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Faiz Ahmed Faiz: the voice of dissent

Dr Saif Mahmood, a Supreme Court lawyer, discusses why Urdu shaiyar Faiz Ahmed Faiz will always stay with him

By Bushra Alvi,TwoCircles.net,

New Delhi : It was a Thursday evening and another edition of the Monthly Monologue: Why it Speaks to Me organized by Hindustani Awaaz, in collaboration with The Attic. In this literary initiative, a series of eclectic speakers present/sing/recite their favorite Urdu text and explain why the text ‘speaks’ to them the way it does.

Reciting passionately in front of a packed audience of Urdu poetry enthusiasts, Dr Saif Mahmood brought alive Faiz’s poetry in Faiz’s own characteristic style. In his discussion he also brought to light many dimensions of Faiz’s poetry.

Dr Saif Mahmood talking about Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Dr Saif Mahmood is not a scholar of Urdu; he spoke to the audience as a lover of Urdu, of Faiz’s poems, and as a common man. He was brought up in an environment where Ghalib, Faiz and Iqbal are used in everyday conversation and every bedroom of the house has its separate set of Diwan-e-Ghalib and poetry of Faiz and Iqbal. “As a child I used to hear my father hum to himself ‘Gulon mein rang bhare baad-e-nau bahar chale’, and ever since Faiz has stayed with me and will always stay with me,” said Mahmood. The title he chose for his talk, Tum mere paas raho are words from one of Faiz’s poems. Mahmood discussed why Faiz speaks to him through what he speaks to him. He also discussed some of Faiz’s compositions in an attempt to explain why Faiz speaks to him the way he does.

“Faiz starts as a die-hard romantic, he progresses into a socialist, he matures into communist and he ends up as a revolutionary. No matter what his poems are about, his voice is one of dissent,” said Mahmood. The canvas of Faiz’s poetry is, therefore enormous and has something to offer to everyone – a persecuted citizen, a disgruntled litigant, a fallen lover and even an entire deprived nation.

Even in romance his voice is one of dissent. Mahmood started with reciting one of Faiz’s popular romantic poems , the pure ghazal.

Gulon mein rang bhare Baad-e-Nau-bahar chale
Chale bhi aao ke gulshan ka karobar chale
Khafas udas hai yaaron saba se kuch toh kaho
Kahin toh behr-e-khuda aaj zikr-e-yaar chale

Let the blooms fill with color, let the gentle breeze of spring flow
Do come over, so the garden can get on with its daily business.
Gloom reigns in the cage, my friends; do say something to the breeze
Somewhere, for God’s sake, (there must be) discussion about the beloved today!

Mahmood says that the maqta amuses him a lot. In the maqta (last sher/couplet of the ghazal),

Maqam ‘Faiz’ koi rah mein jacha hi nahi
Jo ku-e-yar se nikle to su-e-dar chale

Faiz says that he had only two paths to follow; no location en route caught his fancy. “When I left my beloved’s house; I went straight to the gallows.” Apart from the beloved’s lane, the poet has little interest in setting up abode anywhere hence banishment from that privileged neighborhood is as good as a sentence of death.

Faiz describes his beloved very picturesquely. He uses metaphor after metaphor to describe her, to define her. He uses every possible metaphor, every possible symbol found in the Urdu language in his poetry to immortalize his beloved.

Rang pairahan ka, khushboo zulf lehrane kaa naam
Mousam-e-gul hai tumhare baam par aane ka naam
Doston us chasm-o-lab ki kuch toh kaho, jiske bagair
Gulistaan ki baat rangeen hai, na mehkhane ka naam

Phir nazar mein phool mehke, dil mein phir shamayen jali
Phir tasavvur ne liya us bazm mein jane ka naam
Dilbari thehra zabaan-e-khalk khulwane ka naam
Ab nahin lete pari-roo zulf bikhrane ka naam
Ab kisi laila ko bhi ikraar-e-mehboobi nahin
In dinon badnaam hai har ek deewane ka naam

Colour is a dress; fragrance is a name for your flowing tresses.
Your appearance at the window gives the Spring its name.
Say something about this sight, my friends, without which
neither the garden would have colour, nor the tavern have a name.
Again the eye fills with the scent of flowers, again the heart is lit with a leaping flame;
Imagination exults, and hesitating no longer, rejoins this happy company again
No beloved will now declare her desire openly
For where is the lover who is not defamed?

Faiz makes a marked distinction in his life before he fell in love and after he fell in love. When he had not fallen in love, everything was mundane, routine, it was normal, usual. The sky was just the sky, a road just a road, alcohol was just alcohol. But when he falls in love everything takes on a different hue.

