Meeting the Legendary
Poet Ahmad Faraz
By Ras H. Sidiqui
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
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
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.
with Annie Akhtar (left) and Ghulam Ali
Gilani with the eminent poet
Farooq Taraz with friends
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.
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,
(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).