Neither idols nor God: Faiz worshipped nothing but warmth of humanity
Due to his enduring poetry, Faiz (1911-84)—who chose to stay in Pakistan after Partition—continues to rule hearts on both sides of the border despite strained political relations between two countries.
In the season of protest poetry ushered in by the anti-citizenship law agitation, Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984) has hogged headlines in India at the turn of the decade. The great Urdu poet who was born in Sialkot, educated in Lahore and who taught briefly in Amritsar, had resigned from the Army to work as a journalist. The people’s poet and an avowed Marxist accused of being an ‘atheist’ in Pakistan, Faiz spent several years in prison and exile.
Almost 35 years after his death, it is being widely debated in India if ‘Hum Dekhenge’, a poem by the revolutionary poet, is anti-Hindu. Many experts have not only mocked the question but drawn satisfaction from the fact that the controversy has unwittingly introduced the youth to the iconic poet and his work.
The poem in question is said to have been written in 1979 to protest against the then Pakistani general-premier Zia-ul-Haq. Faiz, in his poem, used Islamic metaphors and symbols to attack Islamist military dictatorship. Within no time it became the rallying call for all those fighting oppression and authoritarianism in Pakistan. Its recital during the anti-citizenship law protests in India establishes that the poem continues to be a beacon of people’s protest in the subcontinent even today.
Many who deem the poem anti-Hindu or pro-Muslim seem not only unfamiliar with Urdu poetry but also unaware of the fact that even former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, among his several other contemporaries, in India had a reverential respect for Faiz.
Despite a turbulent life, and unlike most poets, Faiz did not confine his poetry to love or religion. He believed, “Aur bhi gham hain zamaney mein mohabat ke siva…
(There is more pain in the world than the sweet pain of yearning)”.
An admirer of Karl Marx, Faiz was also honoured by Soviet Russia with the prestigious ‘Lenin Award for Peace’. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature shortly before his death in Lahore in 1984. And he was conferred with Pakistan’s highest civilian award, Nishan-e-Imtiaz, posthumously in 1990.
Faiz attacked religious fundamentalism and communalism with the same courage and conviction with which he fought for democratic values and civil liberties. Revolution was his muse and poetry was his weapon to fight injustice. He didn’t conceal, even in his lifetime, that in the pursuit of love for humanity, he had forgotten rituals of prayers, idols and Gods.
Sample his following couplets:
Aaiye haath uthaaein hum bhi
Hum jinhein rasm-e-dua yaad nahi
Hum jinhein soz-e-mohabbat ke siwa
Koi but, koi Khuda yaad nahi
(Come, let us raise our hands, as well. We, who do not remember the ritual of prayer. We, who do not remember anything other than the warmth of love, do not know of any idol, nor any God.)
Woh Buton nay daale hain waswasay,
ke dilon se khauf-e-Khuda gaya
Woh parei hain roz qayamatain,
ke khayal-e-roz jiza gaya.
(Worldly idols have instilled such fear in our hearts, that fear of God no longer exists. Every day is like a day of judgement, that thought of real judgement day has vanished)
Talking to the writer a few years ago, this is how one of the daughters of the poet, Salima Hashmi, had recalled her father’s literary work: “Many, who were condemned to death for demanding democratic rights during the military regime of Zia ul Haq, went to the gallows reciting his poems. My father took to poetry as he was very hesitant in expressing his feelings. He would remain silent most of the time. But whenever he bared his heart, he expressed the pain of millions in poetry. His poetry dealt with angst and revolt.”
During the formative years of Pakistan, Faiz edited the progressive newspapers, Pakistan Times and Imroze. A close associate of Sajjad Zaheer, founder of the Communist Party of Pakistan and the All Pakistan Progressive Writers’ Association, he wrote many of his celebrated poems during his stints in jail. He was first imprisoned in 1951 on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government and then in 1958 following a military coup. Later, Faiz was forced into exile in Lebanon, where he edited a literary magazine. He remained a member of several organisations working in the field of human rights, peace and journalism.
Hum parwarish-e-lauh-o-qalam karte rahenge
Jo dil pe guzarti hai raqam karte rahenge
(We will continue to nurture pen and paper,
Forever express in words whatever our hearts undergo)
The poet of hope who wrote, “Dil na umeed to nahin, nakam hi to hai. Lambi hai gham ki shaam magar sham hi to hai … (Distress does stretch the evening to eternity but then it still is an evening, with morning bound to follow)”, denounced the narrow nationalism defined by the politics of partition.
His iconic poem Subh-e-Azadi (Dawn of Independence) is considered a masterpiece in the literature on the partition of the subcontinent. The same sentiments that echo in his poem, resonated through an editorial that he wrote for the Pakistan Times dated August 15, 1947.
Both in his poem and the editorial, Faiz talked about the collateral damages and the emotional depletion wrought by the partition. In the poem he used metaphors such as “stained light” and “night bitten dawn” for the first morning of the country’s long awaited freedom. And in the editorial, he described the dawn of freedom as “black with sorrow and red with blood.”
By some coincidence, the poem drew criticism from both left and the right.
“Faiz’s friend and fellow progressive poet, Ali Sardar Jafri, called the poem ‘half truth’ and wrote that a poem like this could be written by both a member of an Islamist or a Hindu religious organization, that if Faiz felt that independence (and its ensuing partition) was a negation of the aspirations of the common people, he should have been more forceful in his denunciation of it,” Dr Ali Madeeh Hashmi, Faiz's grandson, writes in Love and Revolution: Faiz Ahmed Faiz - The Authorised Biography.
The following couplet written by Faiz, sums up his life philosophy:
Gam-e-jahan ho, rukh-e-yaar ho, ke dast-e-udu,
Salook jis se kiya hum ne aashiqana kiya !
(Whether it was worldly sorrows, beloved’s face or rival’s hand,
Whosoever I treated, I treated like an intoxicated lover)