and a bewitched fan
of Great Shame, But No Surprise
July 11: What happened to Ahmed Faraz is a matter of great shame
but it should not have surprised us because from the day Pakistan
was born to the present era of “enlightened moderation”
(Thank you Dr Kissinger), that is exactly the sort of thing that
has been happening to our best and the brightest.
and artists, except those who sell their soul to the devil that
every ruling order in Pakistan is, have always been suspect in
our country. The oligarchy that has wielded power from the beginning,
sometimes in civvies, at other times in bemedalled uniforms, has
disliked both ideas and intellectuals.
ruling class has an intrinsic, if not genetic, dislike, indeed
ill-hidden contempt, for writers, poets and journalists. In its
book, they are lowest of the low. Some members of this so-called
elite may pretend to have a literary taste but it is utterly insincere
as it has little use either for poetry or for art or for serious
never fails to amuse me that the very people who would sway their
heads as if they had been transported to another world when Iqbal
Bano sings Faiz’s stirring lines about how the mighty will
one day fall (Hum dekhain ge/Woh din ke jiska vahda hai)
were the very tyrants whose fall Faiz had so confidently predicted.
first victims of official wrath just weeks after Pakistan’s
birth were members of the Progressive Writers Movement. In the
Government’s eyes, the final seal on their treachery was
set when a large delegation from the Soviet Union came to Lahore
to attend the first major writers’ conference. Anyone and
everyone who was involved with that conference, whether he was
a communist, a fellow traveler or a mere attendee, was now seen
as a “security risk.” His mail was opened, his movements
were tailed by plainclothesmen, he was blacklisted for employment
under Government and every now and then, when the usual suspects
had to be picked up and put into jail, he was picked up and put
were even blacklisted from appearing on the radio or freelancing
for any official agency. The old colonial assumption that the
greatest danger to India came from the Soviet Union became the
official credo of independent Pakistan.
writer of note – and they were all “progressive”
in one sense or another – was put on the list of actual
or potential enemies of the state. Every black law that the British
had made – to their great shame, I should add – was
not only made part of the penal code but new laws that gave the
state machinery meta-judicial powers and made nonsense of the
rule of law were promulgated, mostly through executive decree.
were picked up under one emergency law or another. The principal
target always remained the writers and intellectuals of Pakistan.
If Ahmed Faraz has been thrown on the street today, he should
know – and he does know – that he is in august company.
After all, was it not one of his spiritual predecessors, Hasan
Nasir, who was tortured to death in the infamous Lahore Fort’s
chamber of horrors? In passing, it should be noted that Nawaz
Sharif’s one great act in office was the abolition of that
medieval prison run by the Punjab Police and the country’s
despicable intelligence agencies.
Faiz was hounded till the day
he died. What can be a matter of greater shame to us as a nation
and a state is that a man who inhabits the same immortal hall
of fame as Ghalib and Iqbal was shadowed all the days of his life
because he was viewed an “enemy of the state.” The
Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, in which Faiz was embroiled, sentenced
and imprisoned, was a lie because all the “conspirators”
had really done was talk about taking over the morally corrupt
and anti-people Government. When they were caught, the “conspiracy”
had long been abandoned. And yet, during Zia’s time, most
of which he spent in exile, he was detained while in transit through
Karachi. Wherever he went, he was tailed by the regime’s
Jalib remained a suspect. Government after Government kept him
under watch throughout his turbulent life, spent in conditions
of near poverty. In another country, he would have been celebrated
and honored as a national hero. Here he was disgraced –
from being “found” with illicit liquor to being roughed
up on the streets of Lahore in a Women’s Action Forum rally
(what happened to those magnificent protesters led by such fearless
fighters as Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan!).
what about the greatest of Pakistan’s Punjabi poets, the
inimitable Ustad Daman? He was hounded and watched. Once he was
booked on that timeless Punjab Police specialty: possession of
illicit liquor. One of his poems ends with the couplet: Ais
wastay bolda nahin Daman: Mataan lug jaye meri zubaan te tax.
(Why Daman no longer speaks is for fear that if he opens his mouth,
they will tax his voice). In Pakistan, every poet who stood for
something and who spoke in the name of the people, found himself
on the wrong side of the law.
Faraz is a national treasure and although he does not believe
in the succession system, either in politics or in poetry, the
fact is that if there is to be a successor to Faiz, it is none
other than Faraz.
is not the first time Faraz has been persecuted by the establishment.
He was sent home by Maulana Kausar Niazi, a misstep that was soon
rectified. Faraz lost his job under the Zia regime and he spent
many years in exile in Europe and America, quite a few of them
in London. His great poem Mohasra (The Siege) remains
one of the most powerful indictments of military rule. Who else
but Faraz could have written: Pesha var qatilo tum sipahi
nahin (You are no soldiers, you professional assassins).
can be no question that Faraz is also the greatest romantic Urdu
poet of our times. Such a man should be placed on a pedestal so
high that one should have to crane one’s neck to see him.
But what is the reality of Pakistan?
time last year, he and his family were evicted from their house
and the family belongings thrown on the street. There was a nationwide
uproar and the Government had to eat humble pie. This time he
has been dismissed from his post on the orders of Shaukat “Shortcut”
Aziz, the City Bank’s gift to Pakistan. This crass and tasteless
act is all Aziz will be remembered by after he returns to where
he came from.
let me end this by quoting to Faraz one of his own lines: Dost
hota nahin har haath milanay wala (Not everyone who shakes
your hand is a friend).
The writer is a regular columnist for Pakistan's weekly The Friday
Times and Washington correspondent of The Daily Times. E-Mail: