Literary Notes: Justice Kayani revealed half truths, but could laugh at whole ones

Literary Notes: Justice Kayani revealed half truths, but could laugh at whole ones

Ahead of his 51st death anniversary, Rauf Parekh remembers the wit and humour of Justice Kayani's writings
Updated 15 Nov, 2016

An interesting incident that Justice M. R. Kayani in his Afkaar-i-pareeshaan has narrated reads:

“Immediately after the creation of Pakistan a rebellious poet composed some sorrowful couplets. Among them was:

Dekhta kya hai mere munh ki taraf

Quaid-i-Azam ka Pakistan dekh

I was government’s adviser on legal issues in those days. The collection of poetry was sent to me and I was asked to tell under which section of law the poet could be prosecuted. I said, ‘Folks, he only says that do not look at me. Look at Pakistan. Is it the same country carved out by Quaid-i-Azam? But still if you want to look at him, please do’.”

This was, perhaps, one of such mutterings by Justice Kayani that perturbed those in power.

Earlier, Kayani was a member of the elitist Indian Civil Service, but was transferred to Judicial Services for reasons not precisely described. One can safely assume that it must have been his boldness and sense of humour that angered his seniors. As pointed out by Iftikhar Ahmed Khan in his foreword to Kayani’s book Not the whole truth, Kayani’s modesty and humbleness made him unpopular among those who mattered.

Iftikhar Ahmed Khan wrote: “In fact he [Justice Kayani] was an exception to all the accepted norms of bourgeois conduct. When he entered the Indian Civil Service, his unorthodox views and unconventional conduct often made his superiors feel uncomfortable. Having failed to curb his irrepressible zest for life through ordinary correctives, they decided on the extreme measure switching him over to the judiciary” (page ii).

But the monotony and solemnity of the court room failed to dampen Kayani’s spirits and he handed down some verdicts that caused many heckles to raise.

As Iftikhar Ahmed Khan added “In the administration of justice where originality is confined to interpretation of statutes, he introduced a disturbing element through his bold directives. Since humour was for him the spice of life he delighted in poking fun at the prosecution and defence alike and giving lively twist to the otherwise drab proceedings of a court room. He annoyed one of his superiors with his rambling style and apparently irrelevant but pointed observation to such an extent that while reviewing his judicial work, he was constrained to remark ‘writes very bad judgements, tries to be funny and is often ridiculous’ “ (page ii).

Malik Muhammad Rustam Khan Kayani was born in Shahpur, district of Kohat, on Oct 18, 1902. From Government College, Lahore, he did his graduation with Persian and MA in English. He was selected for Indian Civil Service in 1927 and was sent for two-year training to Trinity College, Cambridge. Having served in executive capacity for about eight years, Kayani was transferred to judicial service and worked as district and sessions judge. In 1947, he was appointed secretary law, Punjab. In 1949, he was appointed to the bench of Punjab High Court and in April 1958 as chief justice of the West Pakistan High Court.

Kayani’s literary career began by writing brief memoirs of his early career and speeches for the guidance of new entrants to the civil service. His Urdu and English speeches, philosophising several aspects of life and peppered with witty remarks, became enormously popular and was often invited to speak on different occasions.

It is often said that due to his boldness and dislike for Pakistan’s military ruler Muhammad Ayub Khan, Justice Kayani was not in the regime’s good books and that, due to the same reason, Kayani was denied a coveted post at the Supreme Court. But Ayub Khan, the then president of Pakistan, had written the foreword to Kayani’s book Not the whole truth, or at least it was signed by him, though it might have been penned by a bureaucrat like Altaf Gauher. The foreword by the president said that “In our judicial system, the function of the judge is to search for the truth, while the duty of telling ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but truth’ is assigned to the rest of the world”.

Some might have taken these words as a covert warning to refrain from ‘telling the whole truth’.

Looking at Kayani’s Urdu and English writings, one does find truth told but not in an uncouth manner, though he did not refrain from lightly touching the political issues with a satirical tone.

For example, in his Afkaar-i-pareeshaan he alluded to martial law in a symbolic way: “when they [‘ashaab-i-kahaf’ or the seven sleepers of Ephesus hiding in a cave] open their eyes it is a new world, which means martial law is here. Their beautiful eyes create such circumstances that both genies and angels, I mean both the bad and the good, stop flying and the difference between day and night ceases to exist, that is, only the night remains and the heart, the mind, the constitution and law, everything is held in abeyance, after every five years and five months ... if I am wrong in counting the time period, it is not my fault but it is the fault of the month of Ramadan which is of 28 days or sometimes of 29 days. It is just a rumour that once it used to be of 30 days but now the 30th day is usually hidden behind the clouds”.

Kayani’s style is highly literary and full of allusions. Literary references and parts of rhetorical speech abound. It was perhaps a way of concealing what he really wanted to say and avoid the persecution. His other books are Half truths, A judge may laugh and Letters by Justice Kayani.

Justice M. R. Kayani died on Nov 15, 1962, in Chittagong, where he had gone to deliver a speech. He was buried in his hometown near Kohat.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Justice Kayani's year of passing as 1966. The error is regretted.

Originally published in Dawn, November 14th, 2016


Yemeen Zuberi Nov 14, 2016 06:32pm
Justice Kayani was brilliant.
Agha Ata Nov 14, 2016 07:59pm
It is not a loss for the nation at all that Justice Kayani has gone. . It was very fortunate that he lived with us for so many years. We should feel lucky.
S. A. M. Nov 14, 2016 08:48pm
my office in the yeast 2000 was on m r kayanai road in karachi (Shaheen Complex). now I know who is m r kayanai. thanks Dawn.
Abdul Nov 15, 2016 12:31am
Please reveal the name of the rebellious poet mentioned at the beginning of the article. Like to read some of his poems.