The news regarding the death of Ahmad Faraz spread like wildfire among the Urdu-knowing circles worldwide on the afternoon of August 25, 2009. Actually, he was not just a popular poet: he was a crazed celebrity, loved by all and sundry, particularly youth. He was known to poetry-lovers since the early 50s, but after the emergence of “Tanha Tanha” in 1957, his popularity graph started rising fast. Numerous verses contained therein became proverbs in due course of time. The appearance of ‘Dard-e-Ashob’ in 1966 further established his genius as a poet and multiplied his fan-following to an amazing extent. This book also won him the prestigious “Adam Ge Award.” It must not be an over-statement to claim that from the late sixties onwards, he was the most-favoured Urdu poet, leaving literature’s left-right divide apart. Faiz Ahmad Faiz was definitely the most pronounced poet of the post-Iqbal period, but he was difficult to comprehend by the general public, both in terms of language and meanings. Faraz, on the other hand, was easier to be appreciated by a larger segment of society due to its simplicity of vocabulary and appeal to topics. Undoubtedly, he was able to develop a direct connection with the masses, especially the younger lot, and did not need any media support or publicity stunts, the instruments generally applied by projection-maniac, show-biz, and literature-related people. His books were sold like hot cakes; his poetry was employed to enhance the market value of movies; his “ghazals” were rendered by renowned vocalists to attract the listeners; his verses were chanted in political gatherings to energise the participants; and last but not least, his lines were used in “love letters” to communicate one’s feelings to the other side. It was often observed that in social gatherings or “mushairas”, he was surrounded by people: the students craved his autograph; the local intellectuals wanted a question-answer session; the native dignitaries desired to get the honour of hosting him; so on and so forth. This bond between the poet and the admirers continued even in those days when it was a crime to utter his name on radio/TV and to print it in any form. Actually speaking, he had become a living legend.
Ahmad Faraz was born on January 14, 1931, and his parents named him Syed Ahmad Shah. He got his early education from Kohat and later mastered Urdu and Persian from Peshawar University. The evidence establishes that he was inclined towards left-oriented literature and participated in the political activities of this school of thought even during his college or university days. Initially, the theme of his poetry was essentially romantic. However, gradually he started voicing against political suppression, economic exploitation, and social injustice. Some analysts correctly point out that he romanticised the “revolution” through his masterly skills, which hitherto were considered to be something “crude.” Because he had been a keen student of classical Urdu and Persian poetry as well as the works of twentieth-century progressive poets, his own compositions became a blend of both. Just like Faiz, his diction and format remained classical, whereas the ideas incorporated therein were contemporary and progressive. Soon, his appearance on the horizon of Urdu poetry was noticed and felt by all; particularly after the publication of his first poetry collection titled “Tanha Tanha”, there was no looking back.
The status of the most admired poet, which he achieved at a very young age, was held on to till the last. The late Syed Zameer Jaffery once commented that “it was difficult to attain such a level of popularity, but it was much more difficult to maintain it for so many decades”. Apart from his poetry, certain other factors also played a part in the process. His personality was a total negation of the general perception regarding the poets: he was an exceptionally handsome man with a very refined dress sense; was full of life and capable of engaging all around him with his refreshing talk, and could interact with all the segments of society in a comfortable manner. Then, over and above all his personal traits, his voice quality was exceptional: baritone, rich and full of emotions. He used all the God-gifted talents he had to literally spell-bind the audience. Some readers might have seen him rendering his famous poem ‘Muhasara’ in public gatherings during the 80s and afterwards.
Ahmad Faraz never participated in practical politics, but like any educated and sensitive person, he associated himself with all the developments taking place in the country. The poems he wrote during the 1965-war, later printed in the form of a collection titled ‘Shubkhoon’, and his poetry relating to the 1971-tragedy clearly manifest his love and concern for Pakistan. He had very intense feelings regarding Kashmir and energetically pleaded the case for its liberation at all forums. He always raised his voice against politico-economic exploitation, human rights abuses, and dictatorship; however, the imposition of martial law on the 5th of July, 1977, gravely injured him emotionally and intellectually. He vehemently challenged the validity and justification of this action through his verses, and, consequently, not only had to lose his job but had to go behind bars, as well. His’ resistance ‘or’ defiance-based ‘literature had the potential to cause further trouble for him, so he decided to go into self-exile. He remained out of Pakistan for a number of years and then came back when the situation turned comparatively favourable during the twilight of the Zia regime. These developments enlarged the scope of his poetry and gave it a new dimension.
Afterwards, till his death, he lived in Islamabad, though he attended uncountable “mushairas” abroad during this phase. He headed the “National Book Foundation” for a number of years and, in that capacity, as well, contributed enormously towards the uplift of Urdu literature. In the final years, his personality did not remain limited to “poetry” only; rather, he evolved to emerge as a prominent “intellectual” and “ideologue” of his beloved country. He also joined symbolically the movement for an independent judiciary during the last days of Musharaf’s government. Some pieces of his poetry indicate that he had developed a feeling that he could do more. The total number of his poetic collections was fourteen, and during his last days they were printed in the form of a compendium titled “Shehar-e-sukhan arasta ha’. The future researchers of Urdu literature will place him on a much higher pedestal than was awarded to him in his lifetime.