S.G. Jilanee

A Life Well-Spent

By Javed Ansari | February 2021


S.G. Jilanee, a prolific writer in SouthAsia magazine, is no more. He recently passed away in Karachi at the ripe age of 97, though some quarters also say that he had crossed 100.

Jilanee Sahib, as he was respectfully known, was originally a civil servant who had turned to writing after his retirement from the government. His association with this publication started back in the 90s when it was known as ThirdWorld. In fact, he even served as editor of the magazine for some time. He also wrote for Dawn and Daily News. Jilanee sahib took to pen and paper as if this is what he had been doing all his life. While in East Pakistan, sensing the antagonistic mood around him a little before the 1971 war, he chose to migrate to West Pakistan along with his family. The making of Bangladesh was an agonizing chapter in his life and the pain would be evident in his face when he talked about it.

Bengali was not his mother tongue but he could speak, read and write the language with a level of fluency that it sometimes seemed as if he were a Bengali himself. This was an asset that he used to his great advantage.

Jilanee Sahib was born in India in Patna. His family opted to migrate to the eastern wing of Pakistan after 1947 when Pakistan came into being, as Patna was closer to East Pakistan. He had his early education in Patna but completed his studies in Dhaka and then joined the government. It was Mr. Jilanee’s hard work, dedication to duty and the inherent honesty in his outlook that carried him forward and he became a senior officer.

He used to recall with affection his love of East Pakistan where he spent so many years. He was posted to various places in the province. It sometimes seemed as if Mr. Jilanee was a real son of the soil, the way he used to remember the beauty of the land, its lush green countryside, its river culture and the warmth of its people.

Since Mr. Jilanee was serving in a ministry that looked after the food and shelter requirements of refugees, he was given a senior post when he arrived in Karachi which allowed him to serve the millions of people who had fled to Pakistan from Afghanistan. He understood the needs of the displaced persons very well and was able to attend to most of their problems of resettlement in an efficient and knowledgeable manner.

It seemed writing was never a problem for Mr. Jeelani. He could tackle any subject with ease, provided he had the requisite information. Often, when he was sent a brief for an article, he would ask for more relevant information. Writing more than one article for every issue of SouthAsia was never a problem for him.

Being a member of the old guard, he used to write his articles on paper and then type the script on a manual typewriter. When his son gifted him a desktop computer, he talked about it with great glee. He was particularly happy that the computer had a built-in software which could correct spellings.

Jilanee sahib was always the favourite writer of Syed Jawaid Iqbal, the publisher and chief editor of SouthAsia magazine, as well as of his wife Zeba, who also worked for the magazine for some time. In fact, Zeba says she learned so much from him, especially since Jilanee Sahib had good knowledge of everything under the sun, even how to make sandwiches!
Despite the fact that Jilanee Sahib wrote two articles for every issue of the magazine, he was so productive that while the month’s issue would still be in print, he would send a mail asking for briefs for the next issue.

In his later years, probably because of the exigencies of age, he would sometimes not remember that he was not writing for a daily newspaper and would forget to change the context of his articles, particularly those concerning political issues, to make them relevant for a monthly magazine. There are some writers, especially senior ones, who object to any edits in their articles, particularly changes in their given headline or amendments in text. Jilanee Sahib was one writer who never made any such objections. His writing was always pithy and backed by proper research, and he had a mastery of the language which only comes from good reading and a love of the craft.

It was commendable that Jeelani Sahib was writing even in the twilight years of his life and such was his grasp of the subjects he was asked to write on that the age factor never mattered for his editors.