Category Archives: Faiz Ahmad Faiz

Book on Faiz to be launched

Book on Faiz to be launched.

Our correspondent
Monday, January 10, 2011
The News
Islamabad

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

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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

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via Translating Faiz.

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

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via Darling of the singers.

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

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via Behind bars with Faiz.

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

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via An all-embracing man.

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

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via Meeting Faiz.

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

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via No one like him.

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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The many colours of Faiz’s company

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via The many colours of Faiz’s company.

The many colours of Faiz’s company

By I.A. Rehman | InpaperMagzine
DAWN
faiz ahmed iqbal bano

With Iqbal Bano, whom Faiz had gifted his poem Dasht-i-tanhaai

At the height of his fame, Faiz Ahmed Faiz was one of the most eagerly sought after Pakistanis, not only in his home country but also in many foreign lands. People belonging to different walks of life and subscribing to different schools of thought wanted to enjoy his company, hoping to hear from his own mouth the latest verse he had written or some of the old favourite lines, and even to share his moments of silence. For them Faiz was excellent company in whatever mood they found him.

However, to a greater extent than in the case of most eminent persons the nature and quality of Faiz’s company varied with his progress in the several fields of life that he chose for himself or were chosen for him by circumstances. By his own account his personality formation began when he joined the graduation classes at Lahore’s Government College. He did have a few friends whom he joined in doing “what is done in youth” but except for developing a taste for classical music in Khwaja Khurshid Anwar’s company (while the latter tried to write poetry), he preferred to savour the romance of life by himself.

While teaching at the MAO College in Amristar, one of the most important phases of his life, Faiz found himself in a group of dynamic personalities – Taseer, Mahmuduz Zafar, Rasheed Jahan – and most of the people noted that the young poet was given to brooding in silence. Only a few looked up to him for lively company, including Alys or some youthful lovers of romantic poetry for which he was beginning to be known. But as his involvement with the Progressive Writers’ Association, trade unions and political movements grew Faiz’s company began to be sought by fellow writers, trade union workers and political activists. Companionship of such partners in struggle brought into Faiz’s company a discourse sustained by a shared striving for a better life, especially for the under-privileged.

This phase continued during Faiz’s service in the British Indian army, because the radio community in Delhi included quite a few prominent writers and Faiz found it possible to contribute to the literary enrichment of the groups to which he belonged. Faiz’s company acquired a new colour when he became editor of The Pakistan Times. He began to attract people who wanted something good to be done for the community. The provincial governor wrote a confidential letter to the Viceroy recommending a civil servant for high-grade service to the Empire and the letter was entrusted to a CID official to be delivered to the Viceroy’s secretary in Delhi by hand. The official brought the letter to Faiz and he without hesitation published it.

His company also attracted men in authority. He received information of the Quaid-i-Azam’s death, probably from a high-placed source in the Governor House, a couple of hours before the news was put on the air. The result was the publication of a marvelous supplement of Imroze the same evening, an issue worth keeping in libraries.

As the editor of The Pakistan Times, Faiz often gave his reporters tips about news stories ripe for reporting instead of the reporters informing him of developments worth noting. He also demonstrated an ability to unobtrusively inspire members of his staff to deliver to the best of their abilities. As a result of these qualities Faiz’s company was sought by journalists and columnists and many fell under the spell of his instruction which was different from the standard ways of teaching.

The value of Faiz’s company in prison has been fairly comprehensively documented by Sajjad Zaheer, Zafrullah Poshni and Ishaq Mohammed. His prison-mates found his poetry, his optimism, his wit and his very presence helpful in keeping their spirits high and cheerfully facing the rigours of captivity.

By the time Faiz regained freedom in 1955, after four years in prison, he had become a celebrity and his company was cherished by people who had accomplished something on their own. Many of them were attracted by Faiz’s adherence to the most endearing features of eastern culture – modesty and brevity in speech, unfailing regard for his teachers and seniors in age – Bokhari Saheb, Taseer Saheb, Sufi (Tabasum) Saheb. Hasrat Saheb, Majid (Malik) Saheb, Josh Saheb and Salik Saheb, and also for younger poets such as Zehra Nigah, Ahmad Faraz, Kishwar Naheed and Habib Jalib, and colleagues in labour unions and young scholars. Except for an occasional, and poor, attempt at ribaldry induced by intimates at a gossip party, he suffered from a congenital inability to use coarse language.

