Meeting the Legendary Poet Ahmad Faraz
By Ras H. Sidiqui


Ahmad Faraz

What do you say when you meet what many consider the greatest living craftsman of the Urdu language today? When you meet poet Ahmad Faraz, you can pretty much say whatever you want.
You do not need to be intimidated in his presence as we, who have had a chance to interact with him over the years, still continue to discover. What you see is what you get. Straight from the mouth and the heart of this amazing Pathan from Kohat, who started scaling the heights of Urdu poetry and conquered them long before many of his current fans were born.
Faraz is over 75 years of age today. Humbled by the years, he still possesses that sharpness of wit and streaks of brilliance that have made him a literary force to contend with. I only wonder if Pakistanis will ever see him win a Nobel Prize for Literature (as we wanted Faiz Ahmad Faiz to be so awarded). and haven’t we have already waited for Maulana Sattar Edhi to win the Peace Prize for far too many years?
I saw him last when he visited Sacramento a day after our daughter was born. I was glad to see that he looked well. At the Mehran Restaurant in Newark, California this time, he did appear a bit slower perhaps and more philosophical (if that was possible), but he remains as controversial as ever. Still secular to the core, but somewhat touched by the beliefs of his people, he was not any gentler in his criticism of his old adversaries in general (pardon the pun), like in the past.
The discussion started with politics and the current judicial crisis in Pakistan. Faraz was quick to criticize “Crore Commanders” (millionaire generals) whose rule has brought instability and divisions. One need not be reminded that Faraz has been the champion of democratic forces in Pakistan for several decades now. Many believe that his best work “Mohasara” (Encircled-siege) written against the regime of General Ziaul Haq is his best political writing. Others will argue that it is a poem that he wrote in his biting criticism of military action in former East Pakistan and now Bangladesh. In either case I asked him whether the passion of the Mohasara period is still living and ignited in the Faraz of today? He smiled and said, “Yes” since the siege has not lifted, neither has his passion. He added that since things don’t often change for the better in Pakistan, the fact is that “my poetry never gets old.” He smiled again when I defended the progressive outlook of the current regime and said that the military still needs to go back to the barracks (he used a different terminology in Urdu which would be difficult to translate here). But then our hostess Annie Akhtar intervened and said that political discussions were getting kind of old and that we should move on.

Faraz with Annie Akhtar (left) and Ghulam Ali
Noshi Gilani with the eminent poet
Poet Farooq Taraz with friends
Link's Ras Siddiqui with Faraz

But politics was not a dead issue since we could not move forward without a discussion on Faiz Ahmad Faiz, which local poet Farooq Taraz initiated. Since Taraz knows full well how many of us feel about having never met the late Faiz, he asked Faraz to tell us something about his experiences with the other great poet from Pakistan. Faraz said that one of the finest qualities Faiz Sahib possessed was that he was able to keep his cool and did not get angry at people in spite of provocations. Giving the example of a poet (to remain unnamed here) who wrote extensively against Faiz Sahib, Faraz reflected on the time when he was entrusted with the task of officially putting together a list of leading scholars that represented the best writers in Pakistan. Faraz said that he shared the list with Faiz Sahib for verification (since he was certainly on it) and the poet asked him why that particular writer (who had written against Faiz) was missing from this list? Faraz said some impolite words about that writer (he was a much younger then), but Faiz himself put that writer’s name on that list with his own hands. Such was the character of Faiz who has on occasion been described by Faraz himself as the greatest Urdu writer since Ghalib and Iqbal.


Faraz in San Francisco

But on we moved to the subject of “Love” which more than anything else has made Faraz a permanent part of language of modern Urdu-Hindi world of romance. Who can forget “Ranjish hi sahi dil hii dukhaane ke liye aa, aa phir se mujhe chor ke jaane ke liye aa” (Come back to make me feel the pain of your leaving, and then leave again if you must, but please come back) immortalized by the voice of Mehdi Hassan? Or a personal favorite sung by Tahira Syed “Yeh aalam shauq ka dekha na jaayay, Woh bout hai yaa Khudaa dekhaa na jaaye” (an English translation would lose the aromatic flavor of the Urdu language here). His “Ab kay hum bichhray to shaayad kabhii khwaboon mein milen, jis tarah sookhe huway phool kitaabon mein milein.”(If we part this time, we may never meet again or if we do it will be like dried flowers in the pages of old books).
And while we were on the subject, ghazal-singing great Ghulam Ali walked in to greet Faraz and the rest of us here at this venue. And at almost the same time we were joined by poetess Noshi Gilani, thus completing the talented circle around Faraz that evening.
I asked him who he had in mind when he wrote “Dekhtay Hain”, now a classic of modern romance in South Asia. He said that Indian acting great Dilip Kumar (Yusuf Khan) had asked him the same question. A line or two of which “Suna hai hashr hain us ki gazaal si aankhen, Suna hai us ko hiran dasht bhar ke dekhate hain,” (We have heard that she has eyes like those of a gazelle, We have heard that even the deer look at her with longing).
But Faraz was not owning up and quoted (from the same poem) “Kahaniyan hi sahi sab mubaalagae hii sahi agar woh khwaab hai taabir kar kay dekhtay hain” (Maybe they are just stories and exaggerated ones at that, and if they are just dreams, let us bring them into the realistic realm) with a wink and a smile.
In conclusion one cannot help but feel that writing in English about who many consider the finest Urdu poetry writer alive today remains a difficult task. To the reader all I can add is that the flavor, the smell and the essence of the language is indeed almost impossible to translate but we have to continue to inform the world about the richness of our cultural heritage. Ahmad Faraz is one of the finest writers (writing in any language) walking the planet today. Many may not agree with his political views but there remains an underlying truth to what he says. So let us leave here with his writing “Is se pehlay ke bevafaa ho jaayen, Kyon na ai dost hum juda ho jaayen” (Before we become unfaithful, to our cause, why don’t we just part ways, my friend).
(Ahmad Faraz’s latest collection of poems has just recently been published. Called “Aey Isq-e Junoon Pesha” it is bound to generate further interest amongst his many fans).

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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