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A history of anti-Americanism in Pakistan

A history of anti-Americanism in Pakistan.

A history of anti-Americanism in Pakistan

A history of anti-Americanism in Pakistan

In 2009 the monthly Herald published the results of an elaborate survey that it undertook to determine the extent of anti-Americanism in Pakistan. The findings suggest nothing that we do not already know.

Though anti-Americanism during the Cold War (1949-89) was mostly the ideological vocation of pro-Soviet leftists, today (some twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union), one can safely suggest that America is experiencing its most detested hour.

It hasn’t been hated across the board with so much fervour as it is today, mainly thanks to the bungling of the arrogant Bush administration and its utter deficiency in the art and skill of empathetic and prudent diplomacy.

However, the anti-Americanism virus — at least in most Muslim countries — today is such that the critique that comes with it is largely rhetorical and at times, rather obsessive-compulsive.

Take for example the ‘debate’ that took place on Pakistan’s electronic media over the Kerry-Lugar Bill in which it was quite clear that certain politicians, TV talk show hosts and their audiences among the country’s ever growing chattering classes, who were quick to attack the Bill, had not even read the document!

Their single cue in this respect was the Pakistan Army’s concerns about certain conditions mentioned in the aid bill, and off they went on a rampage.

This may also suggest that the nature of anti-Americanism one often comes across TV news channels in this country, is primarily the animated vocation of two interlinked entities: i.e., electorally weak religious and conservative parties and certain former military men who felt alienated after the American dollars for the anti-Soviet Afghan insurgency dried up.

Couple these with a string of highly-paid TV anchors and televangelists who are ever willing to sacrifice objectivity to grab the ratings-boost that rabid anti-American rhetoric promises and you get burning, blinding hot air all around.

From a perceived friend to an imagined foe

Let’s try to trace the history and evolution of anti-Americanism in Pakistan. According to a research paper written by Dr Talukder Muniruzaman in 1971 on the politics of young Pakistanis, a majority of Pakistanis viewed America positively and admiringly in the 1950s.

The paper also suggests that right up until Pakistan’s 1965 war with India, most Pakistanis saw America as a friend, especially in the context of the Soviet Union’s close ties with India.

According to another lengthy paper (published by Chicago University in 1983) on the ideological orientation of Pakistan’s university students (by Kiren Aziz and Peter McDonough), anti-Americanism among most Pakistanis remained somewhat low even during the celebrated movement (in 1967-68) against the Ayub Khan dictatorshiop – in spite of the fact that the movement was largely led by leftist students, activists and politicians.

Some leading leftist activists of the movement also suggest that there were precious little incidents in which an American flag was torched.  The following is what Badar Hanif, a radical member of the left-wing National Students Federation (NSF)  in the late 1960s,  wrote in a recent email to me: ‘We were focused. We not only wanted to topple the US-backed Ayub dictatorship, but the whole capitalist system.’

When I wrote back asking him whether the US was a target as well, Badar replied: “Some of us were pro-Soviet and some pro-China Marxists. Yes we were against the US, but more due to the fact that soon after Ayub’s fall, the US and the Pakistan military began aiding and backing Islamic parties like Jamat-i-Islami (JI). The JI offered themselves to them to work as a bulwark against the rising leftist tide in educational institutions and the streets.”

The Kiren Aziz and Peter McDonough paper suggests that anti-Americanism in the 1970s was ripe among many Arab countries due to the United States’ single-minded support for Israel, which finally made its way into Pakistani society during the Z.A. Bhutto regime (1972-77). Especially so when Bhutto started to expand his ‘Islamic Socialism’ doctrine at the international level by striking firm relations with various radical Muslim states and Arab countries.

However, the build-up to this was the otherwise sympathetic Richard Nixon’s administration’s failure to militarily help its sub-continental ally during the 1971 war with India.

Seyyed Vali Nasr in his excellent book, ‘Vanguards of the Islamic Revolution’ writes that the religious parties (especially JI)  began attributing the Pakistan Army’s defeat in 1971 to the ‘decadence and debauchery of men like General Yahya Khan’ and due to ‘Pakistanis’ failure to become good Muslims.’ However before that, a large number of Pakistanis began blaming the US because it had ‘failed to help Pakistan in the war.’

In his book ‘Political Dynamics of Sindh 1947-1977’ Tanvir Ahmed Tahir suggests that the post-1971 anti-Americanism in Pakistan was more an occupation of progressive and leftist groups. This is confirmed in Hassan Abbas’ book, ‘Pakistan’s drift into extremism: Allah, the Army and America’s War on Terror’.

This brings us back to the suggestion that I would rather treat as a question: Were the religious parties really being escorted by the US against the perceived threat of a take-over of pro-Soviet forces in Pakistani politics?

Progressive student leaders, activists and politicians of the era would answer in the affirmative. Many of them explain this happening as a consequence of Pakistan religious parties’ strong links with oil-rich Arab monarchies, especially the Saudi Arabia, a country that was a close ally of the US.

Anjum Athar who was associated with the Liberal Students Federation (LSF) at the University of Karachi in 1974-75 once shared with me an interesting observation. He said: “In those days (the ’70s) being socially and politically conservative did not necessarily mean being anti-West. Even the most militant Islamic student groups in the 1970s who wanted the imposition of Shariah were never seen badmouthing the US.”

Athar then added, “The reason behind this was that parties like the JI and IJT and other religious groups were more threatened by the rise of communism, a threat they shared with the US and Saudi Arabia – the two countries that became their main financiers and backers. That is why anti-Americanism was more rampant among Pakistani leftists as compared to the religious parties.”

This trend continued much into the 1980s as well.

In spite of this, America remained Pakistan’s leading aid donor. According to Lubna Rafique’s 1994 paper, ‘Benazir & British Press,’ it was only in the last year of Z.A. Bhutto’s regime (1977), that he started to allude to moving out of the ‘American camp,’ calling the US a ‘white elephant.’ He also went on to accuse the Jimmy Carter administration for financing the religious parties’ agitation against him in 1977.

Throughout the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in the 1980s, anti-Americanism remained a much polarised affair in Pakistan. Most political-religious parties and their supporters, and the industrial/business classes that supported Zia, were either openly pro-America or ambiguous on the subject.

This was due to the fact that Zia was an ‘Islamist’ military dictator who was backed by the Ronald Regan administration with military hardware and dollars during the US proxy war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and against ‘communism in the region’. Consequently, anti-Americanism became even more rampant among those opposing Zia.

For example, though anti-Americanism among most PPP workers and the student wing grew two-fold after Z.A. Bhutto’s ‘judicial murder’ at the hands of the Zia dictatorship, the party’s new chairman, Benazir Bhutto, advised her party to concentrate on the removal of Zia alone.

In 1986 when she returned to Pakistan from exile and was greeted by a mammoth crowd in Lahore, groups of PPP’s student wing, the PSF, began torching a US flag at the crowded rally. Benazir is said to have stopped them from doing this, pointing out that they would not be able to fight a superpower if they weren’t even able to remove a local dictator.

