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Herald exclusive: Cultural contribution

February 28, 2011

At a BBC Mushaira (left to right), Iftikhar Arif, Bilqees Dehlavi, Shohrat Bukhari, Gopi Chand Narang, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Zehra Nigah

There is no doubt that Faiz Ahmed Faiz lived in an era when protest and debate were the real moving forces of society. It was a time of mental revolt, a period when romance and revolution mingled to shape the personality of Faiz. In fact, the influence of his personality on various literary and artistic forms was pervasive.

Though he was not solely responsible for conceiving the idea of forming public sector organisations for the promotion of literature, arts and indigenous crafts, he did play a dominant role in setting them up and shaping their future. When the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) was established in February 1972, Faiz became its first chairman. Although he had been working on the project since General Ayub Khan’s time in power when he prepared the famous “Faiz Report” advocating the promotion of indigenous cultures that formed Pakistan, it became a reality during the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. It was J A Rahim, an ideologue and theoretician for the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, who pushed the government towards taking steps in that direction.

Once at the head of the PNCA, Faiz created its directorates of performing arts, visual arts, theatre and drama, folklore (which eventually separated to become Lok Virsa), cultural pacts (responsible for creating cultural agreements with other countries) and a division for publication, research and reference. Also during his chairmanship, the Pakistan Academy of Letters was carved out of the PNCA and Ahmed Faraz was appointed its first director general. Lok Virsa was given independent status and put under Uxi Mufti. Under Faiz’s guidance and with the keen interest of the PNCA’s founding director general Khalid Saeed Butt, a prestigious quarterly magazine, Saqafat, was published with Mustansar Javed as its editor. Javed had earlier edited Dhanak, a literary and cultural magazine published from Lahore in the early 70s.

While heading the PNCA, Faiz smoothened out bureaucratic hurdles to expedite its operations. He played the pivotal role of a sage while Butt would do the yeoman’s work to transform his ideas into institutional forms and structures. Faiz would not visit his workplace regularly but whenever he was in his office, his silent presence became a motivational force for members of the council. He was unassuming, composed and kind to those who worked under him. He was a symbol of pride for all those who were associated with him in one way or another.

When I was leaving the PNCA, Faiz graced the occasion of my farewell party. He advised me to continue working with the council instead of leaving for better opportunities because he felt the job suited my temperament. In reply to his advice, I kept quiet. I could not tell him that I was leaving the cultural body as the outlook for the promotion of arts and culture had become bleak under the dictatorial regime of General Ziaul Haq who by then had taken over the country removing the Bhutto government in a coup.