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South Asia celebrates the centenary of Faiz Ahmad Faiz: reports and commentary

13 February 2011

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Faiz Ahmed Faiz was the first Asian poet who was awarded with the Lenin Peace Prize by the former Soviet Union in 1963. He was also nominated for the Nobel Prize shortly before his death in 1984. On the 100th birth anniversary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, celebrations are underway in countries of South Asia (most notably in Pakistan and India). Posted below is a compilation of reports and essays


  • 100th birth anniversary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz:
    Ceremonies being held to pay tributes to legendary poet (Daily Times, Report)
  • Delhi to pay Faiz tribute on birth centenary (Meenakshi Sinha)
  • The Light of tears: The life and poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz (Ali Madeeh Hashmi)
  • Faiz As Pak’s Lost Voice Of Reason (Najam Sethi)
  • A locomotive and a hearse (Jawed Naqvi)
  • Words for all seasons (Gopalkrishna Gandhi)
  • Celebrating the Idea of Revolution (Editorial, People’s Democracy)
  • India, whose love could have killed him (Jawed Naqvi)
  • No Valentines for Faiz (Mohammed Wajihuddin)
  • Dipped in the heart’s blood (Rakhshanda Jalil)
  • In other tongues (Vijay Prashad)
  • Subsumed by history and nation (Afsan Chowdhury)
  • From home to the world (Ali Mir and Raza Mir)
  • ‘Bol’, the Nepali people! (Gauri Nath Rimal)
  • In many dimensions (Sheel Kant Sharma)
  • Listening to Faiz is a subversive act (Gauhar Raza)


Daily Times, 14 February 2011

100th birth anniversary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Ceremonies being held to pay tributes to legendary poet

Staff Report

LAHORE: The 100th birth anniversary of revolutionary poet and journalist Faiz Ahmed Faiz was observed on Sunday.

Several ceremonies and events are being organised across the country, including Lahore, to pay rich tributes to the legendary poet on his birth centennial. Many foreign poets, scholars, writers and litterateurs have also arrived in Pakistan to participate in the ceremonies being held in connection with the birth anniversary of Faiz. Indian poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar and his wife and actress Shabana Azmi are also among those who have arrived in the country to participate in the centennial ceremonies.

President Asif Ali Zardari had already announced the year 2011 as the “Year of Faiz”.

Faiz was born in 1911 in Kala Kader village, Sialkot, where he also received his early education. Afterwards, he got admitted to the Government College (University), Lahore. He began his professional career as a lecturer of English in an educational institute in Amritsar, in the present day Indian Punjab.
After the Second World War, Faiz entered the field of journalism and distinguished himself as the editor of Pakistan Times. He was charged with complicity in the Rawalpindi conspiracy case and was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in 1951.

The term gave him a firsthand experience of harsh realities of life and provided him with the leisure to think out his thoughts and express them into poetry. Two of his books, Dast-e-Saba and Zindan Nama, are the products of this period of imprisonment.

As a poet, Faiz began writing on the conventional themes of love and beauty, but soon these conventional themes got submerged in larger social and political issues of the day. The traditional grief of love gets fused with the travails of the afflicted humanity, and Faiz used his poetry to champion the cause of socialistic humanism.

The poetic works of the late legendary poet has won the hearts of the people of South Asia. His first published accumulation was Naqsh-e-Faryadi, which inspired many young poets. In 1971, after the bifurcation of united Pakistan, the newly-elected government appointed him as a cultural adviser, the period, in which he laid the foundation of the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA).

Faiz’s poems flash a deep background against unrighteous and impishness, though he tried to pull out these things from society so everyone could live with peace and love. His remarkable books were ‘Nuskha-e-Hai Wafa’, ‘Naqsh-e-Faryadi’, ‘Dast-e-Saba’, ‘Zindan Nama’ and ‘Dast-e-Tah-e-Sang’.

Faiz was the first Asian poet who was awarded with the Lenin Peace Prize by the former Soviet Union in 1963. He was also nominated for the Nobel Prize shortly before his death in 1984.

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The Times of India

Delhi to pay Faiz tribute on birth centenary

Meenakshi Sinha, TNN, Feb 13, 2011, 05.10am IST

NEW DELHI: His poetry spoke of romance and revolution. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who was born on Feb 13, 1911, exactly 100 years ago, was respected equally on either side on the border. His birth centenary too will witness year-long festivities both in India and Pakistan.

In Delhi, celebrations include dramatized readings from his letters written in prison to his wife at the India Habitat Centre on Sunday (Feb 13). There’ll be poetry recitation by Gauhar Raza and Sohail Hashmi on Tuesday also at the Habitat. On Feb 25, Jagjit Singh and Pakistan’s Tina Sani will sing Faiz’s poetry in a programme co-organised by Routes 2 Roots. This will be followed by a symposium and mushaira at FICCI auditorium on February 26.

The legend’s older daughter, Salima Hashmi, is looking forward to a joint Indo-Pak celebration of her father’s centenary. Speaking to TOI from Pakistan, Salima says the immense love for Faiz, in both India and Pakistan, lives on because of her father’s very nature. "Despite being an Urdu poet whose poetry was classical and not easy for the common man to understand, he is loved for his absolute and unshakeable faith in our people. And by ’our people’ I mean all the people of South Asia. He touched people’s hearts. Despite our troubled history and trading of insults, Faiz remained above it all. Even in harshest of times, people have been able to quote from Faiz," says Salima, an author and artist in her own right.

Twenty six years after his death, Sialkot-born Faiz’s poetry is more relevant than ever. Salima says despite a ban on most of his works during the decade-long dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq, Faiz’s writings continued to inspire, notable among them ’Hum Dekhenge’, which became almost an anthem for liberty from tyranny — ’Sab taaj uchale jayenge, Sab takht giraye jayenge (all crowns and thrones will be tossed, thrown and brought down)’. "The subcontinent has seen dark moments and when people read a line of Faiz, they find hope for a new morning — be it in Gujranwala (Pakistan) or in Delhi, Kolkata or Bhopal. When people are lonely and want a voice for their pain, they’ve run to Faiz and that’s what he strived for all his life". She goes on "one comes to love Faiz in different forms. There’s a Faiz for lovers, there’s a Faiz for those who lost their homeland and now there’s a Faiz for the overriding passion of peace among the people of the subcontinent".

Himal South Asian, January 2011

The Light of tears: The life and poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz

by Ali Madeeh Hashmi

Karey na jag mein alaa-o tau shair kis masraf
Karey na sheher mein jal thal tau chasm-enam kyaa hai
What good is a verse that does not light up the world?
What good a tearful eye if it does not wash away the city?

– Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Pakistan’s unofficial poet laureate, was born almost exactly a hundred years ago, on 13 February 1911, in Sialkot, the hometown he shared with Pakistan’s national poet, ‘Allama’ Muhammad Iqbal. Faiz passed away in 1984, aged 73, in Lahore, the city he came to call home during the last years of his life.
Art by Khuda Bux Abro

While Faiz acquired the status of a living legend in Pakistan and throughout the world, it is not as widely known that his father was also one of a kind, one who led a more colourful life than Faiz himself. Sultan Mohammad Khan was a poor shepherd boy, the son of a landless peasant in Sialkot, when he was spotted as intellectually gifted by a local schoolteacher and educated in a local school. Once he had gone as far as he could in Sialkot, he ran away to Lahore to continue his studies, living in a mosque for poor, homeless students. By this time, he had taught himself Persian as well as Urdu and English. By chance one day in the mosque he met an official of the Afghan king, Habibullah Khan; impressed by the young man’s linguistic skills and intelligence, the official brought him to the royal court in Kabul. There, Sultan Mohammad rose to become the king’s personal interpreter and senior minister. He later moved to England, where he acquired a law degree at Cambridge and became friends with Iqbal. He eventually retired back to Sialkot as a practicing lawyer and gentleman of leisure.

