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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Faraz the irrepressible - Afzal Mirza

Originally linked on 7/27/06, this profile of Ahmed Faraz by Afzal Mirza is worth reproducing.

Writer Michael Mewshaw has quoted famous writer Jean Paul Sartre as saying that writers arere generally inferior to their books. But Mewshaw himself qualifies it with the assertion that this should in no way jeopardise the writer's status as a writer. Ever since his debut as a poet in early 1950's Ahmad Faraz has maintained his penchant for creating controversies, but his beautiful poetry helps in settling the dust raised by these controversies. There are many reasons for such controversies, but to me the major cause is his exceptional wit and uninhibited bluntness in commenting on almost every subject that he is asked to comment on. This has cost him heavily in life and for it he even had to undergo incarceration and exile. But again he knows how to extricate himself from such situations and resume his life as ever.

The problem is that, like all great poets and writers of yore, Faraz is not generous to his contemporaries. You ask his opinion about someone and he replies with a witty remark denigrating him. I remember that in the late 1950's the Bazm-i-Ilm-o-Fun in Abbottabad, of which I was then the general secretary, decided to hold an all-Pakistan mushaira. Among the few we considered inviting from the Peshawar Region was Faraz's name. Faraz had not yet written his famous ghazals 'sookhe hue kucch phool' and 'ranjish he sahi'. In those days his poem 'Bano ke naam' was in demand at every mushaira. While preparing the list of poets to be invited I found that majority of the members of the organising committee were opposed to inviting him. They gave number of reasons for their opposition, including that after reciting his poem Faraz would join the audience in hooting the other poets. Recently a friend who attended almost all of his mushairas in USA told me, "I like Faraz's poetry, which is marvellous, but I don't understand why after reading his poems he comes and sits in the audience and joins them in hooting other poets." I do not know why Faraz indulges in such pranks, but I have a feeling that even now, at the ripe age of 75, there is a 'teenager' in him that instigates him to do it.

Generally Faraz's detractors insist that he is the poet for teenagers. Late Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi wrote about an interesting incident that happened in Mecca. He along with Ahmad Faraz were performing Umra and a young man holding the trembling arm of his aged father approached Faraz because the old man wanted to meet his favorite poet. Qasmi says that he told Faraz that "Didn't you see this teenager expressing his devotion to you. It is a different matter that this teenager seems to be past 80-85." Qasmi continues to write, "'Faraz is a poet of teenagers.' 'Faraz is a poet of those who have just entered the threshold of youth.' 'Faraz is the poet of young college and university students.' Faraz has been facing these accusations since long, but oblivious of this he continues to produce beautiful poetry." I think Qasmi sahib has aptly defended Faraz against such frivolous charges. A critical look at his more-than-dozen books of poetry that have sold like hot cakes, shows his popularity among readers of all ages. One finds a perpetual development in his poetry which is a beautiful blend of matters of the heart and political cross-currents.

Faraz started writing poetry when the Progressive Writers' movement was at its peak. Some people call him the image of Faiz. As far as I remember, he always proudly acknowledged the influence of that great poet on his poetic thought and style. But, like other poets who after attaining a certain status in literary world try to project their own individuality, Faraz also seems to be keen on carving out his own niche and to be remembered as poet of his own diction and style. That is why, in some of his recent interviews, he has said that he would prefer to be known as Faraz and not the image of Faiz. "I did follow Faiz but never as a disciple or even as a rival," he clarified. He elaborated it by saying that as a student Ghalib and Faiz were his ideals. The quality he revered the most in Faiz most that even on the harshest and hardest subjects, he used polite expressions. Replying to an Indian journalist's question as to who was his ideal poet, Faraz named Sahir Ludhianvi.

Born as Agha Ahmad Shah in the small town of Kohat in North Western Frontier Province, Faraz wrote his earlier poetry as Sharar Kohati. In this he followed his father Agha Barq Kohati, who was an Urdu and Persian poet and oriental teacher. From him he imbibed the Persian language that gave strength to his poetry, which is replete with Persian idioms and words. But after his early schooling and on shifting to Peshawar he changed his name to Ahmad Faraz because, as his friend from Kohat Rahim Gul points out, once one of his friends told Faraz that he couldn't sleep the whole night because he forgot to close the tap of water and it flowed shrr..rr..rr. That might be true but my late friend Sharar Naumani, who also practised poetry in Peshawar during that period, used to claim that Faraz changed it because his (Sharar Naumani's)name was more popular in Peshawar region.

Soon after the partition of the subcontinent, Peshawar could boast of many outstanding poets -- Farigh Bukhari, Raza Hamdani, Nazir Mirza Birlas, Shaukat Wasti from the older generation and Khatir Ghaznavi, Ahmad Faraz, Mohsin Ehsan, Hafeez Asar and others from the younger. From time to time Radio Pakistan also provided the city with poets of repute, like N. M. Rashed, Ahmad Nadim Qasmi, Kartar Singh Duggal etc., who came to serve there. While pursuing their studies many of the younger writers found part-time work in Radio Pakistan, and it is there that I met Ahmad Faraz for the first time, in 1959. He was then program producer in-charge of talks and I had gone there to deliver a talk. He was then a handsome young man with a fair Pathan complexion and thick crop of brown hair. He already had the script of the talk with him. In those days we used to go directly on the air. He made me to rehearse my talk and pointed out some pronunciation errors. After the talk, as we were sipping tea in the office, of duty officer Khatir Ghaznavi came in. He always appeared to me as a double of poet Shahzad Ahmad. Khatir was then attached to Radio Pakistan as a producer and was also the official photographer. Khatir was then already well known in literary circles of the country and Faraz was coming up fast. Then in the next few years, while he studied in Peshawar University for his Master's in Persian, Faraz flabbergasted the literary circles with numerous ghazals that were spontaneous and came straight from the heart. Faraz, who later lectured in the college, became a rage because his ghazals reached a wider audience through the radio ,TV and movies.

As a government servant he did not associate himself with any political party, but like the majority of Pathans he always had a soft corner for the National Awami Party and its founding father, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. That is the reason for his tilt towards the Leftist cause as well. Since the party had also always stood for peaceful relations with India, one can understand Faraz's recent interest in Track-II diplomacy. Faraz is a democrat and that is why he has been opposing all dictatorial regimes, starting with Ayub Khan's. When during Yahya Khan's rule Pakistan faced a defeat from India and lost its eastern wing, Faraz wrote some very poignant poems -- the most popular being 'Professional Killers'. Though Faraz remained associated with officialdom in various capacities during the Bhutto period, it is interesting that during PNA's anti-Bhutto movement his poems, especially 'The Professional Killers', were circulated in anti-Bhutto rallies. He was apprehended during Zia's dictatorship and was confined in the infamous Mansar Camp. After his release he escaped from the country and remained in exile for many years, living in England and visiting other countries, especially USA, for participating in mushairas. After Zia's death, when democracy was restored in the country, he came back and served in various positions, ending with the Managing Directorship of National Book Foundation from which he was recently removed.

During his recent visit to America I met him, after many years, at the residence of Dr Attiya Khan. The Khan household has played host to numerous literary personalities from the subcontinent, including Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Qurratulain Hyder, Javed Akhtar. Faraz seemed quite frustrated by what had happened to him at the National Book Foundation. He was also quite critical of the political affairs of the country. His recent renunciation of Hilal-e-Imtiaz is one manifestation of that frustration. Lots of critical articles have appeared on this count, but looking at the stature and poetic achievements of Faraz and listening to his side of the story, one could only remind the present regime of Faiz Ahmad Faiz's line:

Apne ushshaq se aise bhi koi karta hae.


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