By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: Ahmed Faraz, who died in Islamabad on Monday night after a long struggle with a host of ailments, having taken ill in the first week of July while on a visit to the United States, was a classicist like Faiz Ahmed Faiz who, like him, produced poetry of great lyrical beauty and who, like his mentor, never hesitated to stand up against oppression and never was afraid of suffering for his beliefs.
Faraz, steeped in the classical tradition, was the true inheritor of Faiz’s mantle. Like Faiz, he suffered prison and lived in exile during the dark days of military rule in the 1980s. Like Faiz, he was loved by the people, especially the young, and nobody wrote with more intensity about love than Faraz. He gained fame as a young man – he was teaching at Peshawar University at the time – and while much in the way of comfort and the easy life forsook him on more occasions than one, his fame and his popularity never languished. Few poets have had more of their work set to music and performed by the great singers of the age than Faraz. Almost always, he found himself on the wrong side of the government of the day. From Ayub, through Yahya, through Bhutto and down to Musharraf, Faraz was always viewed by the establishment as the rebel he was. He was never afraid to write what others only whispered about and he never let adversity stray him from the path he had chosen for himself. More of his poetry is remembered and recited by his admirers in his own country, in India and wherever Urdu is loved and spoken, than that of any other poet of modern times.
The journalist Iftikhar Ali recalled in New York as the news of Faraz’s death broke, “Faraz was a year senior to me when I joined the Islamia College Peshawar, in 1954. He was remarkably handsome, full of life but very much into poetry. He would gather students around him and read out his mostly romantic poems. There was no open mixing of male and female students in those days. But somehow his poems managed to reach girl students who felt greatly attracted to him. He would receive dozens of hand written letters from them, not only those at the university but from a women’s college in the city as well. The well-to-do ones would have their servants deliver their letters while others would drop them in front of Faraz at bus stops. At that time, he loved to watch hockey and would lead slogans at the annual match between the two old rivals — Islamia College and Edwards Collge.”
During Bhutto’s days, Faraz was sent home by Maulana Kausar Niazi for writing a couplet that some considered heretical, a misstep that was soon rectified. He lost his job under the Zia regime and he spent many years in exile in Europe and America, quite a few of them in London. His great poem Mohasra (The Siege) remains one of the most powerful indictments of military rule. Faraz told the BBC in a recent interview that he would never like to leave Pakistan because he wanted to live in the country, which was his home, because it was there that he would want to continue his struggle against dictatorship. “I am against dictatorship and military rule. The time has not yet arrived when I should escape from the country out of fear. I will stay home and fight.” He was actively involved in the movement that has built itself around the ousted chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Faraz used his influence to urge writers and poets to join the protest.
Few people know that in 1947 when the uprising in Kashmir against the Maharaja’s rule began, among the volunteers who went in to fight on the side of the Kashmiris was the teenager Ahmed Faraz from Kohat. He said in a recent conversation that his heart bleeds at the military aggression to which the people of Waziristan and Balochistan have been subjected. He said what we know today as Azad Kashmir was not liberated by the army but by Wazir tribes who went into the state to fight the Maharaja’s forces. Faraz, asked why he had returned the Hilal-i-Imtiaz conferred on him by the Musharraf regime, felt that he could not keep the award because it was given to him by a military regime, although many people had told him that it was an honour conferred on him by the people of Pakistan. He said whenever the country has come under an army rule, it has suffered grievously, to the extent of being rent asunder, as in 1971. Ask why he had not written another poem like Mohasra, he replied, “Because I do not want to write the same poem again. In Pakistan, things do not change and, consequently, the poems I wrote in the past have not become dated.”