Sultan Mohammad Khan had acquired several wives during his travels, including some daughters of Afghan nobles. After returning to Sialkot, he married Faiz’s mother, his last and youngest wife. Shortly thereafter Faiz was born, and received his early education under the tutelage of the renowned scholar Sayyid Mir Hasan, known as shams-ul-ulema (the ‘Sun of Scholars’), at the Scotch Mission High School. For all the later accusations against Faiz of being an atheist, he memorised a part of the Quran while young, a tradition still practiced in Muslim households today.

Incidentally, the matter of his faith came up in an interesting way when Faiz was arrested and imprisoned from 1951 till 1955 in the notorious Rawalpindi conspiracy case. This was a plot by some left-leaning army officers of the new state of Pakistan, who wanted to overthrow the government and establish a republic along the lines of Turkey under Mustafa Kemal ‘Ataturk’. Faiz and the fledgling Communist Party of Pakistan had been asked to be a part of the plan. While they eventually declined to support it, suspecting it would not have popular backing, the plot was discovered and all of those involved, including Faiz, were arrested and jailed. Faiz whiled away the time by teaching the Quran to his fellow prisoners – mystifying his jailers, who had been told their prisoners were godless communists.

Classical hinge
After completing his early education in Sialkot, Faiz went on to Lahore’s prestigious Government College on the personal recommendation of Allama Iqbal. The latter had heard the teenage Faiz’s poems in local recitals, and had once awarded him a prize in a poetry competition. By his own account, Faiz had read many of the classics of Urdu and English literature and poetry while still in school. He described his particular fascination for the poetry of the old masters – Mir Taqi ‘Mir’, Mirza Rafi ‘Sauda’ and Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’, whom the young Faiz found mostly impenetrable. His familiarity with the masters of traditional Urdu ghazal and poetry is the reason he is perceived not only as the last of the classical poets in Urdu, but also as the ‘hinge’ between the classical and modern ghazal.

Faiz’s first published collection, Naqsh-e-faryaadi (The lamenting image), begins with the typical musings of a young poet – on love, beauty, loss and the beloved’s countenance. It is commonly thought that unlike prose writers, whose art matures with the years, a poet creates his best work in youth. This was certainly true of Ghalib, who composed some of his best and most mystical verses while in his teens and early 20s. But it was different with Faiz, whose first collection begins with that ‘emotional preoccupation of youth’ – love. Faiz himself describes this preoccupation as dominating the first half of this collection with poems dating from about 1928-29 till about 1934-35.

As was his habit and his lifelong philosophy, Faiz was able to relate his internal, subjective world to the larger world around him. And so he describes how the decade of the 1920s was one of carefree prosperity in the Subcontinent, in which both poetry and prose acquired a flippant, non-reflective style, a perpetual celebration of sorts. Of the poets of that era, Hasrat Mohani, Josh Malihabadi and Hafeez Jullundhri are prominent, while in prose the prevailing philosophy was ‘art for art’s sake’ – a forceful rejection of the position that the artist must try to change social conditions.

By the end of the 1920s, the revolutionary fervour released by the Russian Revolution of 1917 was subsiding. Similar revolutions had failed in Germany, England and China. In the aftermath of World War I, the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled over large parts of southeastern Europe, West Asia and North Africa, was divided among the wars’ victors; the caliphate itself was abolished by Turkish nationalists, led by Ataturk. Beginning in 1929, the worldwide financial crash led to social unrest all over the world and, in 1933, to the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party in Germany. The Subcontinent was certainly not immune to the impact of this international upheaval: urban unemployment rose, farmers were ruined, and an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty took hold.
Art by Khuda Bux Abro

Art for society’s sake
This was the backdrop to a new movement in literature and the arts in the Subcontinent, with the formation of the All-India Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA). The initial supporters of the PWA, coming in from literature, drama, poetry, music and cinema, wrote mostly in Urdu. The genesis of the movement was the 1932 publication of a collection of ten Urdu short stories, Angaray, by four young writers, Sajjad Zaheer, Ahmad Ali, Mahmooduzzafar and Rasheed Jahan. The movement’s guiding light was, undoubtedly, Sajjad Zaheer, Faiz’s mentor and lifelong friend. The PWA’s first manifesto, from 1936, gives a glimpse of the movement’s aims:

It is the object of our Association to rescue literature and other arts from the conservative classes in whose hands they have been degenerating so long to bring arts in the closest touch with the people and to make them the vital organs which will register the actualities of life, as well as lead us to the future we envisage.

The new movement vociferously denounced the philosophy of ‘art for art’s sake’. They deemed it incumbent upon the artist to use his or her art to criticise the existing social conditions of society – as a tool to lay the foundations of a new society.

In 1934, Faiz finished his college education and started teaching at Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental (MAO) College in Amritsar. This was where he became friends with Sahibzada Mehmooduzzafar and his wife Rasheed Jahan, who were teachers, writers and progressives. They persuaded Faiz to join the PWA, and his life and outlook were transformed forever. In Faiz’s own words, ‘joining the PWA opened new worlds to my eyes. The first lesson that I learned was that it is pointless to think of oneself as being apart from the larger world around us … In the end, any one person, with all their loves, their hatreds, their joys and sorrows is a miniscule being. [I learned that] the sorrow of life and the sorrows of the world are one and the same’.

Thus began the second phase of his first poetry collection, with the remarkable poem ‘Do not ask of me, my beloved, that same love’. This was Faiz’s first experiment with blending love for the ‘beloved’ into love for humanity, of turning the pain of separation into pain for all those who suffered under the ‘dark, bestial spells of uncounted centuries’, in which he declares, ruefully:

Aur bhi dukh hain zamaane mein mohabbat ke siva
Raahaten aur bhi hain vasl ki raahat ke siva

There are other griefs in this world apart from that of love
And other pleasures apart from that of union.

Faiz’s most forceful declaration of his allegiance to the ideas of social justice, and opposition to exploitation and injustice is his poem ‘Bol’ (Speak). It is a call-to-arms for all writers and artists. According to his close friend and interpreter in the former USSR, Ludmilla Vassilyeva, ‘Bol’ is the poetical motto of Faiz’s life generally, written immediately upon his return from the first PWA conference in Lucknow in 1936. In it, Faiz captured beautifully the longing of the oppressed people ready at last to face their British rulers in a fight to the end:

Bol, ke lab aazaad hain tere
Bol zabaan ab tak teri hai
Bol ke sach zinda hai ab tak
Bol, jo kuchh \kehna hai keh le

Speak, your lips are free
Speak; your tongue is your own still
Speak, Truth still lives
Speak, say what you must!

