Revisiting Faiz Ahmed Faiz- Echoes of Revolution, Love and Hints of Kashmir

Faiz Ahmed Faiz- a poet, a lover, a revolutionary, and a legend. Faiz was the pioneer of the Progressive Writer’s Movement in the Indian subcontinent. The movement brought together some of the best anti-imperialistic and left-oriented writings in history. Locally known as the Taraqi Pasand Tehreek, the movement is advocacy at its creative peak championing equality, social justice and betterment of the most disadvantaged sections. Like all great writers, Faiz has been misunderstood by the forces in power who alter history.

By Faiz Ahmad Faiz

Faiz, in our school curriculum, is taught to be a hopeless romantic, loyal to his wife and homeland, writing poetry only for his nation and his beloved. The first ghazal that introduced me to Faiz was 
“Gulon mei rang bhare, baad nau bahar chale”. 
My first understanding of the ghazal was drastically different from what I now know. When Faiz says,
jo ham pe guzrī so guzrī magar shab-e-hijrāñ, hamāre ashk tirī āqibat sañvār chale,
 I was taught as a child that the poet wishes his beloved well even after she broke his heart, Growing up, I learnt that nobody, not even a die-hard romantic can let go of the pain so easily. The lines are painted with sarcasm and vengeance. Mujhse pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob naa maang, the first poem in Naqsh-e-Faryadi, marks the transition of Faiz from traditional Urdu poetry to poetry with purpose and a social conscience pursuing social causes. When Faiz says 
maiñ ne samjhā thā ki tū hai to daraḳhshāñ hai hayāt, terā ġham hai to ġham-e-dahr kā jhagḌā kyā hai,
We all resonate with him and recount how ignorance was a bliss. The poem in its deeper meaning urges us to move beyond our own problems and work for those around us.
When Faiz talks about the eve of Independence in Subh-e-Azaadi
ye daaġh daaġh ujālā ye shab-gazīda sahar, vo intizār thā jis kā ye vo sahar to nahīñ,
we are reminded of the numerous people and communities for whom the freedom was merely a transfer of power. The millions who continue to perish in poverty, thousands who are afraid to speak up and hundreds who are hopeful for shab-e-sust-mauj kā sāhil, find themselves exemplified in the words of Faiz. It is speculated that Faiz wrote the poem with Kashmiris in his mind, who remained at the behest of an incomplete journey.

Advocacy and poetry could not be wedded better together than Faiz, 
bol ki lab āzād haiñ tere, bol zabāñ ab tak terī hai. 
Faiz urges us to speak up at the right time, to speak up before it is too late. Interestingly, it is said that Faiz wrote the poem originally for Sheikh Abdullah, the leader of the Kashmiri movement at the time.

Faiz reiterates through his poem, aaj bazar mein pa-ba-jaulan chalo, that the journey will not be easy. The poem often misunderstood as a love poem written to his wife or a nationalist poem is far from both. It was an expression of the utter frustration, anger and resentment that Faiz underwent after he was accused and imprisoned, dragged out of jail in Lahore and publicly humiliated, his real crime being a visionary for a more equal and vocal world. He felt alone and was disappointed in his people and his nation. Nevertheless, imprisonment did not stop Faiz and the world was forever gifted with the strongest poems in history through his second collection ‘Dast-e-saba’ that wedded romance to revolution. The magic of Faiz’s poetry is that it blurred the lines between romantic poetry and revolutionary poetry such that a hopeless romantic and a die-hard communist equally resonated with his words.

Hum Dekhenge, the poem that was born in controversy and aged in controversy, often called the leftist song of resistance and defiance will continue to live on through the powerful feminist imagery of Iqbal Bano clad in a black saree protesting against Zia-ul-Haq’s oppressive regime, singing this nazm in front of a crowd 50,000 after a decree prohibited women from wearing sarees in Pakistan. The irony of its usage remains true to this day, a poem written originally against the imposition of extremist Islamic ideals has come to be a tool to fight for the rights of Muslims across protests against oppressive Islamophobic regimes.

To me, Faiz was another romantic poet in school but growing up and studying his poetry deeply, made me understand that my passion for advocacy is best channelled through his words. Whenever my freedom of expression is in jeopardy, the words of Faiz give me comfort. When I am thinking of using my voice, the words of Faiz bring me motivation. When I am thinking of love and loyalty, the poems of Faiz bring me warmth. When I find myself caught in the nuances of neo-liberalism and neo-colonialism, Faiz brings me clarity. Faiz Ahmed Faiz got married to Alys Faiz, the love of his life, and the muse of his poetry in Srinagar, my hometown, and the nikkah ceremony was performed by Sheikh Abdullah who posed the question in three languages: English, Urdu and my mother tongue, Kashmiri. As a Kashmiri fan, getting to know about his emotional connection with Kashmir and his support for the cause of Kashmiris has only deepened my love for his poetry. Faiz’s poetry is a sea of emotions and you can choose which one you want to feel in the moment.

(This piece is incomplete without the mention of my professor, Dr. Shameem Ahmed, who opened the door of understanding for me and transformed the way I look at Urdu and poetry.)

Written By
Nimrah Baba
The author is a student of International Development at Humber College, Canada. She has majored in Political Science and Economics from St. Stephen's College. Advocacy, gender, conflicts and resilience poetry and literature are her areas of interest.

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