ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Few modern poets have achieved as much international acclaim as Faiz Ahmed Faiz. It is not surprising, therefore, that his primary identification has remained that of a poet But most people who have known of Faiz also know that he was so many other things beside: a political protagonist, a journalist, an essayist, a film maker, a guardian of the arts and even a trade unionist. However, if we are asked to choose just one label to describe Faiz, I think it would be appropriate to call him a humanist

FEW modern poets have achieved as much international acclaim as Faiz Ahmed Faiz. It is not surprising, therefore, that his primary identification has remained that of a poet But most people who have known of Faiz also know that he was so many other things beside: a political protagonist, a journalist, an essayist, a film maker, a guardian of the arts and even a trade unionist. However, if we are asked to choose just one label to describe Faiz, I think it would be appropriate to call him a humanist—a humanist whose vision was holistic, and for whom culture and politics were inseparable, ideas and practice formed a unity, and art, beside meeting the highest standards of aesthetics, was to serve humankind's striving for peace, progress, justice, equality and freedom. It is to this total liberation of man that Faiz dedicated his life and art. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was a true internationalist who firmly believed in the unity of human spirit and worked for a world in which differences in race and colour, given by nature, should be of no social significance, while the differences in religion and nationality, which were products of history, must be freed of the elements of domination, particularism and zealotry which dehumanise the humans. The liberation he believed in was universal and indivisible. At the global level, Faiz saw the modern day struggle
between oppression and liberation being articulated in the conflict between imperialism and socialism. He was uncompromisingly against the former and felt it necessary to side with the latter. In the specific conditions of
Pakistan, he struggled against the dehumanising manifestations peculiar to his environment. Among these were the pathological hatred for India and its concomitant religious bigotry. He worked for friendship between Pakistan and India, and was held in a very high esteem in India, including by its establishment. Yet this did not deter Faiz from opposing Indian intervention in Pakistan's civil war in 1971. He was a great admirer of the Russion Revolution and a friend of the Soviet Union. He consistently endeavoured to improve the relations between Pakistan and USSR. Yet, he protested the Soviet encouragement to India in that veiy war and resigned from the World Peace Council. Faiz was Pakistan's ambassador of peace. An unofficial ambassador, but the country's most important one, Faiz was never afraid to assume a combative role in defence of his ideals. There is no dearth of his direct commentary on political and social issues. One could find them in some of the unsigned editorials of Pakistan Times and Imroze which he ably served as Editor-in-Chief until 1959 when Ayub Khan ingloriously took over the Progressive Papers. His writings on art, literature and culture, available in several collections, clearly reflect his ideological premises. But it would be difficult to locate any elaborate political theorising or analysis by Faiz. 

Thus, it would not be a fruitful endeavour to address the subject of Faiz as a political writer. However, it was an integral part of Faiz's active humanism to be a political thinker. Nothing was apolitical for him. But his politics must not be trivialised, and his thought must not be reduced to an exploitable commodity. The many roles Faiz played to put his humanistic ideals into practice, important as they were from the point of view of praxis, constituted only a tiny fragment of Faiz's contribution to humanity. Poetry was Faiz's principal medium for describing the human condition and expressing human aspirations. Therefore, it is in his poetry that we should look for the primary source of his political thought. Whether it be the appreciation of his art or understanding of his humanistic message, Faiz's poetry should remain the primary criterion forjudging the man. Faiz was a poet first and a poet above everything else. He more than any other poet or writer in the sub-continent demonstrated by his example that an artist could be intensely political and at the same time reach the paragon of art—preserving and enhancing the romanticism and symbolism of the great glassical poetry. In the age of the insurgent progressive writing, when many poets thought that Urdu poetry will have to rid itself of 'Gul aur Bulbul' (romanticism and centred on flower and the nightingale), Faiz showed that all the traditional symbols could be preserved with their beauty and romance intact, while given new revolutionary content. Who else could have described historical matrialist prophecy in one metraphorical couplet as this: Ghurvr-i-sarv-o-saman sey keh do kay phir vohee tajdar hongay Jo khar o khus valee i chaman thay urooj i sarve o soman se pahlay (Tell the vain cypress and jasmine that those dry weeds and thorns will rule again. Those who were the heirs to the flower garden before the rise of the elegant cypress and jasmine.) The absence of siogan-mongering and crude political rhetoric in Faiz's poetry, if anything, helped enhance the poignancy and seriousness of his political message, while enabling him maintain the highest esthetic standards. It is no wonder that admiration for the diction, symbolism, lyricism and style of Faiz's poetry transcends the political differences among hi readers. It is a paradox that while Pakistan's political culture has grown increasingly reactionary, intolerant and suffocating since the rise of Ayub Khan's dictatorship (1958-1969), during the same period Faiz rose to become a national symbol and his name became almost sacrosanct. Since Faiz's arrest during the initial period of Ayub's rule and harassment after i receiving the Lenin Peace Prize, no government dared to put him in prison or subject him to extraordinary harassment. Ayub Khan tried to make amends with him, Yahya Khan tolerated him, Bhutto embraced him and Zia tried to please him. But Faiz chose self-exile in protest against Bhutto's hanging and Zia's reign of terror until Israeli terrorisation of Lebanon evicted him from his Beirut base and compelled him to return to Pakistan at the end of 1982. The barbarity and human suffering which Faiz witnessed in Lebanon and about which he wrote with so much pain was far greater, at least in physical terms, than the terrorisation at home. But at home, the rulers had loosened the basest instincts in society. Everything that Faiz abhorred, now had official sanction. It was an Orwellian world in which truth had been made to stand on its head. Faiz depicted this debasing irony in a poem written in Samarqand a month after Bhutto's hanging: 

Ub fagihan-i-haram daste-i-sanam choomaingay Saiv qud mitti kay bonon kay qadam choomaingay (Now the theologians of the holy places will kiss the hand of idols; Those with the grace and stature of a cypress tree will kiss the feet of clay dwarfs.)  

When Faiz returned to Pakistan at the end of 1982, the struggle for justice to which Faiz exhorted his people, was at its lowest ebb. A poet of the people—and of real world—could not escape noticing the demoralisation pervading the society. He reflected on it in one of his last poems, but in the same poem Faiz the optimist and believer in happiness as human destiny also came through quite clearly: 

Mana yeh sunsan gharhi sakht karhi Hai Lekin meray dil yeh toh faqat ik hee gharhi Hai Him at karo, j eenay ko to ik um arparhi hai. (Yes this silent moment is hard to bear. But my heart it is only a moment. Have courage, there is a whole life to live.)  

And indeed Faiz lived a whole life. No other individual in what Sahir Ludhianvi described as the "abode of the worshippers of the dead" received as much recognition, acclaim and admiration in his life-time as Faiz. This is as much a tribute to Faiz who brought out the best in his society as to his people who gave birth to him and who had the greatness to recognise the greatness of Faiz in his life-time.

 

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