Munir Niazi: The Magician of Words
By Dr Afzal Mirza
Maryland, US

It was early 1970s and daily Azaad which started publication at the time of general elections had not closed down yet. I had started a series of articles on my Yugoslavian experience in its Sunday Magazine.
I was sitting with Israr Zaidi who was in-charge of the magazine and taking tea when Munir Niazi barged in. He was then writing a daily column in the same paper. He had read my last article in which I had given a translation of a poem by Croatian poet Arsen Dedic entitled My Brother. Munir said, “Afzal Mirza, I have read the translation of the Croatian poem and I can’t get it out of my mind. It haunts me all the time.”
At that time I didn’t know that Munir had served in the Navy and had a strange fascination for the sea that still haunted him. The ambience of the poem was a small seaside town of Croatia. Most of the young men of that area lived with dreams of sailing to distant lands and in this poem a young man had written a letter to his brother who had left the town in pursuit of his dreams but had never returned.. The verses of the poem were:
My Brother
In summer evenings
The group of friends still meets
In front of café
With wine, cards and guitar
And they talk of so many things to kill boredom
But it always ends on you
My Brother
Much has happened since that day when without a word you left the house and the port
Some people suspect that you were a poet
But everyone agrees that you were not in your own hands.
I have inherited some of your things
Your cap, two old suits and books
That I keep against wishes
I don’t know much but it appears to me from all this
That from life you wanted something more, something better.
Who knows where you are on which of the seas
Who knows where you are on which of the continents
Whether alone or you have friends as we have
In whose company you drink and cry as I know you.
There is the news that you are alive
There is the news that you are dead
Your last letter reached us long ago.
In the house I’m keeping mum
In front of father I can’t say it
Because he won’t be able to stand it as you know
In summer evenings the group of friends still meets in front of café
With guitar, cards and wine
And the time is boring and empty
But every one says it is good, it is fine.
(Translated from Croatian by Afzal Mirza)
Munir Niazi told me that this poem reminds him of his poem ‘An Old Practice’ that goes like this:
Whosoever leaves the house
Says
“Don’t forget me
I’ll come back some day
Carrying with me thousands of gifts
I’ll tell you about different people’
But the eyes get weary
And he doesn’t come back
There is a crowd of people
And he is alone
So he disappears among them

When I read these two poems in synergy I found a similarity of thought as if it was the continuity of the same dream process. The man sets out to fulfill his dream of traveling to distant places in search of a better life and never comes back. Although all poets are dreamers but there are some rare ones whose poetry has transcendental appeal. The whole poetic experience of Munir is derived from his journey into a dream world of a vast magnitude in which one comes across dense green forests, haunted empty havelis and deserted temples, distant islands and blue seas.
Munir was born in Khanpur (District Hoshiarpur) in 1928. The area is known for its mango groves, green pastures and temperate weather. He was a teenager and at an impressionable period of his life he had to leave his hometown due to partition of the sub-continent. It was a traumatic experience for him as he and his family had to wade through rivers of blood to reach Sahiwal. That he was a genuine poet is clear from the fact that he started writing poetry at a very young age. Munir’s earlier poetry, like the writings of all the writers of that period, is characterized by the nostalgia for the places they left behind. Munir missed the picturesque beauty of his home town all along.
Luckily a number of good writers had converged on Sahiwal after partition. Among them were Majid Amjad, Hamid Akhtar, Israr Zaidi, Jafar Sheerazi and Mustafa Zaidi who served as deputy commissioner of Sahiwal for some time. No sooner did they settle down they started their literary activity. Soon these writers realized that if they wanted to achieve something they would have to move to some big town with lot of literary activity and Lahore was not very far from there. Hamid Akhtar was the first to shift to Lahore as he was a devoted communist activist who had been assigned duty in Lahore by Syed Sajjad Zaheer the general secretary of the party. Another left-leaning writer Israr Zaidi followed suit and next came Munir who joined a Lahore College for his graduate studies which he couldn’t complete. One of the most outstanding poets of his time Majid Amjad, however, remained in Sahiwal till the end. .
In many ways Munir had derived inspiration from Majid Amjad. Majid Amjad did not align himself with any particular school of thought, especially the progressive writers’ movement; so did Munir. Majid Amjad wrote of the rural landscape and Munir’s earlier poetry was full of that imagery. Finally, Majid Amjad was a nazm poet and wrote few ghazals. Munir entered the realm of literature as a nazm poet and to begin with wrote mainly nazms and very few ghazals.
Munir moved to Lahore in the early 1950s. He was a handsome person and cut the figure of a happy-go-lucky young man. That was the reason why he was not taken seriously during that initial period. Most of his contemporaries wrote ghazals in the traditional style and were enjoying their quick popularity Those were the days when Manto was alive and many young writers, including Munir, were trying to emulate his behavior in literary circles.
Munir had a hard time in settling down in Lahore. Earlier, he had started a magazine named Saat Rang from Sahiwal which was a commercial failure and his father was not prepared to waste more money on his son’s ”frivolous” ambitions. It was at that time that I first met him.
It so happened that the younger brother of one of my college fellows in the Government College Lahore got into his head the idea to become a poet .From his exercises in the art of poetry writing, one could easily guess that he had no chances of fulfilling his desire. But one day he told me that a young and upcoming poet was shifting to their house. He also showed me a poem that had been corrected by that poet. He happened to be Munir Niazi. Now I don’t remember how long Munir lived in their house but I remember that I met him a few times in his room upstairs where every thing was in disarray. The Munir of those days was a jovial fellow and more communicative. From his looks and style of talking one could conclude that he could bag a role in the movies if he so tried.
Munir worked very hard and succeeded in developing his own style and diction. His poems and even ghazals started gaining popularity. To make both ends meet, he wrote columns for papers like Zamindar. He didn’t become an actor but he entered the film industry as a song writer and excelled in it. His famous ghazal Us bewafa ka sheher hae aur ham haein dosto became a rage in the sub-continent. His friend Riaz Shahid used his poetry for his movies that eased his financial position to some extent. But being a non-conformist he couldn’t live a comfortable life like Qateel Shifai or others writing for movies.
Munir never subscribed to any political ideology but he did have his own views on political matters. During Ayub Khan’s time when other writers were enjoying free trips within the country and abroad through the Pakistan Writers Guild, Munir dissociated himself from the Guild with his famous remarks, “Mujhe aise lagta hae jaise mein zalimon ke sheher se bahir nikal aya hun.” (I feel as if I have come out of the city of cruel people). From time to time in his verses he would comment on the political conditions of the country. . He wrote:
Munir is mulk par shayed koi saya hae ya kiya hae
Keh harkat tez tar hae aur safar aahista aahista
Again on the execution of Z.A.Bhutto in one of his poems he wrote, ”They kill their best man and then weep for him.”
He became more and more introvert but throughout his life he never spared those whom he disliked and could be blunt to any extent. Although in discussions he did not give the impression of being a very well read person but actually most of the time he gave expression to his thoughts in his poetry. I believe that a great poet is one whose verses are remembered by the people by heart and are quoted profusely in everyday life. His short poems and one-liners have become household quotes. I think Munir Niazi passed this test. With his death we have lost an accomplished poet who could create magic with his words.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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