Though by the late 1980s the intensity of anti-Americanism had grown in Pakistan (compared to the preceding decades), it never became violent. The only violent case in this respect had taken place in 1979 in Islamabad when the US consulate was attacked by a crowd enraged and provoked by a broadcast from Iranian state radio that had blamed the US for engineering that take-over of the Ka’aba that year by a group of militants.

Though the notorious take-over of the Muslims’ sacred place was masterminded by a band of armed Saudi fanatics, Iran’s new revolutionary regime under Ayatollah Khomeini, used its media to claim that the attack was backed by ‘American and Zionist forces.’

According to Yaroslav Trofimov’s telling tale of the attack on Ka’aba vividly captured in his book,‘The siege of Mecca’, confusion about who planned and executed the attack arose when the Saudi regime blacked out the news.

Anti-US agitation in Pakistan only rolled back when it became clear that the siege was the work of a group of armed Saudi fanatics to whom even the kingdom’s puritanical Wahabi regime wasn’t puritanical enough!

The switch

In the 1990s as America largely divorced itself from the region after the end of the Afghan civil war, anti-Americanism in the country actually receded and Pakistanis got busy tackling the bitter pitfalls of the Afghan war in the shape of bloody ethnic and sectarian strife.

However, this also meant the drying up of American patronage and funds for religious groups and parties in the country.

Anti-Americanism returned to the fore (but with far more intensity) after the tragic 9/11 episode in 2001 and not surprisingly, the religious groups now became its main purveyors.

According to veteran defense analyst, Hassan Askari, this post-Cold-War version of anti-Americanism in the country is an emotional response of most Pakistanis to the confusion that set in after 9/11.

Naushad Amrohvi, a member of the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKP) in 1972, before leaving for Sweden after the Zia coup said: “Anti-Americanism was more popular with leftist youth before the 1980s. It was more of an intellectual pursuit. We were more into negating the US policies by intellectually attacking capitalism and modern imperialism and for this we read and discussed a lot. We read a lot of Karl Marx, Jean-Paul Sartre, Mao Zedong, Frantz Fanon, Faiz Ahmed Faiz… we even read a lot of Abul Ala Maududi so we could puncture his theories about an Islamic state and tackle the then pro-US Jamat-i-Islami!”

Amrohvi laments the fact that anti-Americanism in Pakistan today has become an excuse to hide one’s own failures: “We wanted to fight America with ideology and politics, and not suicide bombers and naked hatred,” he added.

Columnist Fasi Zaka in one of his columns suggested that the kind of anti-Americanism found these days (among the middle-classes of the country) is extremely ill-informed. He wrote that a lot of young Pakistanis are basing their understanding of international politics by watching low-budget straight-to-video ‘documentaries’ on Youtube!

These so-called documentaries that Zaka is talking about are squarely based on rehashed conspiracy theories that mix age-old anti-Jewish tirades and paranoid fantasies about Zionists, Free Masons and the Illuminati. Locally, all these are then further mixed with flighty myths about certain Muslim leaders, sages and events recorded only in jihadi literature and flimsy ‘history books.’

Thus, the post-9/11 confusion and emotionalism in Pakistan was largely given vent and an ‘intellectual tilt’ by Islamist apologists of all shapes and sizes – among them being those had once been recipients of US funds and patronage during the Cold War.

Whereas there was a prominent streak of individualism and romantic rebellion associated with the anti-Americanism of Pakistani leftists during the Cold War, nothing of the sort can be said about the widespread anti-Americanism found in Pakistan today.

In fact, the present-day phenomenon in this context has become an obligatory part of populist rhetoric in which American involvement is blamed for everything — from terrorist attacks, to the energy crises, to perhaps even the break of dengue fever!

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.



  1. Grim says:

    Sometime I think NFP is the only one that gets it in Pakistan. For those Pakistanis that are crying about US involvement in their country, it probably has something to do with UBL still chilling out in the tribal areas. Wake up Pakistan!!! Your problems are caused internally. How many Indians have strapped bombs to their chest and taken out innocent people over the past few years? Hmmm… all the suicide bombers killing Pakistanis are Pakistani. As far as US aide is concerned, we certainly have not gotten our monies worth to say the least.


  2. talha says:

    as usual paracha sahab has shown how deeply lost he truly is in his own little ‘intellectual’ hole. i hadnt read who the author of the article was but as i was skimming through, i guessed it must be our old friend mr. paracha. Who else can be so blind to the ultimate realities?

  3. H.A says:

    Pakistanis can blame their leaders all they want but pakistanis themselves will have to change first. There seems to be no sense of brotherhood left in the common Pakistani man who wants to work together with his fellow man to make Pakistan a better place to live for himself and his future generations. Only the Mullah’s seem united at this point and do Pakistani’s really want to live under uneducated, hypocritical people?

  4. Nawaz Ansari – USA says:


    You seem to remember the money that was given to Pakistan yet you completely seem to negate the fact that Pakistan has been doing all the dirty work for the US for at least past four decades.

    The turf is ours SIR; we are the victims here that certainly deem you the tormentor and the oppressor. We are the defenders here, yet you are the repeat offender. There is NO “anti-Americanism” in Pakistan, your unwanted interference; intrusion, your ultimate hypocrisy and your double standard are the true reasons for your utmost humiliation in Pakistan.

    The best you can do right now is to pack your bags and get out of the region.

    • Yavr says:

      Sir, you have summed it all in one paragraph. where as Mr. Paracha clearly bypassed it, I think he is himsef a victim of low-budget straight-to-video ‘documentaries’ on Youtube!

    • Hashmat says:

      Nawaz you have summarized the actual situation indeed very well & majority of educated Pakistani’s will tend to agree with your assessment. If USA leaves the region & stops interferring in Pakistan’s internal affairs, then this should definately bring an end to most of the ongoing issues in Pakistan.

  5. ravi – usa says:

    Pakistanis are busy being anti-India, anti-USA, anti -Afghanistan, anti-Iran… They should focus being pro-Pakistan first and building Pakistan for a better tomorrow, and everything will fall in place for a brighter and better Pakistan

    • Suhas Kharbanda says:

      The Pakistanis I have met are very pro-Pakistani and very proud of being Pakistani. But I cant understand what exactly they are they proud of ?

  6. Shigri says:

    Nadeem’s this article seems (unusually) to have lack of understanding of the phenomenon despite having a time-lined literature from the past!

    I am a fan of Nadeem though but this looks somewhat ordinary than what we expect of him.


  7. sal says:

    Yes, you rightly point out some examples why America has been wrongly blamed – but how about some balance?

    What about all the American acts which do deserve contempt. Illegal war in Iraq (not to mention many other aggressive military actions like Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, Nicaragua, attempted coup against Hugo Chavez), sponsoring dictators around the world (Musharraf, Mubarak, Saudi, Saddam etc.). Just saw this headline on today: “US seeks to avoid UN vote on Israeli settlements”.

    And if you say what does this have to do with Pakistan – maybe nothing, but it has everything to do with the Human race…..we need to stand up to the bullies of the world – no matter who they are….

