Qasmi was the proverbial candle of an infinitely wide literary circle; he attracted opportunists and genuine literati alike. This is what led to some criticism about the ‘company’ he kept. Munnoo Bhai is believed to have remarked some years ago: “Qasmi Sahib is like a big banyan tree that has been taken over by jinns and bhoots (ghosts).” But the critics overlook the fact that Qasmi and his generation had an open door policy that was based on the fundamentals of humanism. They were also forgiving by nature and accepting of all and simple in their worldly ways. No wonder Qasmi died as a poor man despite half a century of a majestic career. Nevertheless, the wide array of Qasmi fans, students and chelas led to much envy and gossip that later turned into literary feuds. The well known tussle between Anwar Sadeed (critic) and Qasmi group is well documented. Sadeed left no stone unturned to undermine Qasmi’s stature and literary merit. Similarly, another notable poet, Dr Wazir Agha,was a life-long rival of Qasmi and his publications made it a point to censure Qasmi and his cohorts as a matter of routine and principle. Muneer Niazi, another ‘big’ poet, was also a ‘rival’ of sorts. Niazi, like Qasmi, was Lahore based and also recognised for his excellent poetry. There the similarities ended. Qasmi was more than a poet. He was a versatile writer and not simply obsessed with his written output alone: he was committed to grooming others. Hence his life long forays in journalism, literary movements, mentoring and publishing. Qasmi’s essay on Faiz Ahmed Faiz published in an Urdu quarterly by Ata-ul Haq Qasmi (former ambassador to Norway and a noted Urdu columnist), in which he had been allegedly impolite about Faiz, became a source of much consternation among Faiz’s diehard fans. Qasmi was honest about whatever he felt. But he was misunderstood. Even his worst critics – long time ‘rivals’ as well as Faiz fans – would confirm that Qasmi was not an arrogant and self-obsessed man, and very much a people’s person. Qasmi’s own biological daughter, Naheed Qasmi, is a poet of notable merit. However, not much is known about his family and personal life since most of it was devoted to his peers, protégés and literary movements. As another commentator noted, the number of flaps and forewords he had written for in aspiring writers’ books would compete for an entry in the Guinness book of world records!
Zindagii shammaa kii maanind jalaataa hoon ‘Nadeem’
Bujh to jaaoon gaa magar subah tau kar jaaoon gaa
I have lit my life like a candle,
The flame would disappear but will burn till the morning
Try as he did to nurture the next generation of poets and writers, there will never be another Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi. His is not the death of an individual – it is the coming to close of an era which sent forth and bred literary giants encompassing the entire range of literature’s linkage with art and society. Urdu literature has virtually been left an orphan across South Asia. It remains to be seen how this otherwise threatened language will cope with the loss of institutions such as Qasmi and idols such as Faiz. Even greater is the loss for Pakistan’s diminutive intelligentsia as it has lost a committed man of letters.
Originally published in The Friday Times last week.