Dr Afzal Mirza

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.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


By Dr Afzal Mirza

It was some time in 1952 that Ahmad Rahi's first book of Punjabi poetry appeared under the title of Trinjan. The book directly touched the sensibility of the reader
The theme of partition inspired many writers, mostly prose writers. Among them Saadat Manto stands out as the one who contributed the largest number of writings on this theme. In Urdu literature there are few poems on the subject which include Faiz's Subh-e-Azaadi and Qasmi's Phir Achanak Teergi Mein Aa Gae.
It goes to the credit of Ahmad Rahi that he wrote highly inspiring poems on the subject in Punjabi. One can also mention the famous poem by Amrita Preetam in which she addresses Waris Shah to wake up and see the plight of the blood-bathed Punjab. That poem became a classic.
Ahmad Rahi, who began as a promising Urdu poet and edited Savera, the journal of progressive writers, wrote his first Punjabi poem which was rendered as a song in one of the eraliest Pakistani films, Beli. Written by Saadat Hasan Manto and directed by Masud Parvez on the theme of partition, the film flopped at the box office.
It depicted the sorrowful plight of a girl kidnapped during the riots in East Punjab. When she was recovered by special recovery force and brought to Pakistan, her parents refused to accept her. Based on a true story, the film could not be properly filmed due to the lack of technical facilities in Lahore's only studio.
It was sometimes in 1952 that Ahmad Rahi's first book of Punjabi poetry appeared under the title of Trinjan. The book left the literary circles flabbergasted by its pathos and diction reminiscent of Punjab's folk tradition. It directly touched the sensibility of the reader.
The book brought into focus the old question of whether the Punjabi language could produce literature to match other languages, specially Urdu literature. Today the situation is different when much work has been done on unearthing the hidden treasures of Punjabi literature and a whole lot of Punjabi writers have started seriously writing in Punjabi.
In the early 1950s, it was a pioneering effort by Ahmad Rahi and the work he produced stands out as a landmark in Punjabi literature. One wonders why Rahi, who had made a name in Urdu poetry, chose to switch over to Punjabi and produce Trinjan.
Perhaps Punjabi was much nearer to the sensibility of Rahi because during his childhood he used to recite Yusuf Zulekha to his mother and while reciting some verses his eyes would fill with tears. Rahi has derived the pathos in his poetry from the condition of the common Punjabi girl who is not treated any better than animals in our feudal setup. Even the girl in his partition poems is a poor common female.
Jay enhan de mehlin ja ke
Choorre de chankare lutt
kharr de vanjare
Fer mein vekhdi mariye maye eh ucche mehlan vale
sarkare darbare jinhan hath khudai
Ucche ho ho behnde patke
ban ban behnde
Another aspect of Rahi's poetry is the influence of Punjabi folk tales and folk music. The folk heroines Heer, Sahiban, Sohni all are present as living characters. In one of the poems Je tu Mirza hondion Ranjhia Rahi gives a new dimension to the tale of Heer Ranjha in which Ranjha is shown as a passive character. Rahi compares him with the chivalrous character of Mirza and in his poem. Heer laments that if Ranjha had been like Mirza then she would not have to take poison. Then the story would have been different. For Rahi, Heer becomes the symbol of a typical Punjabi girl:
Kikli kaleer di
Chalaan pai maar di jawani
jatti Heer di
His fixation with the character of Heer is evident from the script and songs that he wrote for the famous movie Heer Ranjha. In another poem the poet advises Sohni:
Kache gharre dagha de jande
Pohanch ke advichkare
Ni mutiare vanjh karan vanjare
In an article on Ahmad Rahi's poetry, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi wrote, "There is lot of passion in his Urdu poetry but the people are now observing that in order to present his creative skills in a more vivid manner he has chosen a new course. And his gait on this new course is so beautiful and attractive that it has surprised the people of Punjab. After reading and listening to Rahi's poetry, they are saying that our Punjabi language is so sweet and flexible. It is due to Rahi's Punjabi poetry that people have now wiped the dust from the books of Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah, Ali Haider and Khawaja Farid and have started reading them... I remember that four or five years ago Amrita Preetam's famous poem Ajj Aakhan Waris Shah Nu was published here for the first time,.I found..many...persons keeping its copy. When they were alone they would hum it and weep. It is the same with Ahmad Rahi's Trinjan. I don't know how this poem reached the villages but it reached there and I saw in one of the villages that young girls were singing it to the beat of the dholki. The girls kept singing and after some time I felt that their voices were choking because at that time they were singing those lines:
Nan koi sehrian wala aaya
te nan veeran doli tori
Jis de hath jidi banh ai lae
gaya zoro zori "
It is a pity that during the last few decades, Rahi got engaged in writing scripts and songs for movies. But he gave a literary touch to the songs. His role in improving the standard of Punjabi songs was akin to that of Sahir and Qateel in Urdu songs.
Now in his late 70s, Rahi is no longer active in literary or film work. Ill health and some tragedies compounded by pecuniary problems have forced this otherwise lively person into seclusion. Can the Academy of Letters do something for him?
