Sometimes, I feel I was born in a barren age of Urdu literature when all its golden chapters had become a part of history. Today, a serious literary gathering is considered a rare thing in Lahore which was once a great city of writers, poets, intellectuals and publishers. The times have changed, so have the society and its conscience, the intellectuals.   

When I came into this world, Quratulain Haider was done writing her last novel, Parveen Shakir was left with just four years of her life and half a dozen monsoons had showered on Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s grave. Even if we don’t consider Manto’s early demise, other masters of short story, Rajendra Singh Bedi, Ghulam Abbas and Krishan Chandar had all crossed over to the other side. Ismat Chughtai was living her final days and then she too was reduced to ashes in the cremation fire. Just like Faiz, Noon Meem Rashid, Ibne Insha and Nasir Kazmi had also joined the ranks of Mir and Ghalib in heavens. Munir Niazi had given up composing poetry. Only Faraz was enthralling his audiences with the magical words “Suna hai log usay ankh bhar ke dekhte hain”. Jon Elia saw the sunrise of the new millennium too, but his worth wasn’t realized in his lifetime. Or maybe that’s the way he wanted things to be. So, before my generation was mature enough to appreciate good fiction and poetry, nearly all literary giants had either retired or taken away. All we got was their literature or their graves. We never saw Faiz sitting in Pak Tea House or Nasir Kazmi and A. Hameed taking a stroll on the Mall. Today, these beautiful images can only be found on pages of memoirs.  

It was a beautiful mid November afternoon when I stepped foot inside a graveyard in Model Town, Lahore. Strong fragrance of rose petals welcomed me into the city of dead. It was an ordinary looking graveyard just like thousands all over the country, but there was something special about it. I asked the man in charge about the grave of a great man who rests in peace there. He directed me towards the far end. It was the grave of a great man but not the one I was looking for. It looked more like the final resting place of a local saint than a writer/intellectual. Covered with a black velvet sheet printed with prayers from Quran, two oil lamps were placed in front of the gravestone and an unnecessary “Baba Jee” was added to the name of great Ashfaq Ahmad who always insisted that he’s not a “Baba” (holy man). I recited fatiha and started looking for the grave I had actually come to visit. Finally I found it among the oldest graves of the cemetery, very close to the front wall. Two similar graves made out of gray stone work were looking odd among dozens of marble graves surrounding them. These are the final resting places of one of the greatest Urdu poets, Faiz and his wife Alice. I laid rose petals on their tombs and found a place to sit and reflect upon what Faiz and his poetry meant to me. All those magical verses which I grew up listening to started coming back to me. Who can forget the eternal Gulon mein rung bharay baad-e-nau bahaar chalay, (The spring air blows and flowers are filled with color), Mujh se pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang (Do not ask me for the love bygone), Tum aye ho na shab-e-intezar guzri hai, (You have come nor the night of waiting has passed) Nisar main teri galiyon pe ae watan (I sacrifice myself over your streets, beloved homeland), Dasht-e-Tanhai mein (In the wasteland of loneliness) and the list goes on and on. Faiz didn’t write poetry, he wove magic with his pen. There was no finer combination of artistic finesse and dedication to a cause in Urdu poetry.  A diehard socialist all his life, his beautiful heart remained tender and sensitive and was never hardened by cruelty and injustice of life. He never forgot how to love. His poetry romanticized even the most tragic things in life. He knew how to find happiness and contentment even in the darkest of times. In captivity, he composed poetry on shackles and darkness and dreamt of a happier future. It is difficult to put in words how Faiz’s beautiful poetry enriched the lives of millions in so many strange ways.

I took out my cell phone and scrolled down the playlist until I spotted Dasht-e-Tanhai one of the greatest poems written by Faiz in Iqbal Bano’s melodious voice. The magic was unleashed as soon as I played it. I looked around myself and saw nothing but graves after graves after graves. Faiz was resting in Dasht-e-Tanhai, this wasteland of loneliness for more than three decades. And there wasn’t a shadow of doubt in my heart that with the beauty of his soul he would have filled the void of death with love.

'In the wasteland of my loneliness,

O love of my life, lie quivering

wraiths of your whispers,

your delirious lips.

In the wasteland of my loneliness,

there, in the dirt and ashes

of distance, blossom roses'

and jasmines of our intimacy.

The warmth of your breath

exhaled, from somewhere close,

smolders, softly, gently

in its own fragrance,

while glistening,

from a distance, the enchantment

of your glance falls like dew,

drop by drop.

O! the gentleness, my love,

with which the hand

of your remembrance strokes

the cheek of my desire.

While it still may seem

like the first light of our parting,

the day of separation has waned,

the eternal night of union is upon us.'

(English translation of the poem titled Yaad by Mustansir Dehalvi)