Children’s Poetry in Pakistan: Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum

Posted on November 17, 2008
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, People, Poetry, Urdu
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Owais Mughal

On these pages at ATP, we’ve extensively covered Pakistani poets and poetry. One thing which I think has lagged so far is the Pakistani poetry for children. This post is an attempt to introduce one of most famous poets of Pakistan who has written extensively children. He is Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum.

My mother recently mailed me one of his books called ‘jhoolne’ for my son. For the past two nights I’ve been reading this book to my son at bed time and it has also taken me to a ride through memory lane, and hence the motivation to write this post.

The title poem to the right here is called ‘tar tar’. Sufi Tabassum is famous for using sound effects in his poems to get children’s attention. This poem uses sound (tar tar) of old cars (motor) as well as sound (cham cham) of a horse cart (tam tam). In 4 simple lines Sufi Tabassum has created this melodious masterpiece for children which is ‘hum-wazan’, rhyming and easy to remember.

More than a generation has grown up reciting and remembering his poems by heart. His poems can be found in text books across Pakistan, in children’s magazines as well as in audio media. One of the most famous characters of Sufi Tabassum‘s poems is a boy named ‘tot batot’ which is now a household name across Pakistan.

The poem to the left is titled as ‘anda’ (egg) and it is another of my favourites. For our English readership, I want to give an approximate translation. A hen is telling a rooster that she has laid an egg. While she commends herself on this feat of laying beautiful eggs she also complains that despite producing beautiful eggs she remains bare feet. To this dilemma the rooster suggests to hen to sell her eggs and buy shoes for herself. A very simple story like this, told in rhyming Urdu makes people of all ages smile and remember this poem for ever. This is what Sufi Tabassum is most famous for. He talks to children in their simple language.

Following poem is called ‘munna aur laddoo’. In very simple language it talks about a ‘laddoo’ (sweets) which has attracted attention of two young boys (munna(y)).

Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum was born is Amritsar (India) on August 4, 1899. He got his education from Church Mission High School Amritsar, Khalsa College Amritsar, FC College Lahore (B.A) and Punjab University Lahore (M.A and B.T).

He taught at Central Training College, Lahore (1927-31) and Government College, Lahore (1931-1954). He retired from Government College as the head of Urdu and Farsi Department.

The collection of poems shared here come from his book called ‘jhoolne‘ which was first published in 1958. In the begining of this book, dated as January 1, 1958, Sufi Tabassum mentions Patras Bukhari as one of his respected teachers and friends. Patras Bukhari has actually indeed written the preface of ‘jhoolne’ and towards the end of it he prays for Sufi Tabassum in following words:

dua hai ke Sufi Tabassum ka ye bachpan hamesha qaayem rahe!

Patras Bukhari‘s preface is dated as written on June 5, 1946 in Delhi which means the first collection of ‘jhoolne’ must’ve appeared around that time.

The title of the 1958 edition of the book (shown to the left) is designed by Chughtai and is published by Ferozesons Limited.

Between 1954-1960, Sufi Tabassum was involved with Khana Farhang-e-Iran at Lahore as well as with teaching Urdu to Bengali students in Civil Services Academy and Finance Services Academy.

He acted as an editor of the magazine ‘lail-o-nahar’ from 1961-1963 and then got busy ar Radio Pakistan, Lahore.

In ‘jhoolne’ Sufi Tabassum wrote this famous poem about a funny boy called ‘tot batot’. As mentioned above too, this character became an instant household name in Pakistan. 24 years after ‘tot batot’ first appeared in jhoolne, Sufi Tabassum wrote a new book with the title ‘tot batot’. On my last visit to Pakistan, I especially went to Urdu bazar to buy this book for my son. The preface is written by Sufi Tabassum in his own handwriting and it is dated to be written on September 6, 1970 at Samanabad, Lahore.

To the left is Sufi Tabassum’s another famous poem called ‘cheechoN’. It appears in many children books as well as school text books across Pakistan. Patras Bukhari has written about this poem in following words:

“When children read ‘cheechoN cheechoN chaacha, ghaRi pe chooha naacha’, they enjoy it. The elders however may say that we have never seen the word ‘cheechoN’ in any dictionary. And if ‘chaacha’ is meant for the word ‘chacha’ then it is not a decent way of calling an uncle. And why has a mouse danced on a clock? What lesson are we giving to children? etc etc.

