Thursday, February 15, 2007

Interview With Ahmed Faraz (2001)

Note: Ahmed Faraz, the legendary Urdu poet, is a romantic genius. No two opinions about that. This is perhaps one of my best interviews to date. Maybe because I have a passion for Urdu poetry, especially romantic poetry. This was first published in the Jeddah-based Arab News in 2001. Ahmed Faraz was visiting Jeddah that year for an unforgettable mushaira organized by a good Pakistani friend of mine, Sher Bahadur Khan of PASCO (Pakistan Social and Cultural Organization). I also covered that mushaira for my newspaper. At the end of this interview, I am reproducing the mushaira report as well to give you an idea about its historicity. — Siraj Wahab, Jeddah, Feb. 15, 2007

JEDDAH, May 17, 2001 — Ahmed Faraz doesn’t look like the quintessential fire-breathing rebel that one would expect from some of his well-known couplets. For example:

Tu wahin haar gaya tha mere buzdil dushman
Mujh se tanha ke muqaabil tera lashkar niklaa

He is, however, extraordinarily mild-mannered, thoroughly modest and dreamily romantic. There are no airs about him despite the fact that he is the best of living Urdu poets. His metaphors evoke delicate images whether read in the dust of a village in Uttar Pradesh or in the posh surroundings of Karachi’s Defense Society. No wonder he is the toast of all “ghazal” singers in the subcontinent. These lines have been immortalized by Munni Begum in her soulful voice:

Phir koyi haath hai dil par jaise
Phir tera ahd-e-wafa yaad aaya

Jis tarah dhund main liptay huay phool
Ek ek naqsh tera yaad aaya

Aisee majboori kay aalam main koyee
Yaad bhi aaya to kya yaad aaya

Yaad aaya tha bichhadna tera
Phir nahin yaad ke kya yaad aaya

Yeh muhabbat bhi hai kya rog Faraz
Jis ko bhule woh sada yaad aaya

Faraz has given some highly original couplets to Urdu poetry — original in thought content and rich in diction. It was he who formulated the “you-too-Brutus” concept for the first time in a couplet:

Main margaya wahin ke saf-e-doston se jab
Khanjar badast tu bhi ravaan tha meri taraf

He has enriched Urdu poetry with some of his unique lines. Critics believe his poem “Salamti Council” — Security Council — should be counted among the best in any language and not merely in Urdu alone.

Phir chaley hain mere zakhmon ka madawa karne
Mere ghamkhwar usi fitna gar-e-dahr ke paas

Jis ki dehleez pe tapki hain lahoo ki boonden

Faraz was in Jeddah recently at the invitation of the Pakistan Social and Cultural Organization (PASCO) headed by Sher Bahadur Khan. It was indeed a rare pleasure to listen to him as he reminisced, recalling events which shaped his personality and sharpened his poetry.

“I was in Class 9 when I wrote my first couplet. Ramzan Eid was around the corner and my father had brought new clothes for all of us. My elder brother, Mehmood, who was in first year then, got an elegant suit while I got a ‘kashmira.’ In those days, the ‘kashmira’ was not a very sophisticated article of clothing of attire. I was extremely unhappy and these lines were the result:

Jab ke sab ke waaste laaye hain kapde sale se
Laaye hain mere liye qaidi ka kambal jail se

Loosely translated it means, “everybody got elegant clothes and I got a prisoner’s garment!”

However, it was a year later before Faraz received his first real inspiration to write poetry. “I was in Class 10 and there was a cousin of mine who was also in Class 10. Our parents thought we should prepare our exams together. She was very good in Urdu poetry and was able to quote hundreds of couplets off-hand. One day she asked if it was OK with me if we played ‘bait baazi.’ I was nonplussed and wondered what kind of game it was. She then explained to me the finer details of this literary game; I agreed to give it a try and lost miserably because I knew no couplets... She beat me hollow.

“This continued for a while until I decided to learn as many couplets as I could. Even then I lost. Finally, I realized that there was no way to win against her unless I started composing couplets on the spur of the moment. They were not great literary gems but they had meter and they rhymed. My cousin thought that the couplets were from recognized poets and accepted them.”

After a pause, Faraz lit a cigarette and switched into rewind mode again. “The real turning point though came in the early 1950s. We were at Edwards College, Peshawar and we had an invitation from a college in Gujarat. They were organizing a ‘mushaira.’ Our principal was an Englishman named Dr. Nobel. I used the little English I knew then to convince him to send us to the poetry contest. The principal agreed but wondered who the other poet from our school would be. There had to be a team of two so I composed a few lines for a friend of mine and asked him to go and tell the principal that he wanted to be on the team. The principal agreed and the two of us were off to Gujarat. Many budding poets there had come from Lahore. My poem on Kashmir was a big hit.”

