WASHINGTON DC, June 25, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Sacking of Famous Poet Ahmed Faraz Slurs Pakistan's Image

By Shaheen Sehbai

WASHINGTON, June 25: Pakistan’s most widely known and internationally respected living Urdu poetry legend, the fearless and outspoken Ahmed Faraz, has been unceremoniously and summarily dismissed from Government service by General Pervez Musharraf, in what one of his friends described as “a gang rape a la Mukhtaran Mai.”

Faraz, the 73-year old rebel, who has been variously described as the most important Urdu poet of the subcontinent, a political activist and a romanticist, was working for many years as the Chairman of the Pakistan National Book Foundation with its headquarters in Islamabad.

Asked to confirm what had happened, Faraz told his story to me on the telephone on Friday and described the situation in one Urdu couplet: "Kon Takoun Main Raha, Kon Sar-e-Rah Guzaar"; "Shehr Kay Saaray Charaghon Ko Hawa Jaanti Hay." (Who was resting on shelves and who was out lighting the Streets; The Winds recognize every flame in the City.)

He agreed that the action had been taken at the behest of some ambitious people who wanted his job and these people had used the political clout of Karachi’s ethnic group to oust him. But he would fight it out and continue to write poetry and visit friends and admirers outside Pakistan. Faraz said he had plans to go to Iran and the United States in the near future.

He becomes the latest victim of the Enlightened Moderation of the General partly because he has been speaking out truthfully on the media against the army rule and partly because General Musharraf’s Urdu-speaking allies, the MQM of Altaf Hussain, wanted a Mohajir to head the Book Foundation.

Faraz by birth is a Pathan, born in Nowshera near Peshawar and having lived and grown up in NWFP. Immediately after his sacking, an Urdu-speaking official was given the charge of the Book Foundation and he was specially recognized at a political rally addressed by Altaf Hussain in Karachi.

But Faraz's services to Urdu language have no parallel, making him a living legend and an icon for being an upright fearless character who would stand up to even the most ruthless dictator.

In a recent interview on ARY TV Channel, Faraz was asked to describe how he saw the State of the Pakistani Union. His brief response was: “When Pakistan was born, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah headed the Pakistan Muslim League. Now the same party is headed by Choudhry Shujaat Hussain. That’s where we stand.”

Altaf Hussain’s MQM has been after Faraz for many years as the party believes that the job of Chairman of the Book Foundation must go to an Urdu-speaking person. The party does not consider Ahmed Faraz as someone who has promoted and served Urdu as a language.

Two years ago, the MQM which had joined the military government as a political ally, used its influence to throw Faraz out of the job and out of his house as well. MQM's Minister for Housing, Safwanullah tried to vacate the house where Faraz lives, three times in the last two years. His household stuff was once thrown out of his house. It was only after General Musharraf, who had by then not yet adopted his Enlightened Moderation, intervened and stopped Faraz from becoming jobless and homeless.

Two days ago the MQM again got its chance when a PPP member of Parliament raised an irrelevant point in the National Assembly complaining that Ahmed Faraz had refused to provide official transport of the Book Foundation to carry the dead body of the son of one of the Foundation’s employees, a Sindhi, allegedly murdered by activists of Karachi’s dominant ethnic group, from Islamabad to Larkana. Faraz declined saying none of the official vehicles was in a position to make the journey.

The complaint was instantly withdrawn by the PPP MP but the MQM members of the cabinet raised hell with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz demanding that Ahmed Faraz be sacked. “It was like ordering a gang rape for someone else’s fault, just like the case of Mukhtaran Mai,” a friend of Faraz said. "Shaukat Aziz and General Musharraf could not stand up to the blackmail of MQM this time and agreed to make Ahmed Faraz a political scapegoat."

The Secretary of Education of the Pakistan Government summoned Faraz to his office and asked him either to resign or get fired. He preferred to be sacked and is now waiting for the MQM activists to come and vacate his official residence in Islamabad.

Faraz has been an agitational poet par excellence whose poetry is marked by sweetness and lyricism with a quality of grace, a tremulous sensitivity, an ineffable beauty about human relationships that has timeless appeal.

The creator of some of the most popular verses, both political and literary, Faraz has always been an activist for democracy and rule of law and was even jailed by the authoritarian Pakistani rulers. He was in exile during the dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq in the 80s and has been a sharp critic of military rule of General Musharraf.

But his international stature and his recognition round the world as the greatest poet after Faiz Ahmed Faiz protected him from being persecuted.

He is widely traveled and late last year when he visited New Delhi, the popular web site Rediff.com interviewed him and compared him to Allama Mohammad Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the greatest Urdu poets of the last century. “Faraz is a writer who has fearlessly opposed tradition, tyranny and military rule in his country,” it said.

For Faraz adversity is nothing new and neither is romance. "Mera mijaz shuru se hi Aashiqana tha. (I was romantic from the very beginning)," he told Rediff.com last year, explaining how he started writing poetry. “At school, there was a girl in my class who was my friend. My parents asked me to learn mathematics from her during the summer vacation. I was weak in mathematics and geography. I still don't remember maps and roads."

"But maths took the back seat when the girl asked me to compete in bait-bazi with her." Bait-bazi is a game in which one person recites a couplet and the other one recites another couplet starting with the last letter of the previous couplet.

"She was very good at it. So I started memorizing hundreds of couplets for her," he recalled smiling at the memory. "But I always lost. So I started manufacturing my own couplets, and she couldn't catch me."

His poems, like those of Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi, are equally popular with common readers and scholars. Full of remorse and anguish, most of them have social and political themes. He firmly believes in the philosophy of the progressive movement and is hopeful of history repeating itself.

Faraz also spoke about his political philosophy to Rediff.com. "The USSR has failed, but the philosophy is still the same. And it will emerge sooner or later. It is not a religion that it will die. It can be amended and with corrections and lessons from the past, it will come up again."

As for America, "It (the US) is promoting terrorism across the globe. I even said this in America. They are pushing humanity towards destruction."

What about the India-Pakistan relationship? "People are trying to promote peace. But after reading the newspapers and looking at violent incidents and statements made by the leadership of both countries I am not very optimistic," he says. "Ordinary people want to live together. I don't know what the politicians want."

He has led several peace delegations to India, but he expressed helplessness at the state of affairs. "We are poets. What can we do? It is difficult for us to manage our homes. How can we save a country?"

But today the famous poet Ahmed Faraz could not save his own job in his own country. Nations take pride in people like him and present them to the world as their sign of greatness and achievement. In Pakistan, self-interest and petty politics kills its own legends.

And those who are presiding over this day light murder claim to improve the image of Pakistan in the world. The New York Times calls them nuts and that is what they are.

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