The Tragedy of Mustafa Zaidi
By Dr Afzal Mirza
Maryland, US

I remember that in early 1960s one of my colleagues Shamim Haider Zaidi who taught English in Government College Abbottabad and later joined the Air Force and retired as Squadron Leader used to tell me about his uncle who was a poet. We were young and full of passion for poetry and the uncle’s verses that he recited to me directly appealed to the heart. The poet was Mustafa Zaidi and when I was told that he was previously known as Tegh Allahabadi I found out that his name was not unfamiliar to me.
I had earlier read about him in a magazine Shahrah that progressive writers used to publish from Delhi in early 1950s with Sahir Ludhianavi and Parkash Pandit as its editors. I had seen pictures of Tegh Allahabadi and Safdar Mir in that magazine and had no difficulty in recognizing these writers when I saw them in the Government College Lahore in 1951. Tegh Allahabadi had joined MA English final class after having done his MA previous from Allahabad the university. Those days he used to wear khadar and sherwani and was distinct from other GC students who used to wear western clothes.. Tegh Allahabadi’s time in GC was uneventful as it was quite short, i.e. less than a year.
Shamim Zaidi told me that his uncle had joined the civil service and has changed his name to Mustafa Zaidi which was his real name. He also promised that he would introduce me to him whenever he visited Abbottabad or we visited Peshawar where the Zaidis were settled after migrating from Allahabad, India. What intrigued me at that time was how could a known communist get clearance from the agencies to join the civil service while people including this scribe were being haunted by them on the slightest pretext of having leftist leanings. There were many questions that puzzled me as to why did he leave his MA unfinished in India and shift to Pakistan to complete it. Shamim had told me that Mustafa was a person of a different kind, too passionate, too emotional. Muse had smitten him from the childhood. His early poetry seems to be influenced by Majaz and Sahir the two poets who were favorites of the younger generation of late forties. Zaidi was also inspired by Josh whose diction he adopted in his later poetry. His pseudonym Tegh or sword was the outcome of the revolutionary wave raging in the India of pre-partition days. At that time he also consulted Firaq Gorakhpuri though Firaq wrote poetry of altogether different type.
Coming from a middle class background Zaidi at that young age started wearing khaddar and used to sleep on the floor. Asked the reason for doing so he would say that he was trying to “declass” himself. His parents wanted him to go for some scientific profession but he insisted on studying art and writing poetry for which he had natural aptitude. .So Mustafa migrated to Lahore in 1951. His friend of those days writer Masood Ashar who along with Burhanuddin Hasan used to live on Macleod Road says that in Lahore Mustafa stayed in a house inside Lahore belonging to the publisher of some legal journals. Burhanuddin Hasan was also a student of Government College so the threesome would spend their time together.
After doing his MA, Zaidi shifted to Karachi and taught at the Islamia College for some time and then joined the Peshawar University English Department. His elder brother Mujtaba Zaidi was already a civil service officer and was deputy commissioner in Dera Ismail Khan He must have influenced him to compete for the civil service examination. Mujtaba Zaidi died in a traffic accident in Iran while returning from England by car. Mustafa wrote a touching dirge on his death:
Ham teri laash ko kandha bhi na dene aaye
Ham ne ghurbat mein tujhe zerezamin chorr diya
Ham ne iss zeest mein bas aik nageen paya tha
Kissi turbat mein wohi aik nageen chorr diya

(We did not come to shoulder your coffin and left you under the ground in a distant land.
We had earned only this precious jewel in life that we left in some tomb.)
Mustafa Zaidi was no doubt a genuine poet and from his early youth he was influenced by the leftist ideology. The biggest tragedy was that with this background he chose to join the civil service of Pakistan. The question intrigues whether he was sincere to his ideology or it was a passing phase in his life like many other youthful ventures. He himself pointed out in one of his couplets:
Jab se hamara taraz-e-faqirana chut gaya
Shahi to mil gai dil-e-shahana chut gaya

(Ever since I lost my poor man’s way of living
I got the kingdom but lost a king’s heart)
The first edition of his anthology of poetry entitled Raushni was published in Allahabad in 1949.It was republished in Pakistan in mid-1950s. In an introduction to this Pakistani edition Mustafa Zaidi wrote, “I am not sorry for this republication of my book nor am I ashamed of my initial poems. I don’t see any literary dishonesty in it because the poems I have added to this edition are from the same period. Those were my student days when for the sake of sheer experience one joins some big movements…..but the passion of that period can not be repeated in rest of one’s literary life.. I received education in Ewing Christian College and Allahabad University. Those were not only the educational institutions but training institutes where one was free to practice any type of thoughts whether political or romantic…. Those days atheism was adopted as a reaction to the religious fanaticism. That is why when Josh Malihabadi used to say “Read Kalima Lahilaha illa Insan” and on the other side “O Husain we drunkards are also present in the circle of your mourners ”I could understand this contradiction and I had no confusion about it.” Now this statement written by Zaidi explains the later contradictions of his life. It was with this publication that he discarded his pseudonym Tegh Allahabadi and adopted his original name Mustafa Zaidi for his future writings. Along with it he also renounced his leftist past perhaps.
His second book Shehr-e-Azar came out in 1958 and it was this book that provided me a chance to meet the poet. Shamim Zaidi one day told me that his uncle was coming to Abbottabad so we went together to meet him in the circuit house. I had purchased his book and I took it with me. In that short meeting I found out that there is something in common with every bureaucrat that they create a façade around them to appear superior to the rest and Mustafa Zaidi was no exception to this rule. But on my request he wrote the following lines on the book:
Guzarne walon mein kitne jigar figar the aaj
Faqir-e-rah haen ham ham ko kiya nahin maloom
Bohat se who the jo bar-e-safar safr uttha na sake
Bohat se who hain jin hein raasta nahin maloom.

