Home Articles Faiz Ahmed Faiz a legendary Poet of Our Time

Faiz Ahmed Faiz a legendary Poet of Our Time


Faiz Ahmad Faiz was born on 13th February 1911. He was a Pakistani leftist poet and author, and one of the most celebrated writers of the Urdu language. Among other accolades, Faiz was nominated for Nobel Prize in Literature and won the Lenin Peace Prize.

Born in Punjab, British India, Faiz went on to study at Government College and College. He went on to serve in the British Indian Army and was awarded in the British Empire Medal. After Pakistan’s independence, Faiz became the editor to The Pakistan Times and a leading member of the Communist Party before being arrested in 1951 as an alleged part of conspiracy to overthrow the Liaquat administration and replace it with a left-wing government.

Faiz was released after four years in prison and went on to become a notable member of the Progressive Writers’ Movement and eventually an aide to Bhutto administration, before being self-exiled to Beirut. Faiz was an avowed Marxist, and he received the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union in 1962. His work remains influential in Pakistan literature and arts. Faiz literary work was posthumously publicly honored when the Pakistan Government conferred upon him the nation’s highest civil award, Nishan-e-Imtiaz, in 1990.

About past of Pakistan and its future in regard to Muslims in India and thereafter in Pakistan Faiz Ahmed Faiz has drawn a sketch in one of his interview with the following words-

“The indigenous political movements – the Khilafat, the Congress, the Akalis – had given new dimension to the nationalist struggle in India. And not only was politics in a state of turmoil, there was an all-round cultural upsurge. People rediscovered their folk music, there was great interest in sports (cricket, wrestling), and the impact of European literature and aesthetes was felt by our poets and writers at first-hand poets like Hasrat Mohani and Akhtar Shirani were widening the range of traditional poetry.

In these circumstances one did not have to make any special effort to see a rapport with one’s generation. Indeed, I had complete understanding with not only poets in my age group, like N M Rashed and Miraji, but also with older literary figures of Lahore – Patras, Taseer, Sufi Tabassum, Salik, Hasrat, Majeed Malik.

The older writers could be divided into two groups: one upholding art for the sake of art, the other bringing to its work a progressive sensibility. They already had a tradition of political rhetoric while we were introducing a new tradition of political lyricism. They agreed with us aesthetically if not ideologically.

Besides, when we held the foundation meeting of the Progressive writers Association (PWA) in Lahore in 1935 – and the participants included writers like Mian Bashir Ahmed and Sufi Tabassum – we were working on a broad consensus. The idea was to have a movement allied not to any particular political party bur to an ideal – the ideal of taking the masses towards social emancipation and progress. The formula was based on a realistic appreciation of the social situation and visualization of a free and just society. The goal was to guide the people towards freedom and to use their genius to establish an order based on social justice, an order in which an individual’s status would be determined not by heredity or wealth but by his merit.

There were men who reminded one of the Freudian inverted being wallowing in cesspools of his own subconscious. However, to continue with the sequence, the cleavage in the writers’ ranks came with the division of the community during the Second World War and the subsequent polarization caused firstly by the rise of communalism and later by the initiators of the cold war. While one section viewed the war as an anti-fascist struggle on the happy conclusion of which India’s future also depended, the other section welcomed an alliance with the Axis Powers in order to beat the British rulers – birds that have their eyes closed to the cat.

As I have so often said, the joy of independence was quickly washed away by disillusionment. Since most of the conscious people wanted to realize the Pakistan of their dreams, anyone who kept their dream alive had a rapport with the majority.

When my time in the jail phase ended in 1960, the dream of Pakistan was in shambles. The country had been mortgaged to the neo-imperialist power bloc. The trade union movement had been broken up and the labor leadership fashioned by the vested interests had been given over in apprenticeship to the cold warriors. The working class could never rise after this blow except for a brief period in the early seventies when hopes of its leading the people towards a near revolutionary situation were scotched by the emergence of adventurists. Similarly, the independent press was moving towards extinction. All avenues of active involvement with people’s cause available to a person who did not live by poetry alone were closed. All that one could do was to reflect on social change rather than social events, to become an observer of what was going on. All thoughts about one’s self were given up in favor of an attempt to interpret the climate and the mood of the times.

