Ahmad Faraz At 90: The Revolutionary Romantic

Ahmad Faraz At 90: The Revolutionary Romantic
Aur 'Faraz' chahiyen kitni mohabbaten tujhe

Maaon ne tere naam par bachchon ka naam rakh diya

(Faraz how many more affections do you need

Children will be named after you, the mothers decreed)

Syed Ahmad Shah (1931-2008), who acquired the pen name of Faraz and came to be known as Ahmad Faraz as a poet, was born 90 years ago today. He was born at Nowshera although his ancestral place was Kohat. He studied at Islamia College, Kohat; Edwards College, Peshawar; and Peshawar University from where he got his degrees of M. A. in Urdu and M. A. in Persian. He began his career as a producer in Radio Pakistan. Later, he worked as a lecturer at Islamia College in Peshawar. Faraz disapproved of the military dictatorship in Pakistan and expressed himself unreservedly for which he was arrested. On his release, he preferred to live in a self-imposed exile in Europe and Canada for six years. Back home, he took up senior positions of administrative nature as Resident Director of Pakistan National Centre in Peshawar, and subsequently the Director of Akademy Adabiyat Pakistan (Pakistan Academy of Letters), Lok Virsa and Chairperson of National Book Foundation.

A widely respected poet, Faraz received several awards. Some of these include Adamjee Award, Abaseen Award, Kamal-e-Fun Award, and Hilal-e-Imtiaz award, which he returned in 2006 after he was removed as head of the National Book Foundation in 2005. He was decorated with the Hilal-e-Pakistan award and last year with the Nishan-i-Imtiaz by the Government of Pakistan posthumously.

Faraz started writing poetry while he was still a young college student. He emerged as a ghazal poet with an individual signature of his own. Even while he drew upon the traditional subjects of love and romance, he also wrote his age in his poetry with all its despairs and disappointments and produced some of the finest specimens of resistance poetry. He only second to Faiz Ahmad Faiz in popularity and rose to iconic stature powered by his seductively romantic and anti-establishment poetry. He was a prolific poet with several anthologies to his credit. These include Tanha Tanha, Dard-e-Aashob, Janan Janan, Shabkhoon, Mere Khwab Reza Reza, Be-aavara Gali Koochon Mein, Nabeena Shahr Mein Aaeena, Pas Andaz Mausam, and Khvaab-e-Gul Pareshan Hai. His translations of poetry are included in Yeh Sab Meri Aavazen Hain. He also put together a selection from the poetry of Kanwar Mahinder Singh Bedi in Ae Ishq Junoon Pesha. His Kulliyat (Collected Works) appeared with an inclusive title of Shehr-e-Sukhan Aaraasta Hai.

Faraz wrote such exquisite Urdu ghazals that it is almost impossible to believe that he was not a native speaker but rather a Pashtun who grew up speaking Hindko. Like Habib Jalib, he too suffered incarceration and exile under the Zia-ul-Haq regime, but continued to write critically about the regime. Unlike Jalib’s plebeian verses though, Faraz favoured highly stylized language in his compositions.

In a rehabilitation of sorts, Faraz was feted in his later years, and even awarded the prestigious Hilal-e-Imtiaz by the government in 2004. However, in 2006, Faraz returned the award after he was removed as the Managing Director of the National Book Foundation, and not in protest against General Pervez Musharraf’s anti-democratic policies, as is commonly believed; and died on August 25, 2008 unheralded by institutional awards but with a unique place in the hearts of Pakistanis, Urdu-lovers and lovers of freedom of expression everywhere. The public domain contains many of his performances, including the famous Mohaasara (Siege), written in direct defiance of Zia-ul-Haq. The poem describes a besieged individual under attack from a powerful army, which sends him an invitation to surrender, to which he predictably responds defiantly. I was lucky to hear him recite this poem in one of his last public appearances in Karachi back in 2008. He joined the immortals soon afterwards that same year.

Here is one of my favourite snippets from Faraz's poetry epitomizing his rebellious persona:

Raat ki jaan-gudaaz zulmat mein

Azm ki mashaalen jalaaye hue

Dil mein le kar baghaawaton ke sharaar

Vahshaton ke muheeb saaye mein

Sar-bakaf, jaan-ba lab, nigaah-ba qasr

Surkh-o-khooni alam uthhaaye hue

Badh rahe hain junoon ke aalam mein

Chand naadaan,chand deevane

(‘Chand Naadaan, Chand Deevane’)


In the murderous darkness

Having lit the torches of their determination

Carrying sparks of rebellion in their hearts

In the intimidating shadows of danger

Heads high, lives in the balance, and eyes on the palace

Carrying red, bloodstained banners

They march with frenzy

A few passionate novices.

(A Few Passionate Novices)

Then there is one of my favourite Faraz poems, the little-known Mat Qatl Karo Aavaazon Ko (Do Not Murder the Voices), which it seems was written for our own violent and intolerant times, especially in Pakistan and India, what with the rampant bigotry, intolerance, creeping fascism and criminalization of dissent in both countries. I first translated and shared it by way of an angry response to the brutal murder of the famous qawwal, Amjad Sabri in Karachi back on June 22, 2016, but feel that it is relevant in today’s times too.

Tum apne aqeedon ke neze

har dil mein utaare jaate ho

ham log mohabbat vaale hain

tum ḳhanjar kyun lahraate ho

is shahr mein naghme bahne do

basti mein hamen bhi rahne do

ham paalanhaar hain phoolon ke

ham ḳhushboo ke rakhvaale hain

tum kis ka lahu peene aae

ham pyaar sikhane vaale hain

is shahr mein phir kya dekhoge

jab harf yahaan mar jayega

jab tegh pe lai kat jayegi

jab sher safar kar jayega

jab qatl hua sur saazon ka

jab kaal pada aavazon ka

jab shahr khandar ban jayega

phir kis par sang uthaaoge

apne chehre aainon mein

jab dekhoge dar jaoge

(You keep sinking the spears of your faiths

Into every heart

We are people of love

Why do you wave your daggers

Let the songs flow in this city

Let us too remain in this settlement

We are the protectors of flowers

We are the keepers of (their) fragrance

Whose blood have you come to drink?

We are the teachers of love

What will you ever see again in this city

When the word will die here

When the melody will be severed upon the sword

When the verse will migrate

When the tune and the instruments will be murdered

When there will be a famine of voices

When the cities will become ruins

Upon whom will you cast the stone?

When you will see your face in the mirror

You will be afraid.)

*Translations by the author

The writer, is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic, and an award-winning translator based in Lahore. He is currently the President of the Progressive Writers Association in Lahore. He can be reached at: razanaeem@hotmail.com