Arriving as a volunteer from Bombay aboard a ship carrying immigrants from India, Afaq Siddiqui was all alone, holding a suitcase and a small rolled-up bed. As he strolled towards an unspecified destination and uncertain future on the new soil at Keamari, he was involuntarily drawn to a melodic sound at a distance. As he got closer, he saw an old man and a young man lending their voice to the tune of a tumbura and a couple of other musical instruments as the audience sat enraptured on charpoys (stringed beds) all around.The lilting song tugged at the heartstrings of the young Afaq, but he could not follow the lyric. A man in the audience explained to him that it was a song by Sindh's great sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai. “For me it was love at first song for the poet. And I have cherished it over the last more than 60 years,” says Prof Afaq Siddiqui in an interview with Dawn. He tried to understand Shah's poetry first through the translation by a Hindu scholar and then through its Persian translation.
Naturally, his most significant literary work is related to the mystic poet. He was the first person to translate Shah Latif's lyrics ino Urdu. Besides helping Shaikh Ayaz in his versified translation of Shah jo Risalo, he had done many radio and TV programmes, including Sur Latif, which was based on Latif's melodies. It ran on PTV for six months. Sur Latif's lyrics were published in book form in 1995. He also wrote articles for newspapers and magazines and books to highlight the significance and relevance of Shah Latif's poetry.
Speaking on his most favourite poet, he says “Shah sahib's poetry and message is as relevant today as it was ever as it is based on truth, love, human dignity and fellow feeling. To him, God is a combination of all such values.”
Afaq sahib has also worked on Khwaja Ghulam Fareed, Rehman Baba, Allama Iqbal and thus contributed to national cohesion.
Talking about his early days in Pakistan, he says “Desperate for a job in 1947, I approached Dr Daudpota with a slip of paper from Zakir Hussain. He was the director of public administration for Sindh and Balochistan. Besides high school education, I was armed with a diploma in technical drawing and I told him that I wanted to be a teacher.
”Daudpota sahib explained to me that in Karachi all schools were English medium, run either by Parsis or Christians, and he had nothing to do with them. He, therefore, suggested that I go to Sukkur, saying that education was in very bad shape in the interior of Sindh.”
Afaq was lucky to be posted in Sukkur, which was the hub of literary activities as well as of trade. There he met noted writers and intellectuals of both Urdu and Sindhi, attended and helped organize mushairas and other literary events. These events were attended among others by Baba-i-Urdu Maulvi Abdul Haq, Pir Hussamuddin Rashidi and Shaikh Ayaz.
His started his teaching career at a government school in Sukkur. There he also played his role in the establishment of an association, the Muslim Education Society, which helped set up 14 schools in Sukkur. “Three of them still function. The Islamia College, set up on a knoll, was the biggest of its kind.”
After spending more than three productive and fulfilling decades in that city, he moved to Karachi in 1982 and joined the Liaquat government college in Malir and retired from there in 1988.
Although is over 80 now, he works till late in the night. He charges nothing from research scholars and other students visiting his modest Buffer Zone home, which he calls Kitabistan as books occupy every inch of space in the house. So, although he carries out significant research work, he proudly announces “Once a teacher, always a teacher.” Incidentally, his wife is also a teacher.
He is content with his modest means of income, but is irked by politicians' reneging on their promises. “Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad Khan had asked the Sindh government to grant me Rs200,000 for my research work. Later, a similar announcement was made by the then cultural minister Rauf Siddiqui, but nothing came out of those announcements.”
A man who has devoted his life to the cause of the country, beginning with the Pakistan Movement, trying to bring closer the diverse units of various cultures, languages and geographical divisions, deserves a better treatment from those at the helm. It is only too natural that he sounds bitter and disillusioned. “Travelling in shining cars and living in palatial houses doesn't make one human. They are not human beings. They worship wealth. They are hypocrites to the hilt.”
He had begun writing poetry at a very early age and in 1942 he recited his verses at a mushaira (poetry recital) in India. When in Pakistan, he was asked by Khwaja Nazimuddin in the presence of Liaquat Ali Khan to write national songs. “I wrote many songs for the radio and sometimes I had to travel to Lahore as there was no radio station in Sindh then.” He says, he did not care for his name and money and helped Shaikh Ayaz in the versified translation of the poetry out of love for Shah Latif. Ayaz was, however, gracious enough to acknowledge his assistance in the monumental work.
Afaq Siddiqui was born in Manipur on May 4, 1928. His ancestral village was Shaikhpur. He received his early education at Kamal Ganj and went to Fatehgarh Cantt, some 10 kilometres away, for higher school education and passed the vernacular examination in 1942 with distinction.
His 41 books include Qalb Sarapa, Raza-i-Jaan, Aks-i-Lateef, Shah Lateef aur Asr-i-Hazir, Shahir-i-Haqnawa, Adab jharokay and Subh karna shaam ka. He has received many awards for his literary services, including the Pride of Performance. In recognition of his services concerning Shah Bhitai, he was given an award at a festival held at the Karachi Press Club a couple of months ago.