Ahmad Faraz: The Death of a Legend
Weekly Pulse
August 26-September 2, 2008
Ab Ke Ham Bichhare To Shaayad Kabhii Khvaabon Main Milain
Jis Tarah Suukhe Hue Phuul Kitaabon Main Milain

(After this separation, we may meet only in our dreams, Like wilted flowers within the pages of a book)

Ahmad Faraz, a friend and a legendry figure in modern Urdu poetry is no more with us. He passed away this past week at an Islamabad hospital after falling ill in the United States a month ago. On Tuesday evening (August 23), thousands of friends and fans attended his Namaz-e-Janaza at a graveyard in Islamabad.

I felt very sad. For once in a while it was great to sit with him and enjoy his witty remarks and poetic thoughts. It is sad to see such great people slowly pass away. Faraz’s death is surely the end of an era for many Pakistanis who are caught up in a vicious circle of dictatorship and bigotry. This great man always stood against the forces of darkness. Through his progressive poetry, Ahmad Faraz always raised voice for peace and humanity.

Ahmed Faraz was the pseudonym of Syed Ahmad Shah, who was born in Nowshera village near Kohat in Pakistan on January 14, 1931. His father, Agha Syed Muhammad Shah Bark Kohati, was a leading traditional poet. He studied at Edwards College in Peshawar and obtained his Masters degree in Urdu and Persian from Peshawar University. During his college time, Faiz Ahmed Faiz became his role model. His first volume of poetry, “Tanha Tanha,” was published in the late 1950s, when he was an undergraduate student, and became a huge, instant hit.

Faraz initially worked as a script writer at Radio Pakistan at Peshawar and then moved on to teach Urdu and Persian at Peshawar University. In 1976, he became the founding Director General and later Chairman of Pakistan Academy of Letters.

Faraz was a great admirer of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and an outspoken critic of General Ziaul Haq’s regime. In the 1980s, he went into self-imposed exile during the Zia era after he was arrested for reciting certain poems at a mushaira criticizing the military rule. Faraz wrote some of his best poetry in exile, including “Dekhtay Hain” (Let Us Gaze) and “Mohasara” (The Siege). In all, he wrote 13 volumes of Urdu poetry.

Faraz stayed in self-exile for three years in Canada and Europe and returned to the country only after General Zia’s demise. Since then, he had remained associated with other literary and educational institutions of the country. The last post he held for several years was that of Chairman of National Book Foundation.

Faraz was awarded with numerous national and international awards, including Kamal-e-Fun Award by the National Academy of Letters in 2002. In 2004, he received the highest national award, Hilal-e-Imtiaz, in recognition of his literary achievements. However, two years later, he returned it after becoming disenchanted with the Musharraf-led government and its policies, saying “My conscious will not forgive me if I remained a silent spectator of the sad happenings around us. The least I can do is to let the dictatorship know where it stands in the eyes of the concerned citizens whose fundamental rights have been usurped. I am doing this by returning the Hilal-e-Imtiaz (civil) forthwith and refuse to associate myself in any way with the regime.”

In 2006, Faraz along with the family had migrated to Canada, after the family was forcibly thrown out of the official residence allotted to his wife who had a life long attachment to public education.

It was good to know him personally. The first time I met Faraz was when he was heading the National Book Foundation, back in the mid-90s, a position that he continued for several years later. However, since I was a friend of his friends, the real fun of enjoying his presence was in late night sessions among friends. He had become quite cynical in the end, very bitter about dictatorial and regressive trends in the country. Yet the inherent charm in his personality, the humble attitude, the witty nature, and straightforwardness never left him.

Since he left Islamabad after that bitter and ugly episode, we never saw him again, although kept hearing about his engagements in Canada and the United States. But we always recalled his witty remarks and little jokes, which as well as the privilege of knowing this great man is, indeed, a lifetime asset.

