August 06, 2023
It was a sombre morning of the February 10 when the paining news about the death of the legendary poet, scholar and a generous human being Amjad Islam Amjad was conveyed to me by my friend Professor Fazal Ali Butt. I was in Sadikabad for condolence on the shocking demise of the 20-year-old daughter of my cousins Dr Saeed Ahmed and Dr Mehnaz Saeed; the departed soul, a medical student, Saira Saeed had passed away due to carbon monoxide leakage from the geyser, a few days before. Later on, the news about the legendary intellectual Amjad Islam Amjad was confirmed by all the media and added to our grief.
Only two or three days before, I had talked to him over the phone and invited him to my nephew Zeeshan Khan’s wedding ceremony that was going to take place in Lahore the following week. Responding to my offer to provide him pick and drop service, Amjad Islam Amjad replied with his typical lively and passionate spirit, saying, “I will reach at the venue easily, that is not a big deal; don’t worry.” Unfortunately, fate played out a different course and scheme of events.
My elder son Ayan was born on August 4, 2019. I called Sir Amjad and enthusiastically proclaimed, “Sir, you have got a grandson on your birthday, and he will celebrate his birthday with you forever.” He was very happy to hear that and congratulated me and my wife. My younger son Rayyan’s birth was expected on the same date, last year, but he was born on July 26, due to some complications which resulted in an emergency operation. However, the rainy months of July and August are gloomy this year and, this 4th of August turned on some low-spirited notes and bereavement tones in the atmosphere.
The promising moment of my life – my first meeting with Sir Amjad – occurred in December 2007. I was on a trip to Lahore and wished to interview him for a leading English daily’s Sunday Magazine. He was, then, serving as the Director Curriculum Planning, Punjab Textbook Board, Lahore. I visited his office after taking an appointment and that meeting lasted for more than three hours with three sessions of tea and biscuits.
As soon as I entered the room, he asked, “My son, have you been my student? Your face is very familiar. It seems we have met several times.” Although I was not his student, hitherto, I was blessed to become his spiritual pupil after the interview. Since that day, it rarely happened that he visited Karachi and left without meeting me, or I toured Lahore and was not blessed with a cup of tea at his place. He always loved and treated me as a friend and a son and preferred my small car over chauffeur-driven luxury vehicles provided by various organisations hosting him or the five-star hotels for his local movement during his visits to the town, in regard to literature festivals, Urdu Conferences and so many other events that used to take place every other month.
An advocate for the youth
Karachi’s known businessman and industrialist, and a good writer also, Mr. Muhammad Ashraf Shaheen, had been his class-fellow at the Punjab University Oriental College, along with the epoch-making poets and writers Atta-ul-Haq Qasmi and Dr. Sohail Zia. Ashraf Sahib always hosted special luncheons and dinners in the honour of these personalities whenever they came to Karachi in connection to festivals, conferences and mushairas. I have always been blessed to be invited to join this close group of seven, eight friends by their host – a chain of prominent figures (in their 70s). Believe me, despite the vast generation gap that existed between them and me, they never made me feel that I am an odd-man-out, even for a moment. I found the senior-most Mr. Anwar Masoud the jolliest and the liveliest in these gatherings.
Renowned Urdu critic Gopi Chand Narang values Amjad in these words: “It can, indeed, happen that some writer delves into various genres of literature mainly for a change, but it happens rarely that a person entering every field of literature emerges as a victor. Our Amjad Islam Amjad is such an exception”.
Sir Amjad’s creative canvas is not confined to the subject of love for the opposite sex or worldly beauty, but it expands over the horizons of love for God, humanity and natural phenomena too. He loves to touch the subtle realities of human behaviour and attitudes and their enigmatic layers. He never let down the youth like many an orthodox critic defends the senior generations; he always tried to advocate the case of new generations along with their perspectives, ambitions and demands. “A poem for Ali Zeeshan”, his son, is a marvelous piece that provides an insight into the irrefutable factor of generation gap and the passing of time in human existence.
“My son opened his eyes in a new world
How can I give him my dreams?
For the realisation of which I have spent a lifetime?
