Iss waqt yun lagta hai ke kuchh bhi nahi hai, mehtaab na sooraj, na andhera na sawera are some of the golden words written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. As I started jotting this article down, it occurred to me that I must begin by addressing the current situation of the world, specifically Pakistan, as in the changing global politics, threats like that of climate change, conflicts, human trafficking, homelessness, hunger, incessant sadness, blurred memories, the irreversible hurt, etc. that linger and loom over us. And I couldn’t think of a better way to address the aforementioned problems than this very couplet by Faiz. In Faiz’s work, one would usually see a transition from a state of restlessness to one where the storm is expected to eventually stop, and the dust settles in.
Faiz’s poetry has always soothed the readers, shown them a new ray of hope and been a source of optimism for many. And the most unparalleled thing about his poetry is that his Marxist perspective and progressive thoughts that he poeticized sound like words written for a lover. The attributes of both genres – love and progressive poetry – present in Faiz’s poetry make it very subjective as well. For example, when I first listened to the late Nayyara Noor sing Ham Ke Thehre Ajnabi, a nazm written by Faiz on the fall of Dhaka and the division of East Pakistan, I did not know about the context. Hence I assumed that this nazm was formulated for a dear one who had separated themselves from Faiz, although it referred to the people of Bangladesh in general. There are many poems where one could see Faiz formulate the couplets in a similar way. Poems like Yeh Raat Is Dard Ka Shajar Hai, Nisaar Main Teri Galiyon Ke Ae Watan Ke Jahan, Ham Ke Thehre Ajnabi, and Hazar Karo Mere Tan Se are some of the best pieces of work of the avowed Marxist that fall in the same category.
With the hope that things will eventually settle down in the drowning Pakistan, let us dive into the ambivalence of Faiz’s poetry.
Yeh Raat Iss Dard Ka Shajar Hai
When Faiz was in the Montgomery jail of Hyderabad in 1951, he would often exchange letters with his wife Alys. The poetry he wrote during his time in jail is famous and more heard of as being behind bars did not bring a bad image to his name. It, quite contradictorily, made him rise to prominence, and his work was now being read and enjoyed more by the common audience, the ones who looked up to him.
The letters that were exchanged during this time by Alys and Faiz have a lot of sentimental value. The couple expresses “a range of emotions from romantic to dispiriting and from uplifting to fun-loving.” In this very poem, Faiz begins by expressing his state of sadness and despair in the first couplet. Then, he moves on to sharing how, during this dark night that reeks of loneliness, depression, and gloom, he could see and experience a glimpse or have an epiphany of happiness. Faiz basically intends to convey that although the night is full of sorrows, there is a point in time when the heart rejoices.
He then goes on to utilize the sadness of the night while he spends his time away from his family in prison. He writes:
vo ġham jo is raat kā samar hai
kuchh aur tap jaa.e apnī aahoñ
kī aañch meñ to yahī sharar hai
In these lines, he notes that by channelling the suffocation and frustration that the night has to offer, he can make it his biggest weapon and use it. Here, one can sense how the theme of the poem has gone from being a message specifically written for a lover (his wife, in this case) to being a set of lines that can be used to inspire resilience and motivation in the oppressed and the underrepresented strata of the society. Take this couplet, for example:
kī sub.h aflāk par nahīñ hai
jahāñ pe ham tum khaḌe haiñ donoñ
sahar kā raushan ufuq yahīñ hai
yahīñ pe ġham ke sharār khil kar
shafaq kā gulzār ban ga.e haiñ
Here, Faiz is referring to those who are unfortunate and those whose hearts have been broken. He means that the sadness of the night does not necessarily have to disappear with the emergence of the morning; the removal of despair will only occur when we are together, which is also when grief will annihilate for the better.
A long period of political turmoil and instability culminated in Pakistan’s first military government in 1958. Hence, this poem was penned down as a gesture that showed that Faiz felt for the ordinary people
If we see the gist of the poem as a whole, we can see that the way it is written and formulated, it can be applied to society as well. Since Faiz’s ideas are progressive and he was associated with the Left, this poem stands true to the struggle of the common people towards better lives, justice and equity and can be used to mobilize masses, albeit the motive behind this poem was different.
Nisaar Main Teri Galiyon Ke Ae Watan Jahan
Faiz was a revolutionary. What he wrote did yield an effect; he inspired millions to write and read more. Whoever read Faiz loved and embraced him. His poetry reverberates an unrequited love and unfulfilled vision he had for the homeland. This poem is one of the many poems that Faiz has written for a state he had always aspired to see, and it shows his love for the motherland. Famously known as “The Soil of My Land,” this poem was written in 1952 on the fifth anniversary of Pakistan’s independence. As per Alys Faiz, there was a celebration at the jail, and everyone rejoiced. Faiz, on the other hand, felt that the ordinary people of Pakistan had nothing to rejoice about. Mohammad Ali Jinnah had died just a year after the independence. Liaquat Ali Khan, the prime minister, had also been assassinated. A long period of political turmoil and instability culminated in Pakistan’s first military government in 1958. Hence, this poem was penned down as a gesture that showed that Faiz felt for the ordinary people and that there would be a bright and brilliant day when the night of sadness and despondency will annihilate.