These questions are all very reasonable but they come from those people who have forgotten their own childhood. May be they come from people who have decided on not to repeat those things which had made their own childhood enjoyable. Thank God that Sufi Tabassum has been blessed by such wisdom where he can talk to children in their own words and sounds. He recognizes a child’s mind as this strange place where snakes dance on the trees, cats eat berries and tar tar, cham cham, tam tam make such a melodious mix that one cannot learn those even from ‘taan sain’ at an older age.

During the last years of his life, Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum had dedicated his life to the research on ‘Iqbaliat’ (study of Allama Mohammad Iqbal). On the occasion of 100 year celebration of Allama Iqbal, Sufi Tabassum wrote, edited and produced (tasneef) several books on Allama Iqbal. In 1978 He went to Islamabad to attend a function on Allama Iqbal, but on his return he passed away at Lahore Railway Station. The date of his sad demise was February 7, 1978.

The books that he wrote for children include:

1. jhoolne
2. suno gap shap
3. tol matol, and
4. tot batot

53 Comments on “Children’s Poetry in Pakistan: Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum”

  1. Saadat says:
    November 17th, 2008 11:40 pm

    Now this brings back memories.

    I had memorised almost all of the poems present in Jhoolne when I was a child. Suno gup shup used to be my favourite; I had even made a tune in which I used to sing it.

    By the way, I always thought that it’s the hen who talks of her bare feet (in the poem ‘Anda‘), and the rooster who tells her to sell her eggs and buy shoes. “Kaisi batein karti ho” could only be said by the rooster, no? :-)

  2. Saadat says:
    November 17th, 2008 11:43 pm

    Oh, and thanks for letting us know about Sufi Tabassum’s life and other works.

  3. Asma says:
    November 18th, 2008 1:11 am

    So many beautiful memories :)

    The urdu rhymes that our generation grew singing … “tot batot”, “cheechoon cheechon chacha” … awww lovely post owais bhai :)

  4. BK says:
    November 18th, 2008 2:02 am

    Beautiful post, it took me to back to my childhood. We should not deprived our kids from this enjoyment.

  5. November 18th, 2008 5:12 am

    The beauty of Sufi Tabassum’s poetry is in its imagination, childlike lack of inhibition, and the delightful absurdity of his themes. No surprising, coming from a poet who is named “Sufi” (meaning: ‘a person who is in the NOW’) “Tabassum” (‘Smile!’).

    The delightful language makes used of “onomatopoeia” – which is a very primal kind of language that directly spells a sound. Urdu has an extensive and vivid repertoire of onomatopoeic words, which show how deeply Urdu is related to the natural world. Hence the language’s ability to be creative.

    The other language that in my knowledge that makes such use of onomatopoeia is the African Zulu. Zulu tribes are still deeply rooted in the world’s ancient natural traditions.

    Languages have a DNA, and onomatopoeia is a primal strand in this DNA. No wonder it will always resonate deeply with the readers, and hardly ever become out of tune with times.

    On that note, I am delighted to share that Tot Batot is being resurrected in Pakistani art schools as a cultural symbol and “local hero” for the children. In 2006, a graduate thesis featuring Toto Batot puppets in the Indus Valley School of Arts won a distinction. Shortly after, I viewed the NCA graduate thesis in Dec 2006 – with a textile thesis on Tot Batot-themed line of linen.

    It’s good to see that we are living our culture.

  6. utp says:
    November 18th, 2008 5:32 am

    aaah….the memories….

  7. November 18th, 2008 5:35 am

    a journey to Bachpan!

    meray bachpan k din
    kitnay achay thhay din

    Aaj Bethay bithaey kyu yaad agaaye..
    meray bichhron ko mujh se milay day koyee
    mera bachpan kisi mol laa day koee!!

  8. Naseer says:
    November 18th, 2008 6:00 am

    What a beautiful post by Owais and so valuably commented by Ramla.
    Owais and others, children things brings to mind the old ‘risala’ , if you remember ”PHOOL ” , by Ghulam Abbas Sahib.
    Anyone write on that !!!


