MUSTAFA ZAIDI AND HIS CREATIVE SUICIDE
Dear Rafiq Sultan,
I was quite surprised to know that you are also a great admirer of Mustafa Zaidi and enjoy his romantic and passionate poetry as much as I do. I believe he was one of those creative minds that were a complete misfit in a traditional, conservative and religious environment of Pakistan. He was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. All his life he tried to swim against the current but finally gave up and committed suicide at the prime of his youth. My uncle Arif Abdul Mateen once shared with me that the great pessimistic philosopher Schopenhauer believed that when the horrors of life outweigh the horrors of death, human beings commit suicide.
When you asked me last week what were the significant factors that contributed towards his suicide at the young age of forty, I was not sure whether you were asking me that question as a poet or as a psychotherapist or both. It is hard for me to answer that question with any authenticity as I never interviewed him in person. So my comments would be based on his autobiographical essays and the thesis of Mirza Hamid Baig that he wrote for his Masters examination, which provides a brief overview of Mustafa Zaidi’s life.
While I was studying Mustafa Zaidi’s poetry and life story, the most revealing account was his introduction of his book koh-e-nida, which he wrote in December 1969, a few months before his death. That introduction sounds to me like a suicide note in which Mustafa Zaidi highlighted his existential, social and literary tragedies and shared his frustrations. That introduction provides a few glimpses of Zaidi’s psyche that was going through an emotional turmoil and was contemplating suicide. It had signs of literary despair. Ironically he titled his introduction The Last Word. In that introduction he states, “koh-e-nida is my last collection of poems because I have come to the painful realization that I am small and insignificant. To create literature one needs to be in touch with contemporary literature and be able to express oneself in an artistic way. But I have not been able to do that. Because of that inability, I have not been able to create those masterpieces that civilized world demands of a first rate writer. At the same time I am also unable to write the type pf poetry that my countrymen are used to.” (Ref 1)
It is obvious from the above paragraph that Mustafa Zaidi had become frustrated and sarcastic because of his disillusionment with himself and his environment. He further states, “It is impossible for a writer to keep on writing endlessly without any recognition” (Ref 1). He was really hurt when he found out that in spite of being short-listed his collection of poems did not win the Adam Ji award. Mirza Hamid Baig wrote, “When Mustafa Zaidi’s sixth collection of poems qaba-e-saaz did not get Adam Ji award, he invited Faiz, Qasmi and Waqar Arif, three great Urdu scholars to his house, and read his satirical poem, consisting of 72 couplets, against Ada Jafri, who had received the award. That was his catharsis”. (Ref 2)
In his introduction Mustafa Zaidi also confessed that he had read the latest book by famous Urdu critic Wazir Agha and when he did not find his name in the list of poets reviewed, he was broken hearted. He believed that after writing poetry for nearly two decades if he was still not recognized then he would never be recognized.
Mustafa Zaidi had never been able to resolve his conflict between his creative life and his professional life, between his role as a poet and as a government official. He wrote, “ I am a misfit in poetry as well as government service. I have been living a life of isolation and it is all my fault. I wonder whether poets meet me because I am a government official and government officers invite me because I am a poet.” (Ref 1) The conflict reached such a climax that he completely withdrew socially and started spending most of his time on his own. In one of his letters to his mentor Josh Maleeh-a-badi he wrote, “ For the last one year I have withdrawn from life. I am hiding in the grave of myself. People cannot reach me here and I have no intentions of leaving my lonely grave.” (Ref 2) It seems as if he was already descending in the valley of depression.
Mustafa Zaidi was not only disappointed with his fellow writers, poets and critics, he was also disillusioned with the social and religious environment he was living in. He wrote, “ I live in a country where people have a rigid ideology and are very intolerant. They are not willing to accept even tolerate any other philosophy of life. When one feels so frustrated by the religious intolerance of one’s countrymen then one has a choice to commit suicide, escape from the homeland or get ready to be crucified by one’s fanatic countrymen.” It is obvious that Mustafa Zaidi chose the first option.
