By Bal Anand IFS (Retd)
After joining the Indian Foreign Service in 1971 and allotment of Persian as the language to be learnt – and there by learning Urdu by proxy – during training period, I had been keenly entertaining hope to be posted to Pakistan at an early or middle stage of my career. The dominant deeper thought-impulse was to undergo the intimate experience of the special circumstances of being among the people who became ‘Foreigners’ for Indians by an unprecedented man-made tsunami of human history.
The opportunity to serve in Pakistan came my way in 1992 when I had least expected it. I was completing my tenure of posting in Saudi Arabia, where I had ample opportunities to interact with Pakistanis of different backgrounds, and my interest in Urdu Poetry enabling me to win friends among them. It was, however, intriguing that most of Pakistani Friends seemed sympathizing with me for posting to their country and a few Indian friends even asked me why a gentle person like me was being punished by posting to Pakistan !
And lo, it was less than half an hour flight from Delhi on 6th September, 1992, allowing hardly a hurriedly served tea, preceded by recorded Quaranic prayer, that we touched the legendary Lahore. The local press had taken an immediate notice of my arrival covering reception hosted by High commissioner to introduce me. It was a chance 'poetic encounter' in Islamabad club with Ahmed Faraz which made my two year plus posting a memorable & rewarding experience of enduring friendship. I had walked across to him, 'Faraz Sahib!...Main sifart-e- Hind mein Naya Naib Safir hun' without a moment's hesitation, he embrace me, saying, 'aap se tou bahut baaten aur mulakaaten honi chahiye !’ And a friendship forever was forged.
I had hardly started finding my feet in my duties and inventing 'my own wheel' in cultivating a circle of Pakistani friends that the incident of Babri Mosque on sixth December totally transformed the atmospherics of Indo-Pak Relations.
As far Ahmed Faraz, some interaction emerged in March - April '93 in the wake of his visit to India to participate in a Musha'ra. I conveyed that the visa would be ready the day after Faraz Sahib comes for a dinner at my home. Thus began a series of several splendid poetical evenings with select friends in attendance. Faraz was lavish on drink but extremely frugal on food--he said to me, 'Panjab men Kehte hain, khate peete ghar ka aadmi hai; kuchh khaane wale hoten hain aur kuchh peene waale…' He would, however, ask for some 'chane - poori-sabzi' to be packed for his wife who, he said, 'cannot come, being a Joint Secretary in the Pakistan Govt.’ The Director General of India Desk, Shafqat Kakakhel, a fellow jovial Pathan, who had served as Deputy High Commissioner in India, was often gracious to join in to Faraz to recite the new and Faraz’s on favorite poems. My all time favourite Ghazal, 'Suna hai log use aankh bhar ke dekhte hain…’ having as many as 22 gems of sha'er, was recited, perhaps, freshly composed!
I vividly recollect how a call had come from Faraz Sahib some time in May, 94 that Parveen Shakir, a leading modern poet and a Senior official of Pakistan Civil Service, wanted to meet me in connection with information on the customs regulations in India and that we all could meet in Islamabad Club. On the appointed day, I had taken along a colleague dealing with economic matters and Praveen, an independent single mother had come with her ten years old son, Murad. After discussing general matters of Indian customs regulations, Parveen said that she was interested to know more about the most successful media campaign in the world by India during the Bangla Desh War. Praveen’s untimely death on 26th December 1994 at the age of 42 years in a road accident was indeed a great loss to Urdu literature and feminist issues in Pakistan.
A rather interesting proposal was made to High commissioner S.K. Lamba by Karamjit Singh Bedi son of late Kunwar Mohinder Singh Bedi, the legendary 'Meer-e -Musha'ra', that an anthology of Bedi Sahib's poetry might be got published in Pakistan where the late Poet had a larger circle of admirers. We decided to request Faraz to under take the task. He gracefully agreed & accomplished it, presenting the copy of beautiful book to me on 25th November'94, a week before my departure from Islamabad to take over as Ambassador to Panama. As for Kunwar M.S. Bedi, I had first seen him as Deputy Commissioner of Sangrur on Feb.7, 1959 as a student of 10th grade for issuing a certificate in connection for appearing the NDA Examination!
My closer friendship with Ahmed Faraz and other Pakistani artistic community including eminent TV presenter Shahnaz Sheikh were negatively commented in 'the agency' inspired reports in some papers. At my farewell, Faraz, in his inimitable poetic way, said “In one eye of mine, I have a tear of joy on your higher promotion ; in the other eye, it is a tear of sorrow that you are departing for such a distance place “ I was musing over, ‘ab ke ham bichhde to shaayad…’ He had also presented me two beautiful ties which I have preserved to be warmed only on special occasions, particularly of the Indo-Pak friendship kind !
The last opportunity to meet Ahmed Faraz came after a gap of more than twelve years, on 9th April last year when Faraz had come to Delhi to attend the Shankar Shad Mushai’ra and a good mutual friend had hosted a lunch in his honour. Though much mellowed with years, Faraz was his usual witty, naughty & affectionate self. I got the two volumes of Assasa--anthologies of his poetical works in Hindi—autographed by him. I had a strange feeling that the fade away time' had started showing for Faraz... first came the false news screened on E-TV Urdu on 7th July that Faraz had passed away in Chicago... then on Monday night, 25th August, the brightest star which had dazzled so long on the world horizon of Urdu poetry had indeed joined the immortals.
Long live the universal poet of love of humanity; defiance of dictators and faith in friendship!Email: email@example.com