Sahar Ansari, President of the Pakistan Arts Council’s literary committee, says, “When we used to meet him, we would never feel ‘this is such a great poet’. He never let that show. If we would praise his poetry, he would brush it off.”
Faiz spent his time in Karachi at the residence of Col Majeed and Amina Malik, and briefly lived at a house in PECHS, near the then Khayyam cinema at Nursery.
“I first met Faiz at his PECHS residence in 1965,” says Rahat Saeed, Secretary of the Faiz Centennial Committee, Karachi. When meeting Faiz, “one would have a feeling that you could tell this man the truth. He was like one of our elders; we would be able to say anything without any fear or hesitation.”
Zakia Sarwar, wife of the late renowned student leader Dr M. Sarwar, first met Faiz Ahmed Faiz as a teenager. “I had been introduced to his daughter Salima in Lahore. I was a frequent visitor to their house, and I remember when he was released from jail. But our proper interaction began when I married Sarwar. Salima and Uncle Faiz were going to Russia by ship. Sarwar and I went to see them off in Karachi. We were going out at the time. When I asked Salima for her opinion on marrying Sarwar, she said, ‘Abba thinks very highly of him, of course go ahead’.”
Zakia Sarwar, 72, describes Faiz as being “an unassuming kind of person. He was, as you would say today, a cool guy”. She and her husband spent time with Faiz whenever he visited Karachi. “He was family, so I would go see him. When we had gatherings at our home, someone would inevitably ask him to recite his poetry. He would recite a few couplets and then say, ‘Bass, that is all I have eaten today’. We celebrated his 60th birthday and I baked him a cake,” Sarwar remembers. “We had such fun. I remember Sadequain was there and was so inebriated that he spent the night at the house!”
Ansari reminisces about Faiz becoming the principal of Karachi’s Abdullah Haroon College. “He was a good principal. He wasn’t strict and he just had the discipline a creative person has, not more than that. He wasn’t a “left, right” type of soldier, even though he had joined the army during the British era to fight the Nazis. He had rather spend his time sitting leisurely, or reading a book.”
Did Faiz change as he got older? Ansari recalls, “He used to say, ‘I’ve grown old, I don’t have the strength to go to jail again’. The death of his close friends, like Ms Shaukat Haroon and Hasan Nisar, also affected Faiz deeply. Politically, he was upset after the Khrushchev government in the USSR. He felt that the system was changing. Since he was such a visionary poet, he could see ahead. When people would ask him about change in Pakistan, he would say jokingly, ‘Kuchh nahin, aise hi chalta rahega’ (Not much, it’ll go on like it is).”
Sarwar adds, “This is not a place where thinkers are welcomed. People still remember him because of the love they have for him. But at an official level it still isn’t there. However, he never used to bother about this.”