Through his words, he scripted his own immortality. Sculptors of thoughts do not die, just as their dreams never perish. Ahmed Faraz, a giant of contemporary Urdu poetry, may have breathed his last in Islamabad on August 25, 2008, but his unforgettable verses shall remain etched in our minds and hearts for all times to come.
Khvaab Marte Nahin Khvaab Dil Hain Na Aankhen Na Saanse Ke Jo Rezaa-Rezaa Hue To Bikhar Jaayenge Jism Ki Maut Se Ye Bhi Mar Jaayenge (Dreams do not die. Dreams are not hearts, nor eyes or breath Which shattered, will scatter (or) Die with the death of the body.) Through his words, he scripted his own immortality. Sculptors of thoughts do not die, just as their dreams never perish. Ahmed Faraz, a giant of contemporary Urdu poetry, may have breathed his last in Islamabad on August 25, 2008, but his unforgettable verses shall remain etched in our minds and hearts for all times to come. Born Syed Ahmad Shah in 1934, in Nowshera in Pakistan, a Pashto and a descendent of Haji Bahadur, a saint of Kohat, he adopted the `takhallus` (nom de plume) Ahmed Faraz for the thousands of enchanting words that his magical pen crafted. A true liberal and a staunch advocate of better Indo-Pak ties, Faraz remained an unshackled soul despite grave threats to his own life for his non-conformist views. His writings are simple yet profound and soul stirring. His eminence can be judged by the fact that Faraz came to be compared with greats like Mohammad Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, whom he considered his mentor. I met Ahmed Faraz for the first time nearly a decade back and that too by a freak of fate. Some television programmes needed to be made on famous personalities of India and Pakistan and one of them happened to be on this famous poet. Completely uninitiated in world of Urdu Sher-o-Shayari, I floundered to the lobby of Lodhi Hotel accompanied by a senior colleague after a hurried brush up on his CV. Expecting a typical Shayar dressed in traditional attire, you can imagine my surprise when a tall well built man in a formal suit came up and introduced himself as Faraz. He looked very hassled and mumbled something about the “kambhakht(damned) mosquitoes” that had not let him sleep the whole night. He complained sourly about the hotel and its facilities etc etc. His nose was red and eyes puffed-up; obviously the man loved his Scotch. My colleague and I exchanged a meaningful look and decided that we needed to give him time to get over his hangover. Next morning I landed up alone at India International Centre, by the time he had found more comfortable dwelling. We discussed the weather, need for better Indo-Pak ties, the routine. But as soon as we were travelling in the car to the studio, the conversation turned to partition and how the countries had fared thus far. Noticing the omnipresent Maruti 800s, “Aap key yaha kitni chhoti gadiyan hoti hain (you all have such small cars),” he remarked. Then he veered the talk to Kolkata and the human pulled rickshaws. “Aap key yaha bahut gurbat hai.(There is a lot poverty here).” “There are no rickshaws in Pakistan anymore, just some show piece tongas (horse carriages) by the beach in Karachi for joyride,” he added with a slight air of superiority. I understood where all this was coming from. Pakistani identity normally feeds on the negation of Indian achievement. It is common Pakistani psychology to keep reiterating the merit of partition and how they are now better off. I could have told him a few things about Pakistan as well. But because he was a guest of our country and also on our news channel, I refrained and instead changed the topic. I had roped in an Urdu connoisseur to help with the interview which was really quite uneventful. Next evening after the day’s shoot, we sat unwinding in the lawns of IIC. He was in a completely different mood now. Suddenly, in a catharsis off the record, he spoke about how difficult things had been in Pakistan. He was particularly bitter about Zia-ul-Haq and how he was forced to flee the country and live in a self-imposed exile in Europe and Canada to escape getting killed. His best works including "Mahasara"(The Siege) were an epiphany of his experience and inner churnings during the period. But things were better now and democracy had finally found oxygen after years of suffocation under despotic rule. Alas, these years were short lived and the then little known General Pervez Musharraf was waiting in the wings to impose another stint of military rule. As the sun had now set and I had long overstayed, I thought of lightening the mood before I said goodbye. I complimented him on the intense beauty of