Ahmad Faraz | January 12 1931, 25 August 2008)

Khwaab martay naheen

Khwaab dil hain, nah aankhen, nah saansen keh jo

Rezaa, rezaa huwe to bikhar jaayen ge

Jism ki maut se ye bhi mar jaayen ge

A man who weaved dreams of love and passion has left indelible impressions on the hearts and minds of the lovers of Urdu poetry the world over. Ahmad Faraz’s resounding reign in the Urdu literature spans over the last six decades, making his name synonymous with modern poetry. Few poets have enjoyed the magnitude of the fame like Faraz, owing to his passionate poetry: full of picturesque romantic nostalgia or vehemently acerbic political resistance.

He isn’t the usual betel-chewing, kurta-pyjama-clad poet. He is smartly dressed and can dance with the girls,

Ismat Chughtai realled her meeting with the poet in Moscow, in an interview for an Indian newspaper.

Ten years since his demise, Faraz, his unique voice and expression, stands out as one of the most remarkable and loved poets of Pakistan, India and countries where Urdu language is understood. He published 14 anthologies of his poems: Pas Andaaz MausamSab Awazain Meri HainKhuwab Gul Pareshaan HainJanan Janan and Ghazal Bahana Karon, etc., received acclaim by critics and poetry buffs. His translations of poetry are included in Sub Awazein Meri Hain. Faraz also compiled a selection from Kunwar Mahinder Singh Bedi poetry in Ai Ishq Junoon Pesha. His Kulliyat appeared with an inclusive title of Shahr-e-Sukhan Aaraasta Hai.

Cognoscenti and the young readers enjoy the meticulousness of his poetic command and the sensitive, sentimental resonance of his romantic symbolism. Faraz received several national and international awards in recognition of his contributions to Urdu Literature. Some of these include Adamji Award, Abaseen Award, Kamal-e-Fun Award, and Hilal-e-Imtiaz award, which he returned in protest. He was decorated with Hilal-e-Pakistan award by the Government of Pakistan posthumously.

Sab kay waste laye hein kaprye sale se

Laye hein mere liye qaidi ka kambal jail se

Faraz fondly remembered his first couplet in an interview with the BBC Urdu, expressing his distaste for his eid clothes bought by his father.

Syed Ahmed Shah’s ancestral home was in Kohat and was born in Naw Shehra. He belonged to a Pashtun-Syed family. Faraz, his acquired nom de plume, started writing couplets at an early age. His father was a Persian language poet as well. Faraz attended Islamia College, Kohat, for his initial studies, later his family moved to Peshawar and he went on to Edwards College. During this time, he was influenced by the notable progressive poets i.e., Faiz and Ali Sardar Jafri. They became his role models.

Faraz received his degrees in Urdu and Persian languages from Peshawar University and subsequently joined his alma mater as a lecturer in both languages. An instant hit, Tanha Tanha, his first volume was published in 1950s when he was still a student.

My father also wrote poetry in Persian but never got any recognition or money, so much so that when my first poem got broadcast over radio and I was paid a princely sum of Rs 25 for it, my mother would taunt my father with it no end. Faraz recalls the event in a published interview.

Slowly opportunities knocked at his door and Faraz grew in literary stature and recognition. He served as a producer in Radio Pakistan. He also joined the Central Government’s National Centers network to promote provincial harmony in Eastern Pakistan through culture and the arts. In 1976, Faraz became the founding director general of the Pakistan Academy of Letters.

By this time, the prolific poet had emerged as a ghazal poet with an individual signature. His romantic verse was exquisite in Urdu and Persian language. Faraz was akin a whole generation of poets writing in Urdu whose politics was more passionate than their metaphors.

Faraz was a humanist, much like some others of the progressive writers movement. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Pakistan People’s Party, the student and labour movement of the 1960s imparted a unique perspective on his poetry and life. His ghazals, lyrical romantic verses, bore his despairs and disappointments and produced some of the finest specimens of resistance poetry.

