A cursory glance suggests almost all of the galactic greats of Urdu literature from the recent past never heard their mothers speak the language when they were in their laps. Whether it was Allama Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan or Amjad Islam Amjad — a minimum of two generations of contradictory personalities but who all worked their magic — they were native speakers of other languages.
Ahmed Faraz was cut from the same cloth. Born Syed Ahmed Shah in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Kohat district, Faraz’s name begun to echo in the corridors of University of Peshawar and was soon inscribed on the heart of every poetry enthusiast. He was an intellectual vagabond, a bridge between extremes of Faiz’s political awareness and Mir Taqi Mir and Dagh’s romantic undertones. Many a lines penned by him went on to become adages of our time. Hum na hotay to kisi aur ke charchay hotay, silsilay tor gaya wo sabhi jatay jatay, ranjish hi sahi dil hi dukhane ke liye aa, the list is endless and awe-inspiring.
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With a voice that sent chills down spines and a reveting sense of humour, Faraz was an authoritative centre of gravity at mushairas. Fishing cigars after cigars from his pockets, he would sit still at meetings like a veteran, his presence comforting many a rookie writer. He was a fan of safari suits, crisp shirts, pocket squares and tweed jackets. Seldom would you find his top button in harmony with the fastening placket. Mushairas where Faraz would not remember words to his famous works and the audience would help him recollect, a manifestation of his genius and acclaim. Faraz’s books sold like hot cakes. The way Attaullah Essakhelvi has been a companion to all truck drivers, Faraz has been a comrade of the recluses, the dwellers of hostels.
Talking to The Express Tribune, his son Sarmad said Faraz was a principled man who never extended any undue favours to anyone. “He used to say I want the world to remember me because of you and not my own self.” Although many writers and poets put out their activism in ink, seldom do they participate in person. “Active participation was a personality trait of my father. The public owned him. We realised his importance for the people as we grew up.”
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His pen resisted the manifesto of Ziaul Haq and he bore the brunt of the dictator’s displeasure with grace. Over a decade breezed past and his conviction changed little. Musharraf also had to go through the angst of being disliked by one of the finest minds of Pakistan. Youngest of three sons, Sarmad said despite his age Faraz was part of the movement for the restoration of judiciary. “He returned his awards to the Musharraf administration and renounced the accolades bestowed upon him. They were restored when Pakistan Peoples Party came into power.”
While a few months back his house was robbed off his memories and awards, his legacy was ransacked by text-message jokes that would make no sense to even the brains behind Khabarnak. “The robbers took his medals and awards for precious metals and took them away. The police made little progress in the investigation and there is hardly any hope that we will get them back,” said Sarmad.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 25th, 2015.
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