Faiz Ahmed Faiz was born in 1911 in Sialkot, in Pakistan. He spent many years in jail on political charges during Ayub Khan’s military regime in 1959. He was awarded the Lenin International Peace Prize in 1962.
A profound poet, political activist in the Marxist tradition, Faiz embodied the quintessential persona of the poets of the Indian sub-continent; from Ghalib to Iqbal and may I add Sahir Ludihanvi here also. The unique feature of Urdu poetry was and still is the beloved – which is heavily influenced by Sufi thought – revolution, blood, love, god are a maelstrom that Faiz inhabited much like his predecessors and those that were to come after him, Ahmed Faraz, Fahmida Riaz, Saeeda Gazdar.
Faiz is famous for his poem “Love, Do Ask” – dedicated to Beirut and the Palestine issue. The legendary singer Noor Jehan embraced the poem and composed music to it, propelling the poem into the world arena. Noor Jehan sang the poem at a public function whilst Faiz was in prison, winning many fans in her defiance of the martial law – she of course did this not out of political conviction but the sheer fact of the beauty of the poem and saw no danger from its words. Subsequently – Faiz bestowed the poem onto her – the poem appears as a film song in the film Qaidi (Prisoner) – with Noor Jehan as the playback singer.
An extract from Love, Do Not Ask translated by Victor Kiernan
Woven into silk and satin and brocade,
Bodies sold everywhere in alley and market,
Smeared with dust, washed in blood,
Bodies that have emerged from the ovens of diseases,
Pus flowing from rotten ulcers-
My gales come back that way too; what is to be done?
Your beauty is still charming, but what is to be done?
There are other sufferings in the world beside love,
There are other pleasures besides the pleasures of union;
Do not ask from me, my beloved, live like that former one.
Faiz’s poetry highlighted the betrayal of the founding of Pakistan, the persecution of minorities, martial laws, public floggings, public executions changed the nature of its creation. The vulnerable were no longer safe in the land created to protect them. Aj Bazar Mein (today in the city) is a shocking and revelaroty poem encapculating the brutality of the regimes in Paksitan since its creation.