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Thursday, 2 June 2011

Ahmad Faraz

Mera qalam to amanat hai mere logon ki
Mera qalam to adalat mere zamir ki hai
Issi liye to jo likha tapak-e-jan se likha
Tabhi to loch kamaan ka zabaan teer ki hai
(My pen is the trust of my people
My pen is the court of my conscience
That is why I write with such heart-felt ardour
That has the tautness of a bow and the keenness of an arrow)

A poet of protest and sensuality, a romantic and a visionary, the voice of liberty and angst, Ahmad Faraz was a heady combination of many qualities of the head and the heart. A frequent visitor to India and an often-heard voice on the mushaira circuit, Faraz’s death two years ago has left a void amongst his many, many admirers in India. His friend of over four decades, Akhilesh Mithal, remembers him not only for the warmth of his friendship but as the tallest of the tall poppies of his generation. For us in India, Faraz was special not least because it was he who broke the long tacit silence among Urdu poets – on both sides of the border -- on the Partition. And it was he who extended the dosti ka haath at a time when relations between the two countries were at an all-time low.

Faraz’s presence at the annual Shankar-Shaad mushaira, a landmark on the city’s cultural calendar, was a much-awaited annual event. Always the last to recite, Faraz would invariably win the audience over -- both with his poetry and charm. Over the years, he had begun to come often, staying at his favourite suite at the city’s tony India International Centre where everyone from the bearers to the regular members knew him. But Faraz’s popularity was not limited to a handful of ‘chaterrati’ and cultural ‘czars’ and ‘czarinas’. Far from it! His ghazals, that were first made phenomenally popular in India  by Mehndi Hasan, and in later years by Runa Laila, Ghulam Ali, Jagjit Singh and, more recently,  Tina Sani, had made him a familiar name with the Indian masses.

Unlike other popular poets, whose popularity on the mushaira circuit invariably causes the Urdu critic to regard them with disfavour, Faraz drew encomiums for his mastery over the Urdu metre and his well-crafted ghazals and his namzs that appropriated the compactness of the ghazal. Regarded as the foremost Urdu poet of our times, Faraz enjoyed a near-cult status in the pantheon of revolutionary poets. Of him the legendary Faiz Ahmad Faiz had said, ‘He protests against injustice as passionately as he professes his love,’ inspiring many to say that that the mantle of the great poet of protest had fallen upon him.

Faraz’s first volume of poetry, Tanha Tanha, published in the late 1950s, catapulted him to instant fame. A living legend and, in some ways, Pakistan’s very first “poster boy” and pin-up star long before rock stars and the like became popular on campuses, Faraz wrote with a sweet simplicity, a lyrical evocativeness that spoke of the eternal longings of the soul. I can recall several mushairas and nashists were Faraz was called upon to recite some of his perennial favourites with Indian audiences – Suna hai… being the first request from women young and old. Faraz himself like to recite Mi\uhasar in his characteristically somber, sonorous tones. In Faraz’s poetry the romantic and the revolutionary, the subjective and the objective, the individual and the universal was so intermingled that it is difficult to separate their tangled skeins.

Unwilling to be labeled either a romantic or a crusader he was, above all else, he liked to think, a poet. In a chat during one of his frequent visits to Delhi, he had once said to me, ‘The lyrical, emotional and cerebral content (of poetry) should combine to produce sangeet, a lyrical softness of language. Jazb-e-azam, as it is called in Urdu. Don’t, for heaven’s sake, take the delicacy and softness, the komalta, out of it. Ideology alone does not, cannot, constitute poetry; it must harmonise with the beat of the words.’

Farewell Faraz sahab, may the magic of your sangeet play on! And may the dosti ka haath you had once so memorably extended, never be withdrawn!

-- Rakhshanda Jalil

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