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In Memoriam: Taufiq Rafat (1927-1998)

Taufiq Rafat was a pioneer, one of the ‘fathers’ of English poetry in Pakistan. He legitimized the writing of this unique and productive genre at a time when it was much reviled by a so-called ‘literary intelligentsia’ paying lip-service to Urdu literature and toeing the official line which proclaimed that all ‘good and loyal Pakistanis’ must, perforce, think and act and speak and write only in Urdu. Rather typical of our rulers’ Orwellian mindset/s.

Without going into any controversy about various Pakistani languages; without decrying the utter mediocrity of thousands of Urdu ‘writers’ who burden our wits with trash; without criticizing a cultural milieu which churns out countless hacks for every Faiz or Faraz—without any such intentions, I can only assert that due to writers of the consistent calibre and integrity of Taufiq Rafat, Pakistani literature is today being recognized almost everywhere around the world.

Many distinguished people will write or talk about ‘Sir Taufiq’—who for a short while remained a literary mentor of mine—they will talk and write about his lyrical poetry, his wonderful translations of Punjabi masters such as Bulleh Shah and Qadiryar, his beautiful, generous humanity and compassion and so much more about this multi-layered, multi-dimensional person. Yet, for the likes of me, influenced by the shades of his literary genius, there are hardly any words. I can only lament, like David did for Saul and Jonathan:

”The beauty of Israel is slain upon thy high places; how the mighty have fallen! …Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain upon you, not fields of offerings…”

The richness and splendour of Pakistani-English poetry is, above all, reflected in the unique voices which have evolved over the decades, all of them highly individual, yet deeply embedded in an essentially ‘Pakistani’ being. It would be only right to remember the chronology of the earliest birth of this Essence: First Voices (1965), The New Harmony (1970), Pieces of Eight (1971), Wordfall (1976) and The Blue Wind (1984). Taufiq’s own Arrival of the Monsoon also falls within the precincts of this Canon. It is obvious, his passion and controlled strength, creating sense out of mystery, love out of disorder:


“The time to love

is when the heart

says so.

Who cares

if it is muddy


or tepid April?

…Love is a country

With its own climate”. (“The Time to Love”)

Many of that generation felt the stirrings of this love and lovingly handed down a legacy of inspired excellence to us. In addition to Taufiq Rafat, we can list Zulfikar Ghose, Daud Kamal, Maki Kureshi, Alamgir Hashmi—some of them have passed on into the Greater Flow, some still walk amongst us, the golden threads linking us to a living, vigorous tradition; one witnessed today in the writings of Waqas Ahmed Khwaja, M. Athar Tahir, G.F. Riaz and Ejaz Rahim and the likes of them.

Alas, I have nothing ultimately to show for my brief encounters with Taufiq Rafat—no pictures to give you, no lessons of wisdom to impart, no magical formulae or incantations to recite.

I have one clear image imprinted on my mind—a poignant, rain-swept day along the wet pavements of the Mall, Lahore, with the purple wisteria outside Lawrence Gardens in drenched disarray and the Master-Poet holding us riveted with the eloquence of glittering eyes and a resonant voice.

Rest in Peace, great silenced lyre.


© 1998. Orig. published in weekly ‘Pulse’ Islamabad.

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