Could he recall that poem?

“I just remember this line:

Takhreeb-e-gulistan hoti hai taamir-e-gulistan se pehle.

“My ghazal was also very well-received and we won the first prize. Our principal was very happy and there were huge celebrations.”

So when did he take up Urdu poetry as a full-time vocation? “Urdu poets had a very bad image then. They were synonymous with pan-chewing, sloppily dressed slobs living in a world of their own. It was at this time that we saw a new image of poets projected by the immaculately dressed Ali Sardar Jafri, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Sahir Ludhianvi, Kaifi Azmi. Unconsciously, I was drawn to being a poet.”

Faraz feels that Urdu literature parallels what is happening in English and French literature. “The problem is that our work is not being translated into other languages so the world knows nothing about what is happening in Urdu. I don’t think Faiz (Ahmed Faiz) was any less than Octavio Paz. If Paz can get a Nobel (Prize for Literature) so should Faiz. There has to be a concerted effort in this direction. There is a dire need for what I call cultural landscaping. People have stopped reading, which is sad. What is even worse is that comparative studies have become a thing of the past. We need to keep abreast of what is happening in other languages.”

Since Faraz is near the top of Urdu literature, it was natural to ask him for his opinion about Urdu poetry in both India and Pakistan. “There is some excellent poetry being written in Pakistan. India has not produced the kind of poets that Pakistan has during the last couple of decades. Forget about Mirza Ghalib. He was not truly from Hindustan. His ancestors came from Central Asia. Leave him aside for the time being. Take (Sir Muhammad) Iqbal — he came from Pakistan; Faiz — he came from Pakistan; (Noon Meem) Rashed — also from Pakistan; and Nadeem (Ahmed Qasmi, the only stalwart of both prose and poetry) — he was again from Pakistan. India has not produced any mainstream poets of the caliber of those I have just mentioned. Yes, the Indians are doing an excellent job in ‘tehqeeq’ (research) and in this they are way ahead of their Pakistani counterparts.”

No article on Faraz can be complete without his classic ghazal, “Ranjish hi sahi...” whose freshness has neither dimmed nor faded with the passage of time. It was composed almost three and a half decades ago. Gustave Flaubert, it is said, became fed up with his masterpiece “Madame Bovary” because it overshadowed his other works. We wondered if Faraz was jealous of his gem. “No way because the best is yet to come.” Mukarrar!

Note: Following is the report on the mushaira that took place in Jeddah on Thursday, May 3, 2001. Naturally, Ahmed Faraz was the cynosure of all eyes at that memorable evening at the Saudi-German Hospital Auditorium in Jeddah. Everybody was fascinated by his poetry. And so was I. And it is reflected in this report that I wrote and which appeared in Arab News two days later on May 5, 2001. — Siraj Wahab, Jeddah, Feb. 15, 2007

'Itna Sannata Ke Jaise Ho Sukoot-e-Sehra'

JEDDAH, May 5, 2001 — He is one of the greatest exponents of Urdu poetry in all its forms. Gifted with a rare mode of thought and feeling about love and rebellion, he has given a new meaning to the craft of Urdu poetry. Ahmed Faraz gave a glimpse of his poetic genius at a mushaira (poetry reading session) organized here on Thursday night by the Pakistan Social and Cultural Organization (PASCO).

It was indeed a rare treat to listen to this towering Urdu literary figure whose inimitable work has inspired generations of Urdu lovers. He passionately spoke of the need for “cultural landscaping” in Pakistan. “We should rise above politics and come together to promote our culture... Such functions should be held more often as they are part of the cultural landscaping that I am talking about... This is the only way of correcting the negative image that our beloved country has acquired in recent years.”

Ahmed Faraz fans here in the Kingdom, whose numbers are legion, packed the Saudi German Hospital Auditorium and hung onto his every word and couplet with bated breath. They kept reminding him of his best poems and best couplets as they knew all of them by heart. Faraz did not let them down one bit.

This is how he described his incarceration during one of the military regimes in Pakistan. The clarity of thought and imagery and the symbols used in these lines speak volumes about the mastery that Faraz has acquired over the craft of creative writing in Urdu.

Itna sannata ke jaise ho sukoot-e-sehra
Aisee taariki ke aankhon ne duhaee di hai

Dar-e-zindaan se pare kaun se manzar honge

Mujhko deewaar hi deewar dikhayee di hai

Door ek faakhta boli hai sare shaakh-e-shajar

Pehli aawaaz mohabbat ki sunayee di hai.

There was a thunderous applause. And this was just the beginning. A product of the progressive movement that came to dominate Urdu literature in the 1940s and 1950s, Faraz then touched the hearts of his fans with some superlative ghazals.

