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Friday, February 13, 2009

Wazir Mohammed Zakhmi - The wounded poet —Salman Rashid

In 1965 or the year after, love entered the life of Wazir Mohammad. That was when he first set eyes upon Fauzia. A pharmacist by training, she was the daughter of a prominent lawyer of Naziabad and therefore difficult for a lovelorn, poetry-writing mill worker to approach. And so for eleven long years Wazir Mohammad daily stood by the way Fauzia passed on her way to work with a government laboratory.He says Fauzia became aware of his presence. They exchanged glances, but the poet never had the courage to approach her and speak with her. For eleven years, from 1965 to 1976, this went on every workday. His poetry was transformed: from addressing matters religious, our poet began to write for the love of his life.Who knows how long the mute romance would have gone on if Fauzia’s family had not sold their home and moved away? Frantically, Wazir Mohammad tried to find their new domicile, but to no avail. Who knows if the family had discovered this silent infatuation and decided to rid themselves of it? Or even if Fauzia had reported it to her family. But they quietly faded out of his life, ‘wounding’ our poet.This great catastrophe destroyed him. He turned into a malang, wandering the streets of Karachi, searching, forever searching for his unrequited love. He never found her. Turning reclusive, he slowly retreated from the company even of friends who he found increasingly oppressive. At last, heart-broken and bearing the great wound that became his name, he left the city that had brought love to his life only to take away, and returned to his native Rashung in Alai. Once again, he does not remember the year, but it was very likely 1978.When I met him, he had been writing for thirty-five years and had accumulated no fewer than one hundred and twenty-four manuscripts. A Karachi-based publishing house had brought out some of his Urdu poetry and some Pashto work was published by one in Peshawar. There was still a huge body of work waiting to receive the attention of the publishing world. Wazir Mohammad Zakhmi, who had never received any institutional support, did not care if his remaining work did not see the light of day. But he was certain that one day when he will be no more, someone will discover his work and make it available to the reading public.From wandering the streets of Karachi, Zakhmi was drifting through Alai Valley — a ghost with vacant eyes who was always somewhere else. There was a tangible sense of sadness about this man who never married and who so few have seen smiling. He was bearing the burden of an unattainable passion that the passage of nearly a quarter of century had not lightened.Zakhmi said he was travelling around Alai to assess the damage done by the storm that had preceded me. In the absence of an agency that kept a record of such occurrences and because there were no local newspapers to preserve the event, Zakhmi was taking stock to record everything in his poetry.‘I now write about everything between the earth and the sky,’ he had said.Before taking leave, I requested Zakhmi to recite some of his Urdu couplets and I could help being impressed by his command over the language. He said he was illiterate in Persian, yet he quoted freely from Hafiz Shirazi: for a man who had only two years of formal schooling, Zakhmi was remarkable. That he had also become learned in theology and yet kept himself from descending into the depravity of intolerant fundamentalism was a measure of his intellect.

Salman Rashid


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