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Pablo Neruda and Faiz Ahmad Faiz

Reviewed by I.A. Rehman 

DURING his birth centennial last year (2011), Faiz received glowing tributes at seminars and public meetings in Pakistan and abroad and many books on his life and work were published. Only a few of them, however, attempted a critical appraisal of his poetry. One of these is Dr Mohammad Ali Siddiqui’s slim volume, Faiz Ahmed Faiz: Dard aur Darma ka Sha’er (a poet of agony and relief). It demands attention not only as the work of a critic who earned distinction with his long-running column in Dawn, or as a critic acknowledged by Faiz himself, but also, and perhaps more importantly, because he raises the level of Faiz’s critical appreciation a few notches.

As in the case of several books on Faiz published last year, Dard aur Darma ka Sha’er contains a few essays Dr Siddiqui had published earlier — such as “Faiz and Traditional Diction”, “Ghalib, Josh and Faiz” and “Iqbal and Faiz” — but these have not lost their relevance. Of the two polemical pieces — “Faiz and Marxist Criticism” and “Understanding Faiz” — the former was published in 2010 and the latter in 2011. Both make significant contributions to the debate on Faiz’s ideological moorings. In “Faiz and Marxist Criticism”, Siddiqui argues that there have been writers who were progressive but who could not be accepted as Marxist, a distinction quite easily understood, while Faiz was a progressive who remained faithful to Marxism.

“Understanding Faiz”, meanwhile, is a rejoinder to a critic who had apparently lost his way in his attempts to identify bourgeois criticism. The problem with Dr Siddiqui is that he cannot conceal his devotion to Faiz. In a lesser critic this could have affected the acceptability of his arguments. But it is a measure of Dr Siddiqui’s maturity and discipline as a critic that his assessment can stand the test of objectivity.

Dr Siddiqui focuses on Faiz’s sensitivity to human suffering and the stream of compassion running through his poetry. He finds parallels in classical poetry, especially of poets credited with a Sufi-like bent of mind. He is not the first one to find in Faiz the attributes of Sufism. Among others, Ishfaq Ahmad had declared Faiz a “malamati sufi” while the poet was alive. Faiz himself enjoyed the mysteries his remarks sometimes created — for instance, his declaration that he subscribed to Rumi’s belief. While an ability to rise above his personal needs, interests and ambition was a hallmark of Faiz’s personality, he was as critical of Sufis who abjured their social responsibilities as Iqbal was. Still, Dr Siddiqui deserves credit for focusing on the spring of compassion in Faiz’s verse.

Dr Siddiqui’s another distinction is that he has analysed all eight collections of Faiz’s verse, from Naqsh-i-Faryadi to Ghubar-i-Ayyam. This should be considered a proper way to trace a creative mind’s progression. In Faiz’s case this is especially welcome, perhaps necessary too, because he moved from personal frustrations to concerns for the plight of the oppressed, reverted briefly to very personal experiences, and then again moved on to humankind’s shared tribulations and anguish.

It is only when one takes account of the stages in the evolution of Faiz’s thought that one will be in agreement with Dr Siddiqui on the excellence of Faiz’s verses in Sar-i-Wadi-i-Sina and Merey Dil Merey Musafir. This opinion is apparently at variance with the view expressed by quite a few critics that in the final phase of his life, Faiz’s

poetry lost the élan of his poetry from the jail period. That Faiz’s latter-day poetry is different from the earlier one is true, but it is also more robust, more inspired by the need for action, and more universal in its appeal. The challenge to decadent tradition is also more direct and explicit.

Faiz is in serious danger of being misinterpreted, not only by the new crop of rightist mandarins, but also by crowds of unthinking adulators. In such a situation, every effort that keeps the discussion on Faiz within the limits of objectivity and integrity is welcome. In this regard, Dr Siddiqui acquits himself admirably well.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz: Dard aur Darma ka Sha’er


By Dr Mohammad Ali Siddiqui

Peace Publications, Lahore

184pp. Rs250