Location: Baltimore, Maryland, United States

Studied in Govt. College, Lahore, Punjab University,Peshawar University & Zagreb University(Croatia). Started writing when in 7th class. Wrote prose & poetry,Have published writings in almost every Pakistani Urdu & English magazine and newspaper,held important positions in many literary and professional organizations. worked as a teacher, research scientist and industrial management professional, In the words of Arthur Miller I have always felt as being temporary. That is why there was no significant achievement.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


By Dr Afzal Mirza

From Mir Taqi Mir to Munir Niazi every poet of repute has in one way or the other referred to a city or “shehr” in their verses. The city is sometimes their home town which they had to leave by force of circumstances or in many cases it is the city of their beloved. Mir remembered his hometown when he had to migrate to Lucknow in search of livelihood. Nostalgically he wrote:

Dilli keh aik shehr tha aalim mein intikhab

Rehte the muntikhab hi jahan roozgar ke

Faiz, Nasir Kazmi, Faraz and Munir Niazi don’t name it but call it “shehr”. They say about the dwellers of Peshawar that instead of naming it they always refer to their city as “shehr” as a gesture of love. Many years ago when I visited the city of Sarajevo in Bosnia I was surprised to observe that they also referred to their city as “shehr”—a Turkish tradition perhaps. Faiz wrote ravishing poems on Lahore naming it as the city of lights.

Basta hae is kohr ke peeche raushanion ka shehr

Nasir Kazmi wandered in the dark streets of Lahore in search of the “lost ones” as did Shohrat Bukhari. Munir Niazi called it “Us bewafa ka shehr” and Safdar Mir prayed for it in his native Punjabi

as “Jeeve shehr Lahore.” But it was poet Saifuddin Saif who highlighted his deep emotive experience while referring to the word “shehr”. This word in his long and short poems symbolizes the painful separation from his beloved. It can be compared to the word ‘rail garri’ or train which came to be a symbol for the separation of lovers. In the words of Munir”

Rail ki seeti baji to dil lahu se bhar gaya.

Saifuddin Saif came to Lahore after partition from Amritsar as did his many contemporaries and juniors like Ahmad Rahi, A.Hamid, Zahir Kashmiri, Shahzad Ahmad, Javed Shahin, Ahmad Mushtaq, Salahuddin Nadim and others. Famous writer Saadat Hasan Manto also belonged to Amritsar but he arrived in Lahore from Bombay as he had shifted there much earlier than 1947.Some of these writers were introduced to the realm of literature by Saifuddin Saif but many were inspired by the literary stalwarts that had converged on Amritsar in 1940’s as teachers in the MAO College that competed with the Khalsa College in a big way. Some of these luminaries were Dr Rashid Jahan, Rashiduz Zafar, M.D.Taseer and Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Iqbal was a rage during the decades preceding his death in 1938 and thereafter but as his poetry became more and more sophisticated and philosophic the younger generation found catharsis in the writings of romantics and romantic revolutionaries.

On international level the Second World War had produced an economic depression that had also affected the socio-economic conditions of India. The poverty and unemployment had given impetus to the freedom struggle and many parties with revolutionary ideas appealed to the sensibilities of the frustrated youth of the country. Many writers therefore aligned themselves with the progressive writers movement operating on international level with a program of economic emancipation through socialistic principles while others like Saif found solace in some indigenous revolutionary movements. He initially joined Khaksar Movement that strove for the revival of Caliphate through a militant struggle but sometimes before the partition he distanced himself from any political activity and aligned himself with those writers who believed in literature for sake of literature.

Like all well known writers Saif started writing very early in his youth. Being a genuine poet he received an early acclaim and his popularity reached its zenith during his College days when he became star poet of all Mushairas in Amritsar. He had a melodious voice that left a deep impact on the sensibility of listeners. Thus even as a College student he had a large following among the youth of Amritsar who almost ‘worshipped’ him. Soon his fame spread beyond Amritsar and his ghazals and poems became popular in the literary circles of the country..

I first became familiar with his poetry during my college days when in early 1950’s besides Faiz’s Dast-e-saba two more books appeared in the market and became instantaneous hits. These were Saif’s Kham-e-Kakul and Adam’s Kharabat. Some of the ghazals from Kham-e-Kakul became so popular that people used to quote them in the gatherings. I remember that in a discussion in the Punjab Assembly one of the members retorted to a remark of another member with Saif’s line “Ronay wale tujhe kis bat pe rona aya.”

His poetry was characterized by the pain of separation and early setbacks of life. His admirer of College days poet Shaukat Rizvi whom I met in Abbottabad always talked of him with respect and so did poet Shahzad Ahmad. They would always refer to him as Saif sahib. Shaukat told me that Saif’s poetry resulted from an unsuccessful love affair. Like Sahir Ludhianvi Saif expressed his emotional grief in highly inspired verses:

Tumhare baad khuda jane kiya hua dil ko

Kisi se rabt barhane ka hausla na hua

Shaukat told me that the above-mentioned verse was the outcome of his failure in his intense love affair. In another verse in the same vein he wrote:

Chamak ke aur barhao meri siah bakhti

Kisi ke ghar ke ujalo tumhe kisi ke kaya

In a similar mood of utter frustration Saif wrote his famous ghazal that became a hit song of Saat Laakh:

