In memory of two unique poets

The year 1965, an undergraduate English language class at the then government college, Lyallpur, a tall and slim young student sitting on a corner desk with a slightly tanned but expressive visage and clear eyes, intently listening to the lecture being delivered by the teacher! It was my first encounter with Iftikhar Nasim (aka Ifti Nasim). His sophisticated mannerism endeared him to his college fellows and teachers.

Iftikhar Nasim

The scene shifts to the year 1991 when Ifti dropped into my office in Faisalabad. He looked to be a changed man with fancy, quasi-feminist apparel – rings, bracelets and all that. In between the two spaces of time, I kept track of him as a poet.



“Without questioning the bona fides of the cult he was subscribing to, critics esteem him as a poet who despite a firm commitment to his cause, would not employ poetry as a means to propagate his ‘amoral’ views.”


His adolescence found him rediscovering himself, even suspecting the validity of his gender in the mundane scheme of existence. This caused him to immigrate to the United States, to Chicago to be precise, where he stayed until his death. Despite the distance, his presence was always felt in the literary circles of his mother country, and elsewhere also, through his poetry articulating his yearnings and aspirations as a gay. It was a rebellious deviation from the rigid socio-moral norms of the indigenous society at gross variance with the domineering liberalism of the West. He invented his own set of symbols with concomitant imagery and diction to describe and illustrate his socio-moral and poetic convictions. His poetic collection Narman was, as it were, his hermaphroditical manifesto.

Without questioning the bona fides of the cult he was subscribing to, critics esteem him as a poet who despite a firm commitment to his cause would not employ poetry as a means to propagate his ‘amoral’ views. His human qualities – decency, refinement, cordiality, scrupulousness, and philanthropy – seemed to weigh heavily in his favour when one sought to study and evaluate his poetic work.

In his own estimation he has not died, but has only ‘disappeared’ – leaving it for his successors to determine his position in the literary annals.

Back in the mid 1980s, an upcoming young poet killed himself by jumping before a running train in Multan. He was Aanis Moeen Balley, scion of an illustrious literary family headed by Fakhruddin Balley. In a letter addressed to his parents, he confided thus: ‘This act of mine could be traced to a single cause that I am fed up with the monotonous routine of life. Any leaf that I turn over from the book of life, bears the same imprint that I have already perused on the preceding one. Therefore, now I have decided to skip over the whole lot of the intervening leaves in order to read what is written on the last one.’

Aanis Moeen Balley

As a literary prodigy he composed some 400 to 450 ghazal and 200 to 250 nazm spanning his short literary career, and shared the company of literary figures like Josh, Faiz, Dr Syed Abdullah, Jabir Ali Syed and Aslam Ansari courtesy his eminent father. His verse would betray a morbid obsession not with death itself but with the idea of death. It was a narcissistic concern with his romantic aspirations and their material vacuity that drove him seemingly to the cul-de-sac of emotional disenchantment, fear and desertion.

Ironically, Aanis remained undiscovered as a poet during his life time. The literary world took cognizance of his poetic genius only posthumously when Josh regarded him as ‘a young Socrates’; Faiz described him as a fully grown up intellectual; Akhtar Hussain Jafri perceived the ideal of poetry in his verse; Ahmad Nadim Qasmi read a mesmeric charm in his lines; Wazir Agha termed him a Keats in the making; and Murtaza Birlas appreciated his individuality as a poet deeming his personality inwardly as complex as his verse.

Like Shakeb Jalali and Mustafa Zaidi, Aanis too chose self-immolation as a benevolent escape from the rigours of a consuming existence: the consumption was visibly ingrained in his hypersensitivity to the drab monotony of life pitched tenaciously against his adventurous temperament as would be borne out from his last epistle.

And his last verse too, curiously in the same vein, would sum up the grinding travail of a restive soul crying for peace: Dooba nahin khursheed ufaq paar gaya hai/Deewar ko dhaanay pas-e-deewar gaya hai.