Rahi and his co-travellers
The partition of the subcontinent brought in its wake bloody riots that resulted in the biggest human migration. The worst hit was the province of Punjab, which was partitioned on the basis of religion. No wonder that the Punjabis remember the partition with sorrow and anguish -- when they lost thousands of their dear ones and their ancestral abodes.
In utter destitution they landed on both sides of the border as refugees -- Muslims in Pakistani Punjab and Hindus and Sikhs in Indian Punjab. Among them were many reputed writers who felt emotionally shattered. While they converged from all over India, quite a large number came from East Punjab.
Thus in his autobiography, Intezar Husain talks of a number of writers who came to live in Lahore after partition. The city of Amritsar, not very far from Lahore and being a part of India now, had always boasted a large number of writers and intellectuals who were mostly Muslims. They also came over to Lahore.
Soon after finding shelter these writers resumed their literary activity and most of them gathered under the banner of Progressive Writers Association (PWA). Most were young and full of promise. A.Hameed, fiction writer, in his book on Ibne Insha has very beautifully drawn the picture of their first meetings in the Tea House. He describes how he met Ashfaq Ahmad, Ibne Insha, Safdar Mir and others there. Among these writers there was also Ahmad Rahi, a typical Amritsari.
A.Hameed once told me that Ahmad Rahi, whose real name is Ghulam Ahmad, was his school fellow. "In Amritsari families, at least one young man was supposed to be a wrestler. My own parents wanted me to be a wrestler," A.Hameed said to me.
Ahmad Rahi owed his physical appearance to his quest to become a wrestler at an early stage in his life. But both these friends chose to be writers instead. In Do Mulk Aik Kahani Ibrahim Jalees wrote how these young writers spent those early days after partition, when they were jobless and had nothing else to do, writing and spent days and nights together discussing the problems faced by the Pakistani 'proletariat'.
"We had hardly any money for cigarettes and smoked cheap biries. Safdar Mir would sing in a high-pitched voice these lines of Mahia:
Do pattar anaran de
Sada dukh sun sun ke ronde pathar paharan de
They were totally committed to bringing an equitable social order in the country. And Ibrahim Jalees tells us that when they were in lighter moods, Safdar Mir and Ahmad Rahi would compare the number of push-ups done in their daily routine of exercise.
The activity associated with PWA did not last long. The government that had come closer to America came down with a heavy hand on the communists and their fellow travellers. These writers were either hauled up by the state or gave up activism, finding different vocations for themselves. Many of them tried their luck in the fledgling film industry of Pakistan.


Ustad Daman lived and wrote poetry as someone always on the wrong side of the establishment
By Dr. Afzal Mirza
Ustad Daman was last seen on the funeral of Faiz Ahmad Faiz on November 20, 1984. He appeared terribly ill but he had managed to make it to Model Town to attend the funeral in a rickshaw. Although the mourners were visibly shocked by Faiz's death but whoever saw Daman was shaken by his condition. Those who had seen his wrestler-like figure in good old days could not believe their eyes to see the skeleton-like Daman arriving in the gathering with the help of two people.
There was a close friendship between Faiz and Daman and only a few days prior to former's death both of them had attended a dinner together at Munnoo Bhai's residence. At Faiz's funeral, Ustad kept repeating that it was his turn now. He joined his friend in death only thirteen days later on December 3.
Ustad Daman, whose real name was Chiragh Din, belonged to Lohari Gate, inside the old city of Lahore. His father was a tailor who ran a small shop of his own. His elder brother Feroz Din joined his father in running the shop but young Chiragh was not interested in pursuing the family profession. He instead wanted to get education and find a clerk's job. So he went to school, though this could not get him a clerk's job. Disappointed, he reverted to tailoring and started his own shop. But his heart was sold out to poetry. He would neglect his shop and attend poetry reading functions. He adopted Damdam as his pseudonym, following in the footsteps of his mentor Ustad Hamdam, but changed it to Daman after some time. The break came when he received his first remuneration for reciting poetry in a public meeting. And then there was no looking back.
In the beginning, Daman wrote poetry on traditional subjects like matters relating to heart but as the independence movement gained ground in pre-partition, India political themes also entered his poetry. Ustad Daman, in fact, belonged to that group of traditional Punjabi poets who would read poetry extempore while their pupils would keep the record. That is why they were called Ustads (mentors).
Faiz was right in calling Ustad Daman the Habib Jalib of Punjabi poetry. I remember having seen him first in the early months of 1950 in a public meeting outside the historic Mochi Gate of Lahore. The meeting was organised by newly-founded Awami Muslim League of Husain Shahid Suharwardy. Later this party was rechristened as Awami League. It was perhaps the first gathering of an opposition party in then newly set up Pakistan. Besides Suhrawardy some other political leaders of Punjab were also present in the meeting. Ustad Daman was called on to the stage before Suharwardy's speech. A wrestler-like figure clad in white Punjabi clothes, he emerged from behind the stage and started reciting some humorous verses full of jibes against the then prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan. Then he switched to a poem which he recited in the rhythm of famous Punjabi folk tale Mirza Sahiban.