  9. Owais Mughal says:
    November 18th, 2008 8:16 am

    Saadat, you are right that it is the hen who talks about her bare feet. I’ll make the corrections. all these years i never paid attention to this detail :)

  10. adeel says:
    November 18th, 2008 8:45 am

    Like all other Pakisani kids, I have too grown up with a copy of jhoolne, which got pretty well worn over the years.

    Good work, Owais.

    Nice to read your comments too.

  11. Deeda-i-Beena says:
    November 18th, 2008 10:40 am

    Thanks Owais for re-igniting memories of Sufi Sahib.

    He was my teacher first and then we shared the same Staff Room alongwith all of his Baagh-O-Bahaar, when I taught at the Government College Lahore in 1959. Was close friends with his sons Nisar and Iftikhar.
    Thanks again.

  12. Deeda-i-Beena says:
    November 18th, 2008 10:53 am

    Sufi Sahib created Urdu Nursery Rhymes for Children.

    However, I might point out that “Chee Choon Cha Cha” is adapted from the English Nursery Rhyme: Hickory Dickory Dock – The Mouse Ran Over the Clock etc.,

    My hope in making this comment is, that the english speaking/influenced literati to realise that Other Cultures have produced their own Gems, largely unknown to them!

  13. November 18th, 2008 11:33 pm

    Very excellant efforts to select topics to remind our society our forgotten culture.Culture is the main identify of any community.Almighty creater blessed us all.Aameen.

  14. Riaz Haq says:
    November 18th, 2008 11:55 pm

    It’s been a while but I remember reading a Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum poem “Ek tha geetu gray, us kay do mor thay…..” as a child. It seemed quite interesting at the time.

    More recently, I had a chance to attend a mushaira in Silicon Valley and discovered Popular Meeruthi, a very funny poet from India. Here’s a link to what I heard:

  15. Liz says:
    November 19th, 2008 2:43 am

    I enjoyed this so much! Thank you.

  16. Amina Murad says:
    November 19th, 2008 8:44 am

    Revival of our mother tongue and heritage in form of poetry for kids is a great service. In an era of cultural onslaught, presenting Sufi Tabassum’s delightfully humorous and phonetically magical poems for children is a laudable effort.

  17. Teri says:
    November 19th, 2008 9:40 pm

    I am currently teaching my 7 year old son Urdu (here in UK). Seeing your post on this wonderfully innocent poetry has given me an excellent resource to help me in my effort. It is hard for us 2nd generation brit paks to pass on to kids who’ve never even seen Pakistan (yet!) but the beautiful Urdu language makes the endeavour worthwhile.

  18. Viqar Minai says:
    November 20th, 2008 12:46 am

    My youngest sister had that one in her urdu text book when
    she was in grade 1 or 2. She used to recite it in with abandon all the time, and I used to get such kick out of it I can’t tell you. Most of it even stuck to my mind. Closed to 50 years later, this is what I still recall from memory.


    ek tha gayToo gray
    uss ke do mor thay
    ek ka kala tha sar
    ek ke peelay thay par
    dana khaatay thay voh
    dum hilaatay thay voh

    ek din, din Dhalay
    apnay ghar say chalay
    thay baRi lehr meiN
    aa ga’e shaher meiN
    kuch yahaaN sayr ki
    kuch vahaaN sayr ki
    gan gaatay huvay
    dum hilaatay huvay

    jab andhera huva
    gayToo ghabra gaya
    dil meiN kehnay laga
    hae ye kya maajra
    ab tak aa’e nahiN
    jaanay kya voh kahiN
    raasta kho ga’e
    ya kahiN so ga’e
    aap jata hooN maeN
    un ko laata hooN maeN

    boli gayToo ki maaN
    tum chalay ho kahaaN
    choR do choR do
    KHud hi aa’eN ge voh
    gungunaatay huvay
    dum hilaatay huvay

    bola gayToo gray
    mor donoN meray
    saKht naadaan haeN
    saKht anjaan haeN
    voh to Dar jaa’eN ge
    ghuT ke mar jaa’eN ge

    boli gayToo ki maaN
    baat soon meri jaaN
    tu hae gayToo gray
    tu unheiN choR de
    dekhtay dekhtay
    mor ghar aa ga’e
    gungunaatay huvay
    gaana gaatay huvay

    bolay gayTo miaN
    bolo tum thay kahaaN
    itnay chaalak ho
    itnay baybaak ho
    ab jo jaa’o ge tum
    maar khaa’o ge tum
    uss ki iss baat se
    mor KHush ho ga’e
    dana khaanay lage
    dum hilaanay lage

