Ghulam Rabbani Agro (1933-2010)

By Momin Bullo

Ghulam Rabbani Agro can rightly be ranked among those pioneers of post-Pakistan Sindhi literature who bravely shouldered the responsibility of resuscitating Sindhi literature in the wake of the mass migration of the Sindhi Hindu intelligentsia.

Like Albert Camus, Agro began his literary carrier as an accidental writer in the mid 50s by participating in a story writing contest. He was declared one of the best short story writers by the late Pir Hisamuddin Rashdi, Begum Zeenat Channa and Usman Ali Ansari, all scholars who were judges of the literary contest. That proved to in his first and finest literary creation and it launched a fearless writer.

Agro’s pro-peasantry style of short story writing became popular and during a brief span of time he emerged as a famous writer equipped with progressive ideals. His style of writing was in reaction of his rural background. He was born in November 5, 1933, in the fief of the Jatois of Moro at village Mohabat Dero Jatoi in district Noshehro Feroz. His primary to secondary education centered at his village and at the Madarsah at Noshehro Feroze.

His remarkable writing attracted many readers and critics. Probably because of his growing popularity, Molana Abdul Wahid Sindhi, then editor of the monthly Nain Zindgi, offered him the job of Assistant Editor.

He was still in Nain Zindagi, when he was invited by Mohammad Ibrahim Joyo (then secretary Sindhi Adbi Board,) to join him as the Assistant Secretary SAB in 1957. He immediately accepted the offer.

The Sindhi Adbi Board (SAB) was founded in 1951 through the hectic efforts of G M Syed with the sole aim to promote Sindhi literature. In its initial stages, the board used to be run by men of letters like G M Syed, the late Miran Mohammad Shah, the late Ali Mohammad Rashdi, Agha Badarddin and several others. All were equally prominent literary figures as well as politicians.

Following the imposition of Ayub’s Martial Law and the enforcement of One Unit, the ruling Junta’ minimized the involvement of writers-cum-politicians and imposed an embargo on the SAB to prevent it from publishing radical literature. Ayoob Khurro, G M Syed, Rashdis, Miran Mohammad Shah and many others of the same standing ceased to function as members.

Niaz, then commissioner Hyderabad, was given the additional charge of Chairman, SAB, and he proposed that the government shift its offices from Karachi to Hyderabad. Soon after the shifting of the SAB to Hyderabad, the late Makhdoom Mohammad Zaman Talibul Mola was appointed its chairman on the advice of Pir Hisamuddin to Z A Bhutto.

Makhdoom Sahib provided his bungalow in civil lines (behind the present district council building) which was used as an office on a makeshift basis for quite some time.

In those days, the smuggling of literature from one country to an other was common. Agro’s short story “Buray Hin Bhambhore Main” which had been published in the quarterly Mehran, was reproduced in English in the Hindustan Times by Hashoo Kewal Ramani.

“One fine morning I come to my office and sorted out the mail received from the various embassies of the world which included Japan, China, Vietnam etc. I picked up a packet of a paper of a language which I couldn’t understand. I threw it away, and a small piece of paper fell on the floor. I picked up the piece of paper written in English which contained the contents of the stories included in that paper of Chinese language. The paper was named ‘The World Literature’ and I read the list of stories and their writers which included Chekov, Dostovesky and many other renowned writers of the west. To my utter surprise, I found my name, Ghulam Rabbani Agro from Pakistan at the end of the list. My story had been lifted from the Hindustan Times under the title of ‘The Deluge’,” Mr. Agro once told me.

The imposition of Ayub’s Martial Law triggered a theoretical battle among the writers of Sindh and they were divided in two camps, the rightists and the leftists. Agro sided with the leftists and was subsequently attacked by the rightists. They created many difficulties for the writers of progressive thought as well as institutions like the Sindhi Adbi Board (SAB).

When the SAB published a two-volume book of biographical sketches of G M Syed entitled “Janab Guzarium Jin Seen”, the rightist lobby tried its best to get it banned but their efforts were in vain. “We received a letter from the government seeking an explanation for publishing G M Syed’s book which according to them contained derogatory remarks against Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Makhdoom Talibul Mula (then Chairman) and I went to Lahore and met the Governor, Nawab Kala Bagh. We presented him the reply to the letter and tried to explain our position verbally. But to our utter surprise, Nawab Kalabagh expressed his complete ignorance about the said letter and indicated it might be the mischief of the rightist group”, Mr. Rabbani further told.

Once again, the same lobby attempted to get the quarterly Mehran banned (which is until today affiliated with SAB), but the bold stand of the noted Sindhi scholars thwarted their designs and saved the prestigious magazine of Sindhi language from ruination.

In the wake of the on going agitation against the one unit and Ayub Khan’s authoritarian rule, the progressive Sindhi writers and politicians launched a movement. Agro, who was then Secretary of the SAB, also joined the team of those learned men, risking his government job.

“Our silent literary movement was later converted into violent student politics and on March 4, 1967, an agitating mob of students of Jamshoro Campus, was attacked near Phuleli Canal by the law enforcement agencies which resulted in injuries to a large number of students”, Mr. Agro further disclosed.

