Faiz Ahmad Faiz and reiterating Pakistan’s plural culture

Posted by Raza Rumi

Today is the 26th death anniversary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz whose life and works are national assets. Faiz was a torchbearer of the glorious traditions set by great Urdu poets such as Ghalib and Iqbal. Faiz distinguished himself as a proponent of a revolutionary vision, which blended the romance of classical Urdu poetry with the idealism of revolutionary struggles. Faiz’s political ideology provided modern Urdu verse an unprecedented political and romantic expression. Faiz brought Pakistan international acclaim and the world bestowed on him the highest honours, including the Lenin Peace Prize (1962). He has also left a corpus of essays, editorials and commentaries from his years in journalism. This body of work still needs to be fully assessed for its literary dimensions. Faiz’s literary career coincided with the emergence of Pakistan and its unfortunate history of political instability and militarisation, which isolated its majority Eastern wing and resulted in its break-up in 1971. His famous poem ‘Yeh Daagh Daagh Ujala’ remains an apt comment on the creation of a ‘moth-eaten’ Pakistan, which continues to grapple with issues of identity. The Pakistani state treated him shoddily as he remained under arrest for extended periods or in exile.

The decade of the 1970s witnessed a change when Bhutto appointed him as Chairman of the National Council of the Arts. Faiz authored Pakistan’s Culture Policy of [early 1970s], which was partially implemented. This new cultural discourse broke the hegemony of the state-imposed definition of Pakistani identity that had excluded its rich pre-Islamic cultural heritage and marginalised its regional cultures. Before the goals of the 1972 Policy could be realised, Bhutto was overthrown and killed by the military junta. Zia’s dark rule reversed whatever policy shifts were made in the decade of the 1970s. Faiz passed away in 1984 and did not live to see the full extent of the destruction of Pakistani society scripted by Ziaul Haq and his cronies.

The country continues to struggle with the demons of extremism, jihad, and the ubiquitous role of intelligence agencies in public life. It is paramount that the 1972 Culture Policy, buried by right-wing officialdom, be made public and used as a framework for handling the current crises that we face in keeping the federation together and for fighting the enemy within. Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s vision of a socially just, secular, and plural Pakistan remains valid even today. February 13, 2011 will mark Faiz’s centennial birth celebrations and the government should ensure that his poetic and political legacy are reiterated and disseminated to the younger generation fittingly. Pakistanis will continue to sing ‘Hum Dekhenge’ until we achieve civilian democratic ascendancy and a socially just redistributive economic system. *

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2 responses to “Faiz Ahmad Faiz and reiterating Pakistan’s plural culture

  1. T.S. Bokhari

    Thanks for remembering Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the legend of our age, who can veritably be called ‘Rooh-e-Asr-e-Haazir’, which has unfortunately been crushed by the obscurantists and demagogic politicians, who lacked any commitment (Janoon) except to their self-interest.

    I met him first when I, as a young student activist, went to his house in a flat near Shimla Paharhi of Lahore. Mrs. Faiz came to welcome us and I was surprised to see her in salwaar qameez, speaking chaste Urdu. We met with Faiz, wearing Kuta-salwar, sitting in the balcony of the flat and had some talk with him. I don’t remember what passed between us as I remained mesmerized by his personality. What amazing days were those.
    The other personality which had impressed me was that of the Quaide Azam whom I had seen as a young school boy in Peshawar during mid-40’s of the last century and had followed him gripping his chariot in the procession taken out in that city.

    I now find new meaning in his poetry, especially his poem titled ‘Tanhaahi’ , in the fag end of my life when it says:

    “Dhal chuki raat
    Bikhrney laga taaron ka ghubaar
    Apne be-khaab kawaarhon ko muqaffal karlo
    Ab yahaan (Jinnah aur Faiz jeisaa) koi nahein, koi nahein aaey gaa”.

    To meri aankh mein aansu bhar aatey hein.

  2. Humanity

    I shall not cease to feed this pen, but still
    Keep record of what things pass through the soul,
    Still gather means for love to work its will,
    Keep green this age around which blank deserts roll.

    Though these days’ bitterness must grow sharper yet,
    And tyrants not renounce their tyranny,
    I taste their bitter wrongs without regrets,
    But while breath lasts will nurse each malady —

    While yet the tavern stands, with its red wine
    Crimson the temple’s high cold walls; and while
    My heart-blood feeds my tears and lets them shine,
    Paint with each drop the loved one’s rosy smile.

    Let others live for calm indifference peace;
    I listen to earth’s pangs, and will not cease.

    — F A Faiz translated by V. G. Kiernan
    —————-
    From Reza Arslan’s latest book: Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East. An amazing collection of translations from works in Arabic, Turkish, Persian, and Urdu created in the period 1910-2010.