Waris Mir – a writer par excellence
By: Asma Jehangir
History shows that every wave of change, be it political, social, economic, humanistic or philosophical, has had its roots seeped in intellectual contemplation and this job is done by the brains of the society who ponder over wavelengths of time — past and future — for the sake of general masses.
Professor Waris Mir is one such brain who performed the thinker’s job during the immensely suffocated era of General Ziaul Haq’s martial law. Ever since the sad demise of Waris Mir, much has been written about him and people shall continue to do so. If one begins to read through his writing from a critical appreciative point of view, it becomes evident that he was a fiery and blunt writer who knew not how to mince his words while expressing his opinion. Waris Mir had liberal, democratic and progressive views. His writings particularly made a lasting imprint upon the minds of two kinds of people — the youth and women. To him, freedom and thought and expression equalled intellectual liberty in light of social responsibility.
To celebrated French writer Juan Loius Balzak, writing was more than a passionate expression of ideas — to him it was more ritualistic and spiritual. Therefore, before sitting at his writing desk, he used to adorn himself with the robes worn by catholic priests. Balzak’s rituality apart, any writer coming from any part of the world and believing in any religion, if understands the sanctity of his profession, he would indeed adorn his words and ideas with truth, credence and courage. In his endeavour to uphold the cause of democracy, human rights and freedom of thought and speech, Prof Waris Mir, a top flight Urdu writer and analyst of his times (1938-1987), chose to take the road that most of his contemporary journalists did not dare to take, especially during the Martial Law period of General Ziaul Haq.
Ever since his sudden demise at the young age of 48 on July 9, 1987, a lot has been written to pay homage to Waris Mir. However, having known him personally, I can say with confidence that his words spelt simplicity and purity. He was a liberal writer who belonged to the progressive school of thought. Though he catered to all kinds of audiences, however, his most avid readers impressed by his words were the youth and women. Since a truthful writer’s words are the true reflection of his personality and character, Prof Waris Mir’s writings portray him to be someone who is distressfully striving for the freedom of speech during a martial law regime that knew no better than to gag the press.
Prof Waris Mir was a staunch believer of the basic human rights for freedom of thought and expression. However, it is important to understand that to him, freedom of thought and expression did not have any meanings unless they were outlined with responsibility. In carefully chosen words in one of his columns in 1986, Waris Mir describes the difference between a progressive and backward nation: “Life itself is mobile and progressive. To me, those forces which act as a catalyst to this mode of progression are progressive and those which create hurdles in the process of metamorphosis in life are backward. Sadly, in Pakistan, progressive thinking has been shoved into the realms of “Leftist” school of thought and whenever a writer tries to take things on a progressive note, he is labelled to be a Leftist.”
According to Waris Mir, progressive thinkers and intellectuals are not believers of a certain far-fetched ideology. In actual, the progressive thinkers desire for a common man to fight for his rights, they want the masses to rid themselves of poverty, subjugation and illiteracy; they want the common man to have the moral strength to fight fearlessly for his rights — all of this and the expansion of a democratic culture coloured with creative thinking is what progressive writers want for the Pakistani society.
Freedom of thought and elevation of humanity are two essential facets of a triumphant society and a prerequisite to these factors is the allowance of complete freedom to intellectual activities including reading, writing and researching.
Waris Mir writes in one of his columns in 1987, “The sure sign of a society that is alive with the spirit of human rights is that the intellectual of any such civilization, despite facing tremendous pressures and restrictions, somehow manage to let out a sigh or a sob to protest against their precincts defined by others. If such intellectuals have the desire to fight against any such boundaries and barb wires of censorship, if they are sincere to their motive, then no one can stop them from speaking out the truth.”
When Prof Waris Mir fights verbal duels for the freedom of thought and freedom of expression, he is actually laying down the case for the freedom of media. He himself had to face censorship snipping, threats, mental torture and vandalism under the military regime of General Ziaul Haq. But he stood his ground firm against all odds, upholding his principled stance of backing democracy, progressive thought and freedom of expression. When he wrote or spoke of freedom of thought, he underlined in bold the ideologies of enlightenment, pragmatism, creative thinking and courageous characterology.
Going through his writings, one may find scores of examples of writers, intellectuals and thinkers of the yesteryears who belonged to the same school of thought to which Waris Mir himself belonged. He quotes references and gives abstracts from writers who dwelled upon the same issues centuries ago, who spoke against totalitarianism in their own times and kept the flame of intellect burning bright. He admired those writers and sought literary references from those writings which gave a logical, helpful and progressive tilt to social and political problems faced by every evolving society. This could be the reason why Mir’s columns read more like thoroughly researched essays in which he was seeking for literary support to educate and guide his readers not only according to his own thought pattern but also to intellectuals of yore.
Professor Waris Mir started off his journalistic career during the military rule of Field Marshall General Ayub Khan, which came to an abrupt end with his untimely demise in July 1987 during the martial regime of General Ziaul Haq. However, he spent all his life fighting for truth, justice, democratic principles, freedom and liberty of thought, although he had to pay a heavy price for his endeavours. What Waris Mir wrote and how he wrote, makes him an icon par excellence who continues to live on through his writings.
Waris Mir’s death anniversary falls on 9th July.