Qarar lootne wale qarar ko tarse. Shaukat told me that Saif showed this ghazal to Faiz Ahmad Faiz who was his teacher in MAO College Amritsar. “On reading this ghazal Faiz smiled and said ,’Barkhurdar, mahbooba ko kabhi bad dua nahin dete,’” he remarked. As happens in most of the cases the poet’s lady love after marriage departs for another city and thereafter poet’s all attention is focused on that city. The long poems and some of the ghazals of Saif written during that period therefore project the feelings of the poet when he thinks of that city or has to travel to that city. His long poem Jab tere shehr se guzarta hun an abbreviated version of which appeared in film “Vaada” beautifully represents those emotions:

Koi pursan-e-haal ho to kahun

Kaisi andhi chali hae tere baad

Shama-e-umeed sarsar-e-gham mein

Kis bahane jali hae tere baad

Jis mein koi makin na rehta ho

Dil woh sooni gali hae tere baad

Din guzara hae kis tarah maen ne

Raat kuonkar dhali hae tere baad

Roz jita hun roz marta hun

Jab tere shehr se guzarta hun

Saif used to recite this poem in Mushairas in Amritsar with beautiful tarranum and used to spellbind the audience. Poet Shahzad Ahmad once told me that “we used to look towards Saif sahib with great admiration and pride when he used to come to the stage to recite his poetry and wanted to emulate him.” After migrating to Pakistan Saif neither participated in Mushairas nor himself recited this poem anywhere. I remember that many years later short story writer Nawaz once recited this poem for Mahmood Naazir (grand son of olden days poet Khushi Ahmad Naazir of Jogi fame) and myself in an exclusive sitting. He copied the style and rendition of Saif being his friend, admirer and witness of the recital of this poem in Amritsar. Frankly speaking the rendering of this poem in “Vaada” was nothing compared to the intensity of feelings with which Saif used to render this poem. Saif also wrote a poem Main tera shehr chorr jaoon ga which Mujib Alam sang in his melodious voice for “Shama and parwana”. Shehr or city was also intensely present in his ghazal:

Main akaila nakhl-e-sehra ki tarah hun kya karun

Yaar tere shehr mein aghyar tere shehr mein

Teri rusvai ka dar sau bar wapas le gaya

Shauq laya hae mujhe sau bar tere shehr mein

Jis ke shanon par teri zulf-e-parishan thi woh Saif

Dhoondhta hae saya-e-deewar tere shehr mein

The city of Amritsar can rightly boast of its role in the cultural development of Lahore after the partition. So much so that Beli -the first movie made in Pakistan was all an Amritsar- affair with Saadat Hasan Manto as the writer, Masud Parvez as the director, Rashid Attre as the music director and Ahmad Rahi as the lyricist. Keeping himself aloof from the literary activity Saif also got himself involved in this genre of art and initially wrote songs for pictures like Hichkole, Vaada, Anarkali, Qatil, Gumnam to quote a few and then at later stage himself decided to wield the megaphone by writing and directing one of Pakistan’s golden jubilee hits Saat Laakh. In this movie poet Shahzad Ahmad assisted Saif as assistant director.. Shahzad thereafter never tried to enter the domain of films. However Saif produced and directed another remarkable Punjabi movie entitled Kartar Singh. Inspired by the theme of partition Saif showed the humane side of a Sikh. He once told his friends that he reluctantly decided to make this film because it could raise controversy. Those still remembering the holocaust of 1947 could hardly accept the character of a Sikh who could be something other than an evil. But the picture that reminded the viewers of Ahmad Nadim Qasmi’s Parmeshar Singh and Ashfaq Ahmad’s Gadarya became a great success and initiated a new trend of purposeful films in Punjabi language. As the age overtook him Saif gave up the hard task of making his own films but continued to write songs for his Amritsari friend and assistant director Hasan Tariq’s independent movies. During his film-making career the writing of serious poetry naturally took the second place in his priorities but as the poet Jan Nisar Akhtar (father of Indian lyricist Javed Akhtar) once wrote “ The time has come that critics should also give due consideration to the film poetry of accomplished writers while evaluating their contribution to literature.” (End)


Blogger ChalleChallo said...

For the last several weeks my mind has been enveloped by a nostalgic mist of my beloved "shehr", Lahore. Today I was looking for articles on the web about certain entities, with whom I had had the privilege to spend ample time, and yet due to my unforgivable naivete, I paid little heed to the institutions from which I could have learnt the secrets of life and beyond. I am referring to the extra-ordinary personalities like Ishfaq Ahmad, Bano Qudsia, Qutratullah Shahab and Mumtaz Mufti. Two poets in whose company I spent a few hours of my life were Munir Niazi and Saifuddin Saif.
Being a spoilt teenager, and on top of that an Aitchisonian, my "nawabi" priorities were and to some extent, still are, quite screwed up. Fashion, females and fun were what I blatantly worshipped and remained utterly immersed in the false notion of being a young nawab myself. Just as I can honestly confess my above mentioned sins, I had a few God-gifted qualities too. I was and still am extremely sensitive and cannot see the creation of Almighty in any pain. Then I am also blessed with people skills which enabled me to effectively communicate with others and nine out of ten times, I won the hearts of those whom I came across.
Today after twenty years, I am being reminded of these wonderful people and have made conscious efforts in reading their works. I just finished Khel Tamasha which Ishfaq Sahib had given me when he stayed at my humble apartment in New Jersey. I have started reading the Shahabnama and am fascinated by the life of Shahab Sahib. I feel that while I was inter-acting with these great people a subliminal effect was taking place on my very soul. That effect seems to be gradually oozing out at this juncture in my life and I strongly believe that my connection with you today is not a mere co-incidence.
Sir, kindly contact me at and let me know if we can meet sometime in the near future.

Umair Fazle

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