(How many depressed people were there among those who passed this way. We are wayward fakirs and we know every thing/There were many who couldn’t bear the hardships of the journey/And there were many who didn’t know their way).
After this meeting I told Shamim that it perhaps represented his own state of mind but I did not know which one of the two he had --- perhaps the second one who did not know his way.
In bureaucracy there have been many literary figures like Shahab, Altaf Gauhar, Mukhtar Masood, Manzur Ilahi .Murtaza Birlas, Masood Mufti and others who all took full advantage of their association with the power but one can understand from their writings that they had no confusion in their minds and were wedded to the agenda of the ruling coterie. That is why they had a smooth sailing in their careers. Mustafa Zaidi was unsure about himself and sometimes Tegh Allahabadi in him would shake him and he would wake up and bluntly refuse to say aye. Zaidi served in various positions at different places and everywhere he patronized the holding of mushairas inviting poets of his choice and compensating them.
Zaidi authored half a dozen books of poetry and rose to the position of secretary in the West Pakistan provincial government when Gen. Yahya Khan unseated Gen. Ayub Khan and enforced martial law in the country. As has been a norm in Pakistan every incoming dictator compiles a list of “corrupt” officers and sends them home to tame the rest. So Zaidi’s name appeared among the list of 303 people sending him home in 1969. Zaidi who had a German wife and children felt devastated. Consequently he suffered from severe depression that led him to more and more indulgence in escapism.
In his book Koh-e-Nida which he termed as his last anthology he wrote, “I am calling it my last anthology because of my pettiness or smallness because of the following:
“Long ago I had lost interest in the inquisitiveness needed for writing poetry so I have only studied the pornography from all parts of the world. Now I am even fed up with this type of books as well…In spite of my ignorance and being uneducated I am considered educated in the country where I live and the fact is that whosoever I met among the people around me I have found them less learned than myself. So in the light of this I am unable to write poetry that the civilized world wants me to write and writing poetry that is being written in my country is beyond my capacity.
“I am misfit both as a poet and as a civil servant…I have a feeling in my heart that most often the poets meet me because I’m a government officer and government officials meet me to entertain themselves from my being a poet in their drawing room parties.
“In our social setup the society refuses to accept any other ideology except their own moribund ideology. The result is that people like eminent intellectual and poet Josh Malihabadi are denigrated by the government and public…
In a country where religious convictions intimidate you there is left no choice except suicide or escapism rather than getting killed by those cruel people…Before the allotment of present house I had to live with my wife and children in the Bachelor Hostel of GOR 2.Here on April 24 1969 in the evening a subordinate officer came to offer me bribe of many thousand rupees. I informed the chief secretary next day about this ‘boldness’ of the man. He had so much influence in the upper echelons of officialdom that nothing happened to him at all but my life was made miserable. For months I was under a strange fear. My fault was that I threw back bad money on his face.”
On October 12.1970 the following news was flashed by newspapers: “ Popular poet Mustafa Zaidi was found dead in his Muhammad Ali Society (Karachi) apartment together with an unconscious woman, Shahnaz. The two were apparently on intimate terms and the popular theory is that they had both attempted suicide by ingesting poison. Investigators say they will know more once the medical team completes the examination of Shahnaz's stomach contents…” This was followed by another news headlined Girlfriend charged with murder. “Shahnaz is under arrest for the murder of poet Mustafa Zaidi. She is also implicated in a smuggling scandal, and accused of conducting affairs with several high ranking officials and industrial magnets, in order to carry out espionage for foreign agencies.” However she was exonerated of these charges and set at liberty after some time.
During the last days of his life Mustafa wrote some passionate poems addressed to Shahnaz complaining about her unfaithfulness – the last being written on September 22, 1970. He also wrote a meaningful couplet during that period:
Mein kis ke haath peh apna lahu talash karun
Tamam sheher ne pehne hue haein dastanae

(On whose hand should I search for the smear of my blood
Everyone in the city is wearing gloves.)


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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