In ‘Bol’, Faiz points to ‘the cruelty of nature and the wailing of the children of the poor’, the ‘oppression of society and the rising tide of the independence struggle’. How, he asked, could artists ignore concrete realities and cruelties? Fiaz lamented that some artists termed writings on unpleasant realities ‘propaganda’, refusing to consider them art. He remained a worshipper of beauty, but endeavouring to create a beautiful society was more worthwhile still. How can one sing praises to the beauty and fragrance of the rose while ignoring entirely the careworn hands of the gardener?
Henceforth, Faiz’s life and poetry would be dedicated to

Aaj ke naam aur aaj ke gham ke naam
Zard patton ka ban jo mera des Hai,
Dard ka anjuman jo mera des hai

This day and the anguish of this day
For this wilderness of yellowing leaves which is my homeland
For this carnival of suffering which is my homeland.

His poetry was a forceful rejection of ‘art for art’s sake’, and a commitment to challenging injustice.

Poet and family: (L to R) Faiz, older daughter Salima, younger daughter Moneeza and Alys at home in Lahore, 1951.

A full comprehension
While always considered a leftist, Faiz was fiercely independent in his opinions. He criticised Mohandas K Gandhi for attempting to stifle the aspirations of the masses of the Subcontinent in his poem ‘To a political leader’. Yet he also joined the British Army’s propaganda department once he was convinced that Hitler and his armies allied with the Japanese presented a far graver threat to India than the British. He was one of the first to see that Independence, the communal partition of India into two countries, was a poisoned chalice. The searing lines of ‘Independence Dawn’ record his disillusionment, leading to much anger and recriminations from his contemporaries in Pakistan:

Ye daagh daagh ujaala, ye shab- gazeeda sehar
Vo intezaar tha jis ka, ye vo sehar to nahin

This blemished light, this night-bitten dawn
This is not the dawn we awaited so long

In early 1947, just before Independence, Faiz was asked to become the first editor of the English daily, the Pakistan Times, the flagship of the Progressive Papers Limited chain. V G Kiernan, one of his most distinguished translators, writes that at the newspaper Faiz ‘made use of prose as well as verse to denounce obstruction at home and to champion progressive causes abroad; he made his paper one whose opinions were known and quoted far and wide.’ In the new state of Pakistan, Faiz took the lead in putting forward the demands of workers, women, peasants and the poor, through his work with the trade unions and his editorship at the Pakistan Times. For his troubles, he was arrested on trumped-up charges in the notorious Rawalpindi conspiracy case. Over the next two years, he would face trial before a secret tribunal that held the power to condemn him to death before a firing squad. He would also compose the remarkable poems of his second book, Dast-e-saba (The breeze’s hand), declaring to his jailers:

Mataa-e lauh-o qalam chhin gayi to kya gham hai
Ke khoon-e dil mein dubo li hain ungliyaan main ne

If they have snatched away ink and paper, what of it
I have dipped my fingers in my heart’s blood

The book begins with a short introduction by Faiz himself, a small polemic on the responsibility of the artist. ‘The poet’s work is not only perception and observation, but also struggle and effort,’ Faiz writes.

A full comprehension of this ocean of Life through the live and active ‘drops’ of his environment depends upon the poet’s depth of perception. To be able to show this ocean to others depends upon his control over his art; and his ability to set in motion some new currents in the ocean depends upon the fire in his blood and the zeal of his passion. Success in all three tasks demands continuous toil and struggle.
Last years: Faiz at home in Model Town, Lahore, 1984

Faiz was to say that the years in detention were some of his most productive. Time in jail, he said, was like falling in love again – meaning that it offered him impetus to put his thoughts into verse.

One of his most beloved poems from that era is titled ‘The soil of my land’. It dates from 15 August 1952, Pakistan’s fifth anniversary of Independence. Faiz wrote to his wife, Alys, that there had been a celebration in jail, with colourful buntings, lights and loudspeakers. Yet while the Pakistani government was busy celebrating, he felt, the ordinary people of Pakistan had nothing to rejoice about. Mohammad Ali Jinnah had died just a year after Independence. Liaquat Ali Khan, the prime minister at the time Faiz had been arrested in 1951, had soon thereafter, been assassinated in public. A long period of political turmoil and instability culminated in Pakistan’s first military government, in 1958.

This was the backdrop for a poem, ‘The soil of my land’, that became immensely popular, and is still quoted widely today:

Nisar main teri galiyon
ke ai watan ke jahaan
Chali hai rasm ke koi na sar utha ke chale

Blessings be upon the soil of my land,
where they have decreed the custom
That men should walk no more with heads held high

Come home now
After his release, as his fame grew, so did the fear of successive governments in Pakistan about what Faiz represented. This was especially true after he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize, the Soviet Bloc equivalent of the Nobel Prize, in 1962. He was warned by the military government not to accept the award since, by this time, Pakistan had become an ally of the US, and all left-leaning, progressive voices had been silenced or were heavily censored. Faiz proceeded to Moscow anyway to receive his award, and his acceptance speech ranks as one of the great humanist, peace-loving documents of all time. In it he said,

Human ingenuity, science and industry have made it possible to provide each one of us everything we need to be comfortable provided these boundless treasures of nature and production are not declared the property of a greedy few but are used for the benefit of all of humanity … However, this is only possible if the foundations of human society are based not on greed, exploitation and ownership but on justice, equality, freedom and the welfare of everyone … I believe that humanity which has never been defeated by its enemies will, after all, be successful; at long last, instead of wars, hatred and cruelty, the foundation of humankind will rest on the message of the great Persian poet Hafez ‘Shirazi’: ‘Every foundation you see is faulty, except that of Love, which is faultless.

He was arrested several times during the reign of General Ayub Khan, and faced a dilemma when the India-Pakistan war broke out in 1965. Friends pressured him to write ‘patriotic’ songs; instead, he wrote ‘Lament for a dead soldier’:

Utho ab maathi se utho
Jaago mere laal
Tumhri seej sajawan karan
Deekho aai rain indhyaran

To paraphrase the poem:
Beauteous child, playing in the dust
It is time to come home now
Come then, it is time to come home
Priceless jewel, lost in the dust
It is time to come home now

This infuriated both the nationalists and the left, and for a time he had to go into hiding. After the trauma of Pakistan’s ‘second partition’ in 1971, and the bloodshed in Bangladesh, Pakistan’s first elected civilian government came to power, and Faiz was appointed its culture advisor. In that position, he created the Pakistan National Council of the Arts as well as the Lok Virsa, the Institute of Folk Heritage. In 1974, he was part of a delegation that accompanied Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the new state of Bangladesh, to repair relations after the civil war (see accompanying piece by Afsan Chowdhury). While the official visit did not accomplish much, Faiz, at the suggestion of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, an old friend, composed the famous ‘Hum ke thehre ajnabi’ (We, who became strangers) to express his sadness.

After the military coup of 1977 in Pakistan, he chose to go to Beirut. There, he served at the side of Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the editor of Lotus, the magazine of the Afro-Asian Writer’s Association. As Israeli helicopter gunships were pounding the PLO’s strongholds in Beirut, he was composing ‘Lullaby for a Palestinian Child’.

Mat ro bachche
Ro ro ke abhi
Teri ammi ki ankh lagi hai
Mat ro bachche
Kuchh hi pehle
Tere abba ne
Apne gham se rukhsat li hai

Don’t cry little one…
your mother
just slept weeping…
don’t cry little one…
your father
moments ago…
bid his sorrows adieu!

He got out just ahead of the tanks of the Israeli army in 1982, and returned to Lahore for the last years of his life.

