Death of a Legend
By Dr Adil Najam
As Faraz sahib lay in a Chicago hospital this July last, I came to know how much he wanted to return to Pakistan. In his condition then it was not exactly easy to get back. But he did. Only to make it his final resting place.
'Abb kay hum bichray tou shaed kabhi khaaboun mein millei'
The Nowshera-born poet was one of the greatest poets not only of our times but of all times. A man of conviction his poetry blended the exquisite sensitivity with fervent political passions. In his famous poem Mohassra, he writes: 'Maira qalam to amanat hai mairey logoun ki/ Maira qalam to adaalat mairey zameer ki hai'
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 favorite son?
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 honor women, Faraz replied: "But all my poetry is dedicated to women".
Ahmed Faraz is a national treasure and although he did 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 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, he was suspended from government service by Maulana Kausar Niazi for a single verse that asked the books that advocate hate in the name of religion to be cast aside once and for all.
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: 'Pesha var qatilo tum sipahi nahin' (Soldiers you are not, you professional murderers).
There can be no question that Faraz was also the greatest romantic Urdu poet of our time. 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 apologize. 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.
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?"
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?" he asked.