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Letters from jail

Khalid Ahmad and Nimra Bucha read out letters of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Alys Faiz at T2F on Thursday evening.—White Star
Khalid Ahmad and Nimra Bucha read out letters of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Alys Faiz at T2F on Thursday evening.—White Star

KARACHI: British thespian Corin Redgrave, who was highly praised for his solo performance in De Profundis, Oscar Wilde’s love letter to Lord Alfred Douglas while he was imprisoned in Reading Prison, said in The Perfect Love Letter, an article he penned for the Guardian, that a beautiful love letter is as much about the writer as it is about the object of affection. This is what one felt during the Zambeel Dramatic Readings presentation of Dhal Gaya Hijr Ka Din —Letters by Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Alys Faiz on Thursday evening at T2F.

These letters were written when Faiz was put behind bars under the Rawalpindi Conspiracy (Special Tribunal) Act 1951. His prison term lasted four years between 1951 and 1955. The 135 correspondence between Alys and Faiz were published in the form of two separate books. Faiz’s letters originally written in English were translated into Urdu by the poet and published under the title Saleebain Meray Dareechay Main and Alys’ letters in English were printed as Dear Heart — to Faiz in Prison.

The letters are a mixture of philosophical musings, narration of everyday affairs, optimism, despair, humour, loneliness and point towards deep abiding love between two strong individuals.

Enacted by distinguished theatre and television actors Khalid Ahmad as Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Nimra Bucha as Alys Faiz, both of them gave heartfelt performances.

Of his initial days in jail, Faiz experiences self-analysis saying that he is now more aware of his faults and he doesn’t feel afraid anymore. “Ab toh khayal bhi nahi aata kay jailkhanay main hain (It doesn’t cross my mind anymore that I am in jail).” The jailers provide him and his fellow prisoners with luxuries such as a radio set, a table lamp and wonders sarcastically: “How will we maintain such a lifestyle?” Looking at the photographs of his wife and daughters give him great comfort, he writes.

Alys reports on food shortage and subsequent riots in Lahore, a city that is seeing an increase in murders and abductions and in the next couple of lines writes that she misses scolding her husband for lazing around on a Sunday. She also goes through self-analysis: “You will find me changed, even your daughters.”

The recounting of antics of their young daughters Saleema or Cheemi and Muneeza or Meezoo by Alys is at once amusing and poignant. One experiences the sadness the young mother feels for her husband missing out on his children’s formative years. “Little Meezoo is in love and the sight makes her vomit! Raza Kazim came by and made Meezoo sick. ‘Please ask him not to come again,’ she says.” When they visit Faiz’s village, Cheemi runs around speaking in Punjabi and Meezo makes friends with rabbits. “Meezoo has forgotten what you look like and then remembers your voice: Beti vahan mat jao (Daughter, don’t go there).” Sadness, amusement, despair — Bucha ably expresses the whole gamut of emotions during the narration of these excerpts which she read out in English.

Alys’ subsequent letters are full of anguish and despair tinged with biting humour while Faiz obstinately remains hopeful, idealistic with his wit shining through. In one letter, she says: “Meeting you seems like a dream. Loneliness is set on my heart.” In another, she writes: “Trying hard to keep going. Spirit fails me.”

As Lahore’s unbearable heat gets to her, she states: “I wish I had married an Eskimo and not a native of this tropical weather. It is too hot to sleep. Will this heat, this loneliness, fear of loneliness ever disappear? Can we change the weather before we change other things.”

In one of the letters to his wife, Faiz stated: “Today is our 10th wedding anniversary. We have seen a lot of happiness and some sadness. Let’s remember of days gone by that were lovely and let’s imagine how bright our future will be. At least, that’s what I do.”

Khalid Ahmad’s performance as Faiz was poised and dignified.

Going back to Redgrave’s article he mentioned that Shakespeare wrote that the best way to make love last for eternity is to write it down so that it outlasts mere human beings. Indeed, both Shakespeare and Redgrave were on the mark.

Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2014