Fawad Hasan Fawad’s Search For Justice
Many moons ago, I had predicted that you cannot keep a good man down. I was not surprised when I received a link to Fawad Hasan Fawad’s website a few weeks ago. I was however amazed to see how good the website was despite its creation in Pakistan. The website is a tribute to his life so far; and covers his personal and professional achievements in public life, literature, and civil service. As expected, this enterprise has finesse, imagination and originality written all over it.
Those who know me would tell you that I do not like surprises and very few things surprise me. I blame modern life for the first inclination because everything is so regulated and labelled; for the second, my enemies blame my age but friends point to my wisdom. Those who know Fawad would tell you that you get what you see with him; there are no surprises. Nonetheless, before taking this literally, I should have realised that knowing someone is not simply a material act because the person might possess something beyond the experiential datum.
I have also been taught that creativity can surprise us but we dare not believe in it until it has happened. Poetry belongs to the highest echelon of creativity where you go into yourself and find out the reason that commands you. You write only if you feel it has spread its roots into your heart and you would die if you were forbidden. I must profess that I was completely unprepared for the unexpected that Fawad Hasan Fawad is also a poet. Since beauty, if any, of the unexpected lies within the surprise of its momentum, I was anxious for all those moments waiting to greet me.
Fawad has gone through a terrible time since landing in prison directly from the Prime Minister’s office. Despite being out now, his ordeal is not over as I saw him on TV appearing in the court last week. Under the circumstances, it was sensible that he did his catharsis via the relatively safe medium of poetry. In doing so, he also treads the classical path of prisoners of conscience who did not suffer in silence. Perhaps, he is also pleading for justice whose need sometimes grows out of the conflict of human interests. It is fair to say that if there were no conflicts of interest among mankind we would never have invented the word or the idea of justice itself.
No one knows better than Fawad that if one really wishes to highlight how justice is administered in our country, one does not question the police, the lawyers, the judges, or members of the civil service. Therefore, it appears logical that he has turned to poetry in hope. However, hope seems to be a cousin of grief in his case; both of them are not only interlinked but they also take their time. His hope is connected to his God; the most powerful poetic idea we as humans are capable of imagining. His commitment to his God seems final where others have questioned His reality outside our minds and existence only in the paradox of Perfect Compassion and Perfect Justice. He duly submits in his opening hamd in “The Poet” section of his website, “Agar humain woh koi sazaa bhe daita hai / Kareem aisa hai us ki jazaa bhe daita hai“.
I am not a poetic man myself, but I want to do justice to the beauty of the verses in his na’at. It filled me with a strange mixture of absolute peace and overwhelming emotion. My breath was cut short when I read, “Jo waqt ayay shifa’at ka ya Rasoolullah / Hamara naam bhe husn-e-kalam ho jayay“. I am not sure how deeply Fawad dug into himself to come up with the metaphor “husn-e-kalam” for his name to be included in the Prophet’s (SW) intercession but it touched a raw nerve with me. One appreciates how effortlessly he seems to have trickled his sorrows and longings into these verses with heartfelt, silent, and humble sincerity. He is expressing himself here; using his milieu and images from his dreams. A work of art can never be so good if it has only arisen out of a necessity.
As a psychiatrist, I know that when people are disheartened, they often communicate with an odd combination of flatness and exuberance, a blend that – without speculating about Fawad’s psychological state – feels true to my experience of his poems. On the other end, reading some of them is also like taking a slap to the face while standing in a large and cold bathroom in winter. They are painfully self-resonant, if not always enjoyable (e.g., A poem for Salal Hasan, Muckly, Kashmir 2020). While conveying ideas through crisp and dazzling images, his poems typically unfold in lines grouped into short stanzas where he instructs and inquires; he mourns and rhapsodises. He also invites the ghosts of the dead in artistic striving and despair; and challenges powers-that-be in grand self-mocking pretensions.
