In the November of 2012, the film adaptation of one of my favorite novels was released - Salman Rushdie's "Midnight's Children". Directed by Deepa Mehta, the film boasted an ensemble cast accoutered with period songs. One of the songs, "Mujhse Pehli Si Mohabbat Mere Mehboob Na Maang" captivated me; it was penned by a certain Faiz, and famously sung by the legendry Noor Jehan.
A few years later, I would be riveted by some of the songs featured in Ismail Merchant's 1993 adaptation of Anita Desai's 1983 novel - "In Custody". That film too had an ensemble cast and songs based on poems by the same Faiz whose ways with words had already transfixed me; by the end of the film that charm had turned into life-long mesmerism, admiration, and even subject of envy!
Faiz Ahmad Faiz is one of the most celebrated and popular Urdu poets of all time; one may even say he was the last of Urdu's greatest poets - who left a sui generis mark on literature. 13 February, 2021 marks the 110th birth anniversary of the great poet.
A poet by passion, Faiz was a journalist and army officer by profession, and Marxist communist by ideology. Outside literature, he has been described as "a man of wide experience" having been a teacher, an army officer, a journalist, a trade unionist and a broadcaster. He was nominated four times for the Nobel Prize, but being a communist in the era of cold war, he was never awarded one. Faiz beautifully blended the grief of love with sorrows of life in his poetry which struck a chord with the youth.
Faiz Ahmed Faiz's couplets connected with the Great Poets of Mir Taqui Mir (1723-1810), Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869) and Allama Iqbal (1877-1938). Through his quill, Ghazals came out of the romanticism of Mughal Courts to represent a voice of the voiceless against injustice. He faced political repression for his revolutionary views. His affinity with Marxist ideology brought him under the microscope of the state.
Faiz began his poetry with Ghazal and steadily shifted his attention to Nazm and is acknowledged a renowned poet of both forms among progressive poets. He is equally admired in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh as in western countries. His Ghazals have been translated into several languages. He has garnered a large number of scholarly awards, particularly the Lenin Peace Prize in 1962. In 1976 he was awarded the Lotus Prize for Literature.
Person beneath the poet
Born on 13 February, 1911, in Sialkot under Punjab in British India, Faiz completed his basic education from Church Mission School; and earned his Master's in English and Arabic from Government College, Lahore. During his college days, he pursued his poetic aspirations.
He had a privileged childhood as the son of wealthy landowners Sultan Fatima and Sultan Muhammad Khan, who passed away in 1913, shortly after his birth. His father was a prominent lawyer and a member of an elite literary circle that included Allama Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan.
In 1936, he took up the post of an English lecturer at Government Muhammadan Anglo Oriental College, Amritsar. When the Progressive Movement in India gathered momentum in 1936, he was one of the protagonists. His first collection "Naqsh-e-Faryadi" was published in 1939. In 1940, Faiz was appointed lecturer at the Hailey College of Commerce, Lahore. This was the period when World War II was at its peak and nations were uniting against fascism, consequently Faiz joined the army.
Faiz became romantically involved with Alys George in 1941, who was a British national and a member of Communist Party of the United Kingdom. She was also a student at the Government College University where Faiz taught poetry. They got married that year in Srinagar. Together, the couple had two daughters Salima and Moneeza Hashmi.
Following the Rawalpindi plot, many communists in Pakistan were arrested, including Faiz. On 9 March, 1951, Faiz was arrested under the Pakistan Safety Order Act for Rawalpindi case for which he was imprisoned. His second collection "Dast-e-Saba" commemorates his confinement in Hyderabad jail.
On 2 April 1955, Faiz's sentence was commuted by Prime Minister Huseyn Suhrawardy, and he departed to London, Great Britain soon after in 1958, Faiz returned but was again detained by President Iskander Mirza, who allegedly blamed Faiz for publishing pro-communist ideas and for advocating a pro-Moscow government. However, due to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's influence on Ayub Khan, Faiz's sentence was commuted in 1960 and he departed to Moscow, he later settled in London, United Kingdom. In 1964, Faiz finally returned to Pakistan and settled down in Karachi.
In 1979, Faiz departed from Pakistan after learning the news that Bhutto's execution had taken place. Faiz took asylum in Beirut, Lebanon, where he edited the Soviet-sponsored magazine Lotus and met well-known Arab figures like Edward Said and Yasser Arafat, but returned to Pakistan in poor health after the renewal of the Lebanon War in 1982.In 1984, Faiz died in Lahore, Punjab Province, shortly after hearing that he had received a nomination for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Faiz passed away on 20 November, 1984 in Lahore.