What he has not received
While loved throughout the Subcontinent, like all great artists, Faiz remained dissatisfied with his life’s work. On multiple occasions he also said that he had received much more than his share of love and acclaim and, as a result, felt perpetually guilty for not having done enough through his work to justify it.

It is the poet’s birthday, bring wine
position, title, honours, what has he not received
the only shortcoming, is that the one being praised
has written no verses worthy of any book

Faiz also remained painfully aware of the price paid by the loved ones of all those who dedicate their lives to an ideal. He married Alys, a member of the British Communist Party, in 1941. She had come to British India to visit her sister, Christabel, who had married a teacher and moved to the Subcontinent. Christabel’s husband, M D Taseer, had been one of the original founders of the Progressive Writer’s Association, and had helped draft its original manifesto in England. After her marriage to Faiz, Alys lived in India and Pakistan for the rest of her life, and is buried in Lahore. In one of his first letters to her from prison, Faiz talked about how he felt about his struggle for social justice:

for the first time, I felt that it is wrong and unfair to allow one’s near and dear ones to suffer for something one holds dear. Looked at this way, idealism or holding to particular principles is also a form of selfishness because in the worship of a certain ideal, one forgets that others may hold differing views and one’s attachment to that ideal causes them suffering.

Salima, the older of Faiz’s two daughters, recalls Faiz expressing his regret in missing out on the children’s childhood, and that he was now missing out on the childhood of his grandchildren as well – all for the sake of his work and his ideals.

My own earliest memory of my connection with Faiz, my grandfather, was of being called an ‘atheist’ and a ‘communist’ in school – terms that did not have meaning for me at the time. Even as children, we knew he was not someone ordinary. When he was home, which was not often, there was excitement in the air, with people coming and going at all hours. A contingent of military police camped permanently outside our gate. The grandchildren never got much private time with him, as he was constantly surrounded by friends and admirers. His funeral of course was a very public affair and I remember wondering why we could not mourn him in private.

All of us, his family members, feel the heavy burden of his legacy. When people shower us with love and affection for his life’s work, it makes us painfully aware that we need to always try harder to live up to his ideals. We have all been asked the dreaded, inevitable question, ‘Do you also write poetry?’. Of course we don’t. How would we ever measure up?

Just before he died, my grandfather went back to his ancestral village. There, in a final act of defiance to his detractors – which by that time included writers, government officials, bureaucrats and even some erstwhile ‘progressive friends’, who had vacuously branded him an atheist, communist and Russian agent – he led the prayers at the local mosque. Today, outside that building is a stone on which is currently inscribed his one and only Persian na’at, or ode to the Prophet:

Khwaja be takht banda-e-tashveesh-e mulk-omaal
Bar khaak rashk-e khusraw-e dauraan gadaa-e tu

The rulers on their thrones are slaves to anxieties of land and wealth
Upon the dusty earth, Oh envy of the rulers of the age is thy mendicant!

— Ali Madeeh Hashmi is a psychiatrist based in Lahore. He is the grandson of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and trustee of Faiz Ghar (, run by Faiz Foundation Trust, Lahore, and Faiz Foundation Inc, USA.

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Mail Today, 11 February 2011

Faiz As Pak’s Lost Voice Of Reason

by Najam Sethi

THIS year, South Asia celebrates the centenary of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Pakistan’s pre- eminent Urdu poet in the classical tradition of the subcontinent.

Faiz was the last of the five greats — Mir Anis, Mir Taqi Mir, Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Writing one hundred years before Faiz, Mirza Ghalib would have recognised the former’s classical style and would have loved the new metaphor and colloquial touch of introducing common speech into the ghazal. One can imagine the great Delhi poet, who witnessed the demise of the last Mughal court and the destruction of the city’s Indo- Persian ethos, marvelling at Faiz’s metaphors — Dard aye ga dabbay paon liye surkh chiragh ( And pain will come tiptoe, carrying its crimson lamp). Faiz, a native of Sialkot, was sent to the masjid as a young boy for his education in line with tradition.

He went on to a mission school and then Murray College Sialkot. Here he was taught Urdu and Arabic by Shams- ul- Ulema Syed Mir Hassan. Hassan had also taught Muhammad Iqbal. At Government College in Lahore, where he did an MA in English literature, Faiz was taught by A S Bokhari, also known as Patras.

For part of his life, Faiz was associated with the Communist Party of Pakistan, and even when he disagreed, he remained a lifelong Marxist. His poetry was informed by his politics and he frequently voiced the aspirations of the common man, the down trodden and exploited.

WHEN he first rejected autocracy and dictatorship, and suffered imprisonment as a result, many marginalised him politically as a “poet of the Left”. Today, his ideological adversaries find solace in his verse.

Faiz’s first collection of poems, Naqshe- Faryadi came out in 1941 when he was teaching at Hailey College of Commerce in Lahore. He edited Lahore’s progressive literary journal Adab- e- Latif till 1942, when his friend Majeed Malik took him to the British Army Public Relations Department in Delhi, and Faiz was recruited as an officer. He served in the British Indian Army for a few years and resigned when he became Lt Colonel.

In February 1947, he joined Progressive Papers Ltd in Lahore as chief editor of The Pakistan Times and Imroze , under the inspiring leadership of Mian Iftikharuddin, whilst also taking part in labour politics.

In 1951, Faiz was arrested along with communist leaders, notably Sajjad Zaheer for conspiring to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan. He was in jail until 1955 and wrote some of his best poems in this period. He was also arrested and jailed in 1958 under the first martial law in Pakistan.

By then, Pakistan was firmly on the side of the United States of America in the Cold War. Its negative foreign policy yardstick was India, and it seemed to sacrifice all political values in pursuit of this revisionist obsession.

The first casualty was democracy itself, barely a decade after Pakistan’s establishment. The military dictated foreign policy and twisted domestic politics to support it. Elections were not considered necessary under military rule until rigging became the norm and fair elections became the alarm bell of instability.

The world, and voices of reason within like Faiz, could not persuade Pakistan to change tack and become normal, not even after the loss of East Pakistan in 1971, trashing the aphorism that nations learn from defeat.

Going with the US in the Cold War meant nourishing the germs of religious extremism that the founders of Pakistan had sought to sanitise.

Since the opportunism of US policy dictated support to the clergy in the Islamic world, it legitimised the assertion of religious identities in Pakistan which was later to cause the virus of sectarianism domestically and isolation in the region.

The Pakistan military, unmindful of the lessons it should have learnt, fell into the trap of US- inspired covert war in Afghanistan, spear- headed by jihadists that it also used in cross- border terrorism in Kashmir.

ALL THIS has finally brought Pakistan on collision course with a more pragmatic America in this post- Cold War era.

Despite the consensus amongst all of Pakistan’s vote garnering political parties, its business people, economists, and students of political science, Pakistan’s military is unable to change its India- centric direction.

The resulting global isolation and gradual implosion because of internal discord and terrorism inflicted by Al- Qaeda and the state’s jihadist proxies, have all brought Pakistan to its knees.

Ironically, as the Middle East rises against its tyrants in favour of a representative system, the coming state inspired “ revolution” ( anarchy) in Pakistan will be in the opposite direction, against its representative system.

Fittingly, Faiz’s centenary is being celebrated symbolically in Pakistan and India by those who want peace in the region. If you ask ordinary people who is the great living poet in Pakistan today, most people will be at a loss. But the truth is that Faiz still strides like a colossus over every word or deed that is rational, sincere and authentic in our short and tragic history.

