‘Ae qaum! Sunaaye the maine kal qisse tujhe taqdeeron ke
Aaj ik ik baghi ke sar par hain taj saje taazeeron ke
Har aik Ayaz ye kehta hai ab tu ne qaul nibhaya hai
Vo geet tu ne gaaye jin se utre rang zameeron ke’
(O nation! Yesterday I narrated to you tales of destinies
Today the head of every rebel is crowned with penalties
Ayaz, everyone says now you have kept your word
You sung the songs which have exposed many consciences’ frailties)
In front of me lies Taj Saje Taazeeron Ke (Penal Crowns Were Adorned, Zarbaft Publications Lahore, 2019), the very latest Urdu poetic translations from the original Sindhi of the selected work of Shaikh Ayaz, who was born 98 years ago on March 2 last week. These translations have been done by the Urdu and Punjabi poet Anwar Nadeem Alvi, who like Ayaz is also associated with the legal profession. Translations of the most important modern Sindhi poet had come to us in English from the late Asif Farrukhi, and in Urdu from the formidable Fahmida Riaz. But the first of those translations was done back in 1979 followed by a more recent one exactly two decades ago, therefore these new translations in a rather slim volume are welcome – especially since the translator makes reference to the earlier translations by Farrukhi – who encouraged Alvi in his own venture – and Riaz, whose masterful translations must surely have guided this latest effort.
Those were the last days of the British Empire. The sailors of the Royal Indian Navy had captured the HMIS Hindustan present at the harbour of Karachi and the military installations established on Manora Island. Processions were taken out on the roads of the city and the song of a youth was sung.
‘Hila do samaj ko, gira do samraj ko
Lao naya nizam, jo pasand kare avaam
Inqilab, inqilab, gao inqilab gao inqilab’
(Shake society, sink imperialism
What the people prefer, bring that new system
Revolution, revolution, sing revolution sing revolution)
This young revolutionary would later become famous as Shaikh Ayaz. The supporters of the naval mutiny were communists who were being led by Sobho Gianchandani and A. K. Hangal (famous Indian actor). Shaikh Ayaz had composed this poem under the influence of this very mutiny.
“Gujral said: ‘Recite a Sindhi poem so that I can guess its flow and music.’ I recited ‘O Baghi O Raj Drohi’ to him. He was really happy and said, ‘You are the Chandra Shekhar Azad of poetry’”
Birth in a multireligious society
These days Shikarpur is identified with pickles, preserves and chutneys but before the partition of India, this city was known in this region as a centre of trade, learning and literature and interreligious harmony. If the trade relations of this city extended to Samarqand, then the spiritual relations encompassed Guru Nanak and Bhagat Kabir. The Seva-panthis here built welfare hospitals and educational institutions.
Shaikh Ayaz was born in Shikarpur on 2 March 1923 in the home of Ghulam Hussain Shaikh and he passed away on the evening of 27 December 1997. His father served in the Department of Revenue and married three times. Ayaz’s mother was a Hindu widow who fell in love with his father and abandoned her family to come to him and performed nikah.
In the days when Ayaz was studying at C & S College Shikarpur, when the movement for Hindu-Muslim unity was on; theatre groups used to present dramas to make the movement effective. At that time, children’s journals were also issued from Shikarpur.
Under the Influence of Communists in Karachi
In 1940, Shaikh Ayaz took admission in D.G. College Karachi to do B.A. Here he remained in the company of left-wing writers and politicians Sobho Gianchandani, Gobind Malhi, Ibrahim Joyo and the founder of the modern nationalist ideology of Sindh, Hashoo Kewalramani.
Sobho Gianchandani had been educated at the Shantiniketan of Tagore and upon his return he was active in practicing law alongwith many trade unions. Ibrahim Joyo had returned from Bombay after being trained in B.T., where he was influenced by the founder of the Communist Party of India and philosopher M. N. Roy and was working with people associated with the Radical Party in Karachi.
In Karachi, Nagindernath Vyas and his wife Sushila were associated with these ideas; they used to publish Agi Qadam (Fire Step), the Party journal in Gujarati. Shaikh Ayaz became close to them and issued a journal of the same name in Sindhi Agti Qadam, which was the first progressive journal in Sindhi.
Gujral Gave Him the Title of ‘Chandra Shekhar’
Shaikh Ayaz writes in his autobiography that comrade Sobho once took him to the communist leader I. K. Gujral who used to live near Nishat Cinema (and later elected as the Prime Minister of India) and introducing the former said, meet him he is our red poet.
“Gujral said: ‘Recite a Sindhi poem so that I can guess its flow and music.’ I recited ‘O Baghi O Raj Drohi’ to him, he was really happy and said, ‘You are the Chandra Shekhar Azad of poetry.’”
Chandra Shekhar Azad was the comrade of Bhagat Singh and a revolutionary.
The eminent politician and writer of Sindh Rasul Bux Palijo wrote in one of his essays on the death of Shaikh Ayaz, “Shaikh Ayaz was fortunate that he found an era when there was the Progressive Writers Association, the march of Gandhi, the 1930 ‘Quit India Movement’ against the British. He inherited all of these things, the poetry of Tagore, Krishan Chander, the poetry of Faiz, was an all-comprising whole. History was restless for change and it was ordained by history to keep pace with this change.”
Resistance Within One-Unit
In 1954 when all four provinces of then-West Pakistan were declared to be One-Unit, a popular reaction against this came to the fore in Sindh. Writers, journalists and lawyers kept pace with political parties, in this situation the poetry of Shaikh Ayaz provided fuel to this movement.
The song ‘Sindhri par sar kon qurban’ (I sacrifice my life for Sindh) echoed in the lanes and quarters of Sindh and people began to come out to fiercely oppose One Unit. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), too, was an admirer of this song. It is said that one evening he had the singer of this song Ustad Ghafoor and the sarangi player Ustad Abdul Majeed summoned via helicopter to listen to it 4 times!
The progressive thinker of Sindh Ibrahim Joyo writes: “After the partition of 1947, there was silence everywhere in Sindh and in such a situation because of the poetry and prose of Shaikh Ayaz, a clamour was created again. Sindhi literature had opened its eyes in the lap of unparalleled classical poets and prose writers; but had again closed its eyes after looking here and there and in this situation it again turned a side at the voice of Ayaz. Ayaz is the first confidant of this true morning.”
With the passage of time Ayaz assumed the role of challenging all anti-people forces and consequently the 3 volumes of his poetry were banned from 1962 to 1964.
(to be continued)
All translations are by the writer. Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader, currently based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He is currently working on a book, Sahir Ludhianvi’s Lahore, Lahore’s Sahir Ludhianvi, forthcoming in 2022. He can be reached via email at email@example.com