Love affair with Bangladesh written of blood
Faiz Ahmad Faiz was one of the Pakistani intellectuals that spoke out against the injustice and massacre by the Pakistani army during the 1971 war. Asrar Chowdhury, a professor at Jahangirnagar University, in his 2013 article "Faiz Ahmed Faiz: Love Beyond Boundaries" states that Faiz's entanglement with Bangladesh stemmed from a 1959 cinema. Directed by AJ Kardar and script written by Faiz, "Jago Hua Sawera" (The Day Shall Dawn) introduced the audience in West Pakistan to Manik Bandopadhyay's "Padma Nadir Majhi", and the lifestyle of fishermen in Eastern Bengal and their struggle with poverty.
Albeit, a commercial flop in West Pakistan, it won a Gold Medal at the First Moscow International Film Festival the same year; and introduced Faiz to the audience of East Pakistan. In that same year, Faiz's "Ghazal Gulon Mein Rang Bhare", composed by Ghazal Maestro Mehdi Hassan's elder brother Ghulam Qadir and sung by Mehdi Hassan himself, made Faiz a household name throughout South Asia- India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Bangladesh's National poet Kazi Nazrul Islam first introduced the art and artistry of Ghazals into Bangla through lyrics and compositions. Nevertheless, Faiz became a well-known name in literary circles in this country. Through his Ghazals, Faiz emerged as a crucial bridge between the West and the East, speaking about the injustices towards the Bengali people. During the 1971 war, Faiz rallied to mobilise the people, writing patriotic poems and songs that opposed the bloodshed during the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan. However, his popularity waned in Bangladesh after 1971 when Dhaka did not win much support from him.
Professor Asrar Chowdhury added that Faiz visited Bangladesh several times during the 1960s. He influenced Shahidullah Qaiser, Munir Chowdhury, Murtaza Bashir, Shawkat Osman, Shakoor Ahmed, and Muzaffar Ahmed to name a few. In 1964, Bangla Academy gave Faiz a grand reception. Faiz visited Independent Bangladesh for the first and the last time in 1974. Legend has it, on arrival at Dhaka Tejgaon Airport, the first question Faiz asked reporters: "How is Nazrul?"
"Nazrul and Faiz wrote in languages from two different universes, but their message was of the same universe- to make poetry a universal voice for the voiceless to speak against injustice. When it came to humanity, their love was beyond boundaries," Professor Asrar Chowdhury wrote of the unruly camaraderie of the two literary giants.
In his famous Ghazal, "Hum Ke Theherey Ajnabi", Faiz wrote about the genocide in Bangladesh during the liberation war.
Camaraderie of philosophy and poetry
Faiz's early poems had been conventional, light-hearted treatises on love and beauty, but while in Lahore he began to expand into politics, community, and the thematic interconnectedness he felt was fundamental in both life and poetry. While his work is written in fairly strict diction, his poems maintain a casual, conversational tone, creating tension between the elite and the common, somewhat in the tradition of Mirza Ghalib.
He was a well-known communist in Pakistan and had been long associated with the Communist Party of Pakistan, Faiz had his first exposure to socialism and communism before the independence of State of Pakistan which he thought was consistent with his progressive thinking. He believed in Internationalism and emphasised the philosophy on global village.
Faiz, whose work is considered the backbone of development of Pakistan's literature, arts and poetry, was one of the most beloved poets in the country. Along with Allama Iqbal, Faiz is often known as the "Poet of the East".
Faiz had long associated ties with the Soviet Union; after his death, the Russian government honoured him by calling him "our poet".
Faiz Ahmad Faiz was one of the most celebrated and influential Urdu poets of all times, who wrote some of the most beautiful lines in the history of literature. Faiz was nominated four times for the Nobel Prize, but due to his ties with Marxist communism and the Soviet Union, he was denied the honor every time.
As today marks the 110th birth anniversary of the great poet, here are ten of his timeless Ghazals - made eternal through a camaraderie of masterful singing, compositions and of course the magic of words:
1. Gulon Mein Rang Bhare
The mid of February is considered the beginning of spring in the subcontinent; interestingly Faiz - one of who's best known Ghazals is about spring, was born on 13 February. This song highlights the romantic in Faiz than the revolutionary.
Albeit, it has been sang by many singers, perhaps the best known and loved rendition is that by the legendary Mehdi Hassan. In, Gulon Mein Rang Bhare, the poet makes an appeal for the beloved to come, saying how spring has arrived but won't be fulfilled without them.
2. Hum Dekhenge
This one is an ode to Faiz's own thoughts against repression. It was composed as a medium of protest against Pakistan's then-military dictator Zia Ul Haq's oppressive regime.
It gained a rapid cult-following as a leftist song of resistance and defiance following a public rendition by Iqbal Bano at Alhamra Arts Council on 13 February 1986, ignoring the ban on Faiz's poetry.
The poem employs the metaphor of traditional Islamic imagery to subvert and challenge Zia's fundamentalist interpretation of them; Qayamat, the Day of Reckoning is transformed into the Day of Revolution, wherein Zia's military government will be ousted by the people and democracy will be re-installed.