  8. Zahid Khan says:

    Pakistan lives on US dollars ONLY. The day US decides to unplug this ‘charity’ Pakistan will starve to death in less than 12 months. No other country or IMF or World bank, etc. will help either. ( Not even the BEST friend called China, it had never done it any away). It is that simple. You can keep on debating, but the reality doesent change. Why waste time and energy on this issue when Pakistan just cant stand on its own feet even after 61 years!! Period.

  9. sf says:

    There is a saying. yakee go home, yankee go home and take me with you.
    Pakistan is almost a failed state, I say almost and not a failed state only because of American support and help. Come on Pakistanis, stop living in a dream world, get real, you dont want uneducated mullahs to rule you and get Pkistan backward to the 7th century. I said uneducated but what about those Pakistanis who are educated like Lawyers who glorified a killer. These lawyers will be our future judges and leaders. its a shame, what has become of ebucation in Pakistan. These lawyers probably were educated in maddrassas. Stop complaining and hating.
    Regarding Davis he was being followed by 2 thieves who wanted to either rob or kill him and in self defence he shot them. Not too long ago my cousin shot and killed 2 robbers who were breaking into neighbor’s house. He was rewarded, what an unjust and double standard,

    • ASA says:

      “Regarding Davis he was being followed by 2 thieves who wanted to either rob or kill him and in self defence he shot them”

      Yes shotm them in the back from 5o- feet away.
      Exactly what drug was he taking when he felt thretened by two men running away from him or is murderous paranoia a normal condiion of an American?

  10. KD says:

    If USA declares lottery of Visa to migrate to USA when such demonstration against USA is in process, 90% of all demonstrators would quit their march and line up in front of US embassy!!!

  11. Umer Farooq Baloch says:

    Brother from this article, you have actually made me rethink on the principle stand I had on this particular issue. Thanks

  12. ramfromIndia says:

    Lacks the usual punch and clarity of Nadeem…

  13. bahram says:

    give me one god reason why we should be pro american policy (i dont have anything against american people) and id give u a hundred reasons to hate american foriegn policy. btw , ur proving to more of an pro american then pro paki… *sigh*

    • sahil says:

      if you hate america stop using american google , facebook , planes , coco cola , hollywood movies , mobile , computer.

      i wonder you pakistanis cant live in a single without america , i see if pakistanis will be given choice between america green card and heaven they will cose green card .

      not sure have a survey about that .

      americans have save thousands during pakistan floods with out americans choppers atleast 1000s of pakistanis will be washed away is this not enough

      then ask 100000s of pakistan if they want to leave satan america against islamic pakistan i bet if your sister , or daughther is in america even she would not want to come back to pakistan.

      are these reason not enough you want more , i would be sort of space to give reason why pakistan should be pro pakistan

      • khurram says:

        You make no sense my are mixing up two entirely different things..I work for an american based company while i live here in pakistan.even american people agree that they are not happy with the way usa govt is doing in other country affairs.

      • AHK says:

        @Sahil: What does using google, facebook, planes have to do with being pro or anti American?

        Talk some sense.

  14. Goga Nalaik says:

    Dear Nadeem

    Thanks for this nice article.
    But this time, it did’nt really quinch my thirst …

    Your Fan

  15. K.RIAZ says:

    What does Yasir mean when he says”We are need a true leader who control all recently circumstance”?

    One can dislike Zardari and so do I,but have yet to see such a brilliant politician.Let the system continue and it will eventually cleanse itself.

  16. Yasir says:

    we are need a true leader who control all recently circumstance

  17. brighton rodeo says:

    Most Pakistanis hate America but love americans and dollars. Abama knows it pretty well.

  18. ahmed says:

    i found nothing new in NFPs narrative ….can;t the so admired columnist be a bit more original.
    Anti americanism is a fad and transient. it goes high when US applies stick and goes low when US supplies carrots…and this is natural for any living what happens in Pakistan is not unique to Pakistan or Pakistanis,…this phenomenon is prevalent all over the world…and there is no sin in being anti-american. Americanism has become a capitalist doctrine all over the world, i.e control of vast amount of resources/wealth…whether it is Pakistani agriculture landlords, middle-eastern industrialist or Russian oligarchs…that is why when people in Pakistan are fed up with status quo, they start rejecting one zamindar over the industrialist, and vice versa.

  19. anIndian says:

    A very well written article. But is an average Pakistani educated enough to understand it…

  20. Most Pakistanis hate America because they can’t get there.

    • Tariq K Sami says:

      Really do you think that’s what “most Pakistanis” think.
      Sir, people have a life to live and a thousand mundane things to keep them busy.

  21. jfernandez says:

    Do not blame others for your ineffectiveness. You are enjoying more than 60 years of being an independent country and what have you done? Look at other Asian countries which had similar circumstances and where are they now as compared to your country? If there is a will, there is a way!

    • Salman Hasan says:

      I completely agree with jfernandez. As a Pakistani I still believe that no outside powers can change any nation’s destiny. The problem with Pakistan is that we have not yet become a nation. We are four different entities or tribes who only care for their own self-interests. Until these tribes become one nation, indivisible, united and honest, nothing will happen in Pakistan. Powerful bureacrats, landlords, generals, politicians will continue to rob this country by using democracy, Islam and ethnicity. We need moderate, educated, liberal people to rise up and come out on the street like Egyptians did few weeks ago and remind these ruling elite that 170 million plus people cannot take this crap from them anymore and force them to install reforms or they will be thrown out of offices.

    • Tariq K Sami says:

      I think Pakistan has done very well. See you in the World Cup Cricket.

  22. mystic says:

    Americans today admit that they propped up Mubarak’s regime in Egypt for 30 years. Anyone saying that a few weeks ago would be an anecdote in this NFP rant.

  23. Sajid says:

    As always NFP has come up with some interesting views. I would like to have NFP’s views on the following observation:

    While its true that Dollar aid dried up for many religious organization in Pakistan after the US left Afghanistan, we should not forget extensive financial support from SA to madassah-cum-militant-cum-political organizations mainly to confront the challenges posed by Islamic revolution in Iran (also a revolution against US hegemony) and to promote a specific Islamic ideology. It is this financial support from SA that we are experiencing a very sharp divide in this country on the basis of sect.

  24. Pakistanis love US aid, US Green card, US citizenship, US education, US internet, US computer technology, US science and in return they bite the generous US hand that helps them.

    • HS says:

      Pakistan is given the US aid cz US wants to fight against Afghanistan using OUR borders!!! n btw the paki govt needs aid fo their personal use instead of for the whole nation!!..US can stop giving us aid n take their army back fm our borders n after this should stop interfering in other countrys personal n internal issues!

    • Tariq K Sami says:

      Really ! Like Amy Powell would say on Saturday Live.
      I did not understand this US infatuation with Pakistan. Do you?
      Alternately are they stupid or what Mr Robinson. Think about it.

  25. Pokerface says:

    How hypocritical is it that although most Pakistanis supposedly “hate” America with a passion, those very same Pakistanis would do anything to get and American Green card or even a Visa. I believe, that the primary reason for the rise anti-Americanism in Pakistan in recent years is due to closeness between the US & India during the same time frame.

