A bold and brilliant poet remembered
By: Daud Malik
ISLAMABAD: Writers, friends and relatives on Tuesday recalled Iftihkar Naseem Ifti as an outstanding poet, short story writer not afraid of taking up taboos, making no bones about being a gay, broadcaster, columnist, human rights activist, and a humanist.
At the condolence reference arranged by Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) and National Language Authority (NLA), they also remembered him as a hospitable and generous host who opened the doors of his Chicago home to everybody coming from Pakistan and India.
They also presented him as someone strongly believing in humane society and ever ready to help fellow Pakistanis, especially after 9/11. The reference, presided over by Dr Anwaar Ahmed, chairman NLA, started two hours behind the schedule.
Son of Khaliq Ahmed Khaliq, editor of Faisalabad`s first newspaper Awam, Ifti, who left Pakistan in early 1970s, died in Chicago on July 24. Chief editor of Chicago`s Pakistan News, he also hosted a radio programme Sargam.
Poet Shabnam Shakeel maintained he would remain “with us because of his sensitive poetry, unique prose and discussing issues which we normally ignore”. She said as the poet remained in the US, he is “new to us”, adding there was need for research on him. “The word of writer wins over all prejudices,” she said.
When short story writer Mansha Yad claimed that Ifti`s extended family never “owned” him, it was strongly opposed by Anjum Khaliq, brother of the late writer.
Mr Khaliq was not happy that the speakers were focusing more on sexual preference of his brother, and ignoring his creative work in which there is strong love for the country and hometown.
He regretted that many of the writers and poets in Pakistan who “disliked” Ifti in his life are today “paying tributes to him”. He complained that the speakers were completely ignoring his brother`s contribution to keeping Urdu alive in the US.
After 9/11, he said, when Pakistanis were facing “social persecution”, his brother became a “voice” for their rights in the US. He added that through his poetry and articles in English, Ifti boldly confronted the “narrow views” of Americans about Muslims.
Mansha Yad said there is a strong influence of Sadaat Hasan Manto in Ifti`s short stories, adding he takes up “bold and difficult” issues and treats them without any hypocrisy. He said Ifti`s creativity made up for all the “deprivations”.
Terming him an exceptional poet, Dr Anwaar said Ifti was a representative voice of Urdu in America. “His presence in America was a source of strengthening our language and literature.”
Iqbal Yasir, director general PAL, said Ifti`s poetic collections `Ghazzal`, `Nirman` and `Aabdoz` are a unique combination of modern and classical traditions.
Prof Jalil Aali said Ifti became champion of Pakistanis` voice after 9/11, saying he was “lively, active, bold and blunt” person.
Some of the speakers discussed the sense of longing for homeland in Ifti`s poetry, but they also wondered how Pakistani society would have treated him for his blunt views and the life that he chose for himself.
They agreed that he groomed as a person and a writer as he was allowed to live freely with his views and talent. One of the speakers recalled Iftikhar Arif`s comment that “Ifti lived on his own terms.”