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Faiz Ahmad Faiz — Revolution and Love

Hello folks!

These beautiful lines were written by Faiz Ahmad Faiz who died on 20th November 1984 in Pakistan. This week’s editor’s corner aims to serve as an introductory note to his poetry that carried literary merit and appealed to the masses at the same time:

दश्त-ए-तन्हाई में ऐ जान-ए-जहाँ लर्जां हैं तेरी आवाज़ के साए तेरे होठों के सराब दश्त-ए-तन्हाई में दूरी के खास ओ ख़ाक तले खिल रहे हैं तेरे पहलू के समन और ग़ुलाब (Desolation’s desert. I’m here with shadows of your voice, your lips as mirage, now trembling. Grass and dust of distance have let this desert bloom with your roses) (Translation by Agha Shahid Ali)

A poet can be many things in many people’s minds. Some of the greatest poets judge the merit of a poem by the number of readers it can connect to. What is this connection? How can some ordinary words that are uttered without any ceremony in our day to day conversations, come together to make a poem that might end up changing our lives? How many times have you thought that a particular poem was written specifically for you? Of course you’re not alone. There must be thousands of people who would claim their personal connection with the same poem.

How do poets know that a person will be in a particular state of mind? Can they time travel and see exactly what is going to happen in the life of, say, an MBA student sitting in his hostel room contemplating about his unfulfilled life (please don’t take this personally)? Well, a rationalist would not bother even scoffing at this idea. Then what is this connection we are talking about?

There are some things that are beyond comprehension of normal people like us (assuming psychologists are not normal people). We might venture into scientific experimentation to know the exact rational reason behind this connection which certainly we are either indifferent to or incapable of. So how do we, as normal human beings, with feelings that are at times (most of the times!) irrational explain this seemingly impossible phenomenon?

Probably we are bound by some common string. No matter how different our experiences might be, there are some common emotions that are evoked when a poet strums it. And if that string is of unfulfilled desires, nobody strums it better than Faiz Ahmad Faiz:

वीराँ है मयक़दा ख़ुम-ओ-साग़र उदास है तुम क्या गए कि रूठ गए दिन बहार के (Oh what a desolation The tavern deserted each glass disconsolate Love when you left Even springtime forsook me You left and that season disowned this world) (Translation by Agha Shahid Ali)

Faiz Ahmed Faiz was born in 1911 in Sialkot, the small town in Pakistan where a few decades earlier the poet-philosopher Iqbal was born. Faiz had a varied career as teacher, army officer, journalist, trade union leader, broadcaster and script writer. He spent a significant number of years in jail on political charges in Pakistan.

Faiz is widely known as a revolutionary poet because of his anti-imperialist and left-leaning political ideology. His poetry became the expression of grief of the downtrodden:

चंद रोज़ और मेरी जान फ़कत चाँद ही रोज़ जुल्म की छाँव में दम लेने को मजबूर हैं हम और कुछ देर सितम सह लें तड़प लें रो लें अपने अजदाद की मीरास है माज़ूर हैं हम जिस्म पर क़ैद है जज़्बात पे जंजीरें हैं फ़िक्र माह्बूस है गुफ्तार पे ताज़ीरें हैं अपनी हिम्मत है कि हम फिर भी जिए जाते हैं (A few days more, my dear, only a few days. We are compelled to draw breath in the shadows of tyranny, For a while longer let us bear oppression, and quiver, and weep : It is our ancestors’ legacy, we are blameless, On our body is the fetter, on our feelings are chains, Our thoughts are captive, on our speech are censorings; It is our courage that even then we go on living) (Translation by Victor Kiernan)

He was a strong proponent of freedom of expression which is the subject of most of his poems :

बोल कि लब आज़ाद हैं तेरे बोल ज़बाँ अब तक तेरी है तेरा सुतवाँ जिस्म है तेरा बोल कि जाँ अब तक् तेरी है देख के आहंगर की दुकाँ में तुंद हैं शोले सुर्ख़ है आहन खुलने लगे क़ुफ़्फ़लों के दहाने फैला हर एक ज़न्जीर का दामन बोल ये थोड़ा वक़्त बहोत है जिस्म-ओ-ज़बाँ की मौत से पहले बोल कि सच ज़िंदा है अब तक बोल जो कुछ कहने है कह ले (Speak, for your two lips are free; Speak, your tongue is still your own; This straight body still is yours Speak, your life is still your own. See how in the blacksmith’s forge Flames leap high and steel glows red, Padlocks opening wide their jaws, Every chain’s embrace outspread! Time enough is this brief hour Until body and tongue lie dead; Speak, for truth is living yet Speak whatever must be said) (Translation by Victor Kiernan)

Apart from directly getting an understanding of the current political environment from his poetry, it is important for everyone to not just acknowledge the beauty associated with even the harshest of times but to internalize it and get addicted to it. For eg. won’t it be an injustice to the beauty of love a person bestows upon his beloved if he happens to be a roadside beggar struggling to feed his family? Faiz would definitely have considered it an injustice but would have made it a point to describe it in a heart wrenching manner. Isn’t it what we call the marriage of revolution and love — the essence of Faiz’s poetry:

आज फिर हुस्न-ए-दिलारा की वही धज होगी वही ख्वाबीदा सी आँखें वही काजल की लकीर रंग-ए-रुखसार पे हल्का सा वो गाजे का ग़ुबार संदली हाँथ पे धुंधली सी हिना की तहरीर अपने अफकार की अशार की दुनिया है यही जाने-ए-मज़मून है यही शाहिद-ए-मानी है यही (Today again there will be the same style of captivating beauty, Those same as-if-sleeping eyes, that line of lampblack, On the color of the cheek that faint cloud of powder, On the sandalwood-colored hand the misty tracery of henna. This only is the world of my thoughts, my verses, This only is the soul of my meaning, this only is the darling of my intent.) (Translation Victor Kiernan)
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