The Urdu literature is replete with such intellectuals who never bothered about seeking popularity. They rather reallocated their energies in soul-searching so as to purify their own selves and advocate truth, serenity, altruism and patriotism. Nevertheless, as rarity; a few happened to be a personification of intellect and professionalism at the same time. Ustaad Yusuf Zafar, an Urdu poet and author is perhaps the chieftain of such a noble clan of intellectuals.
To reiterate, out of intellectualism and professionalism, one side is always suppressed; but the case is awfully different with Ustaad Yusuf Zafar. Born on December 01, 1914 in Murry (near Gujranwala), Ustaad Yusuf Zafar came to Delhi in 1937 on a job hunt where he met Josh Maleehabadi. Josh was perhaps the greatest poet after Allama Iqbal at that time. It was fortunate that Josh appointed him the manager of a famous journal ‘Kaleem’ (the conversant). Being an educated person, soon he got associated with the Irrigation Department. In 1942, he joined another journal, Humayun and then had to leave it in 1948 since he was offered the post of manager at Habib Bank Limited, Multan. He worked as a research officer in the Weather Department of Pakistan as well. Successfully swaying between authorship and professionalism, he continued writing scripts for Radio Pakistan for a while and then in 1950, he joined Pakistan Railways (Rawalpindi). Continuing with his intellectual pursuit, more than once he was appointed the secretary of Halqa-e-Arbaab-e-Zoq. All along, he remained under the towering mentorship of Josh Maleehabadi, which was a heavenly endowment to Ustaad Yusuf Zafar. However, Ustaad Yusuf Zafar expired on March 07, 1972. His poetic works include Zindaan (prison), Nawa-e-Saaz (sound of musical instrument), and Sada Ba Sehra (screaming in vain); all combined in Kulliyat-e-Zafar (complete poetic works). He wrote a few dramas like Zehr-e-Qand (poison of sweet), Ishq-e-Peychaan (the spiraled passion), Shehsawar (horse rider) and Hareem-e-Watan (the embraces of country). His singular prose work is Yahoodiyat (Jewishness).
Well, several renowned intellectuals of both Pakistan and India have certified Ustaad Yusuf Zafar’s genius. According to the greatest living poet of Pakistan, Iftikhar Arif, ‘a single name that was prominent in the world of Urdu literature during the decade of forty’s and was a part and parcel of the modern poetry was Yusuf Zafar.’ Syyed Zameer Jaffery, another famous poet and critique said about Ustaad Yusuf Zafar , ‘if I were required to express my opinion about him in a single sentence, I would have said that Yusuf Zafar is part of that limited group of poets who have carried forward Urdu poetry from the 19th century to the 20th.’ Again, according to famous Urdu poet and author, Wazeer Agha, ‘if we carefully read Yusuf Zafar’s poems we would feel that the very process of digging one’s soul has vested his poetry with primary signs of life which he has especially made prominent; the same signs with respect to which Zion and Bergson are reckoned prophets.’ Here it needs to be highlighted that Zion was against every kind of atrocity and the French philosopher Bergson (Nobel Prize holder) is known for his ‘Élan Vital’ (creative energy).
Still, from Qudratullah Shahaab, the author of famous Urdu classical book, Shahaab Naama, ‘each and every verse of Yusuf Zafar’s Naat (poetry in praise of Prophet Mohammad) manifests his immense love for Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w). Thus by dint of prophet’s Meraaj (physical elevation to heavens), not only the composer, but even the reader of Naat can feel confident of being forgiven on the Day of Judgment.’ Then according to the famous Urdu poet and writer Ibn-e-Insha, ‘like Ibraheem Zoaq, Yusuf Zafar was also called Ustaad (guru). Within the circle of his comrades, he would just be called Ustaad and not Yusuf.’ (By the way Ibraheem Zoaq was a contemporary of Mirza Ghalib) Famous Urdu poet and novelist Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi wrote about him, ‘Yusuf Zafar has been bestowed with infinity of topics and he does not view this world like a layman, rather like an adventurist who embraces each and every panorama and studs his canvass with its unique charm.’