When finally the lands and peoples that compose Pakistan emerge from the dark ages that are upon us today, it is men like Faiz who will be the champions, their voice giving words to the anthems of a free people. When finally peace with our neighbours becomes an economic and social necessity, it is men like Faiz with their sympathetic vision who will be the bridge between erstwhile antagonists. And when finally Pakistan learns to live like a responsible state in the world, it is the universality of voices such as Faiz’s that will redeem us and be our link with other civilised societies.

The writer is editor of The Friday Times

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Dawn, 10 February 2011

A locomotive and a hearse

by Jawed Naqvi

LOVERS of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a large number of them in India, are celebrating his birth centenary with fervour this week.

To the cognoscenti Faiz represented revolutionary zeal clothed in a formidable tradition of Urdu poetry. On both counts though his legacy today bears the countenance of a powerful locomotive drawing a rickety hearse.

Take the problem facing Urdu first, and then of the muddled revolution if there was one waiting to happen. Urdu is a potent language — too potent at times for its own good. Did it not play a part in the creation of Pakistan but then also contributed to the country’s dismemberment? The common people were shortchanged as Faiz himself copiously laments in his poem Subh-i-Aazadi.

Whichever way we see it, the cultural fallout of 1947 was unhelpful to people on both sides of the border. Foolish communalisation of the language by votaries of Pakistan (who wrongly believed Urdu was a language of Muslims) made it a handy ruse for its instant betrayal and ghettoisation in India. As we celebrate Faiz’s anniversary, a poignant poem by another poet, an Indian comrade of his, comes to mind.

Let me hand you over to Sahir Ludhianvi, iconic Urdu poet who like his senior comrade wove dreams for a revolutionary future for South Asia. The year is 1969 in Delhi. The Indian government, paying lip service to its constitutional commitment to Urdu, has pledged a small budget to celebrate Mirza Ghalib’s centenary. There is an Urdu equivalent of a Woodstock in the offing. Sahir responded by penning an acerbic poem Jashn-i-Ghalib. It may hold a lesson for Faiz’s partisans in India and perhaps elsewhere too. It goes like this:

Ikkees baras guzray aazadi-i-kaamil ko/Tab ja kay kahi’n hum ko Ghalib ka khayaal aaya/Turbat hai kaha’n us ki, maskan tha kaha’n uska/Ab apnay sukhan-parvar zahno’n may sawaal aaya

Sao saal say jo turbat chaadar ko tarasti thi/Ab uss pay aqeedat ke phoolo’n ki numaaish hai/Urdu ke ta’aluq say yeh bhed nahi khulta/Ye jashn, ye hungama khidmat hai ki saazish hai

Jin shehro’n may goonji thi Ghalib ki nava barso’n/Un shehro’n may ab Urdu benaam-o-nisha’n thehri/Azaadi-i-kamil ka ailaan hua jis din/Maatoob zuba’n thehri ghaddaar zuba’n thehri

Jis ahd-i-siasat ne ye zinda zuba’n kuchli/Uss ahd-i-siasat ko marhoomo’n ka gham kyu’n ho/Ghalib jisay kehtay hain Urdu hi ka shaayar tha/Urdu pay sitam dhaa kar Ghalib pe karam kyu’n ho

Ye jashn ye hangama dilchasp khilaunay hai’n/Kuchh logo’n ki koshish hai kuchh log bahel jaae’n/Jo waada-i-farda par ab tal nahin saktay hai’n/Mumkin hai ki kuchh arsaa is jashn pay tal jaae’n.

Yeh jashn mubaarak ho, par yeh bhi sadaaqat hai/Hum log haqiqat ke ehsaas se aari hai’n/Gandhi ho ki Ghalib ho insaaf ki nazro’n mei’n/Hum dono ke qaatil hai’n dono ke pujaari hai’n.

(Years after Independence it was Ghalib’s turn to be remembered/We scurried to find his grave, his home, his services rendered.

(But for the centenary binge, there would be no flowers for him/His celebrated language lay dying too, and still looks grim.

(His verses encased the fragrance of a liberated thought/ Urdu carried that perfume to places afar.

(That was before Independence, many a battle for which it fought/Only to be declared a traitor, to be told how now it was a blot.(Having throttled a thriving language where was the need/To celebrate a dead poet?/Ghalib was a lover of Urdu, after all./Why fawn on him now, and look down on his heritage, his creed?

(This centenary celebration could be likened to a child’s toy/Useful to salve our conscience, like any other ploy./Truth of the matter is/Gandhi or Ghalib, we killed them with deceit/Now that they are dead, it is tempting, even safe, to fall at their feet.)

There are evident reasons why Faiz is allowed to be celebrated by the ruthless system he had rebelled against. The foremost is that like Gandhi and Ghalib, he is now considered harmless and safe. The left movement, which was the vehicle of his rebellious poetry even as it doubled as his muse, lies in the grave it perhaps unwittingly dug for itself.Consider the Indian context. What is the biggest threat — even bigger in its scheme of things than religious fascism — the communist-led parliamentary left sees to its survival? Where is it expending its energies and ideological capital? For one, it is busy courting big business for investments in the diminishing geographical areas it still controls. And fighting a ragtag militia of Maoists appears to be its main plank.

For Faiz taking sides in this unequal standoff would have been a heartbreaking proposition. The Maoists share his egalitarian dream, and, going by the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case in which he was jailed, perhaps also his method. They were last heard crooning Hum Dekhenge. The anthem-like poem still reverberates through the deep recesses of the Chhattisgarh forests. The parliamentary left may be taking the lead role in the Faiz centenary celebrations, but it is the poorest of the poor tribespeople rejoicing in his verses that offer greater hope.

Of course, it is hardly ever a poet’s lot to savour the fruits of his dream. Faiz may be likened to
Hafiz of Shiraz who remained not only untouched by religious edicts of a mediaeval order that swamped his country but continues to inspire his Iranian followers to reject bigotry. However, that is in Iran where the poet’s language does not face imminent extinction, and where revolutionary fervour will not give way to ennui. It is in fact waiting for its chance, as it is perhaps in Egypt too.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

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Hindustan Times

Words for all seasons

by Gopalkrishna Gandhi

February 11, 2011

It is hard to imagine Faiz Ahmed Faiz, that brave, vital poet, Sufi, communist and chain-smoking holder of an overflowing red glass as 100 years old. Yet, that is the age he would have reached tomorrow, February 13, 2011. Such is the tragedy of the Partition that even one like I, born before that trauma, did not know of the magic power of this Pakistani poet’s verse until 1993 when Merchant Ivory’s In Custody appeared. By then, Faiz had been dead nine years. The tale of an Indian poet played by Shashi Kapoor was not on Faiz’s life. But the genius of Ismail Merchant introduced into the narrative the poetry of Faiz. This transporting music and Shabana Azmi’s acting lifted the film to a plane I had not expected to have to catch up with, when I saw it on the large screen and heard its songs.

Gham na kar, abr khul jaegaa, raat dhal jaegi, rut badal jaegaa… (Grieve not, the leaden sky will open, you will see the night yield and the season change…) belonged to my experience and yet not, for I, unlettered in Urdu, had never read them and Hindi cinema had kept me from Faiz. A friend, Nasreen Rehman, gave me Victor Kiernan’s translation of Faiz with the suggestion that I make my ’real’ acquaintance of Faiz with his Subh-e-Aazaadi (Dawn of Freedom) written on and for August 1947.