  19. DuFFeR says:
    November 23rd, 2008 5:39 am

    so fascinating
    i guess if still remember all poems of jhoolnay :)
    i still enjoy these all poems

  20. Saad Qaisar says:
    November 28th, 2008 8:41 pm

    A very beautiful entry Owais! Brings back lots of memories!

  21. December 13th, 2008 8:45 am

    Thanks for your Post. A couple of these poems are also “new” for me. Keep it up!

  22. Faiza says:
    January 26th, 2009 3:43 pm

    Wonderful wonderful post! I have a 5 month old boy, and i especially enjoyed singing these poems to him! I am looking for some downloadable audio for some of these poems, any suggestions? i live in canada, n i want to sing URDU poems to my son so that he learns urdu well :). of course, a cassette is not readily available here…

  23. Mohsin Irshad says:
    January 29th, 2009 1:40 pm

    Great Post ! Reminds me of peaceful times we had 17 years ago

  24. Sharjeel says:
    January 29th, 2009 2:33 pm

    Saanp ki Dum sounds very much like

    Eeny Meeny Maina Mo,
    Catch a Tiger but his toe,
    If he squeals let him go,
    Eeny Meeny Maina Mo

  25. pari says:
    March 4th, 2009 2:34 am

    good poems

  26. Rashid Minhas says:
    March 8th, 2009 11:18 pm

    i have accidently found this site and i am so happy to get to this site as it contains my favorite topic that is poems for children
    this is a great site may it succeed

  27. abida says:
    April 13th, 2009 8:59 am

    really interesting and valueable poems 4 kids

  28. wahid says:
    April 19th, 2009 1:08 am

    bachon wali aadat abhi gae nhi…

  29. Tauseef says:
    May 23rd, 2009 12:22 am

    Sufi saheb has done a very nice work, I wish I could see all his work online

  30. AfzalWahid says:
    May 23rd, 2009 6:38 am

    Can someone send me Sufi Tabassum’s Nazm ” Aik Tha Gaito Gray”

  31. Maroof says:
    June 21st, 2009 1:15 pm

    What a superb site to pay tribute to Qibla Sufi sahib.
    He is still matchless.

  32. Benawa says:
    June 22nd, 2009 1:16 am

    To Faiza in Canada:
    Get in touch with PTV. They should have very good
    collection of children’s songs from their 70s and 80s programs.
    Suhail Rana did several quality music program for children
    during his tenure with PTV such as HUM HE HUM.

    Naheed Niazi used to do a program called KALIYOON KI MALA from PTV’s Rawalpindi Center. Those programs had
    wonderful lyrics, and lilting songs sung by the participating children. Zohaib and Nazia Hassan are two well known names among those who grew up with Rana’s music shows.

    You could also talk to some of the on line stores that sell
    Pakistani music cds and dvds. There is one called Desi Store.
    You can get their phone# from their website(
    Tell them what you need and they will find it for you.

    To Owais: “Jhoolnhe” is a masterpiece. My all time favorite
    poem from this book is Sufi’s signature original character,
    the immortal “TOOT BATOOT,” himself!
    “Itna uska jee lulchaia
    Ruste hee mein khata ayia
    Khate khate aghi hichki
    Dannt mein uske lug gai choot
    This book alone should have ensured Sufi a place in heaven!

