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Ahmad Faraz Urdu Poem Muhasra (The Siege)

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Published on Feb 6, 2009

Ahmad Faraz criticising the military government of Pakistan,
In Zulfikar Ali Bhuttos time, which of all times should have been and in many ways was, Farazs, he was suspended from service by Maulana Kausar Niazi for a single verse of his that asked the books that advocate hate in the name of religion to be cast aside once for all. This misstep was soon corrected.

Faraz suffered imprisonment and persecution under Zia and was so heartbroken that he left the country like Faiz and lived in exile for six years. His great poem Mohasra (The Siege) remains one of the most powerful indictments of military rule. Who else but Faraz could have written: Peshavar qatilo tum sipahi nahin (Soldiers you are not, you professional assassins).

There can be no question that Faraz is also the greatest romantic Urdu poet of our times. But why do we treat our best and brightest so disgracefully, we should sometimes ask ourselves. Faiz was hounded all his life, except during the Bhutto years. Habib Jalib was jailed more than once. Ustad Daman was hunted as if he were a criminal. The progressive writers movement and its members were singled out for imprisonment and persecution as soon as Pakistan came into being. Why?

In 2006, angered by something Faraz had written, the minions of the regime had him and his family evicted from their Islamabad house, their belongings placed on the street. There was a nationwide uproar and the government pulled in its horns but did not apologise. Last year, Faraz was dismissed from his post as head of the National Book Foundation on the orders of Shortcut Aziz, Citibanks gift to Pakistan. He is now gone but that infamous act is what he will forever be remembered for.

Faraz has always had the courage to remain to the left of every military regime, while many of our leading literary lights have taken the path of least resistance and keeled over. Faraz said in an interview last year, I am against dictatorship and military rule. The time has not yet arrived when I should escape from the country out of fear. I will stay home and fight. Faraz remained involved in the movement to restore the illegally dismissed judges and used his influence to persuade fellow writers to join the protest.

Asked once, when Zia was in power, why he had left Pakistan, he replied that he was in Karachi when an order was served on him, externing him from the province of Sindh. I said to myself, What have we come to when a man is exiled from his own land! Today, it is Karachi, tomorrow it will be Peshawar, the day after, Lahore. That is when I decided to leave.

He also returned the Hilal-i-Imtiaz conferred on him. When asked why he had kept it for two years, he replied, Do you think it laid eggs in those two years? I know of no one who can match Farazs wit. Let me recount some vintage Faraz stories.

One day Faraz heard loud banging at his door. He rose hurriedly to open it, only to see four or five bearded men in white skullcaps. Can you recite the Kalima? one asked. Why, has it changed? Faraz inquired.

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