To what extent Faiz’s words could persuade people, young persons in particular, to bring their talent into play became evident during the period he worked as the Secretary of the Lahore Arts Council. Any young person who had an idea that he wished to express in verse or in a play trudged to the modest office of the Arts Council, enjoyed tea at a make-shift reed-lined canteen, rubbed shoulders with other budding writers/artists, and thus kept the flame of creativity in his heart alive. Faiz listened to every caller with interest and soon became known for telling everyone to start doing whatever one’s heart was urging him/her to undertake.

Forced by a foul-mouthed governor (who gave the title of an Alsatian dog to the police official he had selected for harassing the poet), Faiz migrated to Karachi. Many of the people who doted on Faiz in the industrial-commercial metropolis had nothing to do with the pursuits that were valued by him. Their sole qualification for having Faiz in their midst was their ability to pay for his entertainment and impress sizeable crowds with their resourcefulness. Quite a few of his friends, especially in Lahore, started worrying about the effect of ‘bad company’ on him. But in this situation Faiz further developed his art of switching off his mind if the company became incongenial to his refined sensibility, or when “what I say or think does not get registered with the audience”, as he told the present writer.

Faiz often resorted to this ability to detach himself from his surroundings in periods of exile, when the poet whose company was sought by an increasing number of well-wishers found loneliness unbearable and out went the cry of anguish

یار آشنا نہیں کوئی، ٹکرائیں کس سے جام
کس دلربا کے نام پہ خالی سُبو کریں
or

سرِ کوئے نا شنایاں
ہمیں دن سے رات کرنا
کبھی اس سے بات کرنا
کبھی اُس سے بات کرنا
تمہیں کیا کہوں کہ کیا ہے
شبِ غم بُری بلا ہے

or

یہ آئے سب میرے ملنے والے
کہ جن سے دن رات واسطا ہے
یہ کون کب آیا، کب گیا ہے
نگاہ و دل کی خبر کہاں ہے،
خیال سُوئے وطن رواں ہے

In Faiz’s company many normally dumb persons discovered their voice for he persuaded them in a way that made them feel important. He set an example for others by declining to express his views on matters he was not familiar with. On such occasions he would ask anyone in the company to throw light on the subject. There could, however, be situations when he would volunteer his views on a major development at home or abroad or when he was provoked into joining a debate on literature or politics. Once in a while he could get angry too, if an outlandish thought was introduced in the debate. The strongest word of censure he could use (that too rarely) for anyone who was beyond redemption was paji (wicked).

He had a unique way of encouraging young writers and defending friends against unfair attacks. Once somebody complained that one of Faiz’s friends was writing too much with too little care. “He at least writes”, Faiz said, “and those who write nothing should respect all those who write whatever they can”. Similarly his comment on a charge against a civil servant, that he had become a dictator’s hatchet man, was: “this is largely due to the bad system that we have; in a just dispensation the same bureaucrat might have done much for the people”.

Many learnt in Faiz’s company the art of keeping private matters private. He was usually in a hurry to finish any discussion about himself, even when the interlocutor was as determined to play the Boswell as Mirza Zafrul Hasan was, and who could innocently ask Faiz, “How did you come to write yeh dagh dagh ujala?” Everybody is familiar with Faiz’s summing up of his life. “A little of love, a little of work, both abandoned unfinished”. About his loves he perhaps never said anything, and about his work his statement rarely exceeded two words ‘koshish ki’ (tried to do). His joys were to be shared with friends but grief was to be borne in silence, only his most expressive eyes gave away a hint of the extent of his suffering.