Misaale dast-e-zulekha tapaak chahta hai

Yeh dil bhi daaman-e-Yusuf hai chaak chahta hai

Idhar udhar se kayee aa rahee hain awaazen

Aur us ka dhyaan bahot inhimaak chahta hai

Duwayen do mere qaatil ko sab ke shehr ka shehr

Usee ke haath se hona halaak chahta hai

That was just incomparable. Faraz then demonstrated his ability to turn words and phrases into things of beauty:

Ek to khwab liye phirte ho galiyon galiyon

Us pe takraar bhi karte ho kharidaar ke saath

Earlier, Dr. Peerzada Qasim held total sway over the audience with his refreshing lines. A poet seeped in the intricacies and nuances of Urdu language, he recited exquisite couplets. His depth of thought can be gauged from the following couplets:

Yaad kya daste hunar hai ke sanwarta gaya main

Us ko socha to use yaad hi karta gaya main

Ek tasveer banaayee thi mukammal na huyee

Ek hi rang lahu rang tha bharta gaya main

And when he started reciting this poem, the audience were swooning with excitement along every word:

Ruswaayi ka mela tha so maine nahi dekha

Apna hi tamaasha tha so maine nahi dekha

Us khwab-e-tamanna ki taabeer na thi koyee

Bas khwab-e-tamanna tha so maine nahi dekha

Pyaase to rahe lekin tauqeer nahi khoyee

Darya wo paraya tha so maine nahi dekha

His “Ek diya bujha huwa” was also very well-received.

Another prominent poet from Pakistan who captivated the audience was Zafar Iqbal. The audience burst into laughter when he said:

Na koyi baat karni hai na koyi kaam karna hai

Aur us ke baad kaafi der tak aaraam karna hai

And then Zafar Iqbal launched into serious stuff sending one and all into a crescendo of wah-wahs and serious introspection. One could feel the audience identifying themselves with these couplets:

Lafz patton ki tarah udne lage chaaron taraf

Kya hawa chalti rahee aaj mere charon taraf

Aasman par koyi tasveer banata hun Zafar

Ke rahe ek taraf aur lage chaaron taraf

Etebaar Saajid was also successful in driving home his point with some thought-provoking couplets:

Hai itna shor kissi se mukhatib bhi nahin

Jo sun sakte hain bas unhee ko sunayee dete hain

The consul general of Pakistan, Qazi Rizwan-ul-Haq Mehmood, took everybody by surprise when he recited a couple of very good couplets of his own:

Us ke dushwaar raste pe chalta huwa

Gir pada hun dubara sambhalta huwa

The consul general congratulated Sher Bahadur Khan on organizing such a beautiful function and said it should become a regular feature. He said he would be going to Abu Dhabi in June and therefore the event had come like an icing on the cake. He thanked the community for promoting the culture and ethos of Pakistan here in the Kingdom.

The mushaira was conducted by Muhammad Ali and it also included local poets in Munawwar Hashmi, Naseem-e-Sehr, Umar Saleh Al-Aidroos and Naeem Bazidpuri.


Sidhusaaheb said...

Thank you so, so much for posting this and especially all the beautiful poetry.

Meanwhile, with all due respect to the great poet, Dr. Mohammad Allama Iqbal did not come from Pakistan, rather he came to Pakistan (in 1947)!

I, like so many others among Indians, used to sing his 'Saare jahaaN se achha...', while at school and admire the genius of the poet.

Such great personalities do not belong to any particular country or region or community, they belong to the whole world and to the entire human race, I would say.

As for Ghalib being from the Middle East, I quote from one of my favourite poets, Firaq Gorakhpuri (

Sar-zameen-e-Hind pe awaam-e-aalam ke 'Firaq'
Qaafiley bastey gaye, Hindustan bantaa gayaa

Besides, Ghalib was born in Agra!

Thanks once again for posting this and may Urdu poetry, regardless of its origin, reach even those corners of the world that it has not gone so far and continue to touch hearts in a manner that only it can!

Dr.Majid Kazi said...

I enjoyed reading your stylish interview with great Ghazal poet,respected Ahmed Faraz. But I chuckled in disbelief by his belittlingf of Indian poets by his notion that India has failed to produce great poets like in Pakistan.
Anyway. everybody is free to
air their opinion, more so in India.

Farhan Shabbir said...

Faraz is a great poet. But I didn't expect him to launch that broadside against the Indians. We have produced some of the greatest poets there are in Urdu literature. And that couplet that Sidhusaaheb has quoted from Firaq says it all. But I will be lying if I say I have not enjoyed the interview. It is wonderful. I wish the interviewer had mentioned what cigarette Faraz puffed. Just curious, you know. I like his poetry very much. Ranjish his sahi remains his best. I loved the way Jagjit Singh immortalised it in his wonderful voice.

