WHO is the greatest poet of Urdu? The question is subjective and there cannot be any objective answer to it as everyone has their own reasons for preferring a poet over the others.
But if we were to compile a list of a few great poets of Urdu, most of the readers would agree that at least four poets must make it to the list: Mir Taqi Mir, Mirza Ghalib, Mir Anees and Allama Iqbal. And after Iqbal, at least among the twentieth-century poets, the name that flashes through the mind is Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
This naming game may sound too impressionistic or idiosyncratic or even biased, but one has to agree with Iftikhar Arif when he puts it in another way. He says that during the last hundred years or so, after Mir, Ghalib, Anees and Iqbal, the poet about whom the most has been written is none other than Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
Yet readers and researchers cannot have just enough of what is written on Faiz. Also, the remnants of what Faiz had written still keep on surfacing. So digging up the undiscovered writings by Faiz is a pursuit that many academics devote their time to. So we have two new books, just arrived, on Faiz.
Dr Mohammad Muneer Ahmed Sletch has been carrying out research, mostly on obituaries, for over two decades now. He has compiled a number of books, giving brief life sketches and dates of birth and death of thousands of prominent Pakistani personalities, especially writers and intellectuals. But now he has come up with a different kind of book. Titled Navaadraat-i-Faiz, it is a work that collects some remnants of writings by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. It has five sections: the first section offers 78 letters written by Faiz to different famous and not-so-famous persons. Some of these letters have already been published elsewhere but many are unpublished.
The second portion consists of remnants of Faiz’s poetry. These are the verses not included in any of the collections of Faiz’s poetry. Most of these verses were composed in the early part of Faiz’s literary career and were published in Ravi, the magazine published from Lahore’s Government College (now GC University). In the third part are the blurbs, forewords, reviews and critical opinions written by Faiz on scores of books. The fourth one can be called miscellanea as it proffers assorted writings by Faiz, such as the editorials written for Lotus — the magazine that Faiz edited and was published from Beirut. Some rare photographs of Faiz make part five of the book. Just published by Lahore’s Qalam Foundation, the book is a collector’s item for the lovers of Faiz.
Prof Fateh Muhammad Malik’s new book is on Faiz and it puts together his articles written on Faiz and his political and cultural contribution, published from time to time. In his intro, he wishes that our new generation could seek light from Faiz’s desire to build a new society. Faiz strived to create with his writings a new Pakistani society that reflected different and new political and social ideals. For this, as put by Malik, Faiz suffered a lot throughout his life and it was his these very constructive endeavours that made him spend his prime of life behind bars.
But Faiz was a universal poet and, this universality sprouted from his ‘localness’, says Malik. It is a common misconception among our fellow beings that to be universal it is must to negate localness, but universality is a majestic tree, apparently kissing the sky yet firmly and deeply rooted in the local soil. As usual, Malik Sahib has put in a few words something profound.
The articles included in the book discuss some very touchy political and cultural issues. For instance in an article named ‘Faiz, Fascism and Gandhi’ it is elaborated how Gandhi supported the fascist forces during the Second World War in the faint hope of gaining favour against the British. Faiz’s poem ‘Siyasi Leader Ke Naam’, or To the Political Leader, is precisely intended to address Gandhi on that issue as Marxists were deadly against fascism in any form. But, at the same time, Malik adds elsewhere, Faiz wrote three editorials in Pakistan Times lamenting Gandhi’s merciless murder.
In his article ‘Faiz Aur Tehreek-i-Aazaadi-i-Kashmir’ (Faiz and the movement for freedom of Kashmir), while discussing Faiz’s contribution towards the Kashmir freedom struggle, Malik succinctly highlights the historical background of the issue, criticising even the Marxist leaders who had joined hands with British imperialists and consequently Soviet Russia withdrew its support for the Muslims for fear of the unification of entire Islamic bloc. Other articles in the book discuss all-important aspects of Faiz’s concept of revolution, the Chinese revolution and the Islamic revolution of Iran and how Faiz reflected on them.
So while we may disagree whether Faiz’s name may be included in the list of Urdu’s greatest poets, or may even find the very idea of compiling such a list irritating, we at least may agree that Faiz was a modern Urdu poet deeply rooted in our soil and, hence, was a universal poet.
Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2019