“The ‘Truth’ and ‘Patriotism’ has a price that we all pay in one form or the other but then these traits overshadow the greed and arrogance of the mighty and the powerful. History records such people with great honour and on equal level drubs the arrogant liars and self styled (power hungry) patriots. Samson, your father is a beacon of struggle and a steadfast belief, we all, in fact this nation not only owes him but also has to learn a great deal. You are blessed to be the son of Lal Din Sharaf. Be proud of him, which you are and walk with with your head down as Allah likes that.” Raja Mujtaba

By Brig Samson S Sharaf

This day fifty three years ago, Lal Din Sharaf Sargodhavi’s life was cut short during neurosurgery in Lahore. A few months earlier at Dacca, East Pakistan, he had suffered head injuries in a scuffle with intelligence sleuths trained to view constructive criticism as treason. The extensive internal bleeding in the head led to paralysis. The medical procedures failed and he met his Almighty on 25 May 1960 at 6:35 PM. Thus came to an end the life of an uncelebrated poet and a foot soldier of Pakistan Movement. Yet we remember him as a visionary; a romantic revolutionary; a man of many worlds; a thinker; a bold worker and an excellent grappler. He was an academician, a respected Urdu and Persian poet, a self-made architect, an artist and a man who could enliven any gathering with his poetry and lucid speech.  With his death Pakistan lost one of its best unrecognised poets and a nationalist who internalised the vision of Qaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

He was posted to Dacca (east Pakistan) from Wah Cantt as punishment for his criticism of Pakistan’s first Martial Law. He was under constant surveillance and his meetings with Bengali Muslim Leaguers at the receiving end of Ayub Khan’s Martial Law did not go unnoticed. His revolutionary poems and fiery speeches marked him as a security threat.  For as long as he lived, he fought his lonely battles for a democratic and egalitarian Pakistan without joining the ranks of political dynasties. Till his death, he was a tent maker who earned his bread, saw his dreams for Pakistan and wished his children to be model Pakistanis. His young wife took the baton to ensure that many of his dreams come true.

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Standing next to my mother as five years old, my only concern was about school. She would hug and kiss me with warm tears dropping over my cheeks I still feel. At thirty five years of age, eight children and an uncertain future, my mother kept gazing at the casket with looks of ‘why have you abandoned me? What will become of your dreams and children?’ I can still recall the ever present reassuring smile with a mole on the cheek of Father lying in eternal peace retorting, ‘this is not the end’.

Lal Din was born in 1909 to a peasant family of Peelowali then part of Gurdaspur and now Sialkot. His father Sohna Singh a converted Christian worked in the district courts of Gujranwala and settled in Chak 100 of Sargodha. Having lost his mother in early childhood, Lal Din spent most of his childhood herding cattle of the village and tilling fields. He spent evenings in the village mosque studying Persian and Urdu. In quest for education, at the age of 12, he fled to Gujranwala reputed to be the hub of education for Christians. Having spent some time living on railway platforms he managed to get employed as an errand boy with a local padre. In off hours, he continued to study Urdu, Persian and learning English from the foreign missionaries. In his early teens he began writing Urdu and Persian poetry. His most notable moments were attending mushairas graced by the late Amrita Pritam. His early poetic assays were devotional but with guidance of local poets, he soon forayed into the more challenging forms of Ghazal and Nazam. Having earned his basic certification at Fazil Level, he moved back to Sargodha to teach Persian at the famous Khalsa High School in Sargodha.

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He lived in a room in Haji Sohrab Khan’s Haveli commonly known as Sohrabu Ki Haveli opposite the Mission Hospital in Block Number 16. In the evenings, he would put a blackboard in the street teaching and amusing children with his poetry. One of the children keen to attend these sessions was Anwar Sadeed who rose to earn a doctorate and a coveted name in Urdu literary circles. Dr Anwar Sadeed remembers Lal Din Sharaf as an individual who kindled the fire in him. He puts Lal Din Sharaf in league with pioneers of Urdu Literature in Sargodha like Master Alamghir and Maulvi Muhammad. Even at 87 years of age, Dr Anwar Sadeed can fondly reminisce every moment he shared with Sharaf Sargodhavi.

In 1940, Lal Din Sharaf attended the Lahore Resolution gathering at Manto Park Lahore and managed to read a poem dedicated to Pakistan movement. After independence, he also offered this poem to be Pakistan’s first National Anthem. Some of the couplets are: –

In 1941, he joined Mission High School Raja Bazar as a drawing and Persian teacher and later became a draftsman at MES Rawalpindi. In 1945 as reprimand for his political activism in government service, he was posted to Quetta and later dismissed from service. In Quetta, he formed the Pakistan Christian League, the Christian adjunct of All India Muslim League. He travelled undivided India to read his poems during Muslim League rallies. In June 1948, he intercepted the returning cavalcade of Qaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah from Command and Staff College Quetta and convinced him to address a gathering organized by Pakistan Christian League at Mission Hospital Quetta. Jinnah obliged and Lal Din Sharaf Sargodhvi proudly sat next to Qaid E Azam and Qazi Issa.

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Perhaps this was Jinnah’s only posting intervention. On the orders of Governor General, he was reinstated in MES and posted to a new cantonment at Wah near Rawalpindi.  He came up with the brilliant idea of copying the design of Badshahi Mosque for this new city. Though the mosque owes its design and engineering to a team, the vertical and horizontal views were the creation of Lal Din Sharaf and his wife who spent days at Lahore with measuring tapes in hand to copy every angle of the grand mosque.

The constitutional crises of the 50s shattered Lal Din’s dream of Jinnah’s Pakistan and he once again began to indulge in political activism. He was reprimanded and posted to Dacca where he found most fertile grounds for his revolutionary spirit. He joined agitations and made emotional impacts with his poems and speeches. In his devotion and fervour he forgot that though Pakistan was now a free and independent state, it was in shackles of a military dictatorship that punished dissent. He turned up late one day with a badly swollen head in January 1960.  A paralysing seizure was just a matter of time.

His progeny of soldiers, lawyers, doctors, engineers and business persons live worldwide. His vision and struggle would continue with the generations he left behind and those he touched. As we inch to Jinnah’s Vision the Mundaya Sialkotiya with a mole on his cheek will have the last laugh.