Mainoon das oay Rabba mairia
hun das main kithay jaan
Main ohthay dhoondhan payaar noon jithay puttran khani maan
Jithay qaidi hoiyan bulbulan tay
bagheen bolan kaan
Ohthay phull p'ay leeran
jaapday tay kalian khilian naan
(O God, tell me where should I go
I am searching for love at a place where children disgrace
their mother
Where nightingales are caged and crows are left to shout in the
Where flowers appear as rags and buds are not allowed to
The whole poem was so moving that it brought tears to the eyes of the listeners. After reciting the poem, Daman withdrew from the stage amidst the shouts of "more, more" from the crowd.
It seems Mirza Sahiban's rhythm was Ustad's favourite because on the same rhythm he had written a hit song before the partition for a golden jubilee Punjabi movie Mangti.
Aithon udd jaa bholia punchhia
way toon apni jaan bacha
Aithay hasday phull gulab day
veri suknay dainday paa
Aithay dub dub moian sohnian
aithay lahu bharay darya
Aithay ghar ghar phaiyaan gadian beeba chhurian haith
nan aa
(Fly away innocent bird; save
your neck
Here the blooming roses are
spread to dry in the sun
Here Sohnis are destined to drown and rivers are full of
There are gallows in every house; my friend, save yourself
from knives)
During the pre-partition days poets were also invited to political meetings organised by various political parties to enliven the atmosphere and create sympathies for the parties' respective ideologies. Every political party indeed had engaged a poet for their public meetings. For example, Ustad Ishq Lehr used to recite from Muslim League's platform whereas Daman at the meetings of India National Congress.
Daman, therefore, was first introduced to public recital of his poetry from the stage of Congress at a meeting also held at Mochi Gate. The star speaker of the gathering was Jawaharlal Nehru who so much liked Daman's presentation that a personal rapport instantly developed between the two. Many years later when Daman went to Delhi (India) to participate in an Indo-Pak mushaira he found that Nehru who had then become the prime minister was also present on the occasion. Daman stole the show at that mushaira with his verses that brought tears to the eyes of the audience:
Lali ankhian di pai dasdi ay
Roay toosi vi o roay asi vi aan
(The redness of the eyes tells us
That both of us have wept)
The partition, in fact, jolted Daman badly. He felt shattered by the loss of friends and pupils, many of them being Hindus and Sikhs. His miseries were compounded by the death of his wife at the same time in riot stricken Lahore. It is said that Daman had to hire labourers to carry her coffin to the graveyard. The incident made him an introvert and he shifted to a small room near Bhati Gate. He lived the rest of his life there as a hermit and received all his friends, many of them being celebrities, in that room.
Soon after the partition, most of the progressive writers' activities shifted to Lahore. Daman too joined their fold. He recited one of his famous poem Inqilab in one of the annual conferences of Progressive Writers' Association.
But the period of political freedom proved to be a short-lived in Pakistan. Under pressure from its new ally, the United States of America, Pakistani government banned the Progressive Writers' Association and its active workers were put behind bars.
Daman reverted to his room in Bhati Gate and started working on his project of writing a new Heer. The project couldn't materialise due to various reasons. During that period, he would sometime come to YMCA to attend the meetings of Punjabi Majlis organised by Safdar Mir. In one such meeting presided by Maulana Abdul Majid Salik, I saw Daman and Manto competing in reciting Punjabi bolis particularly of vulgar variety.
Like Habib Jalib, Daman was not an opportunist and always stood on the wrong side of the establishment. Many politicians would remain on friendly terms with him as far as they were in opposition. But once they would land in power, Daman would become a forbidden name for them because he would not mince his words and would criticise their actions in his verses.
It happened with him when Bhutto government came to power. In his usual style, he wrote some poems criticising the actions of the government. One such poem was against Bhutto's trip to Simla. Daman castigated Bhutto in this poem for raising the slogan of fighting India for 1,000 years on one hand and then going to Simla to meet Indira Gandhi on the other. The poem Ki kari janaan ain ki kari janaan ain became an instant hit.
A surprise police search of Daman's room followed and a 'bomb' was recovered, allowing authorities to register a case against him. This fake case left Ustad deeply depressed. His friends suggested that he should leave Lahore and hide at some other place for sometime. They took him to Sharaqpur but he returned the next day saying that he could not live without Lahore. Daman had earlier spurned Jawaharlal Nehru's offer to migrate to India because he couldn't leave Lahore.
The case finally fizzled out after sometime and Ustad continued with his literary pursuits. But now he spent more of his time in reading than writing. He stopped going to literary functions and would prefer remaining alone in his room. This loneliness together with pecuniary problems badly affected his health. For a year or so he continued to be in and out of hospital. In December 1984 his condition worsened and he finally breathed his last only two weeks after Faiz's death. Late Yunus Adeeb, Kanwal Mushtaq, Zaheer Akhtar and other friends of his have since then made valuable efforts to preserve and publish his writings.