DAWN - Features; November 22, 2007

November 22, 2007


Echoes of Faiz from Khunjerab to Karachi

By Mushir Anwar

THE perennial relevance of Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s verse to our time is today being demonstrated in street corners all over Pakistan. The country is throbbing with his lines of defiance. Aur raj karegi khalq-i-khuda (and the people shall rule) is a promise on everybody’s lips. Young and old alike are vociferous in tune with lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge (it is ordained we shall see) the trampling of the crown and the end of oppression. Nisaar mein teri galyon pe aey watan ke jahan/ Chali hai rasm ke koi na sar utha ke challe (My life for you my motherland where to walk with head held high is forbidden), the poet sings as small groups of students, women activists, writers and journalists stare down the shamefaced ferocity of a state in frenzy. Aaj bazaar mein pabah jaulan chalo (walk through the market place in chains) the poet calls and thousands come out to risk incarceration in distant dungeons of a country which has been reduced to a lawless penitentiary governed by the blind sanctimony of might is right. In the awesome silence bole ke ab (speak that now...) reverberates and the echo of the call can be heard from Khunjerab to Karachi. But tyranny drunk in the surety of its benevolent purpose cannot understand the portent of the call.

Since Ghalib it is hard to find another poet who has had such broad sympathy at its command as the rich, warm voice of Faiz. The way he gels the spirit of our time and our civilisation in the idiom of his verse few other poets of the last century can, particularly when it is a voice so distinctly his own and recognisable for the strong bass of its pathos. The magic of his appeal lies in his closeness to the people whom he never abandons. He weighs every nuance of his sensibility in the pan of his wide compassion for humanity. His is a choral song whose melody resonates many chords of people’s sentiment. They hum with him because it is their song that he is crooning. All through these years, except since late after his passing and reluctant acceptance in the national pantheon, the vulgar name calling and foul mouthing by agents of our retarded establishment and pygmies of the religious right and its political patrons have only been able to lengthen the entourage of his admirers. Faiz himself never said a word in his defence but never relented in his defiance also. This endears him to the lay crowd like anyone who stands up to authority in our culture.

Then Faiz’s voice is not didactic which our ethos resents or imperious and loud or cynical which we tend to turn away from.

Its gentle sweetness and sad tenor is plucked from our sufi tradition of resistance through social discourse and moral pressure. His immortal lines, aur bhi dukh hein zamaney mein muhabbat ke siva (there are other sorrows too in life besides love) and mujh se pehli si muhabbat merey mehboob na maang (don’t demand that early ardor of love my friend) stretch romantic love to the rigour and travails of ordinary life. And counting the joy of love among the sorrows of life is again a comment on the limited nature of human freedom. This dimensional expansion in the view of life merging the romantic with the real and the ideal with the factual, watching and accepting the erosion in love’s ardour and the counter-claiming compulsions of existence, approaches the inner spaces of truth. In it too perhaps lies the mystique of his wide appeal, from the lay fan to the struggling masses and the literary aesthete.

Iftikhar Arif speaking at a function organised by the Pakistan Academy of Letters on the occasion of Faiz’s 23rd death anniversary last evening noted the gain in his relevance over time which, according to Munno Bhai, the poet had ascribed not to any quality of his verse but the adamant nature of unchanging circumstances. Faiz’s universal appeal, Mr Arif said, lay in the topicality of his themes and his closeness to his soil. The charge against him of being a Soviet puppet is now a slap on the face of his detractors as that country was now history but Faiz was still alive and a more powerful influence today than perhaps when he was alive. Dr Najiba Arifa in her essay played on this idea saying those who thought the popularity of his verse owed much to his personal charm stand refuted with his poetry winning hearts without his physical presence. The awesome sadness that suffuses his work was what she thought the secret of his appeal. Fiction writer Ahmad Javed seemed to suggest Faiz had gained in proportion to the growing oppression while Left activist Rahat Saeed attributed his place in people’s heart to his love for the people whose cause was the theme of his work. Harris Khaleeque, whose young friend Shahbaz did a week in Adiala early this month said what sustained him and gave him courage in that inhuman place was Faiz’s assurance that crowns shall topple and the meek shall rule.


© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007