  26. qazi says:

    once mao said America has made all the poor nations its enemy by helping the dictators. in pakistan its inteference is now an open book, how does it is looting it is no secret. take the example of hosni, first it was siding with hosni but later took turn and asked him to accept the people demand and leave the powers. the european media also played biased role at the time of uprising against hosni.

    • Rajiv says:

      Example of Hosni proves that if people have the intelligence to make right choice… even superpower has to support it…

  27. ali says:

    next is pakistan people have to come on streets to show unity and more hate against Us

  28. Nawaz Ansari – USA says:

    A note to Moderator(s)

    As a second generation young Pakistani-American I profoundly disagree with the author and wish to refute him by authoring my thoughts in a civil manner, thus I truly desire to get a fair chance by DAWN.COM to exercise my right to the “freedom of speech”.

  29. Vince says:

    If you hate Americans so much, I would think you’d stop trying to move here.
    Pakistan is a basket case, corruption so pervasive nothing can be accomplished without bribing someone. How does any foreign government deal with the Pakistani Government then? The U.S. donates more to Pakistan than any other country including your great “friends” Saudi Arabia and China. I for one have been writing my congressman and senators demanding that we stop supporting your country and let you solve your own problems. Good luck with the next flood, earthquake or whatever.

    • Mohammed Hassanali says:

      I hope that happens soon. I’ll be the first one to thank the Almighty.

    • Usso says:

      Are You trying tp say tha America is giving fund pakistan without any reaso? can you Answer This Question..How Many American Killed After 9/11? I think its you war We are in….America knows Its pakistan Who can Only Destroy the Tailban/ And Alqaida’s Leadership… And for your infomation…Pakistan Lost more…Pakistani.people. then America in their War Against Afghanistan..and its becuz of america we are getting in worse situation.You won’t understand this becuz its not ur country who is suffering but pakistan. Ask the Men & women who Lost their families…through Suicide Attack…ask a mother who lost his Only son……..i hope you got my point….we are not against America we want america to mind their own business.:)


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The battle over blasphemy – Riz Khan

The battle over blasphemy – Riz Khan.


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Book on Faiz to be launched

Book on Faiz to be launched.

Our correspondent
Monday, January 10, 2011
The News

As 2011 has officially been declared the Faiz Centenary Year, the National Language Authority (NLA) gears up to introduce the first book on Faiz Ahmed Faiz titled ‘Faiz Saddy — Muntakhab Mazameen’. Published by NLA, the book is compiled by renowned poets and scholars Professor Yousaf Hasan and Dr. Rawish Nadeem.

In present times when the identity of the Pakistani people has been severely tarnished by the self-appointed protagonists of religion who are engaged in heinous crimes against humanity, there is no one better than Faiz Ahmed Faiz to project the real self of the nation. Through Faiz, we can show the world that the people of Pakistan are a happy lot — tolerant, accommodating, peaceful, loving and warmhearted. It will be a befitting tribute to the memory of Faiz if this occasion is made the platform to project the real image of Pakistan by widely disseminating his message of humanity, peace and brotherhood.

To start the Faiz’s centenary celebrations, Progressive Writers Union, Islamabad-Rawalpindi chapter, is organising the launching ceremony of the first book on January 13 at the National Language Authority’s Aiwan-e-Urdu, Pitras Bokhari Road, Sector H-8/4, at 3:30 p.m. The ceremony will be chaired by International Islamic University (IIU) Rector Professor Fateh Mohammad Malik and the chief guests will be Professor Yousaf Hasan and Dr. Rawish Nadeem.

Renowned writers and scholars Agha Saleem, Kishwar Naheed, Ahmed Saleem, Ashfaq Saleem Mirza, Haris Khalique and Dr. Salahuddin Derwaish will discuss the contents of the book on Faiz, his poetry and personality.

The PWU had announced earlier that the year 2011 will be the 100th birth anniversary of Faiz, which will be celebrated throughout the world by admirers of this great poet of the twentieth century.

Faiz Ahmad Faiz was one of the most prominent Pakistani poets who won unparalleled global acclaim. He symbolised all that is humane, dignified, refined, brave and challenging and patriotic in Pakistani society. His poetry reflects his intellectual resentment and resistance against an unjust and archaic social order, which he rejects on rational grounds as anti-human; yet it has no bitterness. He remains loving and loveable, respected and respectful.

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India, whose love could have killed him is your source for the latest news about Pakistan, in-depth coverage on national politics and expert opinions.

via India, whose love could have killed him.

India, whose love could have killed him

With fans in Mumbai: Amitabh Bachchan is also visible.

It is an anomalous fact of history that revolutionary poets and icons often if unwittingly usher reaction, which then becomes their patron of sorts. Who would have thought that military usurpers and religious bigots would flaunt Jinnah as their hero, or Gandhi would become the poster boy of zealots that assassinated him.

A similar fate befell Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Pablo Neruda, Bhagat Singh and Hafiz Shirazi too in a way. I once saw strikingly beautiful picture of Che Guevara adorning the work desk of the then CIA station chief in Delhi.

Though credit is seldom given to Neruda, his poetry single-handed fired up South Asia’s Progressive Writers’ Association of which Faiz was a pivot. Neruda stood down as presidential candidate to pave the way for his comrade Salvador Allende to become Chile’s first leftist leader to be elected as head of state. Chile has not recovered from the reaction that came with the CIA-backed military coup.

Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary slogan – Inquilab Zindabad – today leads rallies of blacklegs who broke the workers’ unity in India. It seems ironical that Shirazi survived religious edicts that subverted the sweeping political unity of Iranians to bring in their miraculous revolution. Iran continues to lead the anti-imperialist corner in its own obscurantist way. Credit perhaps goes to Hafiz and other great iconoclasts of that land who evidently continue to mean more to the people than the promise of paradise the mullahs offer.

“And now the national anthem, but you need not rise,” said Frank Sinatra in a live performance in New York as he began to sing My Way. Faiz’s Ham dekhain ge has turned into something of a national anthem too though of people of several countries, not one. The promise of the hereafter in this poem has inspired everyone in India (as it did in Pakistan) from the left to the right of the spectrum. Here is how Arundhati Roy experienced it amid Maoist rebels in the forests of Chhattisgarh. An excerpt from her essay Walking Among the Comrades:

“Comrade Sukhdev asks if he can download the music from my Ipod into his computer. We listen to a recording of Iqbal Bano singing FaizAhmed Faiz’s Ham Dekhain ge (We will Witness the Day) at the famous concert in Lahore at the height of the repression during the Ziaul Haq years. The home minister has been issuing veiled threats to those who ‘erroneously offer intellectual and material support to the Maoists’. Does sharing Iqbal Bano qualify?”

Away from the glare of India’s corporate media, Faiz has enthused the left-liberal campaign to free Dr Binayak Sen, convicted in Chhattisgarh on sedition charges for alleged proximity with Maoists. Now here is an irony. The undivided communist party in India lionized Faiz. Then the party split into many splinters, which weakened and eventually all but erased its cultural bulwarks like IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association). The bitter truth is that Faiz’s splintered partisans are now lunging at each other. I have seen his family members being feted by the Communist Party of India (Marxist, CPI-M and others) in parliamentary left. However, Faiz is perhaps better embraced by the so-called hardliners within the left, who do not see eye to eye not with the CPI-M leaders.