Faiz never stopped refining his art of making profound observations in the fewest words possible. As we drove past the mound on what is now called Islamabad Highway, on which the Quaid’s motto (Unity, Faith, Discipline) is inscribed, on the morning of July 5, 1977, Faiz broke his 30-minute silence with the remark: “Students will be asked (in future) to write short notes on Pakistan’s third, fifth and ninth martial law”. Period.

Faiz maintained an open house for all those who wanted to see the river in a drop and the whole of life in a tiny piece in the large mosaic. Only he could have offered so much to anyone who was fortunate enough to join his company.

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My jail mate

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via My jail mate.

My jail mate

By Zafar Ullah Poshni | InpaperMagzine

faiz ahmed faiz

With Pablo Neruda at a Black Sea Resort

In early 1951 when I was a young, 25-year-old Captain serving in the Army School of Signals at Rawalpindi, providence suddenly pitch forked me into a highly dramatic event which later came to be known as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. While it terminated my career progression in the military and I had to spend over four years in jail, I still consider it to be my great good fortune. Why? Because it gave me the opportunity to spend a long time in the company of such icons of literature and culture as Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Syed Sajjad Zaheer, whose names will forever be resplendent as stars in the firmament of Urdu literature.

I came out of prison a far more mature, well-read and in every way a better human being than what I was before I was thrown behind the bars. Today in 2011, as our country – and dozens of countries around the world – pay homage to Faiz by celebrating his centennial, I, (now approaching my 85th birthday) feel an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia about that period and the six decade-old scenes from my life flash before my eyes. All my other 14 prison mates have passed away long ago leaving me as the sole survivor; but I vividly remember each one of them with genuine love and affection, and none more so than the unique and incomparable Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who was not only a very great poet, but a gem of a man, in fact a man in the real sense of the word.

As I have explained in the initial pages of my prison memoir book, Zindagi Zindaan Dili Ka Naam Hai, the entire Rawalpindi Conspiracy was the brainchild and concept of one person, the then Chief of General Staff, Major General M Akbar Khan, who had managed to persuade, cajole, seduce and `half-convince’ some other military officers to string along with him which they did up to a certain point, and then refused to go forward any further.

The first time I ever saw Faiz was in a meeting held at Major-General Akbar Khan’s house on February 23, 1951, where a number of army officers and three civilians were present and where Akbar Khan presented his plan, which was to arrest the Governor-General Khawaja Nazimuddin and Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, both of whom were expected to be in Rawalpindi after a week. The Governor-General was to be forced to announce the dismissal of the incumbent government and the formation of an interim government, presumably under General Akbar Khan, and general elections were to be held after some months, though no precise time frame was given. The general also spoke on this occasion at some length about Kashmir, land reforms, eradication of corruption, nepotism, inefficiency and other national problems.

Even today 60 years later I can recall the immense tension under which everyone was placed after hearing the general’s discourse. Apparently no one, except the general, was psychologically prepared for the highly adventurist plan unfolded by the Chief of General Staff. There was palpable hesitation on the part of everyone present. Objections were raised about what would happen in East Bengal even if the coup succeeded in the West. I don’t remember Faiz Ahmed Faiz saying much; he seemed to be listening most of the time to the ferocious argumentation of the military officers to and fro, pro and con. The meeting lasted eight hours, at the end of which the general’s plan was disapproved. The participants dispersed without even deciding to meet again. The “conspiracy” thus never took place, because there was no agreement:

Woh baat sare fasane mein jiska zikr na tha

Woh baat un ko bohat nagawaar guzri hai

My second meeting with Faiz took place in a police bus, months later, when we had all been arrested and brought to Hyderabad to stand trial before a Special Tribunal. We had been taken from Lahore to Hyderabad in a highly guarded train, every prisoner in a separate compartment. At Hyderabad we were unloaded and escorted into a police bus. Lt Colonel Niaz Mohammad Arbab, Captain Khizer Hayat and I were already seated in a bus when Faiz Ahmed Faiz was also brought there and told to sit with us. Unlike the rest of us who had been all together in Lahore jail, Faiz had been kept in solitary confinement for about three months and was delighted to see civilised human beings once again, people whom he recognised.

