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Behind bars with Faiz
Faiz Saheb was those days in Moscow [when Ayub Khan imposed Martial Law on the night between 7th and 8th October, 1958] attending, along with Hafeez Jallundri, the inaugural ceremonies, related to the Afro-Asian writers’ conference. Faiz wasn’t surprised to hear about the development back home because the rumours of the army takeover had been rife for many months. He wasn’t unaware of the fact that those who were opposed to the National Assembly elections had been colluding with the army.
Faiz Saheb was certain that his fate would not be different from that of the like-minded people in his country. But his national verve was too strong to keep him away from his homeland. He first flew to London and then to Lahore, where he was arrested the very next day of his homecoming.
It was a bright November evening. Chaudhry A.R. Aslam and I were in the hospital ward of the Lahore Jail, busy talking to each other, when one of the assistant superintendents dropped in to say, “A guest of yours is expected tonight. You should make arrangements for his dinner also.” We asked the name of the guest but he simply smiled and said “You will soon have the answer to your question.”
We were happy whenever a newly arrested friend of ours joined us in the jail. But this time we were perplexed for we had not read about the arrest of anyone in the morning’s paper. We then thought that like us someone may have also filed an appeal for habeas corpus and may be housed with us before being taken to the court. Our main worry was that the room in the jail, which had once served as a mortuary and where we were put up, had just enough space for two cots.
Our eyes were fixed on the gate. Much to our surprise, when it opened we saw Faiz Saheb, with a cigarette pursed between his lips, walking in at his own pace. He was accompanied by half a dozen staff members of the jail. We hugged our friend warmly and the three of us laughed merrily.
In response to our query, Faiz told us that he had reached Lahore only a day earlier. “My friends, only the day before yesterday I pleaded your case with Manzoor Qadir (the law minister) for four to five hours and I thought I had convinced him to release you people. When I wasn’t arrested in Karachi [on landing there from London] I thought that this time I would be spared. But anyway it’s good to be with you. We should have a good time.”
Faiz Saheb had brought with him two large steel trunks. We said, “It seems that you have planned to live here permanently” to which he responded, “There are books in the trunk. For many years I have been unable to do serious reading. Now I think I will have all the time in the world to catch up.”
There was not enough space for three jailbirds in the tiny room so the superintendent of the jail made arrangements for us to move into the B Class ward. The erstwhile occupants were accommodated elsewhere on the premises.
Slowly our ward began to fill up. Dada Ferozdin Manzoor came from Bahawalnagar Jail, Fazal Elahi Qurban arrived from Bahawalpur and Dada Amir Haider from Rawalpindi. Qaswar Gardezi, who was under fire [from the military regime] (many buildings of his in Multan had been bulldozed leaving only debris behind) and was hitherto a ‘guest’ of the police inside the Lahore Fort, also became our fellow prisoner.
Faiz Saheb was never in a hurry nor was he ever nervous. He was always cool and collected. He had the habit of walking slowly and speaking softly. He did all his work calmly but on time, of course. His daily routine didn’t change even when he was in jail. In the morning he shaved and changed his clothes as if he was to leave for his office. After going through the newspaper he took a chair and basked in the winter sun with a book to keep him company. Around 11 we had tea and coffee. He retired after lunch, which was at 1.30 or 2pm. Then, after the evening tea, he would take a walk on the premises, sometimes alone and sometimes in the company of his fellow inmates. After dinner he settled down with books and read till late in the night.
Excerpted from Sukhan dar sukhan (Karachi, Maktaba-i-Danial, 2009), a posthumous book on Faiz Ahmed Faiz by his long time friend. Translated from the Urdu by Asif Noorani)