Tum na aaiy thay to har cheez wohi thi ke jo hai
aasman had’nazar , rahguzar, rahguzar, sheesha’e mae sheesha’e mae
aur ab sheesha’e mae, rahguzar rang’e falak
rang hai dil ka marey khoon’e jigar honay tak
champa’ee rang kabhi rahat’e deedar ka rang
sorma’ee rang ke hai saat’e bezaar ka rang

To soothe his beloved he is willing to go to any extent though he is not sure it will help in any way. Faiz thinks he has committed the crime of love, jurm-e-ishq. He is lost in love His beloved has moved on in life and he does not regret even a moment spent with her. Instead he revels in those moments.

In his poem, In Memorium, Alfred Tennyson says-
“Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being slow.
Be near me

In the same way Faiz says ‘Tum mere paas raho’. This is one of Faiz’s most popular poems.

Tum mere paas raho
Mere qaatil, mere dildaar, mere paas raho
jis ghari raat chale
aasamaanon kaa lahuu pii kar siyah raat chale
marham-e-mushk liye nashtar-e-almaas chale
bain karatii huii, hansatii huii, gaatii nikale
dard kii kaasanii paazeb bajaatii nikale
jis gharii siinon mein duubate huye dil
aastiinon men nihaan haathon kii rah takane nikale
aas liye
aur bachchon ke bilakhane kii tarah qul-qul-e-may
bahr-e-naasudagii machale to manaaye na mane
jab koii baat banaaye na bane
jab na koii baat chale
jis gharii raat chale
jis ghadii maatamii, sun-saan, siyah raat chale
paas raho
mere qaatil, mere dildaar, mere paas raho

Be Near Me
My assassin, my lover,
Be near me
When the night passes on
Drunk on the blood of skies,
When the dark night passes on
Like a sword sheathed in the diamonds of stars
Be near me.
When it laments, laughs and sings and passes on
With its anklets ringing with grief
Be near me.
When the longings drown in heart
Look for the assassin’s knife hidden in hand in his sleeves.
And when the children sob
Like the pouring sounds of wine
And are soothed by nothing,
When no sweet-talk holds,
Everything stands still,
The dark night passes on mourning silently,
My assassin, my lover, be near me.

Faiz suffered a heart attack in 1982. He wrote two poems, one titled Heart Attack in which he describes how painful it was. The other poem, Khwab Basera, which he wrote from the hospital bed in Lahore is classic.

Is waqt toh yun lagta hai ab kuch bhi nahin hai
Mahtab, na suraj, na andhera na savera

Aankhon ke dariche main kisi husn ki chilman
Aur dil ki panaahon main kisi dard ka dera

Mumkin hai koi vaham ho mumkin ai suna ho
Galiyon main kisi chaap ka ek aakhiri phera

Even in solitude, Faiz finds solace. He is not sad. He relates every moment of his solitude to the unparalleled beauty of his beloved.

After the period of pure romantic poetry, Faiz progresses into a socialist. He creates images that are the essential beauty of our times because in them lies the cry of the oppressed. Faiz tells his beloved –

Mujh se pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang

He beeseeches his beloved not to demand from him the love that they hitherto shared because he has now seen oppression and supression and these images trouble him. He still loves her and is dedicated to her but says that apart from being her lover he is also a human being who is committed to the doctrines of equality for people in the whole world.

Laut jaatii hai idhar ko bhii nazar kyaa kiije
Ab bhii dilakash hai teraa husn, magar kyaa kiije –
Aur bhii dukh hain zamaane mein mohabbat ke sivaa
Raahaten aur bhii hain vasl kii raahat ke sivaa
Mujh Se Pahalii Sii Mohabbat, Mere Mahabuub, Na Maang

Once he realises the inequalites in this world, there is no looking back for Faiz.

He spins oppression, suppression, arbitrariness into his poetry and he himself becomes an active participant in the struggle for equality and freedom. When the long awaited freedom for India and Pakistan comes he is disheartened as along with this is linked the tragedy of Partition. He believes that the promise has been broken. He says that is not the freedom we were looking for.

Yeh daag daag ujaala, yeh shab gaziidaa sehar
Woh intzaar tha jisaka yeh woh sehar toh nahin………

Abhi chiraage sar-e- raah ko kuchh khabar hi nahi
Abhi Giraani yeh shab mein kabhi kami nahi aayi
Nijaate dido dil ki ghadi nahi aayi
Chale chalo ki woh manjil abhi nahi aayi
………..(Aug 1947)

Yes, he is disheartened but he has not lost hope. As Amir Mufti has very eloquently argued – The desire for justice, the steadfastness in the face of suffering and oppression and the belief in a new dawn are complicated by the partitioned nature of the collective subject. “In other words,” says Mahmood, “the significance for me of Faiz’s repeated use of the word ‘hijr’ and of its derivatives is that it imbues the lyric experience of separation from the beloved with the concrete historical meaning, the parting of ways or leave taking, that is the partition of 1947.”