Solitary confinement is extremely depressing and demoralising and Faiz had obviously been under great stress all these months. Now that he was with us, a great load seemed to have been lifted from his soul. When we entered the jail premises and were taken to the ward where we were going to reside for the next few months (or years). Faiz was elated; he was laughing and smiling, almost chirping. I said: “Faiz Saheb, you look exceedingly happy here in prison. What’s the reason?”

“What’s the reason?” Faiz repeated my question. “The reason is that I have been confined in solitary for the last three months. After such a long time alone I am again in the company of human beings. What can be a greater joy that this, that I will now be living with some other persons. This is perhaps the happiest day in my life. You folks can’t gauge the immensity of my happiness, because you have been lucky not to have passed through the rigours of solitary.”

Faiz Saheb was not a talkative person. He believed that unless you improved upon the silence it was better not to speak. Neverthless, when one is cooped up in the confines of a jail ward with 14 other prisoners, one is forced to intermingle, interact and talk to others. Our group of accused persons was definitely far above average in education and intellect and so there used to be passionate arguments on political, social, literacy, religious and other subjects. Some of out friends, notably Major Ishaq Muhammad and Muhammad Husain Ata, would sometimes lose their temper in these vigorous and heated discussions and become rude and even abusive, and they were invariably admonished by Faiz who called them “idiots” and told them to shut up, which they did.

In jail, the differences in military rank disappeared pretty quickly, so that generals and captains were reduced soon to an equal level and there was no more of “sir” and “janab”. But Sajjad Zaheer and Faiz Ahmed Faiz were older and more learned then all of us young officers and they received due respect from everyone during the entire period of incarceration. Major Ishaq, the big, bold, brash fighter man, would in his usual free style occasionally address Faiz as “Oye, mundya sialkotia”, but that was all in fun and frolic. Faiz Saheb would smile broadly whenever so addressed by Ishaq.

As ‘A’ class prisoners even after conviction, we were not supposed to wear jail uniform, but could put on whatever clothes we liked. The military officers usually wore shirts or bush-shirts, and western trousers during daylight hours in jail, but Faiz Saheb was most often dressed in a spotless white kurta pajama. Faiz was also in the habit of applying cologne quite liberally and when queried about it by a companion, he said, “Don’t you know applying ‘khushboo’ is Sunnah?” The questioner protested and said: “My dear sir, I doubt if you are a great one for following the Sunnah and so on!” Faiz replied, “Why not, I am also a part of the Islamic culture.”

People like me, educated exclusively in English medium schools and inducted at an early age into the westernised ambience of the British Indian Army’s Officer Corps, Faiz considered us, ‘Tommies’, and would often address me by the epithet of ‘Tommy’. As far as political leanings are concerned, Faiz Saheb, who was a staunch Marxist himself, quite correctly ranked me as “Left Liberal” at best, but considered Major Ishaq Mohammad as ‘a flaming sword of the proletariat’, a designation which Ishaq later showed that he so richly deserved. But as I was the youngest member among the accused persons in jail, Faiz Saheb was invariably very affectionate and kind to me. I was quite accomplished in singing the conventional, obscene military songs in English, with which I sometimes used to regale Faiz and the others. These dirty ditties made Faiz laugh vociferously, and he would applaud me by calling me ‘paaji’ or an ‘idiot’. That was high praise from the great man.

We were imprisoned in 1951… up to that point in time the traditions of the British Army Officer Cadre were still very much in vogue, especially the rituals of the Officers’ Mess, including Dinner Night, Guest Night, etc; and imbibing of liquor was part of the ceremonials. Among our group of the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case prisoners, except for about three ‘sufis’, all the others were accustomed to at least occasional bouts with whisky, gin and beer, the favorite drinks of the British Army. One of us, Lt Colonel Ziauddin, had been a regular imbiber and used to enjoy a few drinks religiously (no pun intended) every evening. Faiz Saheb would say that drinking is a minor sin, because while there are punishments for many offences, these is no punishment laid down for drinking:

Aaye kuchh abar kuchh sharaab aaye

Uske baad aaye jo azaab aaye

The interesting fact is that all us non-abstainers remained in prison for over four years but nobody ever complained about not being able to get a drink. Perhaps, because, except for Lt Col Zia, nobody was a regular drinker. After release from prison, Faiz Saheb gradually became a daily drinker. But I’m told that one year before his death he gave up both drinking and smoking. He had, of course, been a heavy smoker all his life. Smoking is, of course, more detrimental to health than drinking, unless of course one is an alcoholic, which none of us was.

