Faiz: A romantic revolutionary

At the time when dusk settles but things are still gloomy and clumsy, I tend to turn to poets for a while, away from this wretched mother earth. As it is believed by many that God made the world, I believe, poets described it, not with all truth but a pinch of sparkling lies that keeps me molded in the foil of illusion – revolution might come and stay a little longer!

When an admirer filters lie from poetry and Google truth, there she meets rebel poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz. And there he soothes my unrest with take-deep-breaths gestures and ensures contentment within. The first image that I have of him came from a black and white photo—a big nosed half bald man with a cigarette. It was his smile that caught my eyes!

I began reading him from then, and he has kept me grounded but also taught me to rise and speak about my rights as a lover – “There are other pains in life than the pain of love” and as citizens— “When the mountains of oppression and cruelty will float away like carded wool. We will see.”

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Faiz, in 1947, when the Indian subcontinent was split based on religion – Muslim and Hindu, scripted nightmarish reality of then in “His Dawn of Freedom” (Subh-e-Azadi), the most influential poem on partition perhaps, expressing his disappointment, anguish, and agony about the split. He penned “This isn’t sure the dawn we waited for so eagerly.”

Faiz being a member of Progressive Writers’ Association, an anti-imperialistic and left-oriented progressive literary movement of pre-Partition undivided India, had taken the oath to write against British imperialism and social injustice. His pen never stopped.

Through poetry, he called for justice and revolt against the mockery of independence in 1947 which was torn apart by the partition, as was the poet’s identity. Born in 1891 in Sialkot-- a fault line of partition in the Punjab region, Faiz studied and married in India and even served the British Indian Army. But after the partition, he moved to Pakistan at the age of 36. ‘Pakistani’ for him is a misnomer as justifiably said by his grandson Ali Madeeh Hashmi. Faiz never contaminated himself by separating the identities of people based on nationality and the “us against them” narrative. His feelings were always associated with multi-ethnic origin as his identity.

The slogan of “I am Truth” (An-Al-Haq) was a sacred text that always bestowed in Faiz’s heart. His poetry though written at a particular time in response to particular events still resonate with common people—victims of suppression and tyranny. As a result, he was jailed and later exiled and his poem – ‘We will See’ (Hum Dekhenge), a cult nazm (a form of descriptive poetry) written in 1979, was banned from Pakistan by General Zia Ul Haq’s dictatorial regime.

The incredibly turbulent time that Faiz witnessed and portrayed has yet to end! Freedom has yet to come! A freedom that would wash away all the rubbish and dirt of the human mind

Many have witnessed the madness of revolutionary students’ anti-CAA-NRC protest last year and this year in India. As always Faiz came forward with ‘Hum Dekhenge’. He remains relevant even after 36 years of his demise.

Faiz, a lifelong communist, was imprisoned for planning a coup against Liaquat Ali Khan’s government in 1951. For four years he was in jail, for many years he was in Beirut, exiled. He was going to be hanged and it was only the international pressure that saved him. Even though he was against many tyrant governments, he served Bhutto’s government as National Council of the Arts.

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By the means of Faiz’s nature, he was always revolutionary, but many asked why he did not revolt against West Pakistan’s tyranny against East Pakistan which became our beloved Bangladesh in 1971. What was his position then? Two of his poems --Stay Away from Me (Bangladesh I) and Bangladesh II might speak in defence of his position, published in March 1971. Many said that the horrific genocide followed by the separation had a profound impact on him and he penned, “How can I embellish this carnival of slaughter?”

After his third and the last visit to Dhaka in 1974, Faiz returned with a heavy heart as many of his friends denied meeting him on the question of his standpoint on the birth of Bangladesh. He again took his pen and wrote, “What you had gone to say, Faiz, to swear upon your life/After everything was said, that still remained unsaid,” in “Upon Returning from Dhaka” (Dhaka se wapsi par). His verses thus speak for himself.

Many say, he is a rebel first and then a romantic, but, I ask, can a rebel be a true rebel unless he is a romantic first?

The incredibly turbulent time that Faiz witnessed and portrayed has yet to end! Freedom has yet to come! A freedom that would wash away all the rubbish and dirt of the human mind.

It was on 20 November 1984 that this romantic poet’s mortal body departed from this mundane world and off to the journey towards being immortal by proving worse time of political unrest might be the best time for poetry.

Nazmun Naher Shishir writer is Communication and Advocacy manager, Obhibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP), and, looking forward to a life where she can read poetry 24/7!