During the Citizenship Amendment Act protests in India, a temporary faculty member of IIT Kanpur took issue with Hum Dekhenge being sung by protesting students in the campus, and alleged it to be "anti-Hindu". The IIT instituted a commission to look into the issue. The student media body rejected the charges as being misinformed and communal.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz originally wrote this popular Ghazal with the title "Yaad" (Memory). It was originally composed by Mehdi Zaheer for Iqbal Bano.
The song explores the themes of solitude, loneliness, and longing for someone. Iqbal Bano's finesse with the ways of the voice gave the crushing weight of the words of loneliness that Faiz wrote about a harrowing shape - one that haunts, but somehow also retains a soothing tone.
4. Hum Ke Therey Ajnabi
This beautiful yet heartbreaking song is also known by the title, "Dhaka Se Waapsi Par" - Faiz wrote it upon returning from his first visit from Dhaka after the war.
At surface level, it may seem like a long about two estranged lovers, who have separated after a long time and many tales together, but it is an allegory for the partition following the 1971 war. Faiz Ahmad Faiz was one of the Pakistani intellectuals who opposed the war and spoke out against the genocide by the Pakistan military.
Nayyara Noor's soul soothing voice gave the pain of the poet upon the separation in this song.
5. Chalo Phir Se Muskuraye
In this a Ghazal that paint conciliating colours. A broken heart and a despaired soul are encouraged to live than just to exist - to again fall in love, even if to go through the whole ordeal again.
The beauty of this Ghazal by Faiz, sang by Nayyara Noor, requires one to have scars on the soul - the soothing can only then be felt.
6. Aaj Ek Harf Ko
Featured in the 1993 Ismail Merchant film, In Custody, the recitation was done by Shashi Kapoor and the Ghazal was sung by Suresh Wadkar.
The song pivots around a feeling - one that can be both melancholic and merry; and the allegories used by Faiz in the poem gives it that sui generis grace.
7. Mujhse Pehli Si Mohabbat
The story goes that Faiz Ahmad Faiz had just been released from prison after serving a term for his influential views on communism in Pakistan. Noor Jehan waiting for the poet to appear. The party of friends and family that had gathered to celebrate moved to his house to rejoice. Faiz, who had spent his time in jail listening to her songs on the radio, requested her to sing.
One of the songs she sang was based on his poem, "Mujh Se Pehli Si Mohabbat Mere Mehboob Na Maang". She composed a tune for it on the spot without the use of any musical instrument. The musical quality of her rendition mesmerised Faiz, he would later credit her as the co-author of his poem because he believed no one could sing it with such perfection.
On the surface level this song is about a lover telling his beloved not to ask for the past love they had, however, as Urdu poems often go - this one is said to be an analogy for the greater love and sacrificing for it. The equivalence of love-elements are told of eloquently, as is the irony of reality.
8. Aaj Bazar Main Pa Ba Jolan Chalo
One may say this Ghazal may be the leitmotif of contemplation, a theme to reflect upon as one talks to their inner self.
Faiz, ever so masterful with words, sees one walking through the market - bare feet and in shackles; they are of course apologues. Nayyra Noor gives the melancholic tone through the nonchalance of her lulling voice.
9. Rang Parahen Ka Khusboo Zulf Lehrane Ka Naam
Rang Pairahan Ka, Khushboo Zulf Lehrane Kaa Naam
Mousam-E-Gul Hai Tumhare Baam Par Aane Ka Naam
Doston Us Chasm-O-Lab Ki Kuch Kaho, Jiske Bagair
Gulistaan Ki Baat Rangeen Hai, Na Mehkhane Ka Naam
[Colour is a dress, fragrance is a name for your flowing tresses,
Your appearance at the window gives the spring its name.
Say something about this sight, my friends, without which-
Neither the garden would have colour, nor the tavern have a name.]
Faiz's romanticism is epitomized through this Ghazal as the honey-like voice of Mehdi Hassan renders the song its spring-like fullness.
10. Aaye Kuch Abr - Mehdi Hassan
This poem was written during Faiz's life of isolation and separation, while he was lodged in Hyderabad Central Jail during the Rawalpindi conspiracy case. He was away from his wife and two daughters. The sense of loneliness, sadness and melancholy echoes in the words and it does in the golden voice of Mehdi Hassan. The recent rendition by Atif Aslam also captures that despair, yet with a debonair.
After being separated from his family, Faiz spent months without seeing them. A few steps ahead of time, Faiz found himself misunderstood in the society in which he lived. Aaye Kuch Abr took this step in Faiz's life but he stands with hope.
Also, this Ghazal perhaps has one of the most beautiful expression of bitterness:
Kar Raha Tha Gham-e-Jahan Ka Hisab –
Aaj Tum Yaad Be-Hisab Aye.
[I was counting the despairs this world inflected upon me-
Today, your memory was immense.]