WASHINGTON DC, July 11, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Faraz and a bewitched fan

A Matter of Great Shame, But No Surprise

By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON, 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.

Writers 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.

The 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 music.

It 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.

The 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 into jail.

They 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.

Every 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.

People 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 intelligence.

Habib 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!).

And 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.

Ahmed 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.

This 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).

There 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?

Some 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.

But 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: khasan2@cox.net

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