Faiz’s relation with the nation state worsened when he was arrested in 1951 by the Ayub Khan regime in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy case. He was behind the bars for a number of years. The poems he composed in those days collected in a diwan, Zindan Nama – Letters from Prison, are perhaps the best of his works.

His poem, Nisar teri galiyon mein is a complete treasure of powerful social imagery.

Nissar mein teri galiyon ke ai watan ke jahan
Chali hai rasm ke koi na sar utha ke chale
Jo koi chahne waala tawaaf ko nikle
Nazar chura ke chale, jism-o-jaan bacha ke chale
Hai ahl-e-dil ke liye ab ye nazm-e-bast-o-kushaad
Ke sang-o-khisht muqayyad hain aur sag aazad

My salutations to thy sacred streets, O beloved nation!
Where a tradition has been invented- that none shall walk with his head held high
If at all one takes a walk, a pilgrimage
One must walk, eyes lowered, the body crouched in fear
The heart in a tumultuous wrench at the sight
Of stones and bricks locked away and mad dogs breathing free

Even in these times when he was being persecuted, jailed, etc, he remained undaunted amidst all these trials and tribulations. He remains an advocate of the freedom of speech and expression.

Faiz was the world’s spokesperson for the world’s voiceless and suffering people whether Indians oppressed by the British in the forties, the freedom fighters in Africa, Vietnamese peasants fleeing Americans in the sixties or Palestinian children in the 1970’s.

When Faiz went to Dhaka after East Pakistan became Bangladesh, for the first time he was completely distressed and did not see any light, any ray of hope at the end of the tunnel. He believes that the promised freedom for East Pakistan has come but at the cost of the blood of those people who have died in the unfortunate war

Ham ke thehrey ajnabi itni mulaqaton ke baad
Phir banenge aashnaa kitni madaraton ke baad
Kab nazar mai aegi be-daag sabzey ki bahar
Khoon ke dhabbey dholenge, kitni barsaton ke baad
They bohot be-dard lamhe, khatam-e-dard-e-ishq ke
Theen bohot be-mehr subhain, mehrbaan raaton ke baad
Dil to chaha, par shikast-e-dil ne mohlat hi na di
Kuch giley shikway bhi kar letey munajaton ke baad
Un se jo kehna gaye they, Faiz jaan sadqa kiye
Ankahi hi reh gaii, wo baat sab baton ke baad

Amidst gathering gloom and despair Faiz’s poetry stands out like a beacon beckoning the dispirited and down hearted to infuse the world with fresh ideals. For Faiz, dreams do not fade, ideas do not perish. And he exhorts his countrymen to keep going on assuring them that he shall seek, that we all shall seek the promised day, the ordained Day of Judgement.

Hum dekhenge
Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge
Woh din ke jis ka waada hai
Jo loh-e-azl pe likha hai
Hum dekhenge

Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garaan
Rui ki tarah ud jayenge

Hum mehkumoon ke paun tale
Yeh dharti dhar dhar dharkegi
Aur ehl-e-hukum ke sar upar
Jab bijli kar kar karkegi
Hum dekhenge

Jab arz-e-khuda ke Ka’abe se
Sab buth uthwaye jayenge
Hum ahl-e-safa mardood-e-haram
Masnad pe bithaye jayenge
Sab taaj uchale jayenge
Sab takht giraye jayenge

Bas naam rahega Allah ka
Jo ghayab bhi hai hazir bhi
Jo nazir bhi hai manzar bhi
Uthega analhaq ka naara
Jo main bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho
Aur raaj karegi khalq-e-khuda
Jo main bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho

Hum dekhenge
Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge

Faiz’s poetry catches the ecstasy and the agony of the downtrodden and deprived in a manner that remains unparalleled. He displays a compassionate understanding of human tragedy as it is.
James Joyce defines the poet as a mediator between the world of reality and the world of dreams. Faiz was such a mediator. And in his prayer for the nation he says –

Aaiyay haath uthaain hum bhi
Hum jinhe rasm-e-dua yaad nahin
Hum jinhe soz-e-mohabbat ke siwa
Koi buth, koi khuda yaad nahin

This is a broad purview of the canvas of Faiz, the canvas which he paints with his poetry and this is how, says Mahmood, Faiz speaks to him and why he will always stay with him.

Dr Saif Mahmood is a New Delhi-based litigating and corporate lawyer holding a doctorate in Comparative Constitutional laws in South Asia. He speaks and writes on diverse issues ranging from law to literature. Founder of the online group, South Asian Alliance for Literature, Art & Culture (SAALARC), he remembers most of his Ghalib, Iqbal and Faiz by heart and recites them effortlessly. He is currently writing a series on the Urdu poets of Delhi titled ‘Dilli jo ek shehar tha’.

[Photo Credit: Bushra Alvi]