Faraz: The Poet, the Romantic, the Rebel
By Kaleem Kawaja
“Maira kalam to amanat haiy mairey logon ki, Maira kalam to adalat haiy mairey zameer ki"
(My poems are the property of my people, My words are the judge of my conscience)
For Ahmad Faraz, Urdu poet extraordinaire, his pen and his words were not just a means to express his ideas and sentiments. For him his words were the sentinel of his conscience and indeed of his people – the voice of the speechless masses. With his probing pen and words that sear into your conscience and force you to reflect, Faraz has often defended the masses against the aggression and immorality of the ruling class. Yet, at other times his words dripping with feelings of longing and the agony of separation from the beloved, have made countless millions misty-eyed.
Indeed, in his native Pakistan, Faraz encountered extremes of social tumult yet remained rock steady in his commitment to basic humanism, egalitarianism, justice, and above all, the simple force of love. In equal measure he raised his voice against the oppression of the military, the stranglehold of the mullah, the domination of the super powers and the decimation of the common man.
Listening to his poetry who will believe that Faraz is actually a hot blooded Pathan from the untamed North West Frontier of Pakistan and a scion of an affluent family. Early in his poetic career, Faraz was impressed by the venerable poet and thinker Faiz Ahmad Faiz. After Faiz was gone, Faraz determined to carry forward his mantle of speaking out against oppression, no matter what the cost. And a price he certainly had to pay.
When he spoke out against the excesses of the military regime in his homeland in the 1980s, he was jailed and subsequently exiled. Much like celebrated Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Faraz lived in exile in London, far from his family, enduring loneliness and adversity. Yet he consistently refused to compromise and in fact became a beacon of hope for millions of Pakistanis that another dawn will bring back justice and equality.
The experiences of takht (throne) and takhta (gallows) rather than make him miserable, added changing shapes, colors, sounds and symbols to his verse. Without that his poetry might have remained the mundane - “gul aur bulbul” (wine and song) variety.
Critics who criticize Faraz's verse to be too political fail to see that as a sensitive poet he has mirrored the feelings of millions of his countrymen. He has actually walked on the same dust as them; he has experienced the same travails and desperation. When a fire was raging in his country he refused to play the flute like Nero. As he himself said:
“Jangal maim aag lagi haiy, Aur taaoos to raqs ki parri haiy".
(The jungle is on fire, And all the peacock cares about is dancing)
With his status in society he could have chosen to be an elitist, but what he chose was identification with the teeming masses. When oppression was raging, everything was down and out and there was little hope, he refused to give up the hope for the return of a just society. In his renowned poem “ Hum apnay khwab kiyon baichain" (Why should we sell our dreams), published at a critical time in the history of his native Pakistan, Faraz defiantly told his people to hold on to their dreams of a better tomorrow, even if they were only dreams.
Those who criticize Faraz for being harsh to his native Pakistan and soft to the Western countries must remember Faraz's immortal satirizing of the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington DC in his famous poem “Kaali Deewar" (Black Wall). There he scathingly chastised the regime in America for persecuting the people of the Third World and for exploiting the American people, and in the end achieving nothing but a memorial black wall for all the blood and fury of an era.
In the poem “Madari" that he wrote on his first setting eyes on the White House in Washington DC, he expressed the anguish and helplessness of the people of the Third World who are being constantly manipulated by the American power structure.
There is surprise in store for those who consider Faraz as not being fond of Islam. Indeed he has unequivocally stated in many discourses that the charter of Islam teaches true tolerance and equality, and indeed is more acceptable to all people than the United Nations Human Rights Charter. But he refuses to accept the hegemony of the mullahs for whom Islam has come to mean a beard, a cap and a bunch of self-interpreted fatwas. To sum up Faraz in his own words:
Why should my verse be the cause of my persecution?
I love life; I love the cherubic faces of children
I love the smile on the lips of a beautiful woman
I love music; I want to contribute to the beauty in the world
I want to make a flower grow, just a small flower
When the military rule ended and democracy returned to Pakistan in the 1990s Faraz turned away from fire and fume and returned to his ebullient love of life and romance. Indeed Faraz has written some of the most memorable romantic poetry of our time. Poems like “Humsufar aahista Chul" (Beloved come walk slowly with me) and “Ranjish he sahi" (For old times sake my love) became a rage and more than twenty years later are still a rage just because most people could identify those fleeting moments of true love and longing for the beloved from their own experiences and aspirations.
It is said that “Ranjish he sahi" was actually inspired by Faraz's own lost love, a woman whom Faraz has not met ever since he lost her, but has never stopped longing. Here are a few stanzas from Faraz's timeless romantic ghazal:
Phir usii raah_gguzar par shaayad
phir usii raah_guzar par shaayad
ham kabhii mil saken magar shaayad
jaan pehchaan se kya hoga
phir bhi ae dost gaur kar shaayad
muntazir jin ke ham rahe unko
mil gaye aur hamsafar shaayad
jo bhii bichre woh kab mile hain 'Faraz'
phir bhii tuu intazaar kar shaayad
Faraz, the authentic romantic and genuine poet did not believe that you can sing love songs from someone else's experiences. For him the love tales of Romeo and Juliet, Shirin and Farhad, Laila and Majnu are an inspiration. As he said, “For me to write poetry I have to have my own Laila, my own love, even if I cannot hold on to it". Just as when he wrote of persecution in the past it was from his own incarceration in the miserable jail cell and the painful exile in a foreign land. In articulating the timeless frustration of the intellectuals everywhere Faraz warns the tormentors with his haunting warning:
“Jub hurf mur jaaye gaa, to kiya karo gay" (What will happen to the world if thinking dies).