Yousuf Talpur (former Federal Food Minister) and Yousuf Leghari, a leading Sindhi lawyer and Vice President of the Pakistan Bar Council, were among the leading students who headed the anti-one unit march from Jamshoro to Hyderabad. The police’s attempts to halt the students of Sindh University with the use of force was first of its kind and the entire administration felt ashamed of its action. By 1969 the long standing demand of the Sindhi people to abolish the one unit was accepted.

By the mid-70s when the late Shaikh Ayaz came to Sindh University as the Vice Chancellor, he culled a team of learned writers and intellectuals and recruited them to various posts. Agro was among those lucky writers. Shaikh Ayaz took the responsibility of taming the agitating students of the University.

Agro could rightly be called as a witness to the all ugly trends taking root in Sindh in higher seats of learning, at Jamshoro. An attempt to set ablaze the Institute of Sindhology department by an ethnic group and many other incidents of intrigue, from the 50s onwards are well preserved in his memory box.

“By the mid-70s, when we took over the University, the students’ hostel area used to be considered as prohibited area for the administration. I broke that barrier and entered the hostel zone and talked to the students and advised them to clean the walls of anti-Ayaz graffiti. They listened to me patiently and obliged me and offered me a cup of tea.”

Although Shaikh Ayaz succeeded in taming the students, he couldn’t calm the agitating faculty members of the university. So he went directly to 70-Clifton and complained to Z A Bhutto about the mess created by some teachers. The very next day, the dismissal order of seven senior academics of the University landed on the campus which literally terrified everyone. The concerned teachers were asked to leave the campus within 24 hours.

However, all the dismissed teachers were reinstated within the span of a short time, but they were posted under various capacities in different departments till 1979, when the late Ayaz concluded his tenure and left the campus. After completing his tenure of Pro-Vice Chancellorship, Mr. Agro again returned to SAB as a Secretary.

By 1982, a seminar on Sindhi short-story writing was jointly organized by SAB and the Institute of Sindhology (then headed by Mehtab Akber Rashidi). Dr. Mohammad Afzal Khan, Federal Education Minister, was the chief guest. On that occasion Dr. Afzal asked Mehtab Akber Rashidi for the nomination of the person from Sindh to be appointed as the Director Administration and Finances in Pakistan’s Academy of Letters.

Mehtab Akber Rashidi suggested Agro’s name to the Minister and by May 1984, he took over the new assignment in Islamabad. Until 1993, Mr. Agro worked as Director (Admin), Director General and the Chairman, Pakistan Academy of Letters.

During his stint as the Chairman PAL, Agro undertook the laborious job of translating the great sufi poets of the different provinces of the country in the different languages to facilitate the entire populace of the country with the message of peace and love in their own languages. On the pattern of SAB’s quarterly Mehran, PAL began bringing out the quarterly Adbiyat under Agro’s leadership.

Even though he was engaged in such a serious and time consuming institution, Agro found the time to write an anthology of the men of letters of Pakistan entitled ‘Jehrra gul gulab ja’ and more recently ‘Sindh Ja Bar, Bahar Ain Paharr’ which is based upon the biographies of Pir Mohammad Rashid Rozay Dhani (Pir jo goth), Hazrat Ghous Bahawal Haq Zakriya Multani and Hazrat Usman Marwandi Qalander Lal Shahbaz. These biographies are based upon scientific research work.

Soon after his retirement in 1993, he was picked up as the member Federal Public Service Commission and served there for three years. During this tenure Agro came across a number of candidates and tested their worth. “When I joined the FPSC it was really a holy island” said Agro. He admits that during the course of interview tests for CSS and other recruitments, he along with the other learned members of the Commission, were approached for favours by the candidates and their influential parents.

“A Governor of a province approached me through one of his officers and asked me to help his ADC get inducted in the civil service. I talked to my chairman (Justice Zafar Mirza) and informed him about the matter. He told me that I need not to worry. Just a few days later the same Governor contacted the chairman, who plainly declined to hear him and said that we are here to do justice with all” said Mr. Agro. He worked as a team member of Justice Mirza, who was chosen as the chairman FPSC in 1993, soon after Benazir Bhutto returned to power for the 2nd time. Justice Mirza, father of Ex. PPP MNA, Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza, is known for his upright conduct and his just principles. He reportedly even clashed with the Prime Minister during his stint but did not succumb to pressure.

As a prominent literary figure and seasoned bureaucrat, Agro has had extensive experience of organizing and attending conferences of national and international importance. He was conferred the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz (literary award) by the President of Pakistan in recognition of his long standing services in the field of literature. Besides this, he was awarded the Naushahro Feroze Madarassa Centenary Celebration Award by President Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari in 1995.

Agro, after completing his three year tenure at the FPSC, again returned to his mother institution, the SAB, which he left fifteen years ago and joined it as it member, Board of Governors. The Board management in recognition of his services in the field of literature and for the SAB at large has offered him the job of Secretary (Honorary). Besides SAB he is the member Board of Governors of Quaid-e-Azam Academy, Karachi, member BOG Urdu Dictionary Board, Karachi, Member BOG, Iqbal Academy, Lahore member Institute of Islamic culture, Lahore, member Apex committee National awards on the seerat of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and member Institute of Sindhology, Jamshoro.

(Mr. Ghualm Rabbani Agro died of massive heart attack on 18th January 2010 at his residence in Hyderabad. He was laid to rest in his ancestral graveyard at Mohabat Dero Jatoi, Naushahro Feroze. He is survived by two sons, a daughter and a widow).

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