Maybe, he’ll take those dreams of respect for me
But in the lap of the life that he was given,
Even the memories our times will be faint”
How can I tell him that
The advice of my father
Also appeared to me
Like a tale of forgotten times?”
( Baidar Bakht and Mairie Anne Erki moulded Urdu melodies of the poet into English.)
Amjad used to say, “As nothing lasts forever but change, so, one has to accept the changes in the society and environment. We must not criticise the youth for not buying and reading or showing interests in books. I think the literary thirst is always there, but the mode of presenting the literary and artistic works has changed. Nowadays, people have a collection of innumerable channels, offering plays and films round the clock. Then, there are impacts of the internet that has provided people access to a lot of libraries and books while sitting in their bedrooms. So, the interest in literary works, in my opinion, has not declined too much.”
A True Romantic
If you wish to read poetry of love with maturity or the ripe concept of love, Mr. Amjad Islam Amjad is a treasure in this regard. Below are lines from “A Poem of Love” which speak volumes for his rich style that has fascinated both literary critics and general readers alike.
“If you ever think of me
Look under your feet
I will be found in journeys ground into dust
If you see a lit lamp,
You can imagine
That I’ve been scattered with every moth”
He was a keen observer of each and every detail of the social development around him, and always felt a common man’s issues with a very sensitive heart. Talking about his world-famous play Waris, he, once said to me, “People often discuss this issue with me and most of them do not believe in this fact of my life that I have never been to a village as a resident in my life. They opine that the meticulous handling of and command over this topic is proof that the writer has at least 20 years’ experience of living in a feudal society. I was born in urban Lahore and never have had any personal or familial association with the feudal system or culture. But, right from my early life, I was quite conscious of and worried about social injustice and class discrimination. Moreover, the events and real life stories in the society around me were reflective of our culture, These very factors paved the way for Waris, and the masses welcomed it.”
He cherished some complaints against Nature when he perceived people who were deprived of happiness. Human ambitions, dreams and their subsequent efforts have always been nullified and thwarted by a broader scheme of Nature, and this phenomenon has touched the very depth of the poet’s heart and soul. These lines poignantly portray this bitter reality:
“Our dreams can’t go with us
(Lamps can’t remain lit in such a storm).
The fate of circle has been made
So you and I can’t escape.
Irrespective of their gravitational pull,
The stars can’t change our orbit.”
On another occasion, Amjad sahib brims with hope, setting aside all pessimistic thoughts, and believes in the human struggle, social cooperation and the man’s firm resolution as a foundation on which a new home of prosperity and bliss can surely be erected. The following lines are from his poem “Come Let’s Promise” that was written for his countrymen who were hit hard by natural calamities.
“Whatever happened happened.
Let’s make new hamlets.
Come, let’s promise
That we shall carry their burden.
If even a single person in the hamlet is hungry,
We shall not eat a single morsel of our share of food.”
A critic of the educational system
The educationist in that swaying poet and dramatist has always been alert on his socio-moral responsibility simultaneously, and has never been compromised with his engagements as a writer. His views were eye-openers for the policymakers if they had eyes. Once, responding to my complaining tone about my university students, he advised me to realise the 12-years educational background of a lower-middleclass and middleclass student. He further expressed his views saying, “I am fully against this confusing double standard education system. On the one hand, you have the English medium and Cambridge system and professional education institutions for nearly two percent of the whole population, which are producing rulers and efficient executives for multi-national businesses. And, on the other, you are preparing your 98 percent students for an unknown and undefined destination. They struggle a lot for the years to achieve higher degrees from government institutions, but cannot compete with the elite class graduates, to pounce on lucrative jobs, who have studied totally a different curriculum, the one that elevates their status up to the higher chambers. In the West, there is avoidance of teaching any foreign language to the children below nine years of age as it is harmful for their learning. They simply teach them basic subjects to determine their base. But, we go crazy to burden our children with English-language subjects only because of this language factor. They simply get fed up with this pathetic system and prefer to run away from studies.”
This year on February 10 our nation was deprived of a great human being – poet, scholar, teacher, policymaker, social critic and reformer Amjad Islam Amjad has left an indelible mark on our society. May his soul rest in eternal peace!
Muttahir Ahmed Khan is an author, journalist, analyst and an educationist. He can be reached at email@example.com
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