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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Anjum Niaz: Ah Faiz!

Agha Nasir’s book event was at the Pakistan Academy of Letters whose guardian is the polite Iftifkhar Arif (one hears the PPP wants its own man there now, and hopes it’s not some philistine). The book is a revelation. A juxtaposition of Faiz’s poetry and humanism. It casts the great poet in the centre and names the dramatis personae that came into his life and then exited the stage. The raconteur does not call his book a book of research or a critique. Instead, he calls it a labour of love, a “debt that he owed” to their friendship. Indeed, Agha Nasir has paid his ultimate tribute to his friendship in telling the world why, where, when, which, what, and how Faiz’s 100 best poems got written.

The author has framed his narration with a dignified charm. Agha Nasir scanned Faiz’s letters, correspondence and family papers. He went to his daughters Salima and Moneeza in Lahore to corroborate anecdotes he had collected from various sources. He dug deep to unearth gems that lay hidden and would have never come to light had he himself not excavated. Once the facts were in place, checked and rechecked, the book was born. And it was launched.

Yusuf Jamal was the chief speaker. “Who is this old man trying to imitate you?” asked Yusuf’s bride on their wedding day. But first, who is this Yusuf Jamal? Iftikhar Arif introduced him to us. He is a Faiz clone. He even recites Faiz’s verses in the same tone, tenor and verve.

But his bride, a St Joseph’s English-medium graduate, thought it was Faiz who was “imitating” her bridegroom while reciting poetry on their wedding night which according to Yusuf Jamal “stretched into the late hours.” His bride was rightly piqued for being upstaged by that “old man” on the most important occasion of her life!

Faiz’s poetry was inspired by the women he loved. Mujh se pehli se mohabbat mere mahboob na maang is one of them. It was written in honour of Dr Rasheed Jehan whom he had met while a lecturer at the MAO college in Amritsar. She gave him the Communist Party manifesto, gently nudging him to rise above himself and his amour to look at the larger picture around him depicting deprivation, exploitation and poverty. This became the turning point for the young Faiz. His poetry and his thinking changed forever.

Masood Mufti, another civil servant like Yusuf Jamal, is well known in the world of Urdu literature. He was a POW during the 1971 war. He like Faiz is a humanist who feels the pain of fellow humans. But he also wants change. He wants ordinary Pakistanis to be in charge of their destinies and not corrupt leaders who promise change but are dictators, even in civilian clothing.

He shared his innermost fears and hopes with us, as did Kishwar Naheed, the ever young-at-heart feminist. She spoke of the days when she’d visit Faiz in jail at Lahore. He lived in sub-human conditions. He’d always be smiling; never complaining.


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