Poets like Lorca, Neruda, Makhdoom Mohyuddin, Nazim Hikmet were the heroes who joined epic mass struggles .

Today you must take into consideration two factors. One, age – and that should not be difficult to understand. Second, the lack of opportunities to lone campaigners. I never thought of myself as anything more than a contributor to the process of people’s awakening to their destiny, to a discovery of their goal. And whether I was teaching at a college or taking a class of young trade unionists, helping the war against fascism or working in journalism, the theme was not given up.

Only a change of front has taken place. Finding the political stage demolished, I decided to concentrate on culture because I felt it was necessary to define the people’s cultural identity, the sheet anchor of their existence as a nation, so that they were able to acquire a clear perception of their national identity, which is the base of every other struggle. This meant fighting against two forces: the entrenched state apparatus which did not like any threat to colonial concepts and the champions of parochial chauvinism. One did what one could, which was not much. A few steps were taken and then disillusionment set in.

The emergence of the Third World front added a new factor to the search for the ideals of liberation. The regional struggles merged into a global confrontation between the forces of darkness and the forces of light, between the purveyors of hope and the purveyors of despair. It seemed that instead of striking one’s head against a small wall one might do better by joining the wider Third World struggle for liberation from the neo-colonial stranglehold.

We can recall the line `koi nijat fla paye nijat say pehle’ (nobody can be free until all are free), a concerted campaign by the Third World writers could help the masses in their different countries to deal with their internal conflicts. Anyhow, it is to this period that the complaint against my absence from the people’s struggle is related. “The radio, instead of promoting the language of the rural masses has spoiled it.”

Men of vision should be able to point out the way to salvation but whether they can themselves lead on the path, at the head of a vanguard, depends on a host of objective factors, especially on the existence of a body of men who have been stirred up for decisive action. Even one’s perception is clarified and burnished by a dialectical relationship with the collective perception. When for any reason one is isolated from collective ethos one goes barren (banjh). I think quite a few of us are suffering from a lack of any positive impetus which comes from fruitful and productive assertion of people’s genius, not only in politics but in all fields of human endeavor.

But there are no short cuts to salvation, no Concorde to heavens. However, let me make it clear that while impatience, which makes one indifferent to the dialectics and mechanics of social change, can do more harm than good, patience which leads to inaction is equally reprehensible.

Yes, I worked on the manifestoes of two political parties, three in fact, Azad Pakistan Party, National Awami Party and the Republican Party. These were not my manifestoes but command performances subject to the perceptions of the people who were founding these parties. But my last manifesto was for the writers.

Yes as a man of peace except for the ideological plane, where no fight can be avoided one has to go along with it. But in most cases I have found fighting useless and preferred withdrawal from one front to be able to concentrate on another, to militancy for its own sake.

“One thought that the struggle of the Pakistani people towards self-realization and the Palestinian people’s fight for national sovereignty, or the Third World’s collective striving for a new order did not mean different things.”

Unless one combines the two strands into a harmonious whole, one cannot draw honestly on tradition to develop a true cultural identity. Unfortunately, there are some who are grounded in the folk tradition but have not had the opportunity to benefit from the classical tradition. There are others who are steeped in the classical tradition but are ignorant of the folk tradition. This deficiency produces in the activists of the former category the chauvinism of the underprivileged and in those of the ‘latter category the arrogance of the privileged.

To make matters worse, the post-independence period witnessed the rise of the English-medium school which meant that the new generation was divorced from both the folk and the classical traditions. This is the root cause of our failure to develop our cultural and national identity. The confusion has affected our mental constitution. I think the media has contributed a lot to this problem. For instance, the radio instead of promoting the language of the rural masses has spoiled it.

