In 1954 Vietnamese rebels gave the French army a tremendous beating at their supposedly invulnerable base in Dien Bien Phu. After a century of conquering colonies, France had to exit Vietnam in a hurry, and it was then the United States’ turn to enter the region. It is indeed quite unbelievable that the self-proclaimed “greatest country in the world” also suffered a humiliating defeat in this tiny, poorly armed country populated by many who lived below the poverty line at the time.
A peasant of slow gait and few words led both of these exploits. His name was Ho Chi Minh, born 130 years ago today, and the Vietnamese called him Uncle Ho; but he was quite unlike other revolutionary leaders. An activist returning from a village once reported that there was no way to organise these people since,
“They’re a bunch of Buddhist yahoos. They spend all day meditating.”
To which Uncle Ho retorted,
“Go back there and meditate.”
The revolutionary Pakistani resistance poet Habib Jalib devoted a couple of poems to the brave freedom-fighters of Vietnam. One of these is titled Anthem of Vietnamese Freedom-Fighters; while in another poem Russell Tribunal, he actually predicts the victory of Ho Chi Minh against US imperialism. Ho passed away in September 1969. Thus, on the occasion of Ho Chi Minh’s 130th birth anniversary today, I am offering a rare and original English translation of Jalib’s eulogy to Ho Chi Minh, simply titled Ho Chi Minh, which is a part of Jalib’s 1975 poetry collection, Ehd-e-Sazaa (The Age of Punishment).
The poem is part of a trilogy Jalib wrote paying tribute to three towering socialist leaders of the 20th century: Ho Chi Minh, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, and Vladimir Lenin. The poem is also poignant because the reader can detect the poet’s latent wish throughout the poem – against the realities of that time – for Pakistan itself to have such a popular, revolutionary leader like Vietnam had in Ho Chi Minh. At the time of his passing in 1969, Pakistan was ensconced in yet another military dictatorship, and was an ally of the US, the tormentor of the valiant Vietnamese.
Ho Chi Minh by Habib Jalib
“Ho Chi Minh your name is ineffaceable, it is not a blip
Ho Chi Minh your message today is on every lip
You are the dignity of life, in proximity to our heartbeats
Ho Chi Minh your Vietnam is like the fresh morning retreats
Your every word is the lamp of the path of life
Ho Chi Minh your verses on the lips of the people of heart are rife
Imperialism will vanish from this world without a trace
Ho Chi Minh the light of your system will spread to every populace
You suggested to us the path, showed us the destination
Ho Chi Minh we will complete what has remained of your mission
You have given new life to the world’s helpless
Ho Chi Minh your respect will remain for time endless
You yourself are an epitome O great leader
Ho Chi Minh the poet of the people is your balladeer.”
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