According to Shaad Ameritsery, ‘I am an eternal worshiper of Ustaad Yusuf Zafar and I have wetted whole of his poetic works. However, the message he has framed in his poem chup ki guppha (valley of silence) has perhaps not been presented by many big poets of the world. This can be considered as the greatest poem of present era…… The poem is immortal, and Ustaad Yusuf is matchless.’ In this poem the poet has signified the importance of Eternal Secrets that man has contained in his bosom and would not utter even all the creatures do and would rather carry along to the valley of silence (graveyard). According to the greatest living poet Iftikhaar Arif, ‘the immense command over linguistics and expressions, and then the art of poeticizing the diverse experiences of life had been vested to him by God. His creative genius is manifest be it any sort of poeticism.’ Finally, regarding his sociability, Jagan Nath Azad poeticizes his opinion about Ustaad, ‘he was the pupil of our eye, grace and décor of gatherings, he would illuminate his surroundings since he was a spark from the fire of faithfulness.’
Turning to Ustaad Yusuf Zafar’s intellect, he has covered all branches of poetry and prose, all marvelous. In his poem composed in February 1970, Ustaad Yusuf Zafar philosophies his relationship with God that ‘for whom should I bow, since God is penetrated in every inch of my person.’ In Naat he expresses his indebtedness to Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w) that ‘this is again a miracle of the prophet that I can vocalize the Truth though I am an idol of earth.’ Akin to this concept Allama Iqbal narrates in his Persian poetry that ‘I need to sublimely applaud Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w) since he imbued Faith in a mere handful of dust.’
We see an inkling of spirituality and mysticism in poetic compositions of Ustaad Yusuf Zafar. For example in his poem named Mashwera (suggestion) which he composed in 1960, he gives a wonderful piece of advice. The poem contains just eleven lines, the last three conclude Ustaad’s message beautifully. That man should not become a slave of his desires rather if he is vested with the treasure of Heart and Vision he should believe that he has accumulated not only wealth of this world but that of hereafter as well. Ustaad Yusuf also paid homage to the creator of Pakistan Quid-e-Azam and the dreamer Allama Iqbal. He pays tribute to Jinnah, ‘my dawn is lit by your spark, I salute you as you are the fabricator of my Heaven.’ In his poem Dua (prayer) composed in 1961 that ends at a line ‘ke yeh zameen bheek maangti hay fiza-e-maghrib se teeragi ki (that my motherland is begging the West to lend it light which is in reality darkness). This probably alludes to the era when Pakistan had recently got entangled in the ‘Aid Syndrome’. As it is generally believed that the aid programs are primarily aimed at ameliorating the financial mirth of the West in the long run; (the concept known in economics as False Paradigm). Or this line may have pointed at the vanity-cum-modernity of West that was being relished by several developing nations, the ‘hippie’ culture for example. This substantiates that Zafar was equally patriotic and could feel pain for any damage to his country. He also wrote on separation of East Pakistan (1971). In a poem composed in 1972 he writes, ‘deprecated as an abolished grave, it’s my motherland that has nurtured me like a mother. I struggle to see around myself but I cannot, it is so black out there that every faith has turned down to a mere whim.’
His ghazals, like his poems are also pregnant with profound ideas. In his ghazal composed in September 1967, Ustaad says, ‘she carried along her the dewdrops of breeze, liquor of the moon, perfume of cascaded hair, so what was his departure? A caravan set out rather.’ Again in another ghazal composed in 1966 he says, ‘I always yearned that someone must scream my name, so this is accomplished by the heartbeat of my own heart.’ Then, ‘I am interfacing you but cannot figure you out, it looks as if I would not be able to recognize you as long as you continue to gaze me.’
Having said all, to me it was out of his immense boldness, self-confidence and internal serenity that he adopted the pen-name of Zafar. Reason is that, there spanned elevated poets with the same pen-name like Bahadur Shah Zafar (Mughal Emperor), Maulana Zafar Ali Khan (father of journalism in India), and Zafar Akber Abadi. Let me finish with Ustaad Yusuf Zafar very famous verse: Ab wo rahen jahaan-e-tajalli liye huay, Yusuf Zafar ki baat hay Yusuf Zafar ke saath (let them live with their world of glamour, Yusuf Zafar will limit his concern with his own soul).