The long spells of dictatorship in Pakistan poets like Faraz, resorted to symbolism, deliberately creating an ambiguity so that his lines could be interpreted differently by different people. And this mirrored a new kind of “political sensibility.
Literary critic Attiqullah Tabish, head of the Department of Urdu, Delhi University.

tamam suufi o salik sabhi shuyuḳh o imaam
umid-e-lutf pe aivan-e-kaj-kulah men hain
mo.azzazin-e-adalat bhi half uThane ko
misaal-e-sa.il-e-mubarram nashista raah men hain


This was the time of Faraz’s political coming of age. His fearless expression soon had him embroiled in political controversies. In Bhutto’s time, Faraz was arrested and faced solitary confinement sans trial for daring to call the Pakistan Army, “professional killers,” while protesting military brutality in East Pakistan.

That was the worst phase for our country’s writers. Yet it also provided ample food for thought for the poet and made protest poetry so popular in Pakistan.

Faraz on the Ziaul Haq regime in a published interview.

Har koi apnee hee aawaaz sai kaamp uthtaa hai
Har koi apnay hee saaei sai hiraasaan jaanaan

Jis ko dekho wohi zanjeer bapaa lagtaa hai
Shehr ka shehr huaa daakhil-e-zindaan jaanaana

The martial law imposed by Ziaul Haq directed Faraz’s verse. The sensitive laureate felt isolated and deeply sensed the marked desolation and fear that had engulfed the society. In 1980, he was persecuted for his unreserved condemnation of the military regime and thrown in prison.

Shahr walon ki mohabbat ka main quayal hun magar

main ne jis haath ko chuma wahi khanjar nikla

Faraz opted for self-imposed exile and left for a 6-year long exile in UK and Canada. During this period, he agrees, some of his best work was written: carrying not only the social commentary but his romantic verse morphed as a political double entendre.

Faraz is next only to Faiz Ahmad Faiz, tallest among all the progressive poets, who crafted a new poetic vocabulary by subtly mixing ideology with romanticism, which in turn generated a new kind of realism.

Attiqullah Tabish, head of the Department of Urdu, Delhi University.

Faraz masterful use of wide-ranging metaphors reflect beauty, desire and passion while invoking images of revolutionary depiction. Honton mein hararat, jism mein fasad might as well be about Faraz’s own portrayal as a sensitive yet conflicted woman, emanating warmth with her words but carrying turmoil within. In this case Faraz doesn’t make a distinction between romance and realism as practiced by other modern poets.

Faraz’s humanism was not confined but was representative of the world. He wrote moving verses on the common man’s struggles in Beirut and Palestine. His poems eulogized African revolutionaries like Nelson Mandela. His poem, Kaali Devaar, noted the plight the common Americans, used as cannon fodder, during the Vietnam war.

Upon his return he took up senior positions of administrative nature as Resident Director of Pakistan National Centre, and subsequently the Director of Akademy Adabiyat Pakistan, Lok Wirsa and Chairperson of National Book Foundation.

In 1989 and 1990, Faraz served as the chairman of the Pakistan Academy of Letters. His last official position was that as the chairman of the National Book Council.

Or tujhe chahiyen kitni muhabbaten Faraz

Maon ne tere nam per bachon ka nam rakh diya

Faraz was a charming man and had a large number of female following. His sense of humour was disarming. According to one anecdote, he answered the door and found some religious clergy who demanded if he knew the kalima, religious proclamation. Faraz joked, why? Has it changed?

In another reported account, when he heard about the shahaadat, martyrdom, of General Ziaul Haq, Faraz famously quipped, Ab samajh me aya ke Shaheed ki maut me qom ki zindagi hoti he (now I understand that the martyre’s death gives life to the people).

Faraz had the tendency to create personal and political controversies. His statement about Urdu as a dying language outraged many Urdu speakers. At another occasion he reportedly made waves criticising marriage as a sort of prostitution through a contract on paper.

