Byline: Asif Farrukhi

"All changed, changed utterly/ A terrible beauty is born.' These lines from William Butler Yeats were placed by Dr Jameel Jalibi at the opening of the third volume covering the first half of the 19th century of his magisterial Tareekh-i-Adab-i-Urdu [History of Urdu Literature] published in 2006. With more than a thousand pages to each volume, this is undoubtedly the largest of such endeavours related to Urdu literature, unsurpassed for its encyclopaedic breadth and the scope of its coverage. Jalibi started working on it around 1967, coming up to four hefty volumes. It seems implausible that this is the single-handed work of one person; in the past even institutions have failed to do something on such a large scale.

Literary history, as its proponents have noted, faces a double challenge since it has to be literary and historical at the same time. 'Literary evolution' which has remained a great favourite of our critics as 'irtiqa' is a limited concept when applied in such a context, but Jalibi managed to find the golden mean. He conveys a sense of the chronological continuity of individual authors, at the same time highlighting the social processes which add layers of meaning to literary works. While some may disagree with details, it is the overall design which remains unique.

The enormity of the task notwithstanding, Jalibi had prepared himself well for it his writing career began as a literary critic. He contributed a column titled Baatain [Conversations] to the reputed monthly magazine Saqi which appeared alongside Mohammad Hasan Askari's trend-setting column Jhalkiyan [Highlights]. This marked Jalibi's long association with Saqi's editor Shahid Ahmed Dehlvi, which continued till the latter's death in 1968; Jalibi edited the special issue of Saqi designed as a tribute to its editor. His first compilation of literary essays was titled Tanqeed Aur Tajruba [Criticism and Experience] and was followed by several other collections of essays, which made his mark as a critic.

Dr Jameel Jalibi passed away on April 19. He leaves behind an enormous legacy as a historian of literature, but also as a critic, a linguist and a self-effacing editor

Unlike most other literary critics of the day, Jalibi had larger concerns and this became obvious from his first major independent book, Pakistani Culture, which won an award and was later also rendered into English. Closer in spirit to the point of views upheld by writers such as Karrar...

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