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ISLAMABAD: Ahmed Faraz was remembered as a poet of resistance, courage, love and sadness who never compromised on his principles and spoke against tyranny and for social justice fearlessly.

An event was held in his memory at the Pakistan Academy of Letters on Wednesday which was attended by noted poet Iftikhar Arif, intellectual Prof Fateh Mohammad Malik, Minister for Education, History and Heritage Shafqat Mahmood, Senator Shibli Faraz, Dr Nahid Qamar, Dr Sadia Tahir and Mehboob Zafar.

They spoke about Faraz’ life and contributions and recalled their association with the poet in personal anecdotes.

Faraz, who died in Islamabad on Aug 25, 2008, inspired three generations and would continue to inspire more as long as social injustices and degradation continue in society, they said.

Mr Arif shared anecdotes and fond memories of Faraz and days in exile with the audience. Faraz was arrested for criticising military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq and for his epic poem Mohasra.

After his release he went into self-imposed exile in Britain and Canada, and wrote some of his best work in the tradition of Faiz.

“Faraz had a great command on language and touched the feelings of young people and activists,” Mr Arif said, recalling the days he spent with dignity during his six-year exile.

“Faraz belonged to the great tradition of progressive movement that started in early 20th century.”

He likened Faraz to Nobel prize winning Pablo Neruda, Turkish poet Nazim Hikmat, Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Sahib Ludhianvi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Faiz Ahemd Faiz, Sheikh Ayaz, Gul Khan Naseer, Ajmal Khattak, Fehmida Riaz, Habib Jalib and others who spoke against colonialism, imperialism and social justice, and became strong voices of resistance.

He rejected the notion that “popular literature is not a literature”, arguing that “words without a political and social message are meaningless if that cannot inspire or change the minds and destiny of the people”.

“He was a master of words seeped in classical tradition, and acclaimed for his witticism,” Mr Arif said.

Prof Malik spoke about Faraz’ courage, remembering several incidents where he demonstrated his commitment to democracy and people’s rights.

Faraz received the Sitara-i-Imtiaz in 2004, but returned it two years later to protest the imposition of emergency by dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf. He also participated in protests during the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of an independent judiciary.

When he returned the award, Faraz had remarked: “My conscience 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 concerned citizens whose fundamental rights have been usurped.”

Speakers said his poetry contained strong social commentary on the status quo, religious extremism and injustice.

He is best known for ghazals such as Janaa, Ranjish Hee Sahi and Dekhtay Hain.

Prof Malik said Faraz was a close friend of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and wrote some of his best work, including Mohasra, in exile.

Senator Faraz thanked the PAL for arranging the event and providing an opportunity to commemorate his father.

He lamented the decline in the quality of literature and overall degeneration in society, and hoped his colleague, the new minister, would take measures to improve the situation and revamp educational and literary bodies.

Mr Mahmood, the education minister, recalled his first encounter with Faraz in the early 70s in Peshawar, and his association with the poet.

In response to a question, the minister said a committee has been set up to survey heritage buildings and prepare a report for their conservation.

He was surprised to learn that honorariums for poets and writers have not been paid for the last several years and assured that he would take notice of this and ensure the payments are made.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2018