the ghazal Ranjish Hi Sahi, which has been rendered eternal by the mellifluous voice of Mehdi Hasan. He nodded and with a reticent look in eyes he said, “You know I have really loved someone…..and this ghazal is a tribute to her.” I was a little taken aback over his confession considering that I had known him only for 48 hours and he was talking about his love for a woman who was clearly not his wife. “You know she told her friends, yeh ghazal Faraz ney mere liye likhi hain(Faraz has written this Ghazal for me),” he continued with a smile. He derived comfort that though his longing had not seen fulfillment, his feelings were not completely unrequited. While driving back home, I wondered at the way the evening had taken such unexpected turns. Was Faraz normally so unguarded and candid about his personal life? He didn’t seem so. Of all the Urdu poets I met in later years, he probably had the most pragmatic and indifferent persona. Perhaps being so young and a naïf in the mushaira circuit, I had the advantage of not being overawed by him, and he had no reputations to live up to. Or perhaps, it had just been a weak moment. And perhaps it was these very emotional outbursts that had lent such class to his cantos. Later he invited me to attend a mushaira. It was my first, and undoubtedly I was curious. The backdrop was the regal Red Fort set against the dying sun with deep orange and maroon hues. A panoply of stars soon descended in front of me as well as in the firmament. It was a pleasant night and history was being weaved with witty repartee. Little had I known that it was to be the occasion when Ahmed Faraz was to extend that momentous “hand of friendship” with the Chalo Main Haath Badhata Hoon Dosti Ke Liye (Come, I extend my hand in friendship), salving past wounds and cementing new ties between the two nations torn apart by fate and irreconcilable visions. From the Indian side Ali Sardar Jaafri reciprocated in full with Jo Haath Tumne Badhaya Hai Dosti Ke Liye/Mere Liye Woh Haath Hai/Yaar-E-Ghamgusaar Ka Haath. (The hand of friendship that you have extended/that hand is for me/that of a friend who shares my sorrows.) The whole evening melted in just a wink. And as I sat there in that enthralling setting I promised to add this mesmerizing soirée as a chapter in the “Cherished” column of my life. Ahmed Faraz had begun championing the cause of sub-continental friendship long before terms like ‘people to people contact’ became common jargon. He invited me to Pakistan promising to help me with the visa. Faraz also penned many a haunting stanzas like the following on the two countries’ complex yet intertwined destines. Ab Ke Ham Bichhare To Shaayad Kabhii Khvaabon Main Milain Jis Tarah Suukhe Hue Phuul Kitaabon Main Milain (After this separation, we may meet only in our dreams, Like wilted flowers within the pages of a book ) Years later I bumped into him at the Delhi airport. As time had flowed and our encounter had really been in the professional domain, I thought he may have forgotten me. But immediately he waved and walked up to me from the other corner. He looked just the way he had in our first meeting, mumbling and grumbling about something. This time he had lost his luggage. I offered to help but he had summoned assistance from the Pakistani High Commission. This was really the last time I saw him. In deference to his sentiments, I had used the Ranjish Hi Sahi ghazal as the title track for the programme we produced on him. And I see no lines more befitting to express the veneration of his countless fans for Faraz and his timeless renderings. Ranjish Hi Sahi Dil Hi Dukhaane Ke Liye Aa Aa Phir Se Mujhe Chhod Ke Jaane Ke Liye Aa (Let it be anguish, come still to torment my heart Come, even if to leave me again) Pahale Se Maraasim Na Sahi Phir Bhi Kabhi To Rasm-o-Rahe Duniyaa Hi Nibhaane Ke Liye Aa (If not for our past association Come to fulfill the rituals of the world) Kis Kis Ko Bataayenge Judaai Kaa Sabab Ham Tu Mujh Se Khafaa Hai To Zamaane Ke Liye Aa (Who else must I explain the reason of separation Come, despite your displeasure, come for the world ) Kuchh to Mere Pindaar-E-Muhabbat Ka Bharam Rakh Tu Bhi To Kabhi Mujh Ko Manaane Ke Liye Aa (Respect a little, the depth of my love for you Come someday to placate me as well) Ek Umr Se Huun Lazzat-E-Giriyaa Se Bhi Maharuum Ai Raahat-E-Jaan Mujh Ko Rulaane Ke Liye Aa (Too long have I been deprived of the pathos of longing Come my love, if only to make me weep again) Ab tak dil-e-khush_faham ko tujh se hain ummiden Ye aakhirii shammen bhi bujhaane ke liye aa (Till now, my heart suffers from some expectation Come to snuff even these last candles of hope)