Being a poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz was a great admirer of female beauty but he was by no means a licentious man. Some people believe that Faiz Saheb was a Don Juan or a playboy. This is a totally wrong belief. Faiz Saheb liked the company of women and once quoted a saying of the founder of the protestant church, the great Martin Luther, in his defence: ‘He who loves not women and wine and song, remains a fool his whole life long’.

Faiz Saheb never chased women, but apparently many women chased him. Faiz Saheb remained within the bounds of moderation in all aspects of life. One interesting fact is that though he himself was short, Faiz was an admirer of tall women and would wax eloquent when he observed a tall, statuesque lady. And we all know that his wife Alys was also taller than him.

During our long stay together in prison, the one thing which impressed me most about Faiz Saheb was his modesty in the realm of poetry. A number of times I heard him say, “People praise me so much, but I am nothing exceptional. Meer, Ghalib, Iqbal, they were the genuine great poets. I am nothing compared to them”. And this was not said in any show of artificial humility but apparently in all sincerity. Faiz was, of course, the greatest admirer of Ghalib. I remember once asking him which in his opinion is the best ghazal in the entire Urdu literature. After pondering a bit he replied, “You know, it is impossible to give a judgment and state that such and such is the best ghazal in our entire poetry. All I can say is that the ghazal I most enjoy reading is Ghalib’s:

Muddat hui hai yaar ko mehmaan kiye huwe

Josh-i-qadah se bazm charaghan kiye huwe

Faiz Saheb was a great admirer of Nazeer Akbarabadi and I borrowed the book from him and read it from end to end, it was quite fascinating. The next time Faiz praised Nazeer Akbarabadi, I jokingly teased him. “Yes, Sir,” I said, “I am particularly captivated by his verse: Aao parosan chapti khelen baithe se begaar bhali. Faiz Saheb smiled, “Can’t say that he is wrong, Youngman,” he replied.

A great quality of Faiz was his coolness. He was never quick to take offence and shrugged off even the most vicious criticism by some antagonists from the media and the political world. In confinement people are apt to become short tempered; amongst our own group verbal battles were quite frequent, and there were at least two incidents of exchange of blows – one between Brig Sadiq Khan and Lt Col Ziauddin, and the other between me and the hero of Gilgit, Major Hasan Khan. But in all the time I was with him in jail I never saw Faiz lose his cool at anything. This is a quality which very few people possess and is the essence of a real man.

All of us prisoners remained together in Hyderabad jail while the trial was going on in the court of the special tribunal located on the jail premises. A few weeks after the sentences were handed out we were broken up into small groups and sent to different jails all over the country. Faiz was sent to Montgomery (now Sahiwal) jail where he had the company of Major Ishaq and Captain Khizar Hayat. I was retained in Hyderabad jail with Maj-Gen Akbar Khan and Mohammad Husain Atta. Once in a while Ishaq’s letter would arrive from Montgomery jail enclosing the latest ghazal or nazm of Faiz, which Ata and I would read and recite dozens of times; our third companion, the general, was totally devoid of any interest in poetry.

I recollect Hyderabad jail with deep nostalgia. I must go and visit the jail one of these days, I often promise myself. I do recollect all of us prisoners sitting on the steps of the verandah and Faiz Ahmed Faiz reciting his latest ghazal to us – this was the routine we followed every few weeks. I have had the privilege of hearing the majority of the poems in Dast-i-Saba and Zindaan Nama first hand from the lips of the great man. Isn’t that something to be proud of?

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