POSTCARD USA: One for Ahmed Faraz — Khalid Hasan
Daily Times - Site Edition Sunday, July 27, 2008
In 2006, angered by something Faraz had written, the minions of the regime had him and his family evicted from their Islamabad house, their belongings placed on the street. There was a nationwide uproar and the government pulled in its horns but did not apologise
This is Ahmad Faraz’s week as he lies in a Chicago hospital, fighting back, refusing to go gently into the night.
Sometimes prayers do get answered and this may well be one of those moments, because for the first time since July 7 when he entered hospital, he managed this week, with help from his attendants, to actually sit in a chair and remain there sitting for two full hours. But hopes that it could perhaps be the beginning of his journey on the long road to recovery were dashed later in the week when a hospital source described his condition as “irreversible” following the massive stroke he suffered while in hospital.
Poets, Ghalib said, are connected to a world that is not visible to the rest of us. Since that must be so, there have to be powers of which we have neither awareness nor understanding, but could we still hope that they will begin to smile on Faraz, the muse’s favourite son? Such a hope cannot be entertained, going by what one has been told. Are we going to lose Faraz, the supreme poet of romance, whose poetry we have loved and lived with all these years? It is a horrible thought and I want to banish it.
There is little doubt that there are few love letters written in long, stealthy hand by shy girls that do not bear one or more of Faraz’s verses. Challenged once at a mushaira held to honour protesting women to recite poetry dedicated to women, Faraz replied, “But all my poetry is dedicated to women.” Such a lover of the finer things in life needs must live and provide sweetness and light to what Faiz called “this land of yellow leaves”.
Ahmed Faraz is a national treasure and although he does not believe in kings or the succession system, let it be said that if there is one successor to Faiz, it is none other than Faraz. Like Faiz he has endured much persecution and received much love. Last year, and not for the first time, Faraz was persecuted by the regime of “enlightened moderation”.
In Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s time, which of all times should have been and in many ways was, Faraz’s, he was suspended from service by Maulana Kausar Niazi for a single verse of his that asked the books that advocate hate in the name of religion to be cast aside once for all. This misstep was soon corrected.
Faraz suffered imprisonment and persecution under Zia and was so heartbroken that he left the country like Faiz and lived in exile for six years. His great poem Mohasra (The Siege) remains one of the most powerful indictments of military rule. Who else but Faraz could have written: Peshavar qatilo tum sipahi nahin (Soldiers you are not, you professional assassins).
There can be no question that Faraz is also the greatest romantic Urdu poet of our times. But why do we treat our best and brightest so disgracefully, we should sometimes ask ourselves. Faiz was hounded all his life, except during the Bhutto years. Habib Jalib was jailed more than once. Ustad Daman was hunted as if he were a criminal. The progressive writers’ movement and its members were singled out for imprisonment and persecution as soon as Pakistan came into being. Why?
In 2006, angered by something Faraz had written, the minions of the regime had him and his family evicted from their Islamabad house, their belongings placed on the street. There was a nationwide uproar and the government pulled in its horns but did not apologise. Last year, Faraz was dismissed from his post as head of the National Book Foundation on the orders of “Shortcut” Aziz, Citibank’s gift to Pakistan. He is now gone but that infamous act is what he will forever be remembered for.
Faraz has always had the courage to remain to the left of every military regime, while many of our leading literary lights have taken the path of least resistance and keeled over. Faraz said in an interview last year, “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.” Faraz remained involved in the movement to restore the illegally dismissed judges and used his influence to persuade fellow writers to join the protest.
Asked once, when Zia was in power, why he had left Pakistan, he replied that he was in Karachi when an order was served on him, externing him from the province of Sindh. “I said to myself, ‘What have we come to when a man is exiled from his own land! Today, it is Karachi, tomorrow it will be Peshawar, the day after, Lahore. That is when I decided to leave.’”
He also returned the Hilal-i-Imtiaz conferred on him. When asked why he had kept it for two years, he replied, “Do you think it laid eggs in those two years?” I know of no one who can match Faraz’s wit. Let me recount some vintage Faraz stories.
One day Faraz heard loud banging at his door. He rose hurriedly to open it, only to see four or five bearded men in white skullcaps. “Can you recite the Kalima?” one asked. “Why, has it changed?” Faraz inquired.
Once when Faraz was staying at a Karachi hotel, Kishwar Naheed landed there with two of her women friends and announced as soon as they entered the room that they were all famished. Faraz picked up the phone and told room service, “Please send up some sand. The witches are already here.”
Faraz was once asked about the difference between Pakistan in 1947 and Pakistan today. “In 1947, the name of the Muslim League president was Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Today it is Chaudhry Gujrat Hussain.”
And then there is this Faraz story. A man is walking through a jungle on a dark night, when he is startled by a rustling noise in the bushes. “Who is that?” he asks, frightened. “An evil spirit,” answers a woman’s sweet voice. “Then come and possess me, what are you waiting for!” he says.
Husain Haqqani, who remembers more of Faraz than perhaps Faraz himself, phoned to tell me midweek that he had called Asif Zardari and the government was going to take care of the Chicago hospital expenses. All three, Zardari, Gilani and he, had also sent Faraz flowers. “Recite me two of your favourite Faraz verses,” I asked him. Here is what he recited:
Ye kaisa vasl hai tu samnay hai aur hamain
Shumar ab se judai ki saa’tain karnain
Ye kya ke sub se bayan dil ki haaltain karnain
Faraz tum ko na aayain mohabattain karnain
(What a union of ours is this! Here you are sitting across from me and here I am, already counting the moments of separation. You speak to all the world of what your heart is going through: Faraz, you never did learn how to love.”)