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Book Review: From Faiz to Arif

February 15, 2011

Two poets, two associates and two intellectuals of merit. One is generally acknowledged as the most significant Urdu poet of the latter half of the 20th century, the other arguably now the most important living Urdu poet. Imagine the kind of brainy discourse that may have taken place when they were together. Imagine the kind of debates they must have sparked off when they discussed their homeland, their art, their friends and acquaintances if they confabbed or even communicated with each other through letters, for when Faiz was alive and Iftikhar Arif had published only one collection of poetry, the wonders of electronic mail hadn’t reached their thresholds.     Faiz Ba Nam Iftikhar Arif is a collection of letters that Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote to Iftikhar Arif from different cities, penned in the time period between the late 1970s and early ‘80s. The book is compiled by Dr Rashid Hameed and anyone who is fond of Urdu literature will find Faiz Ba Nam Iftikhar Arif emotionally as well as cerebrally exciting. Emotionally, because by virtue of the epistolary exchange of ideas the reader will be able to feel the warmth and genuineness that Faiz exuded particularly to his admirers, friends and the cause for which he worked. Cerebrally, because a few of the letters contain Faiz’s scholarly ideas on certain very vital, if not contentious, issues related to the realms of literature and politics.     For example, it’s an enriching experience reading Faiz’s thoughts, which he called impressions (ta’assuraat) on a book written by noted critic Mohammad Hasan Askari. This reviewer has tried to translate a paragraph from the post to drive home his point. In a letter written on May 26 (year not mentioned) from Beirut Faiz Saheb writes, “My first impression is that if you already have an opinion on an issue as per your chosen ideology and consider it authentic without providing evidence or rationale for it, and believe that turning your back on that belief is waywardness then it’s futile to argue with you. Furthermore, if you beforehand term logical and rational explanation as partial reasoning (juzvi aql) then how can the debate move forward? Therefore if you think that spirituality or monotheism (which hasn’t been defined) is the truth and point out the West’s shortcoming in that light, then by the same token someone believing in materialism can come up with a list of the East’s flaws.”      Another piece composed on July 14 (year not given) from Beirut in reply to Ifitkhar Arif’s letter(s), he writes on the role of men of letters vis-à-vis the government, “Loyalty to and affiliation with the government is meant only for government officials. A poet or writer has nothing to do with it. If he works for the government, even then he should try and keep his literary self separate from the job; but this must be done within the framework of his job.”      In the same letter he goes on to comment on an important subject, “Till the later part of Ayub Khan’s rule, no one had ever heard the phrase ‘ideology of Pakistan’. The Quaid-i-Azam, Liaquat Ali Khan and Nazimuddin never talked about it. Before partition the Quaid-i-Azam was asked only once about the ideology of Pakistan. His answer was that regions where Muslims were in majority should be governed by Muslims. Anyhow, later on somehow it was decided that Islam is Pakistan’s ideology, but it has not settled issues, for everyone has their own view of Islam. Sufi ki azan aur hai, mulla ki azan aur” (A Sufi croons a different call from that of a mullah).         These are tiny portions of two of the 38 published letters that Faiz wrote to Iftikhar Arif, and all of them are written in a style that’s unpretentious, fluid and brimming with affection for the addressee. The book also has the typescript of the original letters, accompanied by some memorable black and white pictures of Faiz Sahib, Iftikhar Arif and the luminaries that often interacted with the two peots. One photograph taken at the Urdu Markaz, London has Mushtaq Yousafi reading from a piece of paper, as Raza Ali Abedi, Zehra Nigah, Iftikhar Arif and Faiz Ahmed Faiz smile heartily.      Dr Rashid Hameed’s rather elaborate tête-à-tête with Iftikhar Arif on the genesis of the correspondences imparts clarity to some of the issues.    

Faiz Ba Naam Iftikhar Arif Researched and compiled by Dr Rashid Hameed Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore, 2011 Pp 239; Price Rs600