The 13th of February, a couple of days ago, was the 112th birth anniversary of one of the greatest revolutionary poets in the world and undoubtedly the greatest Pakistani Urdu poet of the 20th century, Faiz Ahmad Faiz. He was born on February 13, 1911, in Sialkot, India, a part of present-day Pakistan. From childhood, he was trained in the traditions of classical Persian poets Rumi and Hafiz, and he learned to read English, French, and Russian literature. A dedicated Marxist and author, he spent his entire life creating literature that celebrates love and revolution. His popularity in the Urdu world is unmatched, rivaled only perhaps by the iconic writer, Muhammad Iqbal. Faiz has won many honors for his works including the Lenin Peace Prize and a nomination for the Nobel Prize in literature.
Faiz’s early poetry was soulful treatises on love and beauty but during his time in Lahore, he began to expand into politics and community. His works portrayed the thematic interconnectedness between life and poetry. Faiz was able to create a dependable, thought-oriented connection with the working-class of society. It was not a momentary avocation for him, but a steady constructive process of building his lifelong socio-political philosophy — one that shines through in his works. Post-partition, he was an editor of two major Pakistani newspapers and he was organically involved in Trade Union Movement and propagated labor organizations in Pakistan globally. But it was his personal and intricate involvement with politics that inspired him to create such politically-charged, emotional, and provocative literature.
Faiz’s poetry emanates a universal energy that transcends space and time. Yes, it’s true that one must be familiar with Urdu diction to its fullest strength to relate to the symbolism explored in his poems. He followed the legacy of Mir Taqi Mir and Mirza Ghalib in his poetic diction to stay rooted in his heritage. However, due to translation, it is possible to decode his poetry and once you do that, you will find that the themes he explores are universally synergistic. Faiz was never part of the jingoistic nationalism of Pakistan and his works are rooted in understanding and aligning with the prevelant class struggle of the time. He spent a lot of time in Beirut when he was exiled and the civil war in Beirut was at its peak. He supported and sympathized with the cause of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). All of his poetry is a culmination of his political experience.
Faiz was vocal against the most despotic rulers in the country, including General Zia-ul-Haq’s brutal Islamist regime and General Yahya’s human rights violations in Bangladesh. In the era of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, he was imprisoned under charges of being a ‘communist conspirator’ from 1951-55, in what is present-day known as the Rawalpindi conspiracy case. Faiz remains a symbol of a true patriotic poet; one who loves the country but not its Government. Even when was exiled, he yearned for his homeland.
Faiz’s poetry is such that it does not fit within the dimensions of geographical boundaries. It transcends it and cannot be branded as one nation’s poetry. His poetry comes from the land of Sufism, humanism, and a world where voices can be raised against poverty and injustice without fear.
The world has tried to classify Faiz’s poetry into two categories — Faiz, the romantic, and Faiz, the revolutionary butI think such classifications cannot be made and the two often interweave and spill into each other. There can be no revolution without love and no love without the spirit of revolution. Two of his poems illustrate this brilliantly.
Before You Came is one of the most well-known poems by Faiz Ahmad Faiz and, in this authors view, is one of the most romantic poems ever written. The speaker describes how things were just the same and there was nothing new. Everything seemed mundane until the lover came and painted his world with magic. When they left the poet’s world, things returned to normal. To bring back the magical days in his life, the poet asks the lover to stay.
"Before you came,
things were as they should be:
the sky was the dead-end of sight,
the road was just a road, wine merely wine.
Don’t leave now that you’re here—
Stay. So the world may become like itself again:
so the sky may be the sky,
the road a road,
and the glass of wine not a mirror, just a glass of wine."
The opening of the Urdu text reads:
"tum jo naa aa’e the to har chiiz vahii thii kih jo hai
aasmaaN hadd-e-nazar, raahguzar raahguzar, shiishaah-e-mai,
Possibly, the most renowned of Faiz’s revolutionary poems is Hum Dekhenge. It was written in response to General Zia ul Haq’s dictatorial regime. A signature historical moment was created when Pakistan’s beloved ghazal singer, clad in a black saree, recited the poem in Lahore in 1985 to an entranced audience. It reads:
"Hum Dekhenge, Hum Dekhenge,
Lazim hai hum bhi dekhenge,
Wo din ke jiska waada hai,
Jo louh-i-azl pe likha hai,
(We shall bear witness to the promised day written into the canvas of eternity).
Jab zulm-o-sitham ke koh-e-giran,
Rui ki tarah ud jaayenge
Hum mahkoomon ke paaon tale,
Yeh dharti dhad dhad dhadkegi
(When the gigantic hills of tyranny get blown away like cotton, the earth will shake under our oppressed feet).
Jab aarz-i-khuda ke kaaba se,
Sab but uthwaaye jaayenge
Hum ahl-e-safa mardood-e-haram,
Masnad pe bithaaye jaayenge
(From the house of god, all idols of falsehood will be cast out; us, the faithful, will be placed on our high thrones).
Bus naam rahega allah ka,
jo gaayab bhi hai haazir bhi
Jo manzar bhi hai naazir bhi,
uthegaa anal-haq ka naara
(Only Allah’s name will remain, both the vista and the viewer, and shouts of ‘I am the truth’ will resonate).
Jo Main Bhi Hoon, Aur Tum Bhi Ho,
Aur Raaj Karegi Khalq-E-Khuda,
Jo Main Bhi Hoon Aur Tum Bhi Ho
Hum Dekhenge. Hum Dekhenge…
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