When we talk of contemporary Urdu poetry, a few names come to mind, who by virtue of their direct and unwavering expression have made a lasting contribution to the language. After Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi and Ali Sardar Jafery, Ahmed Faraz was the only Urdu poet who got immense popularity during his lifetime. Though I have got a chance to meet all these great laureates, it was Faraz who I met twice.
Connoisseurs of Urdu poetry would recall that at Ambala, an organisation called the Sham-e-Bahar Trust, used to hold an annual Indo-Pak mushaira where top poets from the two countries participated. Given the standard and popularity of the event, every year I, along with a few friends, used to drive to Ambala to enjoy the mushaira and return to Ludhiana the next morning. I remember it was in 1980 that Faraz had come to participate in it. Before the start of the mushaira, Iftikhar Imam Siddiqui of Mumbai, who was a participating poet and whom I had known, introduced me to Faraz. I requested Faraz to recite his popular ghazal 'Ranjish hi sahi, dil hi dukhane ke liye aa', but he politely refused saying he had already gifted this piece to Mehdi Hassan and now had no right over it.
Faraz was born this day in 1931 in a village of Kohat district of Pakhtunwa province in the present Pakistan. He was a tall and handsome man having features peculiar to the natives of the Frontier. Faraz began composing poems when in school and by the time he completed his post-graduation in Urdu and Persian from Peshawar University, he had acquired the identity of a gifted poet. His initial compositions give the impression that he belonged to the clan of progressive writers having the leftist ideology and choosing subjects that are essentially of socio-political nature.
During his long career, Faraz apart from teaching at Islamia College at Peshawar held different jobs of distinction in Pakistan. He was a producer at Radio Pakistan and chairman of bodies like the National Book Foundation and National Institute of Folk Heritage of Pakistan. Outspoken about politics, he went into self-imposed exile during the Zia-ul Haq era after he was arrested for reciting poems at a function criticising the military rule. He stayed in Britain and Canada before returning to Pakistan after the end of the Zia regime.
Faraz's poetry, though rich in romance and progressive ideas, had quite an opposite appeal to the divergent sections of society. Whereas his ghazals were widely sung and admired by the masses and the literary circles, his voice was unwelcome in the halls of power because he used his pen against usurpers and dictators. He returned his award, the second highest civilian decoration of Pakistan, and supported the lawyers' movement against Musharraf's rule.
On the invitation of Adeeb International Society, Faraz visited Ludhiana in 2004 to participate in the Sahir Ludhianvi Memorial Mushaira where he recited his famous ghazal 'Suna hai log use ankh bhar ke dekhte hein'. I was among the invitees who gave him a standing ovation.
Faraz died of kidney failure in Islamabad on August 25, 2008 after living a life in pursuit of passionate poetical expressions and seething at ideological bullies and political despots. Faraz will always live through his verse.