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His family

February 11, 2011

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To know the man Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and, therefore, the poet, it is critical to have some understanding of his immediate family, his father, his mother, his brothers and his sisters. They make an amazing story, probably rivalling the poet and what he stood for.

Approximately eight miles from Narowal, in the then Sialkot district, is the village of Kala Kader. It was, and remains, a very simple, small village. Here lived a small land-owning class of Jat farmers, by caste known as Tataley. They addressed themselves as Chaudhry, from which we know that the given name of the poet was Chaudhry Faiz Ahmed. His father was Chaudhry Sultan Ahmed, one of several brothers. But Sultan was different from his brothers for he would set off every day on foot for Narowal to attend school. He worked at the district courts there and passed his high school examinations. In those days he was known as the ‘educated’ son of the village Chaudhry.

By that time the brothers had some difference over land ownership, which is the norm among all land-owning families once the sons grow up. The squabbling irritated Sultan Ahmed and one day he disappeared. The police and the villagers set off to find him, but not a trace was found. Where had this bright son of the Chaudhry of Kala Kader disappeared? The story makes the stuff of high drama.

We learn that Sultan Ahmed had gone to Afghanistan, where he found service in the court of the newly-installed Amir of Afghanistan, Amir Abdur Rahman, the ruler recognised by the British (and a very modern ruler he was). With time we see Sultan Ahmed rise in the ranks and became the Mir Munshi – or Chief Secretary – of Afghanistan. As was befitting of the post; he was married to a number of beautiful Afghan women, from whom he had a number of daughters, but no son. He also built a beautiful house in a posh Kabul locality. Then one day rumour had it that Chaudhry Sultan Ahmed, the Mir Munshi, was really a British spy. This he denied, but the Amir’s suspicions grew.

Before the Amir could act, Chaudhry Sultan Ahmed disappeared, and disguised as a maulvi, he rode across the Durand Line, which he had assisted the Amir to negotiate with the British. It was probably this event that led to such suspicions. Sultan Ahmed, instead of going to his village, headed straight for Bombay, from where he caught a ship to England. There he was welcomed, and soon was friendly with British royalty. He excelled in Urdu, Punjabi, Persian, Arabic, English, Pashto and Russian. In England he joined Cambridge University and passed his MA in English Literature. This he followed by passing his examination in law and was called to the Bar.

Thus we see Chaudhry Sultan Ahmed of Kala Kader moving among the British aristocracy. His family still has numerous pictures of him being decorated and honoured by British royalty. He was made a Khan Bahadur, for which he was allocated many squares of land in Sargodha. He set up a legal practice in Sialkot and made many influential friends, including Allama Iqbal. In this time period he wrote a biography of Amir Abdur Rahman of Afghanistan, which to date remains a classic. A copy can perhaps still be found in a good bookshop anywhere.

Sultan Ahmed’s mother then asked him to marry a Punjabi girl, which he did, and from Fatima Sultan, he had four sons and no daughters. The eldest was Chaudhry Tufail Ahmed, who did his MSc in Physics from Aligarh, the second son was Chaudhry Faiz Ahmed, the third was Chaudhry Inayat Ahmed, a barrister, and the youngest was Chaudhry Bashir Ahmed.

By this time the Amir of Afghanistan had realised that he had wronged his Mir Munshi Sultan Ahmed, who by then had become Khan Bahadur Chaudhry Sultan Ahmed. He decided to send his wives and daughters to him in Lahore. Thus the entire family landed at their Ferozepur Road house. It goes to the immense credit of his wife Fatima Sultan, known by his sons as ‘Bebe Ji’, who looked after the family of her husband.

After Khan Bahadur Sultan Ahmed’s death, Faiz’s mother became the nominal head of the family. She was an extraordinary woman; she educated the Persian-speaking daughters of her husband’s Afghan wives. She kept selling off the lands in Sargodha and kept the family intact. In the process we see Faiz Ahmed learning Arabic, Persian, Urdu and English. He did his Master’s in English Literature, another Master’s in Arabic, and was going for a third Master’s in Philosophy when he was given a job as a lecturer in Arabic at the MAO College in Amritsar by the principal, M.D. Taseer.

In the house where Faiz grew up his half-sisters spoke in chaste Persian. He spoke Arabic, English, Urdu, Punjabi and Persian. It might come as a surprise to many, that in the village Kala Kader, his father built a small, but very beautiful, mosque. While Faiz was in exile in Beirut, he sent over a ‘Naat’ in praise of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) in classical Persian, which many consider his finest poem. That poem is engraved in marble and placed at the doorway of the mosque.

Before he died, he went to his native village Kala Kader and walked about the fields, meeting all the old people of the village. He sat for a long time in front of the mosque and watched the plaque, shaking his head in disbelief. He had come a long way in life, and yet his roots were firmly in the soil from where they had sprung. It was probably a mystical moment for him. All his life he had been a very quiet man. Now he was quieter. He returned to Lahore and two days later his silence was to last forever.