Today is the third death anniversary of Ahmed Faraz, but even today he holds his place as one of the greatest modern poets of Pakistan in Urdu.
Syed Ahmed Shah, who adopted his poet name as Ahmed Faraz with Faraz as his takhalus was born in Kohat to Syed Muhammad Shah Barq. A famous incident once quoted by Faraz’s brother Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Syed Masood Kausar explains that Faraz always had a penchant for poetry even from boyhood. He wrote his first couplet when his father bought clothes for him on Eid. But Faraz being of a finicky and aesthetic mindset did not like the clothes. Instead he preferred the ones bought for his elder brother and said the following lines,
Laye hain sab ke liye kapre sale se
Laye hain hamare liye kambal jail se
(He brought clothes for everybody from the sale
For me he brought a blanket from the jail)
Faraz spent his childhood in Peshawar where he studied at the famous Edwards College, later doing his Masters in Urdu and Persian from the University of Peshawar. During his time at college, he became deeply inspired by renowned poets Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ali Sardar Jafri who were counted among the best and most progressive poets. They soon became his role models. Faraz was not just known for his poetry but many know the songs and poems written by him, mainly because the language he used was expressive, simple and outspoken.
Because Faraz understood society and the individual both in depth it was inevitable that he soon became politicised too, especially with inspirations like Faiz and Jalib. In fact during Ziaul Haq’s rule, he went into self-imposed exile after he was arrested for reciting certain poems at a gathering which boldly criticised military rule. For the next six years, he stayed in the UK, Canada and Europe before returning to Pakistan, where he was initially appointed as chairman of the Academy of Letters and later chairman of the Islamabad-based National Book Foundation for several years.
Besides this, Faraz was awarded numerous national and international awards during and even after his lifetime. In 2004, he was awarded the Hilal-e-Imtiaz in recognition of his literary achievements. But he set an example by returning the award in 2006 saying that he had become disenchanted and disillusioned by the government and its policies.
“My conscious will not forgive me if I remained a silent spectator of the sad happenings around us. The least I can do is to let the dictatorship know where it stands in the eyes of the citizens concerned whose fundamental rights have been usurped,” he had said in a statement. “I am doing this by returning the Hilal-e-Imtiaz (civil) forthwith and refuse to associate myself in anyway with the regime.”
Faraz wrote some of the best poetry emerging from Pakistan and the sub-continent during his exile. A well-known piece expressing resistance was called the ‘Mahasara’. Besides this, he was also known for writing some film songs one of which the most famous is ‘Ranjish Hi Sahi’. Despite his deteriorating health, Faraz was active in the judicial movement of 2007. He himself joined the lawyers to protest against the government’s actions and also encouraged his colleagues to do the same. In July 2008, a rumour spread that Faraz had died in a hospital in Chicago. Faraz’s physician Tahir Rohail MD, who was a childhood friend of Faraz’s son Shibli Faraz, was quick to deny this erroneous report, but it was confirmed that Faraz was exceedingly ill. Faraz’s health continued to deteriorate and he died from kidney failure in a local Islamabad hospital on August 25, 2008.