Faraz’s poetry was liberal, as he himself remained secular to the core until the end. Faraz had simple style of writing, which even common people can easily understand and identify with. He was a social revolutionary. His poetry represented the sentiments of an oppressed generation living under military rule or dictators or in poverty.

Khvaab Marte Nahin
Khvaab Dil Hain Na Aankhen Na Saanse Ke Jo
Rezaa-Rezaa Hue To Bikhar Jaayenge
Jism Ki Maut Se Ye Bhi Mar Jaayenge

(Dreams do not die. Dreams are not hearts, nor eyes or breath Which shattered, will scatter (or) Die with the death of the body.)

Ahmad Faraz was the most celebrated, defiant, respected and widely read poet of Pakistan. A passionate voice for change and progress, Faraz was usually at his best when writing the poetry of love and protest. There is no poet of romance and resistance better than Faraz.

Love and peace were the central themes of his poetic works. Faraz was a passionate believer in friendship across borders and especially India-Pakistan relations. He was as popular in India as in Pakistan.

His poetry on love was read as well as sung by leading subcontinent singers like Ghulam Ali, Mehdi Hasan, Tahira Syed, Runa Laila and Jagjit Singh. Who can forget Ranjish hi sahi dil hii dukhaane ke liye aa, aa phir se mujhe chor ke jaane ke liye aa sung by Mehdi Hassan? Or the one sung by Tahira Syed Yeh aalam shauq ka dekha na jaayay, Woh bout hai yaa Khudaa dekhaa na jaaye?

There is no better way of giving tribute to this great man than citing a couple of his great poetic works. Here is one:

Suna hai log ussay aankh bhar ke dekhtay hain
So us ke shehar mein kuch din thehar ke dekhtay hain

Suna hai rabt hai us ko kharaab haloon se
So apne aap ko barbaad kar ke dekhtay hain

Suna hai dard ki ghaahak hai chashm-e-naaz us ki
So hum bhi us ki gali se guzar ke dekhtay hain

Suna hai us ko bhi hai shair-o-shaeri se shaguf
So hum bhi moujazzay apne hunar ke dekhtay hain

Suna hai bolay tu batoon se phool jhartay hain
Yeh baat hai tu chalo baat kar ke dekhtay hain

Suna hai raat ussay chaand takta rehta hai
Sitaaray baam-e-falak se uttar ke dekhtay hain

Suna hai din ko ussay titleyaan sataati hain
Suna hai raat ko jugnoo thehar ke dekhtay hain

Suna hai hashar hain us ki ghazaal si ankhain
Suna hai us ko hiran dasht bhar ke dekhtay hain

Suna hai raat se barh kar hain kaaklain us ki
Suna hai shaam ko saaye guzar ke dekhtay hain

Suna hai us ki seyaah chashmagi qayaamat hai
So us ki surma farosh aah bhar ke dekhtay hain

Suna hai us ke laboon se gulaab jaltay hain
So hum bahaar pe ilzaam dhar ke dekhtay hain

Suna hai aaenaa tamsaal hai jabeen us ki
Jo saada dil hain ussay ban sanwar ke dekhtay hain

Suna hai jab se hamaayal hain us ki gardan mein
Mizaaj aur hi laalo-gohar ke dekhtay hain

Suna hai chashm-e-tassavur se dasht-e-imkaan mein
Pallang zaweyey us ki kamar ke dekhtay hain

Suna hai us ke badan ki taarash aisi hai
Ke phool apni qubaayain qattar ke dekhtay hain

Bas ek nigaah se lut’ta hai qaafila dil ka
So reharwaan-e-tamanna bhi dar ke dekhtay hain

Suna hai us ke shabistaan se muttasil hai behisht
Makeen idhar ke bhi jalway udhar ke bhi dekhtay hain

Rukay tu gardishain us ka tawwaaf karti hain
Chalay tu us ko zamaany thehar ke dekhtay hain

Ab usske shahar main tahren k kooch kar jayen
Faraaz aao sitaare safar k dekhte hain

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