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Published in the 1-15 May 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

PROFILES: Ahmad Faraz
Pakistan’s top poet is all for Indo-Pak peace
By Firoz Bakht Ahmed

Ahmad FarazKnown as Pakistan’s Faiz today, Ahmad Faraz who came to enthuse the connoisseurs of Urdu poetry at the Mushaira Jashn-e-Bahar in Delhi, has been the ambassador for peace not only as a poet but as the voice of all progressive Pakistanis today. Exiled in 1989 by Gen Zia and disillusioned with the various martial law regimes, he believes that for a harmonious existence, it is of paramount importance that democracy prevails in Pakistan. 

Very concerned about building bridges, the poet diplomat, Faraz recites his famous couplet: "Yeh log kaise magar dushmani nibhate hein/ Hamen to raas na aayeen mohabbaten karni!" He wishes that the friendship continues in the same way for all times to come. But at the same time, he views such sudden initiatives, even for peace, with suspicion as they might be under pressure. Such things should come from within, feels Faraz. After half a century of disbelief and cross border tension, one might take time to trust the veracity and authenticity of the present situation. But friendship and peace is the only way that suit the two countries. To his chagrin the martial law administrators over the years, have not suited the public. They lack a certain standard of sobriety that has to be followed especially when tackling cross border situations. People want democracy and the generals must be the custodians to restore that normalcy.

When asked whether Indo-Pak fraternal relations were due to US pressure, Ahmad Faraz opined, that not only US pressure but also that of the European Union, China and other nations too wanted India and Pakistan to sort out their differences through negotiations which is the most rational path. Otherwise radical moves might result in these two nations ending up nuking each other. Basically, it’s the people’s will according to him that has asserted itself by realizing the futility of the three wars and border tensions. "I think the pressure that worked most was from the two nations’ growing consciousness in civil society groups, peace groups, literary groups besides others," states the poet. Well, even the global situation demanded this. During these days of globalisation in South Asia, both India and Pakistan would not like to be left behind and have to befriend each other. Besides, the fluid situation in Afghanistan and Iraq would have warned the Indo-Pak bosses. 

Believes Faraz that the two nations can work mutually to further the cause of peace. "In fact now the two countries must work on common ventures. If India can help Pakistan with better education and medical facilities, Pakistan too can help India as we produce the world’s best sports’ material, cotton textiles and surgical instruments. Our needs are to be humanity based and not the irrelevant expenditure on defence," states a thoughtful Faraz. He says that every time the Pakistanis were touched to the heart when some Pakistani children with heart ailments were cured in India. It’s in this kind of ambience that the two nations must co-exist. What is very important is the institutionalisation of labour. When 1.5 million Bangladeshis were in Pakistan, they were institutionalised. Even many Indians go to Nepal’s Virat Nagar for such jobs. Both the countries must create facilities for people not only from these two countries but anywhere be given the visa at the port of entry. Peace route must be ensured for the Kashmiris. He believes that people-to-people contact is more effective than even summits like the one at Agra or earlier at Shimla. 

Faraz’s statements on the Kashmir issue were blatantly frank. Kashmir has actually been the hot spot that turns into a tinderbox every now and then according to him. More than the military manouvres, Kashmir requires a proper economic plan vis a vis the South Asian situation. Faraz thinks that the whole of Kashmir region has to be demilitarised. The problem with both India and Pakistan is that they see Kashmir as a territory but not as a people’s abode where their problems are to be solved, wrongs redressed. If the Indo-Pak authorities sit down together and seriously endeavour, they can make the two Kashmirs, God’s spot of natural beauty, another Switzerland. Kashmir should become a bridge than being a bone of contention. In fact the Kashmir problem impinges on global peace. Someone also suggested dual citizenship for the Kashmiris. According to him, the Jehadis on the Pak side and the Indian soldiers on the other, have turned many women into widows. Nevertheless, the Kashmir issue is not to be put on the backburner as it’s urgent. The first thing, he says, is that the armies should not be there. 

