Peerless Sindhi poet Shaikh Ayaz comes back to life at week-long festival
HYDERABAD: For the generation that has known Shaikh Ayaz, the peerless 20th century Sindhi poet, through his work, a week-long event provided a meticulous and crispy short-course. Laced with musical and dance performances, the ‘Ayaz Festival’ at Cafe Khanabadosh drew thousands of Ayaz’s fans.
The festival started with a photo exhibition and was followed by reading of Ayaz’s poetry, meeting with family and friends, mushaira, documentary, dance by Suhaee Abro and a seminar on different days. The musical nights took place almost every day.
Some people termed it a revival of Ayaz and others felt to have acquainted themselves further with the poet. For others still, the fun and festivity of the musical nights remained bewitching. But they all relished the event, which was first of its kind to be organised for any literary figure in Hyderabad and that too in the settings of the Sindh Museum, its seemly park and an auditorium in its premises.
The recipient of Sitara-e-Imtiaz, Ayaz (1923-1997) has over 50 books including a few of Urdu poetry, with the predominant themes of revolution and romance in all, to his credit. He died on December 28, 1997, and was laid to rest near the shrine of Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, who is considered the only Sindhi poet to be ranked above Ayaz.
During the seminar, poet Fehmida Riaz called both Ayaz and Faiz Ahmed Faiz as geniuses. “Faiz’s poetry related the feeling of love for political struggle and Ayaz’s depicts desires of the people as well as the political movements,” she observed.
She underlined the importance of translating his poetry in Urdu. “There is a political as well as literary need to do this,” she said. “It will also give the Urdu readers an opportunity to read a top-notch poetry whose likes are difficult to find these days. I seem to descend in the state of ecstasy whenever I read his poetry.”
Poets Adal Soomro, Shabnum Baloch, former Sindhi Language Authority chairperson Dr Fahmida Hussain, Moonis Ayaz, director Academy of letters Noor Ahmed Janjhi and columnist Arbab Naek Mohammad read papers on Ayaz.
A collection of Ayaz’s photos, mostly taken by photographer Khuda Bux Abro, were put on display on the first day of the festival. His handshake with Ayub Khan in which the latter is bowing down while thanking Ayaz for translating Bhitai’s poetry in Urdu drew the interest of many. The poet, in other pictures, is also seen with his contemporaries including Jeeji Zarina Baloch, Moulana Ghulam Muhammad Garami, Sobho Gianchandani and Jamal Rind, Pir Hassamuddin Shah Rashdi. Dr Ghulam Ali Allana and some Indian poets.
During the mushaira, poets Ali Zahid, Noor Chakrani, Gulbadan Javed, Imtiaz Danish, Naseem Baloch, Attiya Dawood, Taj Joyo, Bakshan Mehranvi, Wahid Kandhro, Rubina Abro, Mushtaq Phul, Aziz Solangi, Haseena Saand, Khalil Kunbhar and several others recited their own and Ayaz’s poetry.
The event was conceived by Amar Sindhu, who teaches at Sindh University and owns Cafe Khanabadosh. “I have been planning for years to arrange such a festival for Ayaz but never got an opportunity,” she said. The cafe, which is also known as the writer’s cafe, opened in May this year, in a hall of a park in the premises of Sindh Museum.
Sindhu’s team included Dr Arfana Mallah, Izhar Soomro, Ali Aakash and Haseen Musarat, among others. According to Mallah, commissioner Hyderabad Syed Asif Hyder Shah, the culture department, Radio Pakistan, Sindhi Language Authority and donations from some NGOs helped them pay for the arrangements.
As with many other people of his corps, Ayaz also had contradictions to his known personality. From conservatism at home to having been declared a traitor first by the state and then by the Sindhi nationalists, his troublesome second marriage also reflects some unwelcome aspects. But for his fans, his poetry is all that dominates their interest in Ayaz.
“Baba would not allow a male servant over the age of 12 to work at home [in Sukkur],” Yasmeen Muzaffar, a daughter from his first wife, recollected while responding to the moderator Dr Arfana Mallah’s query. “The men not related to our family were also not allowed to interact with us.”
Although most of her remembrance shed light on splendid dispositions in her father’s character, this revelation startled many among the audience.
Moonis Ayaz, a famous poet himself and son of Ayaz’s second but divorced wife Iqbal Begum, waxed eulogistic but he too was ensnared by the importunate questions, which made him revelatory. “We had a love-and-hate relationship after he divorced our mother,” he disclosed. “His refusal to financially support my medical studies also hurt me because he paid for the MBBS of my step sister.” However, he added, these feelings subsided when he returned after completing his studies from the US in 1990s. Ayaz had five children from first wife, with whom he lived till his death, and three from the second. According to Moonis, Ayaz expressed his guilt about divorce in person but did not mention that episode in his autobiography.
The poet’s conservatism and following of traditional values prevalent in the upper Sindh region are manifest by the divorce. Adal Soomro, a friend of Ayaz, divulged that the frequent visits of Iqbal’s male relatives became the reason for their separation.
Moonis also remembered being called a son of ‘India’s agent’ during the 1965 war when Ayaz wrote a famous couplet that discouraged war. But over the next decade, perceptions began to change after Ayaz accepted Zulfiqar Bhutto’s offer for the post of Sindh University vice-chancellor. As he continued in that post after Bhutto’s hanging and during Ziaul Haq’s regime, the Sindhi nationalists who once revered him as a hero turned into his critical opponents.
“In 1994, GM Syed [the iconic nationalist leader] was arrested. When Yousuf Shaheen [a journalist and a former senator] and I visited him in the jail hospital [in Karachi] he regretted that Ayaz and he haven’t met for last 16 years,” recalled Dastgir Bhatti, a journalist and colleague of Ayaz in Sindhi daily Barsat, which the poet had joined as the editor.
“The next day Shaheen took Ayaz for a meeting with Syed and the two spent one and a half hour alone. When the meeting ended, they appeared to have put the past behind.”