Mustafa Zaidi was aware that he was living in a hypocritical society. What people believed and preached and what they practiced were not only different but contradictory. Mustafa Zaidi wanted to live an honest lifestyle that was very difficult in that conservative and religious environment. At one stage in his professional career he was offered a large sum of money as a bribe. When he refused to accept the bride it challenged the whole system. He became sand rather than the oil for the system. And within a short time he found himself in the list of 303 corrupt government officials in Pakistan. It seems to be as if he was too honest for a corrupt society. He wrote, “ When I refused to accept bribes and become part of the corrupt system, I was abused, harassed and tortured. Finally I was blacklisted.” (Ref 2)
As time passed Mustafa Zaidi became more and more withdrawn and isolated. In my professional opinion I wonder if he became clinically depressed. That depression was partly related to disappointment in his passion of flying. Mustafa Zaidi loved to fly small planes. But then he had an unfortunate accident and he had to do a forced landing. He survived but his plane did not. He was brokenhearted. He expressed his grief in these words, “I loved my plane like my children. I am so upset that even the flying club who owns the plane is unable to appreciate my sense of loss.” (Ref 1 )
Mustafa Zaidi was sentimentally attached to the plane and losing that plane was a major loss for him. I found it interesting that he mentioned his love for his plane alongside his love for poetry. The more Mustafa Zaidi became sad and depressed the more he lost his sense of adventure and enjoyment. The man who had a hedonistic lifestyle all his life started suffering from anhedonia…lack of enjoyment in life, which is quite common in depression. Finally he confessed in December 1969, “I used to love pornographic literature. But for the last year, I am even fed up of pornography as I get no enjoyment out of it.” (Ref 1)
Mustafa Zaidi loved women and had numerous romantic affairs all his life. He was a sentimental lover and used to get easily hurt if he did not get the desired attention from his sweethearts. In spite of being a wonderful poet he was an emotionally unstable person. He had made numerous suicide attempts throughout his life especially when he was disappointed or unsuccessful in his romantic pursuits. In one of his autobiographical essays Madhouse he wrote, “ I was twenty six years old and I had become a professional lover. I had fallen in love with seven people in five years. In three love affairs I had attempted suicide.” (Ref 1) Hamid baig shares that in his life he had affairs not only with many women including Anjum, Saroj Bala Saran, Sarlakapoor, Ms Smith, Vera Hill, Dukhtar Sadiq, Shehnaz Gul but also with a beautiful young man Premkumar Jain for whom he had written special poems.” (Ref 2) Like his ideal Josh Maleeh-a-badi he was as proud of his homosexual liasions as he was about his heterosexual encounters. But all those romantic affairs caused him heartaches and pushed his to suicide. In one of his suicidal crisis, Mustafa Zaidi had taken an overdose of opium and was admitted in Allahabad Hospital in critical condition. Luckily he survived.
Mustafa Zaidi’s final love affair of life was with a married woman Shehnaz Gul, for whom he wrote a series of wonderful romantic poems. When Shehnaz Gul started seeing another rich businessman, Mustafa Zaidi was broken hearted. He not only had to deal with Shehnaz Guls’ husband but also a lover who Zaidi believed was a corrupt smuggler. That man asked Shehnaz Gul to demand her pictures and letters back from Mustafa Zaidi. That demand pushed Zaidi over the edge. He became angry and despondent. He became so irrational that he printed 4000 posters with nude pictures of Shehnaz Gul. Mustafa Zaidi told Shehnaz Gul that if she did not meet him he would distribute her pictures all over the country. To pacify Mustafa Zaidi and avoid social embarrassment she agreed to meet him. But that day the most unfortunate thing happened and the police announced to the whole world on October 12th 1970 that they found the dead body of Mustafa Zaidi with a poisoned coffee pot in one room and unconscious body of Shehnaz Gul in the next. Shehnaz Gul was charged with murder. She confessed in police investigation, “When Mustafa Zaidi’s wife discovered our affair it created tension between the spouses. Mustafa Zaidi wanted to marry me but I told him it was not realistic as both of us were already married and had children. But Zaidi would not listen and kept on insisting while I kept on resisting.” (Ref 2)
After Mustafa Zaidi’s death Shehnaz Gul’s beautiful pictures repeatedly appeared on the front pages of all the newspapers of the country. Ironically Mustafa Zaidi received more fame and recognition after his death than during his lifetime. He became well known more as a lover of a married woman than as a romantic poet.
Dear Rafiq Sultan, Those were my comments as a mental health professional. As a poet I feel that Mustafa Zaidi, like Saadat Hasan Minto and Josh Maleehabadi faced harsh judgments from their community and country as they challenged the religious, social and sexual taboos of their environments.
I was quite fascinated to read that when Mustafa Zaidi was a government officer he had to deal with a students’ strike. At one stage the local magistrate asked him three times to give permission to open fire on students who were protesting. Mustafa Zaidi refused to give orders. Finally he told the magistrate, “ How can you open fire on students. They are our future. How can you kill our innocent children?” (Ref 2) Mustafa Zaidi might have been a beaurocrat by profession but he was a peace-loving poet by passion. He was a humanist at heart who exposed the contradictions of life and challenged the hypocrisies.
I was so pleased when I heard that the popular singer Abida Perveen was singing Mustafa Zaidi’s ghazals. I hope one day Pakistani society would be able to appreciate contributions of Mustafa Zaidi and realize that he was one of those who wanted to create literature about all aspects and not only the edited version of life that Pakistani culture allows writers to write about. I believe time has come that we review the lives and contributions of all the writers, poets, intellectuals and political activists who were banned in Pakistan because of their non-traditional philosophies and unconventional lifestyles. I hope one day we would see poems of Mustafa Zaidi, short stories of Saadat Hasan Minto and Josh Maleeh-a-badi’s autobiography become part of the courses of high school students in Pakistan. I sometimes wonder whether we would see that in our lifetime because for some mysterious reasons the Pakistani culture is becoming more traditional, conservative and intolerant than it was in 1970 when Mustafa Zaidi took his life as a young man. May be it was his desperate way to challenge the hypocrisy of his environment. I just wish that he had not taken lack of attention from Urdu critics like Wazir Agha and his beloveds like Shehnaz Gul to heart and kept on writing his wonderful poetry. It is so ironic that like Keats and Shelley, Minto and Zaidi, we lose so many creative geniuses in their youth.