Habib Anwar Hussain said...

Faraz is absolutely right. Indians have not been able to produce any good poets in the last 50 years. Yes, they very good organizers of mushairas. But even at mushairas the "singing" poets have a field day. They are appreciated for their singing abilities and not for the quality of their poetry. Indian poets are shallow and they literally beg for appreciation. Bashir Badr is a well-known "daad beggar." I have taken a vow along with many of my friends here in Jeddah never to attend a mushaira where he is attending. I hope he reads this and gets the message.

Naseem Abbasi said...

Please, let us all Urdu lovers not fight over what Ahmed Faraz said. When he is saying something we got to listen, for he knows best. Mr. Wahab is right when he says in the interview, "No article on Faraz can be complete without his classic ghazal, 'Ranjish hi sahi...' whose freshness has neither dimmed nor faded with the passage of time." Very true. Somebody called Umi from UK posted a very nice line by line translation of the famous ghazal on one blog: I thought maybe visitors to this blog may like reading it. Here it is:

Ranjish hi sahi dil hi dukhaanay kay liyay aa

Let it be for anguish, come still, to torment my heart

aa phir say mujhay chhorr kay jaanay kay liyay aa

Come, even if you have to leave me again

pehlay say maraasim na sahi phir bhi kabhi to

If not for our association

rasm-o-rahay duniya hi nibhaanay kay liyay aa

Come to fulfill the rituals of the world

kis kis ko bataayengay judaai kaa sabab ham

To who all should I explain the reason of this separation

tu mujh se khafaa hai to zamaanay kay liyay aa

Come, despite your displeasure, to continue the societal obligation

kuchh to meri pindaar-e-mohabbat ka bharam rakh

Regard a little to the depth of my love for you

tu bhi to kabhi mujh ko manaanay kay liyay aa

Come someday to placate me as well

ek umr say hun lazzat-e-giryaa se bhi mehruum

Too long have I been deprived of the pathos of longing

aye raahat-e-jaan mujh ko rulaanay kay liyay aa

Come my love, if only to make me weep again

ab tak dil-e-khush_feham ko tujh say hain ummeedain

Till now, my heart suffers from some expectation

ye aakhari shammain bhi bujhaanay kay liyay aa

Come to snuff even these last candles of hope.

Haroon Syed, Karachi said...

Faraz is such a rage because he prefers to keep his poetry simple and pure and does not use complex and arcane vocabulary, ensuring soul-stirring entertainment for both the young and the old. Interesting interview.

Farzand Ahmed, New Delhi said...

Yes, Faraz is essentially a romantic poet. Steeped in classical Persian and Urdu traditions, he combines the sensitivity and lyricism of the 18th century Mir Taqi Mir and the philosophical range and depth of Mirza Ghalib, easily the greatest of the 19th century poets.

Mehmood Fayyaz, Delhi said...

Though Faraz is closer to Mir in his paikar-tarashi (detailing of imagery), he gets his inspirations from the harsh realities of life around him.

Atiqullah Tabish, Delhi University said...

Ahmed Faraz is next only to Faiz Ahmad Faiz, tallest among all the progressive poets, who crafted a new poetic vocabulary by subtly mixing ideology with romanticism which in turn generated a new kind of realism.

Gul-e-Farkhanda, Karachi said...

I am impressed by your touching interview. Here is my favourite by Ahmed Faraz for the benefit of your blog readers.

teri baaten hi sunane aaye
dost bhi dil hi dukhane aaye

phool khilte hain to hum sochte hain
tere aane ke zamaane aaye

aisee kuch chup si lagi hai jaise
hum tujhe haal sunane aaye

ab to rone se bhi dil dukhta hai
shayed ab hosh thikane aaye

kya kahen phir koyee basti ujdi
log kyun jashn manane aaye

so raho maut ke pehlu me faraz
neend kis waqt na jaane aaye

Saghier Ahmed Jafri, Abu Dhabi, UAE said...

I enjoyed reading your interview with the renowned poet Ahmed Faraz. Ahmed Faraz's grand services to the Urdu language and literature are recognized all over the world. Faraz is a wonderful poet and also a best friend. I always enjoyed participation in international mushaira with Ahmed Faraz. He always met me and other poets very nicely. Ahmed Faraz has definitely contributed a lot to the Urdu language and literature. Saghier Ahmed Jafri, Abu Dhabi, UAE, P.O. Box 26137. Tel. 00971-50-4454036

Anonymous said...

nice poetry website for all of u
plz add comments for improvemnt.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Siraj Wahab said...

Thank you very much, Anonymous, for your comments. I appreciate the feedback.

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