Ahmad Faraz ne na sirf apne takhallus ke saath insaaf kiya, balki use jiya bhi.
(Ahmad Faraz not only justified his sobriquet, but he also lived it)
— Aslam Farrukhi, Pakistani writer and critic
KUCHH toh baat hai zabaan-e-Urdu mein ‘Faraz’/Bade saleeqe se khayaal utarte hain kaaghaz pe (Faraz, there’s something really fascinating about the language, called Urdu/Thoughts descend on paper with consummate ease). Yes, there’s indeed something so appealing about Urdu, especially Urdu poetry, and one of its finest exponents in modern times, the legendary Ahmad Faraz from Pakistan. His poetry is loved by all those with a feel for profound and poignant poetry.
Aankh se door na ho dil se utar jaayega
Waqt ka kya hai, guzarta hai guzar jayega
Stay in sight or else, will be expunged from the heart;
Time anyway glides by and will elapse nonchalantly
Urdu has been a catalyst for many great poets to convey their poetic apercus in myriad ways. Faraz is one among them. He proved his poetic metier and mettle through his prolific works. He left a rich and opulent legacy for all succeeding times and generations to come. This month marks his 15th death anniversary.
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Ranjish hi sahi dil hi dukhane ke liye aa
Aa phir se mujhe chhod ke jaane ke liye aa
Let it be animosity, come to break my heart;
Oh my estranged beloved, just come to desert me one more time
“Sukhanvari faqat lafzon ka khel nahin hai. Shayari tajurbaat-e-hayaat ka nichod hai (Poetry is not just a play of words. It’s the quiddity of the experiences of life),” Faraz said when an interviewer asked him what his definition of poetry was. That’s why, Faraz could say so poignantly: ‘Gauhar-e-alfaaz se jism-e-shayari ko sajana mera kaam nahin/Jo dil se mahsoos hota hai, khud-b’-khud ubhar aata hai’ (I don’t embellish the body of the poetry with the pearls of words/What I feel intensely, appears spontaneously). This very quality of spontaneity distinguishes him from his coevals as well as Urdu poets before and after him.
Simplicity, spontaneity and straightforwardness were the three attributes of his poetic craftsmanship that ensured his greatness. Just mull over this simple but profound couplet which underscores his way of writing: ‘Hua hai tujhse bichhadne ke baad ye maaloom/Ke tu nahin tha tere saath ek duniya thi’ (I realised after we parted ways/I not only lost you but the whole Universe). His poetry gave solace to all lovelorn hearts. But at the same time, he was also a poet of pathos and profundity. There’s much more to Faraz’s poetry than what meets the eye. ‘Aaj hum daar pe khainche gaye jin baaton pe/Kya ajab kal woh zamane ko nisaabon mein milein’ (What I’m being excoriated for today/Tomorrow, you might get to see the same in the textbooks). This is Faraz from his immortal ghazal: ‘Abke hum bichhde toh shayad kabhi khwaabon mein milein’ (If we part again, we might meet only in dreams). So prophetic as well as emphatic!
When it comes to his ghazals, listeners immediately think of ‘Ranjish hi sahi’ and ‘Abke hum bichhde’, but surprisingly, when a BBC interviewer asked him which were his favourite ghazals, Faraz listed ‘Aankh se door na ho dil se utar jayega’, ‘Zindagi se yahi gila hai mujhe’, ‘Silsile tod gaya woh sabhi jaate jaate’, ‘Saamne uske kabhi uski sataish nahin ki’, ‘Usko juda hue bhi zamana bahut hua’, etc. ‘Ranjish hi sahi’ figured at the end of the list, indicative of the fact that great poets and writers don’t give much importance to their own creations that are hugely popular among the masses.
A teacher of Urdu and Persian, Faraz’s academic background seeped into his poetry. Yet, his poetry is not laden with difficult Urdu-Persian words. He always chose to convey his deepest thoughts in a language intelligible to the masses. In short, he was not pedantic. Nor was he didactic in his couplets and ghazals. “Mudarris hoon zaroor, lekin duniya ke liye nahin (I’m indeed a teacher but not a teacher to the world).”
Ahmad Faraz was not a poet living in an ivory tower, oblivious of the world around and insouciant to the sufferings of people. He was arrested for writing poems that criticised military rulers in Pakistan during the reign of General Zia-ul-Haq. “Qalam zulm ke khilaaf bhi uthata hoon/Sirf khwaabaawar ghazlein hi nahin likhta main (I also militate against the oppression/ Writing soporific ghazals is not my only hobbyhorse),” he would say. Never given to blowing his own trumpet, Faraz silently remained associated with many orphanages in Pakistan and Afghanistan till he breathed his last on August 25, 2008. He helped them financially.
Since he hailed from NWFP, Faraz could speak Pashto and the local dialects of Kohat and North West Frontier Province. He was born in Kohat, famous for guavas. “Phir bhi, Ilahabad jaise nahin (yet not as tasty as the guavas of Allahabad),” he’d often say. He would always say arood (Persian for amrood: guava) and chuckle, “Ye meem (M letter in Urdu alphabet) kahaan se aa gaya!”
Faraz visited India a few times and loved Bombay and Calcutta. Since he idolised the legendary Urdu poet Ali Sardar Jafri, who was in Bombay, he came just to meet him. Apart from his private visits, once he came to Khazana, the annual programme organised by Pankaj Udhas in Bombay, and again when Sohail Khandwani of the Middle East held a musical evening in the suburbs.
He loved cricket and was friends with cricketers like Salim Durrani and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. He was a great fan of Sunil Gavaskar. When India toured Pakistan during the 1978-79 cricket season after a hiatus of 17 years, he watched all three Test matches. Faraz loved Mohammad Rafi’s non-filmi ghazals. However, Faraz was never very keen on writing lyrics for films. He didn’t disparage the genre, but politely declined all offers to write for Hindi films. He was against writing poetry in a pre-set tune.
By the way, Faraz was his nom de guerre. His name was Syed Ahmad Shah. True to his takhallus, ‘Faraz’ (elevated, lofty), he was truly an exalted poet whose exquisite poetry shall remain entombed in the hearts of his fans.
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