Ahmed Faraz: Main jaa chuka phir bhi teri mehfilon mein hoon!
I am not an obit writer; nor do I aspire to become one. August was a month of poetic obituaries; it was a month when angel of death plucked out longstanding poetic trees in two different countries: first it was Mahmoud Darwish of Palestine, and now Ahmed Faraz of Pakistan who died on August 25 at the age of 77. If Darwish penned the pain of Occupied Palestine, Faraz mourned a militarist Pakistan. Both voices signified the poetry of protest which is the last refuge of Muse. Surprisingly both bore an uncannily pictorial resemblance.
The poetry of Darwish and Faraz reflected internal struggles within the Muslim world. Their sane and at times insane voices provided an alternative platform for love as well as lament.
For Faraz, Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq’s military rule was boon as well as bane. He was arrested and later had to leave Pakistan. It left him bitter but at the same time it gave him enough space to popularize ‘protest poetry’. As Faraz once said, “Yet it (military rule) also provided ample food for thought for the poet and made protest poetry so popular in Pakistan.”
Faraz was a limited man but with unlimited ambition. Although Faraz was a wearer of many hats; his poetry can be summed up in two nouns each beginning with R: Romance and Revolution. Teenagers took comfort in his couplets while aspiring revolutionaries quoted him at length to drive their point. His ghazal Sunaa hai log use aankh bhar ke dekhte hain was an international hit.
Faraz was not just a poet of romance and love; he was a poet of masses as well as mass hysteria – a syndrome which has consumed so much of Pakistan. His poetry gave voice to the suppressed souls of a depressed Pakistan. He spoke against the Partition as well:
Ab kis kaa jashn manaate ho us des kaa jo taqsiim huaa
Ab kis ke giit sunaate ho us tan-man kaa jo do-niim huaa
(taqsiim=divided; do-niim=cut in two)
He breathed life into the idea of romance in contemporary Urdu poetry. His romantic couplets may have sparked millions of romances all around the Urdu-knowing world but yet his writings failed to bring a revolution in his troubled homeland. Perhaps therein lies the irony of Ahmed Faraz.
He was a crusading poet who did not believe in the idea of crusade. He preferred verse over weapon. He never shied away from raising the standard of revolt against the Pakistani establishment. He was an asset to Pakistan but Pakistan government treated him like a liability. He was a dissenting poet disenchanted by his own military government. It is primarily for this reason that he went into a self-imposed exile for six years. He told people of Pakistan to dream because he believed that dreams do not die. In his poem titled Khvaab marate nahiin (Dreams do not die), he said:
Dreams are not hearts, nor eyes or breath
Which shattered, will scatter (or)
Die with the death of the body.
Dreams do not die.
Dreams are light, life, wind,
Which can not be stopped by mountains black,
Which do not burn in the hells of cruelty,
Like light and life and wind, they
Do not bow down even in graveyards.
Dreams are letters,
Dreams are illumination,
Dreams are Socrates,
Dreams are Mansur!
Faraz was a poet of official dislike and unofficial like. Pakistan of Pervez Musharraf tried to woo him with the Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 2004. The trick did succeed initially. But the tricky success did not last. Faraz returned the award two years later because he was a man of conscience. He said, “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…”
Faraz had compared his life to that of a candle.
Main bhi chup ho jaaunga bujhti hui shama’on ke saath…
(Shama’on = candles).
It will not be easy to forget Faraz. He will be remembered though he is not in our ‘mehfil’:
To laut kar bhi ahle-tamanna ko kush nahi
Main lut kar bhi wafa kay inhi kaaflon mein hoon
Badla na mayray baad bhi mozon-e-guftagu
Main jaa chuka phir bhi teri mehfilon mein hoon…
We have lost Faraz forever. In his own words:
Ab ke ham bichhde to shaayad kabhi khwaabon mein milen
Jis tarah sukhe hue phool kitaaboN mein milen
Those who know Urdu will understand the essence of the above verse because these lines will get derailed in English!