DAWN - Features; May 15, 2008

Published May 15, 2008

I have a treasure of love and song — Saleem Kausar

By Naseer Ahmad

Living just a stone’s throw from where once stood Baitul Hamza, the headquarters of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (Haqiqi) in Landhi, popular poet Saleem Kausar must have suffered a lot when the vicinity was known as a ‘no-go area’. But he says it was a common suffering of area residents and he was not particularly perturbed over it, and never thought of moving to another place.

“Those who controlled the area earlier and those who do so now have given me due love and respect,” says Saleem, the creator of classic ghazal Mein khiyal hoon kisi aur ka…. in an interview at his residence on Sunday. “Now the whole of the country has become a ‘no-go area’ as people are safe nowhere.” He says he has not made the Karachi situation a specific topic in his poetry and saw it as part of global phenomena and mentioned it as such.

Saleem Kausar lives in a 120-square-yard double-storey house with his family. He has lived in this locality called Khurramabad since his arrival in Karachi from Punjab in 1972. Born in Panipat on the Haj day in the year Pakistan came into being, his family migrated to Pakistan after partition and settled in Khanewal, where he did his matric. Later his family shifted to Kabeerwala. There he enjoyed the company of senior poets, some of them well known at the national level. Literary sittings were regularly held at the town, which had become a hub of literary activities as lovers of Urdu poetry and literature flocked there from Multan, Khanewal, Mian Channu, etc, to participate in mushairas (poetry recitals) and literary discussions at the gatherings.

One day, however, this literary rendezvous was deserted. The group disappeared, and later he learnt that it had been lured away by Radio Multan. “For a few days I was at a loss to figure out where all the poets and their regular audience had gone,” recalls Saleem Kausar. “A couple of days later, I came across a well-known poet who said that now they went to the Multan radio station, where they recited their verses and exchanged views on various literary topics.

“Disappointed, I hitchhiked to Karachi with only 20 rupees in my pocket.”

Decades have since passed but Saleem’s love of the Siraiki region has not waned. The mention of Khwaja Ghulam Fareed’s beloved Rohi, the Cholistan desert area, and its loving people, filled him with thrill and nostalgia.

In Karachi he worked in various Urdu newspapers, where he did all sorts of jobs, including copy pasting, calligraphy and proofreading, before he began contributing Qataas (quatrains) on a daily basis and a weekly literary column to a newspaper. In 1975 he joined PTV, thanks to the late poet Obaidullah Aleem, and retired a couple of years ago.

He may not be rich in the literal sense of the word, but he is generous enough to share the fruit of his craft to make people happy:

Piyar karnay kay liyay, geet sunanay kay liyay

Ik khazana hai maray pass lutanay kay liyay

(To love and to sing songs, I have a treasure to lavish upon others.)

Saleem has devoted his time to reading and writing. “A man recently asked me what I was doing these days, I said ‘I write poetry’. ‘That I understand, but what ‘else’ are you doing?’ insisted the man for a third time, and I said ‘I write poetry’.”

In fact, he says, he ‘works’ round the clock. “If the unjust are busy 24 hours a day committing excesses, why shouldn’t we raise our voice against injustice 24 hours?”

He is working on a Naat collection these days. He has written title songs for various TV play serials, at least one of them is being played on a TV channel. He is also planning to hold an exhibition of his calligraphic pieces at a city art gallery soon. He has written the name of the Holy Prophet in various shapes, shades and colours.

He has five highly popular poetry collections, including Muhabbat aik shajar hai, Khali haathon mein arz-o-sama, Yeh chiragh hai tau jala rahai and Zara mausam badalnay dau, to his credit that have run into multiple editions. He is in Doha these days to attend a mushaira there. Mushairas have taken him to several countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, the Middle East and India.

Poets and justice

Saleem says poets have always stood with the forces of good and opposed those of evil. Referring to poet Farzdaq, who had prophesied that the Kufis’ hearts were with Hazrat Imam Hussain but their swords were with the Yazid regime, Saleem says if he were Farzdaq, he would have been the 73rd martyr of Karbala, adding that history does not tell us anything about the Arab poet.

He says poets, being thinking people and taking sides with good, have always earned the ire of evil rulers. “The feudal system here does not allow them to come forward and various derogatory appellations are given to them to paint poets as good-for-nothing individuals.”

Although he tries to play down its relevance, saying that many of his ghazals and poems have become popular, he admits that the ghazal Mein khiyal hoon kisi aur ka … was a major breakthrough that came his way in the mid-80s. The ghazal was sung by many singers and many comic poets wrote its parodies to grab their bit of its popularity.

He refuses to name his favourite poets in the current lot and insists: “All poets are good. Every poet has written something or other good. But being good is not good enough. One should try to distinguish oneself from others.”

Saleem has not received any government award and is not bitter about it either. He says his award is the love of his admirers who have made all his books bestsellers. “I do not aspire to have government awards. And thank God for the appreciation and love I have received from the reading public. I am so pleased with what God has granted me in life that I believe I cannot thank Him adequately.”

All of his seven children have done their Master’s in one subject or another. Three daughters are married. One is a lecturer at Karachi University, teaching biochemistry. A son is a doctor, specializing in child diseases at a private university hospital.

Saleem Kausar, however, prays for the success of all children:

Meray loagon ko jihalat kay andheron say nikaal

Meray bachchon ko mah-o-mehr-o-sitara kar day

(Oh God, steer my people out of the darkness of ignorance. And make my children as bright as the stars, the moon and the sun.)



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