  33. September 13th, 2009 7:53 pm

    Just surfing the net searching some urdu poetry for my children and amazed to see this page. It has really taken me to my childhood. Wow….wonderful rememberance….’Merey Bachpan Ke Din’

  34. Ahmed Sohail says:
    September 13th, 2009 8:04 pm

    Like it a lot…….10/10

  35. Sadia Sohail says:
    September 13th, 2009 8:04 pm

    My favorite too….Jhoolney

  36. AMMAD HASAN says:
    November 3rd, 2009 3:10 pm

    great yaar

  37. Asif Ahmed Siddiqui says:
    November 4th, 2009 2:58 am

    A good literary material for children is really hard to find out in these days. Few good poets and story writers are producing very few. Sending you link of see and admire him

  38. humna rao says:
    December 23rd, 2009 9:58 am

    Hello sir we appreciate ur effort to aware our children 2 these luvly poems

  39. March 4th, 2010 11:52 pm

    I really like Tot Batot stuff from Sufi sahib… below is a sample… Yay Tot Batot ka bangla hai…

  40. Syed Usman Ali says:
    May 4th, 2010 10:42 am

    this page has put a smile on my face and reminded me of my childhood. the poem book “Jhoolney” should be included in the kindergarten urdu course in every school regardless of English or Urdu medium.

  41. roller shoes says:
    June 19th, 2010 4:22 am

    wow,good post,thank you for share

  42. Altaf Hussain says:
    June 28th, 2010 7:28 am

    I am in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
    I want to download TOT BATOT and other books of Sufi Sahib for my child. Someone help me how can I do that please???

  43. Saeed says:
    July 18th, 2010 9:12 pm

    Love this post. I grew up with Mr. Tot Batot!

  44. Naan Haleem says:
    September 20th, 2010 9:31 am

    My father relates that on the occasion of centenary celebrations of Government College (University) Lahore in 1964, Gen. Ayub Khan was the chief guest. As per proceedings, Sufi Sahib was to recite his latest piece of writing (Taaza Kalaam). But when he reached the mic, several students and other participants started shouting “Tot Batot.. Tot Batot…”, demanding this great poem to be read. Sufi Sahib was in a fix and he tried to calm the audience by promising that he would read the poem after he is finished with the Taaza kalaam. But this effort only added to the excitement as now almost everyone was calling for Tot Batot. Gen. Ayub Khan was quite amused with this and was smiling at the situation and finally upon his request, Sufi Sahib read the most famous poem. Sufi sahib was joined by the whole of the audience whenever he read the verse “Aik tha Larrka Tot Batot” during the poem. A well deserved tribute to Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabassum

  45. Watan Aziz says:
    September 20th, 2010 12:37 pm

    @Naan Haleem, this is worthy of cross post for GC too. Thanks for sharing.

  46. Naan Haleem says:
    October 27th, 2010 1:37 am

    Last night thee following poem just struck my mind and surprisingly i still remember the whole of it. An egg seems to be a valuable asset of the whole family and the loss of it aggrieves everyone in testing times. Beautiful!!!

    “munnay ki amman ne anDa ubala
    handia mein Daala
    do mint (minutes) guzrey
    Dhakna uthaya
    anDa na paya

    chamcha tha Terha
    aur ondhi thi thali
    handia thi khali

    munnay ki amman aur munnay ke bhaee
    munnay ki khala aur munnay ki taee
    sab mil ke roye
    bhookay hi soye”

    Does our nation values Pakistan and the assets thereof like this egg which keeps getting vanished every time a Munnay ki Amman (Govt.) puts it in the Handia of corrupt practices?

  47. Aadil Pervaiz says:
    December 11th, 2010 12:30 am

    Bhai duty per tawajjah deitay to zyada acha hota!

  48. irfan says:
    January 16th, 2011 5:09 pm

    its very good poetry

  49. Vinent says:
    May 9th, 2011 3:47 pm

    My Name is Vincent Tariq I am working in Bahrain and have three daughters. I am 42 years old. I remember my father reeding poems of this great man. Most of the time my father use sing his poem ” Suno Gup Shup, Suno Gup Shup”
    My question to all the urdu reader: Is any one doing some thing to keep this type of “Anmool Shakar” live ?

  50. Abdul Wakeel Khan says:
    May 19th, 2011 1:59 pm

    totaly loved it- reminds me of my childhood the book i loved to read. Every poem is masterpiece.

  51. zehra khalid says:
    August 22nd, 2011 2:15 pm

    we want urdu poems for class 1 level

  52. mujeeb900 says:
    January 2nd, 2012 9:32 pm

    :) had a smile all the time reading it.

  53. October 25th, 2014 9:18 pm

    Its great. Love this poetry. I read it for my children.

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