A man of letters

January 17, 2021

A look at the life of renowned poet Naseer Turabi who passed away on January 10 in Karachi

He left as quietly and inconspicuously as he had lived. Naseer Turabi, poet, author and an exemplary man of letters will now be spoken of in the past tense. The world of Urdu poetry is poorer today with his departure for his eternal abode, as he joins his contemporaries, friends and close associates Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmed Faraz, Nasir Kazmi, Aziz Hamid Madani and Mustufa Zaidi.

On Sunday January 10, Turabi sahib complained of uneasiness and palpitations. His younger son and wife rushed him to a nearby hospital but he was pronounced dead on arrival. He was 75 years old.

Ajeeb Hoti Hai Raah-i-Sukhan Bhi Dekh Naseer/ Wahaan Bhi Aagayae Aakhir Jahaan Rasai Na Thee

The man who had a verse for every occasion will be missed by those who had the privilege and honour of having enjoyed his delightful company. I happened to meet him in the summer of 2017 when I interviewed him for my fourth book, If Born Again (p 2018). Son of the renowned religious scholar and popular orator, Allama Rashid Turabi, Naseer Turabi appreciated the fact that his own contribution aside, many people respected him and held him in great regard on account of his late father. I spent a good three hours in the company of this fountain of knowledge that afternoon. As they say, time flies in good company. He narrated many anecdotes about some of the heavy weights of Urdu literature.

His association with Faiz sahib had started in 1962 when the latter landed in Karachi after receiving the Lenin Peace Prize. They met every weekend. Turabi sahib would often say: “He (Faiz) gave social issues a romantic aura. He was not a sloganist”. Nasir Kazmi was another one of his close friends for years. They would often exchange verses and notes despite the distance between them, as Kazmi lived in Lahore and Turabi worked for Radio Pakistan in Karachi. For this purpose, Turabi would often use the direct phone line installed in the office of the station director at Radio Pakistan. He remained close to Kazmi till his premature death from tuberculosis in 1972.

Turabi made a lot of life-long friends in the literary world of the sub-continent and always spoke with passion about their achievements.

Turabi remembered Mustufa Zaidi, the enigmatic poet, with much fondness. There is a common perception that Zaidi committed suicide. When I brought this up in the interview, he said “no… my friend was murdered”. He that started narrating the events of the day Zaidi’s body was found. He seemed to speak with a lump in his throat. “I lost a very dear and talented friend that day,” said Turabi.

Turabi made a lot of life-long friends in the literary world of the sub- continent and always spoke with passion about their achievements. It was next to impossible though to get him to speak about his own achievements.

He authored three books including Laaraib, a collection of na’at and manqabat, in Persian and Urdu language. The book ends with a poignant verse:

Nikal Kay Nazghae Shar Say Teri Panah Ki Simt/ Mein Aaraha Hun, Mera Intezar Kar Maula

Other books written by him were Aks-i-Faryadi, a collection of ghazals, and Sheyriaat, an encyclopaedia and a textbook of Urdu words, their correct usage and Urdu grammar. It is the only book of its kind till date. The man who started as a poet in 1962 was acknowledged with the Allama Iqbal Award from the Academy of Letters in 2020.

Turabi wept at the fall of Dhaka in 1971 and wrote his most popular ghazal to mark the occasion, Woh Hamsafar Thaa Magar Uss Se Humnawai Na Thee.

A frequent visitor across the border to participate in mushairas, Turabi once remarked, “we are so similar in poshaak and khoraak (attire and cuisine) zabaan and bayaan (language and style of conversing), I would always pray for peace to prevail in the subcontinent.”

He always strived for more acknowledgement and encouragement for struggling writers and poets. He was of the view that multinationals should purchase books of struggling good writers and poets and donate those to college and university libraries.

Shahr Bay-Mehar Kabhi Hum Ko Bhi Mohlat Deta/ Ek Diya Hum Bhi Kissi Rukh Say Jalaate Jaate/ Uss Kaye Kuchay Mein Bhi Ho, Raah Say Bay-Raah Naseer/ Itnay Aayae Thay Tau Aawaaz Lagaate Jaate.

The writer is the literary ambassador of Paramount Books. She has authored four books including Diary of a Hypocrite and If Born Again

A man of letters