Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi (1916-2006)

Ab aik baar to qudrat javaabdeh thehre

hazaar baar ham insaan aazmaaye gaye

Now Nature must be held accountable at least once

We humans have been held answerable a thousand times

Few men evoke such awe and respect as the departed poet and writer Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi who breathed his last on July 10 2006. His mastery over poetry – he has been equally prolific in traditional ghazal and nazm – and prose – as a short story writer, journalist and literary critic – stand at the pinnacle of Urdu literature and he has contributed to the language over 50 titles.

Born in 1916 amidst the scenic Soon-Sekasar valley in district Khushab, nature influenced the evolution of Qasmi’s poetic sensibilities. Exposure to the grim realities of rural India’s inequities also played their part in his development as a writer; the underlying theme of his poetry is human dignity and his short stories – regarded as next in line to another master, Munshi Prem Chand, for their directness and simplicity – portrayed the woes of the Punjabi peasantry and their interaction with power structures. Following his matriculation from Campbellpur in 1931, around the time when he wrote his first poem, he moved to the Sadiq Egerton College in Bahawalpur and graduated in 1935.

Qasmi’s early short stories such as “Hiroshima say pehle, Hiroshima Kay Ba’ad” narrated the devastating effects of the Hiroshima bombing on a small Punjabi village which fed recruits to the British army. His other stories “Lawrence of Thalaibia” and “Rais Khana” attacked pirs and feudal lords for their relentless exploitation of peasants.

ai Khudaa ab tere firdaus pe meraa haq hai

tuune is daur ke dozakh mein jalaayaa hai mujhe

My Lord! Now, I can rightfully claim thine paradise

You have burnt me in the hell of my times

Yet another field that benefited with Qasmi’s presence was journalism, both from his own writing and his work as an editor.

By the late 1930s Qasmi was editing reformist magazines such as Phool and Taleem-i-Niswan . In the next two decades he edited renowned publications such as Adab-e-Latif , Sawera , Naqoosh, and daily Imroze – a leading Urdu daily which he left when Ayub Khan’s Progressive Papers Limited took over in 1959, despite encouragement to stay on – and finally a journal he set up himself, Fanoon.

Qasmi’s writings in Imroze and later in the daily Jang have been noted as progressive critiques on social and political issues. His journalistic writing was terse and often bold compared to his peers and he never compromised on the principles he held close to his heart. His Imroze editorials opposing Ayub Khan’s martial law landed him four months of incarceration in 1958-9. Qasmi’s last column for Jang in 2006 argued that the Constitution of 1973 was a consensus document and should not have been amended time and again. […]