He felt that society has become rather disgruntled over the years. Sure, he states that he has seen both good and bad days. He learnt his most important lesson from his St Edwards hockey playing days in Peshawar, that in victory one must be humble while in defeat must learn from one’s mistakes. A draw lets us know each other’s strength. Life too must be lived based on that philosophy. "Tu dashna-e-nafrat ko hi lehrata raha hai/ Tu ne kabhi dushman se lipat kar nahin dekha?" (You have been brandishing the sword of hate,/ Do you know how it feels when you embrace the enemy?) Faraz reiterates the views of Ali Sardar Jafri: Guftgu band na ho baat se baat chaley,/ Sar par sitaron ki hansti hui raat chaley from his collection Cultures of India, A portrayal of the 50 Years of Urdu Poetry. Presently, he is the managing director of National Book Foundation, Ministry of Education, Pakistan.

On the issue of people identifying with each other across the borders, Ahmad Faraz said, "People on both sides of the border share the same food habits, breathe the same air, are entertained by the Khans of Bollywood. Besides, Aishwarya and Priety are the darlings of the Pakistanis. If the Indo-Pak politicians work positively, both the countries can get rid of the scarcity of water, electricity, food grains etc." Faraz also informed that the markets of Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad are glutted with Indian music and film cassettes and the pictures of Indian tinsel screen actors and actresses of yore and today like – Dileep Kumar, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor, Balraj Sahni Nergis, Sohrab Modi, Madhubala, Amitabh Bachchan, Geeta Bali, Hema Malini, Wahida Rehman, Rajesh Khanna, Kajol, Manisha Koirala, Karishma, today’s three top Khans i.e. Aamir, Shahrukh and Salman. Pakistanis want to find ways and means to stabilize relations, and reverse the nuclear arms race and spare precious resources for development and poverty eradication besides other bilateral issues and resolution of disputes between the two countries.
Though some feel that Faraz is termed a narcissistic and thinks that he happens to be the world’s top poet laureate but is very humble, "I never made or heard such a claim. In my view each poet today in his own way, is number one. The fact is people might think that way but I sincerely feel that there may be umpteen unknown Urdu poets better than many well-known names — including mine."

When asked if he was cast in the image of Faiz, he said that he would rather be known as Faraz. Of course Faiz used to be a genius unparalleled and along with Ghalib he was his ideal while he was a student. "I did follow Faiz but never as a disciple or even as a rival," he clarified. The quality he revered in Faiz most was that even on the harshest and hardest subjects, he used polite expressions. True, he has been influenced by Faiz but he is his own genius! It might be a coincidence that he is identified as closest to Faiz. 

When asked the names of the greatest Indian poets, he seemed to believe that the best players had already gone. But he said that his hero was Sahir Ludhyanavi for his blunt frankness and heart rending appeals. Besides, he is also a fan of Firaq, Krishna Chander, Ismat Chughtai, Manto, Mohinder Singh Bedi, Fikr and Taunsvi. Others for whom he has regards, are — Ali Sardar Jafri, Noon Meem Rashid, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi and Makhmoor Jalandhari.
About the present Pakistani politicians, Faiz has the highest regard for Imran Khan for his honest assessments and secondly for Isphandyar Wali Khan, grandson of Sarhadi Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan for his being brutally blunt and truthful. But frankly, otherwise the politicians are a breed that have been creating most of the trouble owing to their vested interests. 

About Pervez Musharraf’s moves for peace with India, he says, "For us artists, it’s not important what Musharraf thinks in this regard; what’s significant is the fact what the people of Pakistan think on this issue. They want to befriend India. No ruler of Pakistan can stay there for long if he goes against their wishes and we know that the people have faith in a democratic and honest system no matter which party is in power." He never thought of joining politics as that has never been his cup of tea. 
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