The slippage of expression into defiance and a yearning for justice highlights how Fawad’s struggle with these painful themes grows more and more distinguishable as his ghazals unfold. He is like a figurine emerging from a street-lit bank of fog, rising from the sunken feelings of past; his personality growing stronger in expansive solitude as his demonstration becomes a place where the outside noise does not matter. One also notices the undertones of hopelessness; the classic themes of succession and artistic futility lurking beneath. He teases us stubbornly that if we found ourselves in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – would we still have that treasure-house of celebrations and aspirations? Far in the distance, out of this turning-within, out of immersion in our own world, would we be brave enough to hold on to our instinctive belongings, pieces of our existences, voices from it?
Throughout his poetry, Fawad comes out as a protagonist. He is the hero of the hero’s journey — the one who would like to ultimately prove himself through courage and sacrifice. He is putting himself out on a road where none of those other poor knights ever really had a chance. Perhaps he is the hero who is born into his role. From the beginning, his destiny is perceived to be assured. Though the hero may spend his childhood living in parochial obscurity, he has a feeling all along that something bigger is awaiting him; that an environment has in some subtle way been prepared for his arrival. All that remains is for the world to recognize his innate specialness. Eventually, he will be plucked from the masses by the hand of God and held up to all for admiration. Only time will tell whether this hero’s journey is only a psychic wish-fulfillment, an enduring proverbial myth or it is the truth we tell ourselves in order to realize a greater lie.
Despite echoes of Jalib, Faraz, Kazmi and Faiz, Fawad has cultivated a unique poetic voice. He has also chosen an appealing voice to cultivate; a voice we want to listen to. In the tiny, decadent kingdom of current Urdu poetry, he can be counted without question among the number of the elect. Since he is otherwise known and fêted; it is a mouth-watering prospect that he will actually be read. He is also very much alive – writing, giving readings, and in public life. This means that we can use the noun ‘poet’ about him in casual conversation without cringing. For an overall judgment on his poetry, we can never, in our lifetimes, give a final verdict. Having said that, being obsessed about quality, Fawad knows about Plato’s warning long ago that every work is left defenseless after its author’s death.
Fawad emerges as a poet of remarkable skill and range in this collection. He is a poet of the sensuous; not of the super-sensuous though. If we read these poems aloud, we might understand that the bulk of these poems are not sarcastic, condescending, or grumpy, but on the page, this is how some of them read. His best poems are actually lyrical observations of the shared essence of man and his power, of their taste for brutality, and of their struggles with the cruelties of their own characters. He details contests between the ruthlessness of the dominant and preservation of self-respect, between the will to master another body and the sweet thrill of being mastered oneself. On some readings, the entire collection can feel like a muffled scream of outrage at the steady approach of oblivion. Fawad, however, refuses to accept nature as mortal nor immortal, but rather as regenerative. Every year, the plants and the wildlife die but they always come back in spring.
I am a sucker for the verse that is metered and rhymed; it is more compelling and has a hypnotic emotional quality. Free verse, on the other hand, closely approximates the ordinary speech and feels more amicable in being uncontrived. A particular critic may prefer rhymed and metered verse to free verse, but a second critic might have the contrary preference. Fawad delves in both forms much better than his contemporary poets whose language is often slack and whose subject matter is as engaging as Twitter’s status update. His poems are never merely anecdotal; they are never mindless and never monotonous. There are no sophomorically-deconstructive word games or oh-so-witty etymologizing; and there is no amateur surrealism. Fawad has emerged late, but as a serious poet who often experiments with form, content and style, and out of that comes out some wonderful work.
You might imagine that Fawad is being left off the hook because he cannot be held accountable for failure to treat problems because no reader can identify with the power he enjoyed. He cannot, however, pretend to provide a stimulus, and then leave the onus of invention on the reader. His broad and pregnant style seems to leave out a great deal in this collection. It does not include poems that describe difficult personal scenes without the screen of metaphor. Despite regression to the primal emotional baseline (family, Kashmir), it excludes poems that share his ballads of love. He seems to have acted as a civil servant here by denying the reader manifold pleasures offered by the ingenious manipulation of sensuous elements with opportunities for foreplay. But poets can be a perverse lot; once beyond the apprentice stage, they may shy away from conscious intimacy. But, “If you cannot hold me in your arms, then hold my memory in high regard/And if I cannot be in your life, then at least let me live in your heart.”
M. Aamer Sarfraz is a philosophical psychiatrist based in London.