When one mentions Faiz Ahmed Faiz in the role of editor the focus invariably is on the stints he did in journals and in particular with The Pakistan Times. But apart from and before these editing jobs that he took up, he was a strict editor of his verse, much in the tradition of Mirza Ghalib. Editing and selecting from your own poetry is a tough task. Many have failed the test and a large number have compromised quality for quantity. Few have excelled in it, and among these few Ghalib stands out. He was considered to be the best and a merciless chooser and chopper of his own poetry.
After Ghalib Faiz was one poet who would really work hard on polishing his verse before he presented it to his readers. And if he felt the need to do so he was not reluctant to edit or amend a line in a poem even after its publication. Faiz’s letters to Iftikhar Arif are a proof of the perfectionist in him as is an article that appeared in the latest issue of Urdunama of the National Language Authority.
Formally, the title of ‘editor’ was first associated with Faiz in the late 1930s when he was appointed as the editor of well known monthly literary magazine, Adab-i-Lateef. His last engagement as editor was with the literary magazine of Afro-Asian writers, Lotus, an assignment that took him to Beirut at a time when the city was being bombarded. Before joining the profession of journalism, he worked in areas which have forever enjoyed a close relationship with literature as well as journalism. He taught and worked in the public relations wing of the Royal Indian Forces during the Second World War.
Many other literary figures were present in the wing at the time. Among them Hafeez Jallundhri sought to inspire young men to join the army with songs, one of which had the famous line (by a mother), Mein to chhore ko bharti kara aaee re (I’ve conscripted my lad). Chiragh Hasan Hasrat edited the army’s newspaper with Zameer Jaffri, Maj Masud and Col Javed Khatak (also a poet).
The four gentlemen later joined the Urdu daily Imroze when it appeared in 1948 from Lahore under the joint editorship of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Chiragh Hasan Hasrat, Prof Muhammad Sarwar, etc. After consultations, however, Faiz became a sleeping partner. Hasrat was the overall in-charge before he quit, with many, many other junior colleagues including the columnist and writer, Intizar Husain.
The Pakistan Times, the paper Faiz helped create and define, came out in an emergency situation in February 1947 when its founder was under arrest. Mian Iftikharuddin, the mastermind behind the Progressive Papers Ltd (PPL) was among the first MLAs to be arrested as the Khizar Hayat government swooped on the Muslim League National Guards. The Pakistan Times came out as a one-page eveninger but it took its proper shape in the next few weeks.
Over time Faiz helped Mazhar Ali Khan set the direction for the PT which rightfully won it the reputation as a professionally edited left-leaning paper. It was during his stint here that Faiz was arrested on charges of plotting a coup along with a group of armymen, and here it was where he put his initials to the controversial call to ban The Civil & Military Gazette in the name of nationalism.
He wrote a sizeable body of editorials for the PT which reflect a deep understanding of the events taking place at the time. These editorials have in recent years been compiled by Sheema Majeed in a book; they are unique for their sound reasoning as well as being the specimens in prose, of Faiz’s bias for subtlety and purpose.
An editor must find acceptance among his colleagues as a guide who is at the same time concerned about his staff’s wellbeing. Faiz’s relationship with his colleagues was exemplary. A few months after the launch of the PT, Anwar Ali the young cartoonist of the paper, learnt that his son Ajaz Anwar (Nanna) had fallen seriously ill in his ancestral town, Ludhiana. Anwar arrived in Ludhiana from Lahore for on August 8, just six days before the independence day. Punjab had turned into a virtual death-field by then and Anwar was marooned with all roads leading out of the town blocked. He managed to bring his family to Lahore only in early September, to find that Faiz was all set to launch a mission to rescue him. This kind spirit accompanied him wherever Faiz the man and the intellectual went.
He never allowed his vision to be affected by passing events and was quick to point out mistakes and suggest remedies before they turned into blunders. The Punjab branch of the Muslim League had published its manifesto for the 1945-46 election which was a revolutionary document. As soon as Pakistan emerged on the map The Pakistan Times published that manifesto to remind the new rulers of their commitments made with the people.
Hasan Abidi was a PPL colleague of Faiz besides being a poet. In his biography, he narrated the following incident: ‘Sibte Hasan was the editor of the weekly Lail-o-Nahar but for some reason he was absent from work (he had fallen ill or was under arrest). True to form, Faiz came to the rescue. He found a heap of articles on the table of Sibte Saheb who was very slow in disposing of articles received for publication’. On the other hand, Faiz Saheb was also known as a slow-moving person. But Abidi says it took Faiz just one or two days to sample all the articles and consign to the dustbin those which were not up to the mark.
This is just how quickly he could decide and judge, indeed a prerequisite for any editor. As far as Faiz’s vision is concerned I will just quote from Syed Abid Ali’s article on Abdullah Malik that appeared in 2003. “I still remember the heated discussion one evening (in 1976-77) about the future of the country. The general opinion, as I remember, was rather remorseful. Faiz did not participate in the debate at all but then somebody asked him about his opinion. ‘Bhai Pakistan kaheen aa jaa naheen raha, bus yahan status quo hee rahe ga’ (Pakistan is not going anywhere, friends, however a status quo will persist) answered Faiz.”