Essentially romantic, his verse is steeped in classical Persian and Urdu traditions that collates the sensitive lyricism of Mir Taqi Mir on the one hand and carries the philosophical maturity and range of Mirza Ghalib on the other.

Critic and professor Mehmood Fayyaz, at Delhi University.

If I were to look for influences that shaped my imagination, it would be a classical Persian poet like Bedil. There is so much of Bedil in Ghalib too.
Faraz in a published interview.

According to her 2001 account, an Indian host, Kami Lee, recalls Faraz lamenting the fact that the Diwan-e-Bedil wasn’t published in Pakistan or India. I got it from Afghanistan, he said.

When the hosts took Faraz to the grave of the Persian Language poet, she records:  He bends down to touch the grave, as if he needs to physically establish a bond he had cherished for so long in his heart.

The graveyard is peaceful, shady under Neem and Mango trees. A koel is cooing, anticipating the mango blossoms. Sitting on the bench, he recites a couplet:

Bedil az kulfat-e-shikasht mun’aal
Bazm-e-hasti dukaan-e-shishagar ast
Bedil weep not for your losses,
this party that is life, is held in a glassmaker’s shop

Faraz recites the verse at Bedil’s grave in Delhi.

Faraz, recipient of Halal-e-Imtiaz in 2004, again found himself in hot waters in 2006, over his statements criticising the unconstitutional measures of the dictator General Musharraf. The government reacted by evicting his family out if their Islamabad house, throwing his possessions onto the streets. In 2007, he was removed from the chairmanship of the National Book Council by Shaukat Aziz.

Following the Martial law regime’s vindictive acts and staying true to his politics, Faraz returned he award in protest and joined the restoration of democracy movement in 2007.

 My conscience will not forgive me if I remained a silent spectator of the sad happenings around us. The least I can do is to let the dictatorship know where it stands in the eyes of concerned citizens whose fundamental rights have been usurped.
Statement made by Ahmad Faraz upon returning the civil award.

Ahmed Faraz is often compared with some of the greatest Urdu poets like, Allama Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz and his works have been translated into many languages including English, French, Dutch, Hindi, Russian, German, Swedish and Punjabi. His poetry has been sung the most by virtuoso’s in India and Pakistan. Some of the popular vocalists who sang his verses are Lata Mageshkar, Mehdi Hassan, Runa Leila, Jagjit Singh, Ghulam Ali, Faheem Mazhar, etc.

Tamam umr ki eeza naseebiyon ki qasam
Merey qalam ka safar raegan na jae ga

The staunch progressive and committed romantic, Faraz, remained true to his ideals and answered only to is conscience to his dying day. His romantic verses continue to lend colours to the emotions and senses of human experience; his poetry of resistance inspires many to keep alive the flame of critical thinking that directs and enables human integrity. Lastly, quoting from his most acclaimed verse, Mohassara:

so ye javab hai mera mere adu ke liye
ke mujh ko hirs-e-karam hai na ḳhauf-e-ḳhamyaza
use hai satvat-e-shamshir par ghamand bohat
use shikoh-e-qalam ka nahin hai andaza
mira qalam nahin kirdar us muhafiz ka
jo apne shahr ko mahsur kar ke naaz kare
mira qalam nahin kaasa kisi subuk-sar ka
jo ġhasibon ko qasidon se sarfaraz kare
mira qalam nahin auzar us naqab-zan ka
jo apne ghar ki hi chhat men shigaf Dalta hai
mira qalam nahin us duzd-e-nim-shab ka rafiq
jo be-charaġh gharon par kamand uchhalta hai
mira qalam nahin tasbih us maballigh ki
jo bandagi ka bhi har dam hisab rakhta hai
mira qalam nahin mizan aise aadil ki
jo apne chehre pe dohra naqab rakhta hai

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