"Ye daagh daagh ujaalaa, ye shab-gazidaa sahar Vo intezaar thaa jiskaa, ye vo sahar nahin..." (This stain-covered daybreak, this night-bitten dawn/ This is not that long-looked-for break of day).

As happens with all mundane beings, this ’rising’ of Faiz in my consciousness soon receded into the background, until nearly a decade later, when I heard former prime minister IK Gujral describe the atmosphere of mutual suspicion in South Asia to a Sri Lankan. He did so with a quotation from Faiz. The visitor was innocent of Urdu but Gujral provided a translation. He said: "We are afraid of each other, we distrust each other, we live in doubt, in perpetual tension... Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the Pakistani poet... he was one of us really... by ’us’ I mean all secular South Asians... has described this condition in a lovely line, Aaj meraa dil fikr mein hai... in sab se kah do, aaj ki shab jab diye jalaaen unchi rakkhen lau... which means ’Today, doubt fills my soul... say to them all, This evening when they light the lamps, let them keep the wicks turned high...’ We have to reach a time when we are not bothered about whether the wicks are turned high or low. We have to light the lamps of mutual faith".

My next near-decadal date with Faiz came in 2006 when at a conference, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said something that reminded me of another immortal piece by Faiz. Those present at the meeting were expecting to hear the PM speak on security, terrorism and law and order. He did not disappoint them and gave them suggestions on how they could contribute towards addressing those vital issues. But then, departing from the written speech, the PM said he would like them to do something different as well. He said he would like them to take some time out of their busy schedules to do something about the condition of prisoners and under-trials in our jails. We need jails, prisons, ’correctional homes’, he said, but we do not need to run them like they might have been in the middle ages. Listening to him, I could not but think of Faiz’s long periods in jail for his political belief, including a spell in solitary confinement. And Faiz’s Zindaan Ki Ek Subh (A Prison Daybreak) scrolled down my head, particularly its lines: Duur darwaazaa khulaa koi, koi band huaa, Duur machlii koi zanjiir, Machalke roi, Duur utaraa kisii taale kii jigar mein khanjar, Sar patakne lagaa rah-rahke dariichaa koi... (A distant door opens, another shuts, A distant chain scrapes sullenly, scrapes and sobs, Far off a dagger plunges into some locks’ vitals, a shutter rattles, rattles, beating its head...)

I took the PM’s suggestion about prisons as an instruction and visited some of them in West Bengal, an experience that might not have come my way but for that conference and its unintended evocation of Faiz. The inmates were not uninterested in the reform of conditions but their priority was release from jail. In one correctional home, one of the inmates I met was a young bearded man. Speaking in Urdu, he said, he was a Pakistani who had come with a visa on a pilgrimage to India when he was rounded up. "I am completely innocent, I have nothing to do with politics." And then came the appeal for release. "That is not in my hands," I said to him. "There is a law and it will give you every opportunity to explain what you have just said." I could see I did not convince him.

Changing the subject, I asked "How are you spending your time here?" The answer was a surprise. "The place is beautiful, as I can make out from the sky and the tree-tops that I am able to see... but I spend most of my time reading the Koran, something I never did when I was back home, free."

Faiz has a line: Sahn-e-zindan ke be-watan ashjaar (Trees of the prison yard, exiles...)

Can Faiz’s centenary find ways of easing the sub-continent’s procedures for each others’ citizens imprisoned beyond their borders for offences which are un-linked to terror or conspiracy?

The Faiz composition that has most vitally permeated popular imagination is Hum Dekhenge (We Shall Witness). The call for a mass uprising in favour of human rights applies not just to regimes but also to tyrannies and can be seen as directed at the masterminds of terror. Few words, written in a different context, can be so powerfully resonant in changed circumstances as that ghazal, especially in the elemental and eternal voice of Iqbal Bano. It is an alternative non-geopolitical anthem, one that has seized popular imagination, as ’We Shall Overcome’ has.

Some centenaries cannot pass with flowers and festschrifts alone.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor. The views expressed by the author are personal

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People’s Democracy, February 13, 2011



Celebrating the Idea of Revolution

IT is a remarkable coincidence that this issue of People’s Democracy is dated on the birth centenary of eminent poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a powerful ideological symbol of fight against oppression, defence of democratic rights and love for humanity. We commemorate this occasion as a celebration of the idea of Revolution.

A committed Marxist, one of the greatest Urdu poets, a journalist, film maker, trade unionist, broadcaster, teacher, translator, Lenin Peace Prize winner, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, had also served the British Indian Army rising to the rank of Lt Colonel. Born in Sailkot, Faiz was educated in Lahore, the city which served as his base throughout his life. He continued to live there after the unfortunate partition of the sub-continent. The trauma, torture and torment of the partition are deeply reflected in his poetry. His love for the liberation of the peoples of the sub-continent as a whole was unquestionable. When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, a London newspaper said that he was “A brave enough man to fly from Lahore to Delhi for Gandhi’s funeral at the height of the Indo-Pakistan hatred”.

His work reflects that his identification with the masses of the poor and exploited, his espousal of the cause of liberation from all forms of oppression and exploitation was complete. He was an active member of the anti-fascist movement and the struggle for freedom from colonialism led by the Communist Party of undivided India. Along with great stalwarts of his time, he was instrumental in founding the Progressive Writers Association in 1936 when the Communists also organised the students in the All India Students Federation and the peasantry in the Kisan Sabha in the same year.

The Communist Party had sent Comrade Sajjad Zaheer along with some others to organise the Communist Party in Pakistan. Sajjad Zaheer, also a noted and accomplished intellectual and writer, became the founding general secretary of the Communist Party of Pakistan. However, in 1951, Sajjad Zaheer, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and other leading Communists were imprisoned in solitary confinement under sentences of death in the infamous Rawalpindi conspiracy case. Faiz remained in prison for over four years.

Far from either breaking his spirit or sapping his energy for the cause of the revolution, imprisonment stimulated Faiz’s creativity. The remarkable tribute brought out by Pakistan’s leading group of newspapers Dawn, in 2004, informs us of his impressions during imprisonment. “Like love”, he wrote, “imprisonment is a basic experience. It opens many new windows on the soul”. Some of his best works were to emerge from the confinements of the jails. Dast-e-Saba (the wind writes) and Zindan Nama (prison journal) elevated him to the status of a literary poetic genius.

In Dast-e-Saba, he reflects the basic essence of the Marxist outlook when he states that: “The understanding of the struggle of human life, and a participation in it is not only a pre-requisite of life, it is also a pre-requisite of art”.

While studying the eternal man-nature dialectic, Marx and Engels reached the conclusion that: As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are coincides with their production, both with what they produce and how they produce. Hence what individuals are depends upon material conditions of production.

Eric Hobsbawm, in his latest book How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism recollects that at the 2007 Jewish book week coinciding with Marx’s death anniversary, Jacques Attali while paying tribute to Marx had said, “Philosopher before him had thought of man in his totality, but he was the first to apprehend the world as a whole which is at once political, economic, scientific and philosophical”. This personal attribute of Marx is actually a reflection of the attribute of the Marxist world outlook. This goes beyond conventional meaning of `interdisciplinary’ approach to the world. Marxism, a creative science, is trans disciplinary which integrates all disciplines of thought and creative capacities of the human mind.

