(on the 30th death anniversary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a poet much loved in Pakistan and India)
(Picture by Sunil Janah)
21 November 1984. Faiz Ahmed Faiz came to me in an obituary in the newspaper, The Tribune, when I was a curious high school student preparing for a general knowledge quiz.
1987. Faiz reappeared in a communist march, with his tarana, “Hum mehnatkash jagwalon se jab apna hissa maangeygain,” the equivalent of the Internationale in Hindustani–on my lips.
Faiz came to me a year later, in a small booklet that was published by some radical outfit that is long gone.
Faiz came to me in his collected poems, Saare Sukhan Hamare (“All words are ours”). I made a long trip to old Delhi’s Daryaganj in DTC buses to Raj Kamal Prakashan to procure the book just published at the then royal price of Rs 100. It was that difficult, and that expensive to buy it. The book still accompanies me, along with the “Diwan e Ghalib” a quarter of a century later.
Faiz’s quatrain, “Raat yoon teri khoyi hui yaad aayi” (“And in such ways your lost memories came as night fell”) became my first painting that I made inspired by a poem. The painting was lost soon after when the disk crashed. The memory of the painting still lives with me.
Raat yun dil mein teri khoyi hui yaad aayi,
Jaise viraane mein chupke se bahaar aa jaye,
Jaise sehraaon mein haule se chale baad-e-naseem,
Jaise beemaar ko be-wajhe qaraar aa jaaye.
(Last night, your long-lost memory came back to me as though
Spring stealthily should come to a forsaken wilderness
A gentle breeze its fragrance over burning deserts blow
Or, all at once be soothed somehow the sick soul’s distress. (Tr by Sarvat Rehman)
Faiz was with me as I travelled across countries. The pages of the book turned brown. It accumulated jottings of Urdu words that I did not know the meaning of. The original words became part of my vocabulary.
Over the years, I am beginning to forget them again. Sometimes, their meanings come back to me. Sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes, I try to read the pencil jottings once again. I have to bring the page closer to my eyes. The pencil marks are fading, and so is my vision.
Faiz comes to me when I listen to Mehdi Hassan. Gulon main rang bhare… Faiz’s best poetry, I now realize was not the revolutionary taranas that enamoured me as a student, but the ghazals that he wrote when he was waiting for his execution in a jail in Hyderabad, Sindh.
Faiz has come to me when reading Alfred Tennyson. I wonder if indeed Tennyson wrote “In Memorium” after Faiz’s “ Tum Mere Paas Raho”
And when wine, as it is poured, is the sobbing
of children whom nothing will console–
when nothing holds,
when nothing is:
at that dark hour when night mourns,
be near me, my destroyer, my lover me,
be near me.
(Translation by Agha Shahid Ali from The Rebel’s Silhouette)
Faiz has come to me when the going was tough, in love or at work.
They were lucky
who considered love to be a full time job
who believed that work itself was love
As long as I lived, I remained busy
I loved a little, and worked a little
Finally fed up
I left both unfinished.
Faiz comes to me in those moments of despair when even an atheist needs succour and no amount of rational reasoning can provide relief.
Come, let’s raise our hands in prayer too,
We, who do not remember the rituals of prayer.
We, who except for the feeling of love,
do not owe allegiance to any deity or God.
Faiz comes to me when I listen to Chopin on my tablet as Israel pounds Gaza. Chopin ka nagma bajta hai (“Chopin’s symphony plays”)
“Sadness has sculpted
A father’s face in stone
A mother has kissed
the forehead of her dead son
Chopin’s symphony plays”
Faiz has come to me to clinch many an argument:
Jis baat ka saare fasaney main zikr tak na tha
Wohi baat unko nagawaar guzri hai
(The incident that was not in the story that I narrated
That is the one that has upset them)
Faiz comes to me in a dream. October 2010.
I am in Cairo, walking with a faceless Egyptian . We are walking along a bridge that connects two buildings. The two of us discuss Faiz, and suddenly, we see a misty figure in a gray suit. I point out to my friend, ‘See, there goes Faiz”. Both of us look at him, wonder-struck.
We keep walking.
I mention to my friend that Naguib Mahfouz also wrote poetry. My friend looks up at dark clouds in the sky and recites a couple of lines, implying that these are by Mahfouz:
The skies wear
A widow’s shroud
I remember the dream a few weeks later as I watched the surcharged demonstrations on the streets of Cairo. Not even in my dreams, though, could I have imagined the Egyptian people would be out on the streets, trying to rip apart the dark shrouds from the country’s skies. It seems Faiz and Mahfouz are together on the streets.
Dead poets and writers indeed march on in the streets among barricades, as night falls.
And in such myraid ways does their memory come to us, as night falls.