An open letter from Ilina Sen, wife of Binayak, shows Faiz’s continued relevance to the left. Excerpts from the letter:

“Dear Friends,
“…Speaking out against the conviction and incarceration of Dr Binayak Sen has to be seen in that larger context of lending our voice against the gross injustice that we witness as a daily happening in India day after day.
“Today when we demand his release we must also raise our voice against all those who remain hungry, malnourished, and without secure means of livelihood, as well as those who have been dispossessed, killed, tortured, humiliated, disappeared, threatened, arbitrarily detained and arrested, falsely charged and under surveillance because of their legitimate work in upholding democratic rights and fundamental freedoms…
“I would like to end with a verse of Faiz:
Bol ke lab aazaad hain tere/ bol zabaan ab tak teri hai/ tera sutvaan jism hai tera/ bol ke jaan ab tak teri hai…”

Smug Indian commentators like to contrast the supposedly superior democratic culture of India’s people with the supposed passivity of Pakistan’s people – but it is Pakistan that gave us that immortal moment of democratic culture – where thousands of people sang of revolution courtesy a communist poet, who had drawn upon progressive traditions within Islam to confront the zealot Zia. Iqbal Bano’s – as the people of the subcontinent confront the tyrannies of their governments, of imperialism and of jingoistic hate-mongering — will be the voice that will reflect their unity, their defiance, their confidence that one day, tyranny will be defeated and the people will triumph.

Faiz’s links with India evolved with its politics. Between the ‘50s and ‘70s, Sheila Bhatia, Champa Mangat Rai, Mariam Bilgrami led the women’s flank of the Faiz Ahmed Faiz fan club in India. Fawning men came from the sprawling communist movement, progressive writers’ club, leftists from the Congress party, the Lahore school tie, most notably those perched high up in the Indian bureaucracy. Those who can still remember can be tapped to vividly recount the soirees late into the night when Faiz was loved and lionized in Delhi.

Syed Mohammed Mehdi, pushing 90, recalls one such evening after theatre diva Sheila Bhatia staged the play ‘Dard Ayega Dabe Paon’, based on Faiz’s work. Sheila and her partner Haali Vats, a former underground gunrunner for the communist party, had known Faiz from Lahore and they were his constant hosts in Delhi. Punjabi folk singer, the strikingly beautiful Madanbala Sandhu recited Faiz all night. Sheila danced with the troupe. Faiz sipped and smoked. And then he whispered to Mehdi: “With so much love coursing through my veins and with such doting friends surrounding me, I won’t mind dying tonight.”

Not too long after that, in a manner of speaking, Faiz was all but killed in India anyway, not by a magical night that overwhelmed his finer senses but by the palpable failure of the left movement. Indira Gandhi had inherited a leftward leaning aura from her father. And so her cabinet did reflect that politics. D.P. Dhar and Inder Gujral were among Faiz’s admirers. With Rajiv Gandhi’s advent the battle for the left was all but over.

The last time I heard Faiz in a major public rally was in 1990 when it was led by rightwing upper caste Hindus who were agitating against the affirmative action proposed in the Mandal Commission report. Rajiv Goswami, a Brahmin opposed to the Mandal report, had set himself on fire. There was commotion and police firing. News Track video magazine (parent of Headlines Today and Aaj Tak) was running the story with the chant of Iqbal Bano’s anthem penned by Faiz.

—The writer is Dawn’s Correspondent in Delhi

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Translating Faiz is your source for the latest breaking news, current events and top stories from Pakistan, South Asia and the world.

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Translating Faiz

Potrait by Bashir Mirza, courtesy of Karachi Press Club – Photo by Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

When a friend once told Faiz that another friend, and well known economist, was planning to translate Faiz’s poetry into English, Faiz just smiled and clucked and said nothing. We insisted that he express an opinion, and eventually succeeded in extracting the kind of gem of wisdom that only comes from a lifetime of learning and patience, “Before you set out to translate poetry from one language to another…” Faiz said, “you should make sure that you know… at least one of the bloody languages”!

Which is my way of saying that I have no claims, nor even pretenses to knowing either language! I learnt my English from comic books, from Superman and The Lone Ranger, maybe even Tonto; and I was never formally taught Urdu, perhaps because there were no comic books. And yet herewith around 50 of Faiz’s poems in English, by me, for whatever they are worth.

I suppose the motive was what it always is with such endeavours: You come upon something which gives you immense pleasure, and there is the irresistible urge to share it with others, and to share it by somehow putting in your own two bits worth. That is why poetry is set to music, and people dance to it; and if they can neither sing nor dance they render it into English.

These were done over many years, piecemeal, whenever fancy struck, and put away in a bottom drawer, until kind friends came upon some of them and encouraged me to think of publishing them, “You may waste a bit of paper but no permanent harm will ensue.” Fortunately, they were also able to talk Salima into trying her hand at creating visuals to go along.

Fortunate because one has always felt that the very nature of Faiz’s verse is so amorphous that the usual way of illustrating poetry — taking up a single verse and creating an image of it – will simply not work, as it hasn’t when it has been tried. Really, the only thing to do is somehow to catch and capture the hue that pervades a poem – and the first requisite of that is to be convinced that that is the way to do it.

The bottom line, I guess, at least for my part of this is that it is an act of self-indulgence; happily for you that absolves you of a few responsibilities. It absolves you of the necessity of reading the translations, or of liking them. Certainly it absolves you of the responsibility, if you don’t like them, of telling me.

Likewise, it absolves me of a few responsibilities. The first is any responsibility for transitional accuracy. These are not translations for a textbook, and I have admitted the indulgence involved, and so many times if an English phrase appealed to me which did not accurately match the Urdu words, I have used it. Second, it absolves me of any responsibility for the choice of works. It you do not find your own particular favourite among the poems selected by me, too bad!

…The… very well known poem, Mujh Se Pehli Si Muhabbat presents… difficulties, as it…says it all in the first line. I was roped into translating it for a Conference at Columbia University. Fortunately, it is different from the first in that the first line is more a summation of what comes after than an anticipation, and so there was the opportunity to neatly side-step it.

Faiz never said so, but I have always felt that somewhere deep down in his unconscious he knew that he was going to be the last of the practitioners of classical Urdu poetry — and so in many instances when he writes on a subject, I read an attempt to sum up and round off and say the final word on what has been said before. There is, for instance, Bahaar Aaee. If you look for it you will find that it seems to be saying this is what our poetry has had to say of Spring. Perhaps Dasht-i-Tanhaee too is like that…

Excerpted from ‘Foreword — A disclaimer’ from the following book Aaj ke Naam: A Song For This Day; 52 Poems by  Faiz Ahmed Faiz – Translated by Shoaib Hashmi

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Darling of the singers is your source for the latest breaking news, current events and top stories from Pakistan, South Asia and the world.

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Darling of the singers

Asif Noorani | InpaperMagzine


Tina Sani: The favourite poet? Definitely.