Faiz, in a sense, reflects such an integrated approach through his life and work in the times that he lived. In his preface to The Rebel’s Silhouette Agha Shahid Ali says: “Faiz was such a master of the ghazal, a form that predates Chaucer, that he transformed its every stock image and, as if by magic, brought absolutely new associations into being. For example, the Beloved – an archetypal figure in Urdu poetry – can mean friend, woman, God. (Or, for that matter, Motherland, that Bahadur Shah Zafar, lamented for his burial, when blinded in confinement by the British in Rangoon.) Faiz not only tapped into those meanings, but extended them to include the Revolution. Waiting for the Revolution can be as intoxicating as waiting for one’s lover.”

Adopting the penname, Faiz, which can be best described to mean `dedication to the service of his fellowmen’, he revolutionised Urdu poetry. He relentlessly showed that the pen is mightier than the sword in rousing the people. Just one example of his work as a poet of the Revolution is his work known as Hum Dekhengay.

We shall see,

It is certain that we shall see

The day for which there is a promise,

The day recorded in the eternal tablet,

When the weighty mountains of cruelty and oppression,

Shall be blown about like cotton-wool;

When under the feet of the oppressed ones

The earth shall shake noisily,

And over the heads of despotic rulers

Thunder claps will burst …

When the crowns will be toppled,

When the palaces will be demolished….

His eternal humanism, which in the first place, led him to embrace Marxism and its world outlook, drove Faiz to espouse the cause of revolution all across the globe. He was a true internationalist.

In the book Poetry East, Carlo Coppola calls him: “A spokesperson for the world’s voiceless and suffering peoples – whether Indians oppressed by the British in the ‘40s, freedom fighters in Africa, the Rosenbergs in cold war America in the ‘50s, Vietnamese peasants fleeing American napalm in the ‘60s, or Palestinian children living in refugee camps in the 1970s”.

Faiz traveled abroad widely some times out of choice as the editor of the Afro-Asian literary magazine Lotus being published from Beirut. On some other occasions, he traveled abroad in exile.

Edward W Said described a meeting with Faiz: “To see a poet in exile – as opposed to reading the poetry of exile – is to see exile’s antimonies embodied and endured. Several years ago, I spent some time with Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the greatest of contemporary Urdu poets. He had been exiled by Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime and had found a welcome of sorts in the ruins of Beirut. His closest friends were Palestinian,” further he said in his essay The Mind of Winter: Reflections on Life in Exile: “The crucial thing to understand about Faiz is that like Garcia Marquez he was read and listened to both by the literary elite and by the masses…His purity and precision were astonishing, and you must imagine therefore a poet whose poetry combined the sensuousness of Yeats with the power of Neruda. He was, I think, one of the greatest poets of this century”.

Much has been written and will, indeed, be written in the future about the work of this socially committed literary genius and a dedicated Communist. A particular lesson that everyone of us who aspires for and works towards Revolution must learn is to combine the passion of commitment with creativity. Faiz did this with his poetry and mastered the use of classical forms transforming them before his audience rather than break from the old forms. He makes you hear and recite his revolutionary message in the old and the new together and at once.

People’s Democracy continues to draw inspiration from Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s celebration of the idea of the Revolution.

(February 9, 2011)

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Dawn, 13 February 2011

India, whose love could have killed him

by Jawed Naqvi

It is an anomalous fact of history that revolutionary poets and icons often if unwittingly usher reaction, which then becomes their patron of sorts. Who would have thought that military usurpers and religious bigots would flaunt Jinnah as their hero, or Gandhi would become the poster boy of zealots that assassinated him.

A similar fate befell Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Pablo Neruda, Bhagat Singh and Hafiz Shirazi too in a way. I once saw strikingly beautiful picture of Che Guevara adorning the work desk of the then CIA station chief in Delhi.

Though credit is seldom given to Neruda, his poetry single-handed fired up South Asia’s Progressive Writers’ Association of which Faiz was a pivot. Neruda stood down as presidential candidate to pave the way for his comrade Salvador Allende to become Chile’s first leftist leader to be elected as head of state. Chile has not recovered from the reaction that came with the CIA-backed military coup.

Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary slogan – Inquilab Zindabad – today leads rallies of blacklegs who broke the workers’ unity in India. It seems ironical that Shirazi survived religious edicts that subverted the sweeping political unity of Iranians to bring in their miraculous revolution. Iran continues to lead the anti-imperialist corner in its own obscurantist way. Credit perhaps goes to Hafiz and other great iconoclasts of that land who evidently continue to mean more to the people than the promise of paradise the mullahs offer.

“And now the national anthem, but you need not rise,” said Frank Sinatra in a live performance in New York as he began to sing My Way. Faiz’s Ham dekhain ge has turned into something of a national anthem too though of people of several countries, not one. The promise of the hereafter in this poem has inspired everyone in India (as it did in Pakistan) from the left to the right of the spectrum. Here is how Arundhati Roy experienced it amid Maoist rebels in the forests of Chhattisgarh. An excerpt from her essay Walking Among the Comrades:

“Comrade Sukhdev asks if he can download the music from my Ipod into his computer. We listen to a recording of Iqbal Bano singing FaizAhmed Faiz’s Ham Dekhain ge (We will Witness the Day) at the famous concert in Lahore at the height of the repression during the Ziaul Haq years. The home minister has been issuing veiled threats to those who ‘erroneously offer intellectual and material support to the Maoists’. Does sharing Iqbal Bano qualify?”

Away from the glare of India’s corporate media, Faiz has enthused the left-liberal campaign to free Dr Binayak Sen, convicted in Chhattisgarh on sedition charges for alleged proximity with Maoists. Now here is an irony. The undivided communist party in India lionized Faiz. Then the party split into many splinters, which weakened and eventually all but erased its cultural bulwarks like IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association). The bitter truth is that Faiz’s splintered partisans are now lunging at each other. I have seen his family members being feted by the Communist Party of India (Marxist, CPI-M and others) in parliamentary left. However, Faiz is perhaps better embraced by the so-called hardliners within the left, who do not see eye to eye not with the CPI-M leaders.

An open letter from Ilina Sen, wife of Binayak, shows Faiz’s continued relevance to the left. Excerpts from the letter:

“Dear Friends,

“…Speaking out against the conviction and incarceration of Dr Binayak Sen has to be seen in that larger context of lending our voice against the gross injustice that we witness as a daily happening in India day after day.
“Today when we demand his release we must also raise our voice against all those who remain hungry, malnourished, and without secure means of livelihood, as well as those who have been dispossessed, killed, tortured, humiliated, disappeared, threatened, arbitrarily detained and arrested, falsely charged and under surveillance because of their legitimate work in upholding democratic rights and fundamental freedoms…

“I would like to end with a verse of Faiz:

Bol ke lab aazaad hain tere/ bol zabaan ab tak teri hai/ tera sutvaan jism hai tera/ bol ke jaan ab tak teri hai…”

Smug Indian commentators like to contrast the supposedly superior democratic culture of India’s people with the supposed passivity of Pakistan’s people – but it is Pakistan that gave us that immortal moment of democratic culture – where thousands of people sang of revolution courtesy a communist poet, who had drawn upon progressive traditions within Islam to confront the zealot Zia. Iqbal Bano’s – as the people of the subcontinent confront the tyrannies of their governments, of imperialism and of jingoistic hate-mongering — will be the voice that will reflect their unity, their defiance, their confidence that one day, tyranny will be defeated and the people will triumph.