Punjabi poets — Baba Farid, Waris Shah, Bulleh Shah, Sultan Bahu have set such high standards that one finds the task of picking up where they left extremely difficult. Then, knowledge of a language is not enough to be able to write poetry in it. It demands command over nuances of expression which require a great deal of apprenticeship to craft. We did not have any academic training in Punjabi, no opportunity of developing a discipline to express in Punjabi verse. Only this morning I was wondering about the strength of the folk tradition as against the classical. An old line came to mind: `Meri lagdi kisay na wekhi tey meri tutdi noon jag janda.’ How would you put it in Urdu? Can you?

The religious tradition is inherent. But it is evident in two forms; one folk, the path of ‘sufia.’ The other of formalists. The latter emphasize the ritual, which is the least important part of religion. The Sufis follow the humanist path. l have said so many times that I am a follower of Roomi.

A Persian couplet comes to my mind: Diwana berahe rawad wa tifl be-rahe Yaran magar seen shehr-i-shuma sang nadarad (The madman is going his way and the child his. Friends, are there no stones in your town?).

My father was a remarkable man. He left his village a poor, lonely child. He educated himself and rose to be a minister/ambassador but his heart was in the village. When he returned home he chose to practice in Sialkot — near his village — instead of Lahore. On the one hand he was a grandee and a patron of many institutions in Sialkot.

“As a child I wanted to be a cricketer. Never played. Then there was a desire to become a learned man (alim fazil), an authority on something. I couldn’t make it. Never did anything properly. I always started at the wrong end from the top.”

But in the village, where all of us spent our holidays, he was one of the peasants. We were brought up as lower middle class children. Thanks to this I grew up in my folk tradition. From my mother I learnt the value of love, patience, tolerance, forbearance. She, too, was from peasant stock. My father married her after my stepmothers had died. She was younger than my stepsisters (I learnt that they were my stepsisters when I had grown up) and she ran the house on the strength of kindness. It was a calamity-hit house. Soon after my father died, two sisters lost their husbands and the family faced economic ruin. She taught us to live within our means and keep a cheerful face in adversity.”

Faiz Wife and Daughters

Now in the last two letters of Faiz are reproduced written by him from the Hyderabad Jail to his wife Alys Faiz. These letters shows that in jail he very courageously devoted his time to literature and thinking about humanity.

Faiz writes to Alys from Hyderabad on 15 March 1952:

Beloved, – “The court closed for a fortnight. Today is our first holiday. It is a little after seven o’clock as I write. The sun has not yet come into our yard and everyone else is still in bed. (We are sleeping in the verandahs now). I have already shaved and washed to the utter confusion and amazement of the half-awake fellows in their mosquito nets as I am usually the last to get up. One or two have been calling out in scandalized voices to enquire what is biting me, whether the Governor has invited me to breakfast or Rita Hayworth is waiting in the visitor’s room. Actually I am only making one of my periodical attempts at self-reform…’’

8 October 1952:

Beloved- ‘‘This morning the moon shone so brightly in my face it woke me up. The jail bell tolled the half hour after four. I sat up in my bed and at the same moment Arbab (51) in the bed next to me also sat up and smiled at me. He went back to sleep at once but I got up and sat in the verandah opposite my cell and watched the morning come. I heard the jail lock open and shut as the guards changed, the keys and chains rattle in the distance and the iron gates and door clamp their jaws as if they were chewing up the last remains of the night’s starry darkness. Then the breeze slowly rose like a languid woman and the sky slowly paled and the stars seemed to billow up and down in pearly white pools and then sucked under. I sat and watched and thoughts and memories flooded into the mind. Perhaps it was on a morning like this that this moon beckoned to a lonely traveler a little distance from where I sit and took the traveler with him away into the unknown and the traveler was my brother. Perhaps this moon is at this moment softly shining on the upturned faces, painless now in death, of the murdered men in Korean prison camps and these dead men too are my brothers. When they lived, they lived far away in lands I have not seen but they also lived in me and were a part of my blood and those who have killed them have killed a part of me and shed some of my blood. Albeit they are dead, as my brother is dead, and only the dead can adequately mourn for the living. Perhaps someday I shall be able to put this morning into verse and I have threatened Arbab that if I do he might become immortal by being in it.’’


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