Way back in 1969 when Begum Akhtar was visiting Karachi, the Gramophone Company of Pakistan (later EMI), arranged a music evening with her on their sprawling lawns.

Only hardcore lovers of ghazal and semi-classical music were glued to their seats in the post-dinner session. Faiz was sitting in the first row and Begum Akhtar, noticing his presence, enthused “Faiz Saheb hamare Hindustan mein, khas taur par shumali Hindustan mein aapka kalaam barre shauq se suna jaata hai” (In India, particularly in northern India, your poetry is listened to with great enthusiasm). The next moment she burst into Sham-i-firaaq ab na poochh.

It was, and still is, an honour for any singer to render Faiz, just as it is to sing Ghalib. From Ustad Barkat Ali Khan to Mehdi Hasan and from Farida Khanum to Hadiqa Kayani, not to speak of the thrush-throated Firdausi Begum, almost every singer of repute has interpreted Faiz musically in his or her own manner.

Some film makers included songs based on his poems, the most famous of all was Noor Jahan’s Mujh se pehli si muhabbat, which she used to sing in small concerts but later rerecorded it for the movie Qaidi.

Then there was the ‘hijacking’ of Gulon mein rang bhare, which the Gramophone Company recorded in the voice of Mehdi Hasan, who had been rendering it in concerts.

Director Khaleel Qaisar had recorded and filmed the same ghazal in the voice of Naseem Begum for his movie Farangi but when he heard the Gramophone Company’s recording, he insisted on ‘buying’ it for his movie. His persistence bore fruit.

In Shaheed, an earlier movie, he had got Masood Rana to render a Faiz nazm, Nisaar mein teri galiyon ke aye watan but the song could not click. Maybe Mehdi Hasan or Ahmed Rushdi could have done a better job. In India, Muzaffar Ali got Khayyam to record the famous Faiz nazm Kab haath mein tera haath naheen for his off-beat movie Anjuman.

The movie could not be released commercially and one reason was that the score of Ali’s film did not appeal to the masses. The second odd thing was that the filmmaker and the composer did not get professional singers to record the songs for the movie, only one of which was a Faiz poem.

Incidentally, the nazm has been sung by Tina Sani for the album which was released last week to mark the birth anniversary of the great poet. The cover version is an improvement over the original.

Iqbal Bano’s repertoire consists of at least two highly applauded Faiz poems Dasht-i-tanhai (so beautifully tuned by Mehdi Zaheer) and the revolutionary Ham dekhen ge.

Farida Khanum had earned her reputation rendering the ghazals of Dagh, and later Faiz, whose Chand nikle, Sab qatl ho ke, Na ganwaon navak-i-neemkash and Yoon saja chand are priceless numbers.

When Talat Mahmood came on a private visit to Karachi in the early 1960s he recorded two Faiz numbers for the Gramophone Company, one of which Donon jahan teri muhabbat mein haar ke ranks among the singer’s best non-film numbers.

No discussion on the musical exposition of Faiz’s poems can be complete without mentioning the priceless album Nayyara sings Faiz, which had brilliant compositions by Arshad Mahmud and Shahid Toosy. It was rehearsed and recorded in a matter of days.

EMI produced the long play record to present to Faiz on his 65th birthday. The sequel which was to be released the following year – 1977, was delayed. Now, 34 years later, it is being released, with some numbers having been rerecorded by Arshad Mahmud.

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Behind bars with Faiz is your source for the latest news about Pakistan, in-depth coverage on national politics and expert opinions.

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Behind bars with Faiz

By Sibte Hasan | InpaperMagzine

Faiz Saheb was never in a hurry nor was he ever nervous. He was always cool and collected.

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)

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An all-embracing man is your source for the latest breaking news, current events and top stories from Pakistan, South Asia and the world.

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An all-embracing man

Sayeed Hasan Khan | InpaperMagzine

Faiz with his wife outside of a home. – Photo on file

Faiz Ahmed Faiz taught at the MAO College, Amritsar along with Mahmuduzafar, who was a member of the Communist Party of India. It was the period of 1930s when communist inspired progressive writers association was formed. Faiz was part of it along with Sajjad Zaheer and other writers.

Later the Second World War started between democracies and the fascist dictatorships of Germany and Italy; the left in India chose to support the democracies, particularly when Soviet Union joined the Allies and it became for them the people’s war. But before that, during a short interval of Hitler and Stalin partnership, communists in India were neutral and called the war an imperialist war, which left a black mark on them among political activist who were fighting the British.

Faiz joined the propaganda setup of the Government of India and donned the military uniform. After the war he became active in journalism and was appointed the Editor of The Pakistan Times which started its publication just before independence from Lahore. The founder and owner of the paper was a left oriented politician, Mian Iftikahruddin, who encouraged the entry of communists on the staff which soon made the paper very popular as it was promoting social and economic causes with Faiz at the head of it.

While active in journalism, Faiz was also selected to represent the trade unions as a delegate at the tripartite conference of International Labour Organisation at Geneva. Prof George Fischer, who was active in the French resistance, was representing France as a labour delegate. Both Faiz and Fischer became very good friends. Fischer later became a well known author and academic at the scientific institute in Paris. He is still alive at 94 and remembers Faiz fondly. I had a chance of staying with him at his villa in south of France along with Faiz Saheb during the 1970s. During these visits to Fischer one day we, including Faiz, went to dine at a restaurant which used to be a regular eating place of Lenin in the days of his exile.

The amazing quality of Faiz which I noticed was that he never liked to argue. Once A Rahim, a pro-communist Lahore publisher, who was known to him kept on pushing him to make comments on the Sino-Soviet conflict. Rahim himself was very critical of Russia. Faiz quietly listened to him for some time and then said, “Kya Wahabi ho gaye ho, Bhai?’’ That was his typical way of reacting to unnecessary provocation.

When I joined Government College, Lahore, I was living in the Quadrangle Hostel where Sufi Tabassum was the superintendent. It was common knowledge among the residents that Faiz Saheb, Sufi Saheb, along with Dr Taseer regularly gathered at (Patra) Bokhari Saheb’s house, the principal’s lodge on the campus for a convivial evening. I knew Bokhari Saheb and wished to meet Faiz in those surroundings but an occasion did not arise. He was the Chief Editor of The Pakistan Times and I wanted to write on student affairs. Later on I got the chance of seeing and meeting him in 1951 at close quarters at Agha Hamid’s wedding on Davis Road, Lahore, where I lived next door. Agha Saheb was the prime minister of the Kalat state at the time. I noticed that most of the time Faiz, Agha Hamid and the chief secretary of Punjab M S A Baig were sitting together and enjoying the party. If I remember correctly, Faiz also recited some of his poems. The following morning he was arrested, accused of treason in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case.

I still, often wonder whether the two important functionaries of the government knew what was going to happen to their companion that evening. Faiz spent more than four years in jail and when he was released, after staying for some time in Lahore he left for Karachi to become the Principal of Sir Abdullah Haroon College. Karachi gained what Lahore lost.

