, to initiate the greenhorns into the ABC of Leftist ideology. One still comes across many of them, even in rural areas, who get nostalgic about the past and recall the enlightening experiences of Jalali’s study circles.

Many of my colleagues, who like me joined the profession of journalism, when Pranji was fully established in it, will recollect how we would pore over his news stories, despatches and articles, to find guidance and inspiration. He was simply brilliant, analytical and incisive when writing on political subjects. The articles he wrote were specimens of facile prose, and always educative, informative and thought provoking.

As a bright and energetic youngster with stars in his eyes, Jalali had almost forsaken his education to make his debut on the stage of the most powerful political party of the pre-independence era. But the circumstances prevented him from making this stage a stepping stone for a political career. He fought his own way through life and, as a common man, ended up as a highly respected journalist. Ultimately, though, it is the man in the street who weaves the fabric of a robust, pragmatic and forward-looking society. Jalali was one such man.

Whether it was his role as a volunteer of the people’s militia to repulse the invasion of the marauding tribals from Pakistan, before the Indian Army’s arrival in Kashmir in 1947, or whether, as a political activist, it was his single-minded commitment for strengthening the secular and humanistic values of Kashmir, or whether, as a journalist, it was his contribution in writing as a perpetuator of Kashmir’s noble ethos and as an upholder of objective journalism, Pranji was always there on the front-line. Soon after Jalali’s death, Jammu-based mediapersons organised a condolence meeting at the Press Club. Farooq Abdullah, who was one for the speakers, paid a poignant tribute to the departed journalist. He also lamented that the governments in Jammu and Kashmir had not ever done anything by way of recognition of distinguished journalists of the State for their services in building a healthy socio-political system here.

I was tempted to ask Dr Farooq Abdullah what he had done in this direction when he was the Chief Minister of this State, not once, but thrice. I also wanted to tell him that ingratitude was the hallmark of most politicians in this State. But I did not do so, the solemnity of the occasion did not warrant the raising of such issues.

As a person, Jalali was highly companionable and chatty. Like late Shamim Ahmed Shamin he was an uncontainable talker. One recalls that when Shamim would walk into the Srinagar Coffee House every morning, people at different tables invited him to join them. He had only one answer: “Only if you are prepared to listen to my ‘taqreer’ (speech)”. This was largely true of Pranji also.

It was a treat to listen to Jalali on a wide range of subjects, from politics to history, to communism, to books, to music, down to trade unionism, and, of course, his own reminiscences of the past. He had a pungent sense of humour and, like a typical Kashmiri, could enjoy a joke at his own expense too.

As mediapersons we would be often on tours, our favourite pack being Jalali, Mohammed Sayeed Malik, Mohammed Yusuf Qadiri, Maqbool Hussain and myself. On one such outing we went to Kupwara. On our way back in the afternoon, Jalali wanted to buy some fish at Sopore. We went to the river bank but he could not find the fish of his choice. As we were making our way back, a buxom fisherwoman called out and offered a large fish to Jalali which he instantly liked and bought.

Then he asked the woman: “Why did not you call me while I was looking for fish from this end to that, when you had this fine stuff to sell?” The fisherwoman replied, innocently and unpretentiously: “I did call you several times, but all you did was to show your posterior to me.”

On our return journey to Srinagar, the peppery retort of the fisherwoman sent us all into guffaws all the way.

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