THE discussion on Faiz under way at the Urdu Conference on Friday.—White Star
THE discussion on Faiz under way at the Urdu Conference on Friday.—White Star

KARACHI: Some 35 years after his death, Faiz Ahmed Faiz on Friday became the first Urdu poet to have a detailed ‘critical edition’ of his entire creative poetic output. To put it in perspective, as pointed out by a panel of eminence on Friday, the wait for Iqbal and Ghalib is not over yet. Compiled, edited and annotated by Dr Nomanul Haq, the edition was launched at a session on the second day of the 12th edition of International Urdu Conference here at the Arts Council.

The panel, comprising luminaries like Zahra Nigah, Iftikhar Arif, Ashfaq Hussain and Mazhar Jameel, called it a pioneering work done in the light of western literary traditions, and, though Hussain did strike a mild dissenting note on a couple of technicalities adopted by the editor, to his credit, Dr Haq explained his methodology and reasoning which made sense to the members of the panel and the audience alike.

As is the case with any session on Faiz anywhere in the country, the discussion had as much — if not more — to do with Faiz, the person, than with Faiz, the poet. Even Federal Minister for Education and Literary Heritage Shafqat Mahmood, who was the chief guest at the session, talked about the time he was able to spend at the periphery of Faiz’s social circle.

Although he did talk about the government’s commitment to promoting cultural activities, he did not say anything about creating social space for the ideals that Faiz stood for. There were many in the audience who felt the anomaly, but there was no question-answer format in the session to raise the issue. Even though she was not part of the panel, Kishwar Naheed did pass a comment, albeit in a lighter vein, making the most of the minister’s presence. It was all in good humour though.

Apparently the audience liked what was on offer, with moderator Arshad Mahmud stealing the show right at the end when he narrated an anecdote related to an advertising jingle that Faiz penned for a company producing packaged spices. In a manner of speaking, it represented the icing on the proverbial cake that the session was.

The man who dazzled the audience with both erudition and communication skills across the sessions on the second day of the conference, however, was Iftikhar Arif who was just as brilliant in the session on Faiz as he was earlier in the day talking about the tradition of religious poetry (Hamd, Naat, Marsia, etc) in Urdu. He switched from one extreme to the other rather seamlessly and the right-wingers were as much in awe of him as were the liberals.

Sandwiched between the two sessions was one that entailed a talk with Kishwar Naheed. Though the word ‘resistance’ was never used, it was all about poetry in critical times. She always comes across first and foremost as an activist than as a poet and her talk on Friday was no exception on this count. She did recite a few of her verses that were very well received by the audience.

Tailpiece: Held at three venues on the same premises, the second day of the Urdu Conference did have scheduling issues as various sessions followed their own discipline, making it difficult for people to plan their movements accordingly.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2019