However, Faiz’s poems require a certain context. There is a lot of overlap between the poems that he has written for a lover and the ones written for the love of the homeland. Take these few lines, for example:
gar aaj tujh se judā haiñ to kal baham hoñge
ye raat bhar kī judā.ī to koī baat nahīñ
gar aaj auj pe hai tāla-e-raqīb to kyā
ye chaar din kī ḳhudā.ī to koī baat nahīñ
jo tujh se ahd-e-vafā ustuvār rakhte haiñ
ilāj-e-gardish-e-lail-o-nahār rakhte haiñ
These are the ending lines of this poem, and as it is clear, a naïve reader who doesn’t have the context of the poem will probably consider it a poem written on the separation of a lover. Faiz here is referring to the state he wishes to see, but he portrays it in a way that it looks like he is communicating with a loved one about how the wait is eventually going to be over and that they will reunite. This is an aesthetic of his poetry and probably one of the many reasons he is loved and appreciated by the masses to date. While Faiz is a household name for his progressive poetry, there are poets who have criticized the state more harshly and been very straightforward, but their fame is not comparable to that of Faiz. One reason that I think that is the case is the quality of Faiz’s poetry. The depth and intricacies in his poetry and its dual nature make it open to more than one interpretation, as is the case with Nisaar Main Teri Galiyon Ke.
Ham Ke Thehre Ajnabi
One of my most favourite poems of Faiz, Ham Ke Thehre Ajnabi, was written with a very heavy heart. When the fall of Dhaka took place after much political turmoil and several executions, which included Faiz’s literary friends like Munir Chowdhary and Shahidullah Qaiser, there were questions raised at Faiz. The intellectuals of Bangladesh criticized Faiz’s choice of staying silent on military operations against the new state and the atrocities inflicted on those who demanded the separation of Bangladesh.
This led to Faiz losing his friendships across the border, and he came back with sheer disappointment after his visit to Bangladesh. That’s when he wrote Ham Ke Thehre Ajnabi – a heartfelt poem that gives voice to his sentiments. Sung by Nayyara Noor later, this poem gained widespread fame and acknowledgement.
This poem is an apt example of Faiz’s literary style. Take the very first few lines, for example:
ham ki Thahre ajnabī itnī mudārātoñ ke ba.ad
phir baneñge āshnā kitnī mulāqātoñ ke ba.ad
kab nazar meñ aa.egī be-dāġh sabze kī bahār
ḳhuun ke dhabbe dhuleñge kitnī barsātoñ ke ba.ad
This couplet encapsulates his love for the people that became a different nation within a few decades of Pakistan’s inception. Faiz and those people are now estranged and divided after sharing so much and meeting so many times with each other. Time has been cruel. Nobody knows when the estrangement will be substituted by the amiability and amicability like the bygone days. Faiz writes about an entire nation as if he’s writing to somebody he loved and met on a regular basis. Thus, in Faiz’s most progressive and homeland-based poetry, there are several references that people frequently use for lovers.
Hazar Karo Mere Tan Se
One of Faiz’s masterpieces, this poem was written during the Indo-Pak war of 1971. This very poem was written as “a warning to the oppressors in 1971 as it talks of the oceans of suppressed anger and the bottled-up desire for retribution as powerful indictments of tyranny.”
Hazar Karo Mere Tan Se is one of the many pieces that would eventually get Faiz jailed. He was told by his friends to write only on patriotism and compose national songs. However, Faiz chose to write about what he saw and what the truth was. The extreme nature of torture and tyranny on the common people during the struggle of the making of Bangladesh at the time of authoritarianism was such that women were raped, children and men brutally killed on the streets. When Faiz saw all of this, he wrote this very poem.
In Hazar Karo Mere Tan Se, Faiz writes that the common person’s body doesn’t have blood anymore. The blood has been substituted by the most poisonous form of liquid. If you tear open their veins, you will find how the years of agony and difficulties have turned his body into a river of poison. Faiz uses the anatomical references in a very metaphysical way to show the world that the common people are not afraid. The torture inflicted on him repeatedly has now become his strength. He has become lethal, and he’s now absolutely ready to defend himself. This poem serves as a warning to the tyrants of the time that the common man is no longer submissive, that he will rise and emerge like a force to reckon with.
Faiz’s contribution to the world of literature and on-ground mobilization of masses is significant. However, it is his hybrid genre of writing, both progressive and love poetry, that sets him apart. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, as per some accounts, felt that his contributions were not enough. He was loved when he started writing; he was adored even when he was thrown into jail. Faiz felt that he got way more than his share. Moreover, Faiz had also briefly talked about the challenges the loved ones of an ideal face. To me, in a society like that of Pakistan that sometimes lacks tolerance and empathy, Faiz dared to be one of the few to constantly risk his life to raise his voice for good.
Despite the sundry challenges that he had to face, he stood loyal to his talent, his occupation and his duties as a citizen of a country that had yet not succeeded in catering to the common people. While his progressive poetry is worth reading, Faiz’s love poetry also left no stone unturned. Be it an account of a brief meeting with a lady in the jail, as portrayed in Ae Habib Ambar Dast or any other piece of love poetry, Faiz’s name had always been at the top. In conclusion, Faiz indeed was a romantic rebel.