I left for England in 1961 and it was there that I had the chance of knowing him well. He was always invited during his visits to London by the BBC Urdu service to recite his poems. Later on we would sit with him in the club and spend hours talking. One day we came out of the Bush House and were waiting for a taxi when a Pakistani from Lahore saw us and recognised Faiz. He approached us, and after introducing himself insisted on take us out to dinner at a restaurant he owned. Faiz in his usual way accepted the offer as he hated to say no to anybody.

It was in 1989 that I got a call from a lady staying at the Holiday Inn in Karachi. Naomi Lazard who got my address from a common friend was invited by US information services to speak on Faiz in 12 cities of the subcontinent in 24 days. She was fed up with this busy schedule and tired of staying in hotels. I asked her to stay with me which she gladly accepted but said that she would do so after doing her last assignment at Bhopal in India.

She had translated Faiz by then and become friends with him. She had met him at the East West Center in Honolulu. When I asked what she and Faiz Saheb, both leftists, were you doing in that shady place, she laughed and said that they themselves discussed this. It was an international literary conference being held there where both had been invited. When she came to stay with us and spend more than a month traveling with me to Lahore and Islamabad, she told many stories about Faiz.We have become very good friends and we remain in touch.

Yesterday in the middle of this writing I got a call from her from New Hampton in USA. It was good luck. I asked her to refresh my memories about the anecdotes she had told me about Faiz. The following morning I got an email from her which I want to share with Dawn readers as it is. She writes the following anecdote:

“Faiz was asthmatic. When he walked he coughed and wheezed. Walking upstairs was especially difficult. In the wisdom of the conference managers he was assigned a room on the top floor of the East West Center where we were all housed. Faiz said nothing, he was not a complainer. It was three flights up. But I couldn’t bear to hear his laboured breathing on the stairs. I went to the supervisors of the establishment and offered to exchange my room for his. They did better than that. They gave him a room, as I remember, on the ground floor. Much better.”

Then we went to an acupuncturist. I went first because he was so sceptical. I went for a reconnaissance visit to test it and report back. It went well. I didn’t actually need it but it was so pleasant I fell asleep while the needles were stuck in me. Then Faiz went and I think it helped him. He had various problems, the constant wheezing, the heavy cough.”

“One night we decided to get away from the East West Center and eat dinner at a restaurant. The maitre d’ was Pakistani. He and Faiz exchanged some words. I don’t remember anything about the meal except that when we got up to leave a small crowd of Pakistanis came toward us. They had heard from the maitre d’ that Faiz was there. From that moment on there was always a crowd of Pakistanis who lived and worked in Hawaii accompanying Faiz. Many of them were on the faculty of the university. They became a sort of honour guard for Faiz, a very lively and interesting honour guard.”

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Meeting Faiz is your source for the latest breaking news, current events and top stories from Pakistan, South Asia and the world.

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Meeting Faiz

Harris Khalique | InpaperMagzine

When three men and Begum Majeed Malik settled down and discussed contemporary politics and Zia’s martial rule, the situation in Palestine and Lebanon, the difficult times faced by artists, writers and journalists in our country and the possibility of return to a democratic order, I listened to them intently while couching in a deep leather sofa by the window, writes Khalique. – Photo on file

It was 1983. The place was Begum Amina Majeed Malik’s drawing room in Karachi. I was 16 and accompanied my father and his friend, Mahmood Faridoon, to meet the man who had challenged oppression and inequality all his life. Mahmood Faridoon was editing a publication on film and television and wanted this man, who also indulged into films like other fields of art and culture, to write a piece for his publication.

We were there to meet the most celebrated poet, educationist, trade unionist, political worker, true champion of the rights of the wretched of the earth and the greatest living literary and cultural icon of the country.
When three men and Begum Majeed Malik settled down and discussed contemporary politics and Zia’s martial rule, the situation in Palestine and Lebanon, the difficult times faced by artists, writers and journalists in our country and the possibility of return to a democratic order, I listened to them intently while couching in a deep leather sofa by the window. Faiz would keep clearing his throat while speaking before finally asking Begum Majeed Malik for a cough syrup. Oblivious of dropping it on the thick carpet and leaving stains, he kept pouring the syrup again and again into a small spoon and sipped from it until the bottle was almost done. Then he asked for some paper and took less than 20 minutes to write in long hand a piece for Faridoon.

After a while, Faiz turned his head towards me but asked my father, “Khalique Mian, Sahibzade, coffee bana lete hain kya (Does your son know how to make coffee)?” I nodded and walked up to the trolley sitting in the middle of the room. He then said, “Ham zara strong kaali coffee piyen ge, na doodh na shakar (I will have strong black coffee, no milk, no sugar).” Faridoon had read through Faiz’s piece by that time. He said, “Faiz Saheb, Aap ka Angrezi ka idiom bhi khoob hai (You write such impressive idiomatic English).” At the same time, I handed him his cup of coffee. Faiz thanked me, looked at Faridoon, and said, “Bhui aaj kal hamare bachche bas Angrezi parh rahe hain. Yeh theek nahin hai. Angrezi bhi zaroor parhein magar apni zaban to aani hi chahiye (See, our children these days study English only. That’s not good enough. They should learn English but must know their own language as well).”

He then related an incident, which I have quoted once before in a paper on language issues in Pakistan. Faiz told us that once he had to travel to Moscow via Delhi because there were no direct flights from Pakistan to the USSR. After dinner at a senior Pakistani diplomat’s residence in Delhi, his young son asked Faiz for an autograph. Faiz inscribed one of his verses and put his signature. The boy looked at his autograph book in amazement and asked Faiz, “Uncle, you know such good English. Dad told me you were the editor of a leading newspaper also and you have given me the autograph in the Khansaman (cook)’s language?” I could see that it was Faiz’s way of conveying to me and my generation that we needed to stay rooted, grow a solid trunk and then branch out wherever we wished to.

Roots are not just about the language. It is about our vantage point, how we view the world, where do we stand, position ourselves and connect with the suffering around us. Faiz was an internationalist who spent years abroad and worked closely with Progressive Writers’ Association, Palestinian freedom movement, anti-imperialist forces worldwide, Afro-Asian writers and labour movements in South Asia. But his narrative emerged from the culture he belonged to. I see him as a Marxist-Nativist who did not find a problem in bringing the metaphors offered by Islam, the Indo-Persian civilisation and the green fields of Punjab into the folds of his universal poetry.

While growing up I felt myself closer to the works of Noon Meem Rashid, Majeed Amjad and Akhtar-ul-Iman from among the major contemporaries of Faiz. I revere them as much as I revere him for their sensitivity, craft and aesthetic appeal. But what makes Faiz most significant are his political consciousness and a deep sense of history of human struggle which have a unique bearing on our times. By far, he is the most relevant poet and reading him instils hope in our struggle for a just, egalitarian and dignified society.

–The writer is a poet, columnist, literary and civil society activist

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No one like him is your source for the latest news about Pakistan, in-depth coverage on national politics and expert opinions.