Faiz’s links with India evolved with its politics. Between the ‘50s and ‘70s, Sheila Bhatia, Champa Mangat Rai, Mariam Bilgrami led the women’s flank of the Faiz Ahmed Faiz fan club in India. Fawning men came from the sprawling communist movement, progressive writers’ club, leftists from the Congress party, the Lahore school tie, most notably those perched high up in the Indian bureaucracy. Those who can still remember can be tapped to vividly recount the soirees late into the night when Faiz was loved and lionized in Delhi.

Syed Mohammed Mehdi, pushing 90, recalls one such evening after theatre diva Sheila Bhatia staged the play ‘Dard Ayega Dabe Paon’, based on Faiz’s work. Sheila and her partner Haali Vats, a former underground gunrunner for the communist party, had known Faiz from Lahore and they were his constant hosts in Delhi. Punjabi folk singer, the strikingly beautiful Madanbala Sandhu recited Faiz all night. Sheila danced with the troupe. Faiz sipped and smoked. And then he whispered to Mehdi: “With so much love coursing through my veins and with such doting friends surrounding me, I won’t mind dying tonight.”

Not too long after that, in a manner of speaking, Faiz was all but killed in India anyway, not by a magical night that overwhelmed his finer senses but by the palpable failure of the left movement. Indira Gandhi had inherited a leftward leaning aura from her father. And so her cabinet did reflect that politics. D.P. Dhar and Inder Gujral were among Faiz’s admirers. With Rajiv Gandhi’s advent the battle for the left was all but over.

The last time I heard Faiz in a major public rally was in 1990 when it was led by rightwing upper caste Hindus who were agitating against the affirmative action proposed in the Mandal Commission report. Rajiv Goswami, a Brahmin opposed to the Mandal report, had set himself on fire. There was commotion and police firing. News Track video magazine (parent of Headlines Today and Aaj Tak) was running the story with the chant of Iqbal Bano’s anthem penned by Faiz.

—The writer is Dawn’s Correspondent in Delhi

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The Times of India

No Valentines for Faiz

Mohammed Wajihuddin, TNN, Feb 13, 2011, 08.12am IST

By the time you read this, Lahore will have begun its carnival. Admirers of progressive Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984 ) have assembled in Pakistan’s cultural heart to celebrate his centenary beginning today (Feb 13). Joining the festivities are a dozen Indians , many from Mumbai. But shockingly, nothing is happening in this city to commemorate the poet.

Mumbai’s amnesia vis-avis Faiz, especially from the Progressive Writers Association (PWA), and its offshoot in theatre, the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA ), is shameful. That the city’s progressives have forgotten one of their stalwarts within a century of his birth speaks volumes about the apathy to and death of progressive ideas in literature and the performing arts.

"These days, people work from project to project and always gauge which project is going to benefit them. A programme for Faiz will be lossmaking and, therefore, nobody showed any interest in doing anything for him on his centenary," says theatreperson Nadira Zaheer Babbar, daughter of Sajjad Zaheer who, along with Mulk Raj Anand, Deen Mohammed Taseer (father of slain Punjab governor Salman Taseer) and many others, had prepared a draft of the PWA in England in the 1930s. The PWA was formally launched in Lucknow in 1936 and was inaugurated by legendary writer Munshi Premchand.

Faiz distinguished himself as a romantic revolutionary who suffered imprisonment and exile but never cowed down to dictators. His poem on India’s Partitionbloodied freedom remains a poetic milestone. "Yeh daag daag ujala yeh sabgazeeda sehar /Woh intezar tha jiska yeh woh sehar to nahi (This darkened light, this nightsmeared morning/This is not the morning we had awaited)," mourned the poet, echoing the pain of the millions left scarred on both sides of the border. He might have spent most of his eventful life in Pakistan, but Faiz belonged to the world, especially the toiling millions of South Asia who sought solace in his poetry.

And no mushaira even today , in Mumbai or anywhere else, is complete without the anchor quoting Faiz’s timeless couplet: "Gulon mein rang bhare baad-e-nau bahar chale/Chale bhi aayo ke gulshan ka karobar chale (The new wind carrying new colours and fragrance has come/Do come here so that the garden can begin its business )." Why then has Mumbai chosen to ignore this cultural icon on his birth anniversary? "This is sad. But I hope the city, especially IPTA, will do something soon," says celebrated lyricist Javed Akhtar who, along with Shabana Azmi, is part of the jamboree which is camping in Lahore for the February 13 celebrations.

Apart from the obvious "economic" reasons, many cite the decline of Urdu as one of the factors for the lack of interest in Faiz. "I approached a couple of moneybags for sponsorship, but they showed no interest," says Faiyaz Faizi , who scripted Sheeshon Ka Masiha, a show which combines the narration of Faiz’s biography with the recitation of some of his poems. IPTA held several successful shows of Sheeshon Ka Masiha, starring Javed, Shabana and singer Jaswinder Singh. So why is the group silent on Faiz’s centenary? "Many of our senior members are in Lahore , and around this time we don’t get a theatre venue easily ," reasons Ramesh Talwar, director of Sheeshon Ka Masiha . However, another senior member of IPTA says: "Nobody showed any interest in doing anything for Faiz sahib. We could have put up a show, had someone sincerely initiated it."

Urdu writer-journalist Sajid Rashid attributes the amnesia vis-a-vis Faiz to the growing "Islamisation" of Urdu. "Over the last few decades , there is an attempt to downgrade the tradition of progressive writing in Urdu. A term ’Islami adab’ (Islamic literature) is being popularised ," says Rashid, a leftist who has often drawn flak from Islamists. Political scientist-peace activist Zaheer Ali, who met Faiz in Mumbai a couple of times, echoes Rashid: "Islam has intruded into Urdu, and Islamists will not appreciate a poet who is anti-establishment and Marxism-inspired ."

Mumbai once provided a launching pad for a galaxy of progressive writers-poets , including Mulk Raj Anand, Ali Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azmi, Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Rajinder Singh Bedi and K A Abbas. Whenever Faiz visited Mumbai, progressives would make a beeline for his hotel room. If this city does wake up and finally pay tribute to Faiz, it could explain its belated homage in the poet’s own words: "Mujh se pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang (My beloved , don’t ask for the kind of love I gave you earlier)."


Dipped in the heart’s blood

By: Rakhshanda Jalil

Faiz’s English-language prose, on the whole, does not carry the resonance of his Urdu poetry.

In other tongues

By: Vijay Prashad

Subsumed by history and nation

By: Afsan Chowdhury

Where does Faiz the poet and pan-Southasian Marxist end and Faiz the Pakistani begin? This is a question to which Bangladeshis, among others, still seek an answer.

From home to the world

By: Ali Mir and Raza Mir

Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s internationalist vision was based on working-class movements and the struggles of colonised peoples everywhere.

‘Bol’, the Nepali people!

By: Gauri Nath Rimal

Faiz’s progressive writings have great relevance in Nepal today, when a new constitution is being drafted amidst a troubled peace process.

In many dimensions

By: Sheel Kant Sharma

Faiz’s poetry is the cherished legacy of Southasia.

Listening to Faiz is a subversive act

By: Gauhar Raza