A teacher, writer, poet and sufi intellectual, famous for his unique literary style Wasif Ali Wasif was born to Malik Muhammed Arif into a prestigious Awan clan on 15 January 1929 in Khushab on 15 January 1929. He used to write short pieces of prose on topics like love, life, fortune, fear, hope, expectation, promise, prayer, happiness, sorrow and so on. He was the regular columnist of Pakistani Urdu newspaper Daily Nawa-i-Waqt. His 1st column named Muhabbat.
Wasif Ali Wasif received his religious education under the supervision of his father and passed his Matriculation examination from Government High School Khushab in 1944. His maternal grandfather, a skilled educationist, was appointed as Headmaster at Government High School in Jhang. Therefore, he was sent to Jhang for his further education. Wasif gained his FSc from Government Inter College Jhang and graduated from Government Degree College Jhang. He was a hardworking student, who passed every examination by obtaining first division.
He then moved to Lahore, where he earned his MSc in Mathematics from Government Islamia College Civil Lines, Lahore and MA in English from Government College, Lahore. He was an excellent player of hockey for which he was awarded a colour. He started writing for college magazine ‘Ravian’ when he was a student. He used to write in Urdu as well as in English.
In 1954, Wasif Ali Wasif passed Provincial Civil Service (PCS) examination but did not join the public service because of his nature and started his career as a teacher. After teaching in some private institutions for some time, he founded Lahore College for English (Lahore English College) in 1958. In a short span of time his fame as a very able, benign, competent and dutiful teacher spread around and due to ever increasing number of students he started teaching in two shifts.
In his life most of his columns were combined to form books with his own selected title. He did poetry in Urdu and Punjabi languages. Probably no contemporary Urdu writer is more cited in quotations than he is. Later years he used to answer questions in specially arranged gatherings at Lahore attended by the notable community. Some of these sessions were recorded in audio and were later published as Guftgoo (talk) series.
His mehfils never had a set subject nor did he lecture on chosen topics. His way was to ask people if they had any questions and then he responded in his highly original style. His thought was more on mysticism, spirituality and humanity. There are about 40 books to his credit including Shab Chiragh, Kiran Kiran Sooraj, and Dil Darya Samundar. It is self-evident that his books as well as recordings of talks are a treasure trove of wisdom.
Wasif Ali Wasif’s written and spoken words are quotable for their content as well as their construction. He had almost a miraculous ability to capture a rainbow of meaning in a few dewdrops of well-chosen words and it was because of this his writings in newspapers secured him a permanent place in the gallery of stylist prose writers. Though his main claim to fame was his writings, a select circle knows that he was an equally great conversationalist.
Ashfaq Ahmed, the conversationalist par excellence of our time has said, the sentences we concoct are our piece of craft, Wasif’s lines came from somewhere else. His prose is simpler, using figures of speech less frequently and thus sounds more natural but it has distinctive qualities of fine poetry.
Renowned politician and connoisseur of art and literature, Hanif Ramay was of the view that Wasif’s prose influences like the poetry of Iqbal. Another interesting aspect of his literary masterpieces is that these originally appeared as columns in an Urdu daily defying the strongly held belief that journalism cannot produce pure literature which can have a long life.
Siraj Muneer, a well-read scholar and critic, has written, we took them as columns but they were another aalam (world). A discussion of his peculiar style would be incomplete without mentioning that all his writings have a lot between the lines too. He believed that a thought can never be expressed fully in words, a reader should be alive to this fact and should try comprehending the portion that was impossible to be carried in words.
The leading critic and scholar Professor Gilani Kamran comments on his book Dil Darya Samundar that Wasif Ali Wasif’s collection of essays has a pleasant rhythm of an emotionally sustained prose. The sentence moves with grace and the words have the ring of sensation. These features are only rarely found in modern Urdu prose. But whether or not one succeeds in discovering himself, or in entering the field of a higher experience and his rhythm of prose certainly compensates for any loss of achievement. With this one book, it can be said with some assurance, our culture is seen to be moving out of a closed world and entering an age of self-discovery where single individual becomes the object of new orientation and also the locus of a new destiny.
Wasif Ali Wasif has a diverse following ranging from high judiciary to vendors. One of his followers, Government College University Chief Librarian Abdul Waheed, titled him Saadi of present times. He said; Wasif’s writings were eye-opening but his conversations were even more deeply thought out.
The following is a rough translation of Wasif Ali Wasif’s essay called Firaq-o-Wisal (Separation and Union), As long as man was in the moonlight he desired to reach the moon there was bliss in the moonlight but the moon itself was distant. Moonlight was near but man longed for the moon, man reached the moon but there he was without the moonlight. If one reaches the moon one does not find moonlight any longer and if one is in moonlight one does not find the moon.
It is a strange fact that one is only because of the other one is a sign of the other yet both are forever separate. If the Beloved is the Moon, moonlight is His remembrance. When the Beloved is present His remembrance is not and when His remembrance is present the Beloved is not. Proximity to one is distance from the other, Union with one is separation from the other. Thus union is hidden in every separation and separation in every union. Few original thinkers have expressed so lofty thoughts in so simple a style. He is as such a common man’s philosopher.
Wasif Ali Wasif was a dervish and sufi and in the later part of his life acted as a murshid to many. He was a person in possession of great knowledge and wisdom. He considered himself as a continuation of the great Sufi tradition, imparting useful knowledge, strong faith, hope and love to the ailing hearts. Qudratullah Shahab, Ashfaq Ahmed and Hanif Ramay attended lectures of Wasif Ali Wasif. It was in the last writing of Qudratullah Shahab which appeared in the Urdu newspaper Daily Jang describing that if a person reaches a crossroads of his life, he can find a right path through Wasif Ali Wasif.
Wasif Ali Wasif died on January 18, 1993. Being famous for Sufism and respected by many people, he is usually referred to as Hazrat Wasif Ali Wasif. His shrine is located in Lahore at 25 Bahawalpur Road, near Chowk Chauburji. His Urs (Religious Festival) is celebrated every year from 22nd to 24th of the month of Rajab.