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No one like him

By Zehra Nigah | InpaperMagzine

At the BBC mushaira, London (L to R): Iftikhar Arif, Jameela Dehlvi, Shohrat Bukhari, Gopi Chand Narang, Faiz, Zehra Nigah and Ahmed Faraz

I got to know of Faiz Saheb through his book, Naqsh-i-Faryadi. I was in school in Karachi, around 1951-52. A very dear friend of mine and I read Naqsh-i-Faryadi together. I memorised many of the poems; me and my friend realised that this poetry was somewhat different from any poetry we had read before. Then we came across Ada Jafri’s verse, which made me realise that a woman too can write contemporary verse, so I tried my hand at poetry while still in school.

Time passed, and I went on to take part in mushairas, but had not yet met Faiz Saheb, because those were the years when he had been imprisoned. After he was released, I remember, I went to Lahore for a mushaira at Islamia College. There I met Faiz Saheb’s wife and his daughters. They invited me to their house, which used to be opposite the Lahore radio station. I was finally introduced to Faiz Saheb. But it was not until I got married in 1958 that I started meeting him more often. My husband, Majid, was very fond of Faiz Saheb. Later Majid’s job took us to Pindi and Islamabad, where Faiz Saheb used to come from Lahore quite regularly and we met.

I remember the night when one of his dear friends had died and he was very upset. We brought him to our house and late into the morning hours he kept talking about the departed soul and the sense of loss that he felt. I think that was the beginning of a long association that we would have with him in the years ahead. Now we met often enough to feel that we were among his friends, though we never felt equal to him; we just couldn’t.

My husband and I went on to live in Abu Dhabi; later his job took him to London. It was there that Faiz Saheb would become a regular visitor. In those days he was editing Lotus in Beirut, and would hop over to London every now and then. In the letters written to Iftikhar Arif (Banaam Iftikhar Arif, Islamabad, 2011), Faiz Saheb mentioned me and Majid quite regularly. He did not correspond with me much but did so regularly with my husband. But Majid believed that if someone the stature of Faiz wrote to you, of his feelings and thoughts, then such writing should be destroyed after reading; and this he did very promptly. However, I have held on to two letters that Faiz Saheb wrote to me.

Back in the London days, Faiz Saheb came and stay in London war broke out in Lebanon and Beirut was no longer a safe place to be. Ideally, he wanted to go be back to Lahore but those were Ziaul Haq years, and he stayed put in London instead. I got to know him from up close those days, the kind and considerate person that he was. He was very well mannered and caring. Little things that he did revealed that. He would read a number of papers every morning; was very fond of reading, but afterwards, he would fold back each and every paper properly so that I didn’t have to do that. He would also make his bed, not something that other guests staying at our place would do. I would stop him but he would insist on helping out with little chores.

Once he went off in the evening with Kahlid Hasan and Athar Ali Saheb, and got late. He would always call to say if he was getting late. That night also he called. He came back very late. I was up and opened the door. He stood there and apologised profusely. He would not come in and insisted that I wake up my son, Nomi, saying he knew it was very late and that I should go retire now. I woke up Nauman who walked him to his room, and told me the next morning that he did not want to inconvenience me any longer than he already had, and so he asked for Nomi to show him to his room. I don’t recall any other house-guest being so considerate.

He liked omelet a lot; had a day marked for it. But if we stayed up late (he would just start talking about Sialkot and the old days, speak very admiringly of Iqbal, Maulvi Mir Hasan, Sufi Tabassum, etc.; time would just fly), he would insist that he have cereal in the morning just to save me the trouble of making an omelet, which he liked with onions and other fix-ins. He would insist I retire and sleep late; that he would have corn flakes for breakfast by himself.

The last time he came to London a friend asked him why he was not drinking anymore. He replied he wasn’t keeping all too well. The friend insisted, “You’re above 70, have lived a full life, why worry about health at this age?” Faiz Saheb stated very steadfastly, “Bhai, I am not worried about me, nor am I afraid of death, but I must worry about those who would have to tend to me if I am not well.”

His nostalgia for Pakistan, his love for the country, would not let him be at rest. He would reminisce incessantly about Sialkot, his brothers, the streets there, the culture of his childhood. He longed to be back in Pakistan. What kept him from going back was his nigraani, not being allowed by the Zia regime to come and go as he pleased.

Later, after his return to Lahore, once at my brother Ahmed’s house in Karachi, Faraz confronted Faiz Saheb thus: “Why did you go to meet Ziaul Haq?” He said we had the right to ask and know, and explained, “The president asked me what he could do for me to stay in Pakistan. I told him that I did not want nigraani by his men; I should be free to come and go wherever I want. Then I requested him to issue a statement about Josh Saheb who had just passed away. He was a big poet and scholar, and the president should honour him posthumously.” A presidential statement honouring Josh Saheb was issued promptly.

Faiz Saheb never spoke ill of anyone, not even of people who used to speak ill of him. I asked him if this was just a ‘pose’, for surely he must have thoughts about people which he kept to himself. With his exemplary composure, he said he had trained himself in a way that no vitriol ever reached him. “I just switch myself off to all such talk,” he responded.

Once a big poet came to London and spoke out of turn and very ill of Faiz. Some days later Faiz Saheb was also in London and wanted to go see that poet. I stopped him, and he asked, “Why, he is my senior, I must pay my respects to him?” I told him what the gentleman had said about him, and which I had heard myself. He said to me: “Zehra Begum, why do you lend your ear to talk in such bad taste?” He turned the whole thing around and made it my problem. I learnt a lot from this.

Then, once at a wedding, a man came to sit next to him at our table. Soon he reprimanded Faiz Saheb for smoking and asked him how many cigarettes he consumed a day and for how many years. Then he took out his calculator, did the arithmetic and said, ‘You have burnt some four lakh and so many thousands on smoking.’ Faiz Saheb smiled and said, “Just as well, for I really wouldn’t have known what to do with so much money!” He was very patient with people.

Another incidence comes to mind. He had just come to London from Beirut and we were invited somewhere, the kind of people who were very uptight and overly conscious of their status. I reluctantly asked Faiz Saheb, “If it’s not against your principles, perhaps you could consider joining us.” Faiz Saheb told me, “I thought better of you than to ask this silly question. Principles have to do with what you write, what you say, what you struggle for. What principle bars you from dining with people? By all means take me along.” The spic and span hostess not only showed him around the house but probably also told him which decoration pieces cost how much. Again, he was very patient, even looked happy.

Once I asked him, what should an ideal woman have. He responded, “She should be intelligent and dilkash (appealing)”; he used the word dilkash and not beautiful, though he was very fond of beauty.

Me and my family have been very lucky to have such lasting memories of Faiz Saheb. It’s humbling. We may not have been entirely worthy of it, but God has been very kind to us. He wanted to take us around in Pakistan; wanted us to spend more time in Lahore when we came, take us to Sialkot, and to his village. “What have you seen in Lahore if you haven’t met Ustad Daman and Dr Nazir Ahmed? I’ll introduce you to them,” he promised.

My only regret is that he wanted me to do translations of Mouin Besseiso and Mehmood Darwish with him; that he would explain the work and I would do poetic translations. He had suggested the project the last time we met in London. But that was not to be.

–Zehra Nigah spoke to Murtaza Razvi

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