A Brief Remembrance of Ahmad Faraz
By Atiya Batool Khan
Ellicott City, Maryland
I had the honor of meeting Ahmad Faraz 26 years ago in Washington. A local Urdu literary society, the Aligarh Alumni Association, had invited him to recite his poetry at a gathering they had organized in his honor — a Mushaira, or poetry reading.
This was after he had left Pakistan under pressure from military strongman Zia-ul-Haq's government. My husband and I were asked by the Aligarh Alumni Association to host him for a week, but in that short time we became fast friends, so his stay turned first into a month and finally lasted for almost a year.
It marked the beginning of a lifelong relationship and he gradually became a member of our family.
We would visit him at least once a year in Pakistan, and he would visit us just as often. Though he became one of our closest friends, we always addressed him respectfully as "Faraz Sahib" and that is how I shall refer to him here.
As a poet Faraz Sahib was head and shoulders above his contemporaries. The superiority of his poetry owes much to his personal qualities: boldness of thought, willingness to fight oppression, unrelenting political activism for which he had to pay dearly, ingrained rebellious nature, and, of course, a singularly entrancing romantic worldview.
It was actually his love poetry that first made him popular at the young age of 19 years. Here is one famous romantic poem of that period which heralded the bold and beautiful lyrical rhythm in Urdu that would become characteristic of Faraz Sahib later:
Ranjish hi sahi dil hi dukhaanay kay liyay aa
Aa phir say mujhay chhorr kay jaanay kay liyay aa
Pehlay say maraasim na sahi phir bhi kabhi to
Rasm-o-rahay duniya hi nibhaanay kay liyay aa
Kis kis ko bataayengay judaai kaa sabab ham
Tu mujh se khafaa hai to zamaanay kay liyay aa
Kuchh to meri pindaar-e-mohabbat ka bharam rakh
Tu bhi to kabhi mujh ko manaanay kay liyay aa
Ek umr say hun lazzat-e-giryaa se bhi mehruum
Aye raahat-e-jaan mujh ko rulaanay kay liyay aa
Ab tak dil-e-khush_feham ko tujh say hain ummeedain
Ye aakhari shammain bhi bujhaanay kay liyay aa
Come, even if only to break my heart
Come, even if only to leave me again
Yes, it is no longer like before, but still
Come, if only for the sake of convention
I cannot tell people the reasons for our separation
Come, even if unhappy, for public show
Respect just a little my love for you
Come, for once, just to appease me
For long I haven’t had even the pleasure of lament
Come, joy of my life, if only to make me weep again
My heart, the optimist, still retains some hope
Come, to extinguish even these last little embers
As a poet, he was as sensitive as a creative artist: he frequently observed and then took time to reflect upon things that others would not notice. During one of his visits with us, my husband took him to see the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. The next day, he wrote his famous poem "Kaali Deewaar" (The Black Wall), a meditation not only on the utter futility of that war and the destruction wreaked upon the Vietnamese, but also an outpouring of sympathy for the loved ones of the American veterans he saw placing flowers near their names on the wall.
On another occasion I took him to work, to the Johns Hopkins Hospital, with me, and he soon wrote a poem about the Eye Bank there. In this especially moving poem, he graphically describes the deprivation of the hapless blind and offers his own eyes to them. But then he recoils and wonders if others would ever want eyes that have witnessed so much pain; whether such eyes, that have seen so many dreams shattered, would even be bearable to others.
His frustration and anger against inhumane practices and political oppression are obvious in a poem that he wrote in praise of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in which he wrote:
Mere zameer ne qabeel ko nahin bakhsha
Main kaise sulha karoon qatal karne walon se.
My conscience has yet to forgive Cain
How can I make peace with these killers?
And when he advises us to be an activist he says:
Shikwae zulmate shab se to kahin behtar tha
Apne hisse ki koi shama jalate jaate
Rather than lamenting the darkness of that night,
We should have done our share and lit a candle or two
In a philosophical mood he would recite:
Ek diwana ye kehta hua hansta jata
Kaash manzil se bhi age koi rasta jata.
A lunatic, laughing, would go along, saying
I wish this path went further than my destination
For friendship he wrote:
Zindigi is se ziada to nahin umr teri
Bas kisi dost ke milne se juda honay tak
Life, your duration is easily measured:
From the moment of meeting a friend, to the moment of parting.