Dogs – A Legacy for Pakistan

Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote ‘Dogs’ during the struggle against the British Raj,  but the words are as apt for the state of Pakistan  today. The feudal  system of the rule of the Bhutto’s  to the brutal regime of Musharraf exposes the lack of progress for a country created with a multitude of ambitions for its minorities.

These wandering unemployed gods of the streets,
On whom has been bestowed ardour for beggary,
The curses of the age their property,
The abuse of the whole world their earnings;
Neither rest at night nor comfort in the morning,
Dwellings in the dirt, night-lodgings in the drains;
If they rebel, make one fight another,
Just show them a piece of bread –
They who suffers the kicks of everyone,
Who will die worn out with starvation…

If these oppressed creatures lifted their head,
Mankind would forget all its insolence:
If they wished they would make the earth either own,
They would chew even the bones of the masters –
If only someone showed them consciousness of degradation,
If only someone shook their sleeping tails!

Extract from ‘Poems by Faiz’ Translated by Victor Kiernan published by Vanguard Books (PVT) Ltd , South Publications, London

A Stain Covered Day Break

Dawn of Freedom – August 1947 was a poem was written as comment on the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan,  and sadly the words rings true of Pakistan today. 

Ye dagh dagh ujala, ye shab-gazida sahar,
Vo initizar tha jis-ka, ye vo sahar to nahin,
Ye vo sahar to nahin jis-ki arzu lekar
Chale the yar ke mil-ja’egi kahin na kahin
Falak ke dasht mein taron ki akhiri manzil…..

Dawn of freedom
This stain-covered daybreak, this night-bitten dawn,
This is not that dawn of which there was expectation;
This is not that dawn with longing for which friends set out
That somewhere they would be met within the desert of the sky
The final destination of the stars…..

Extract from ‘Poems by Faiz’ Translated by Victor Kiernan   published by Vanguard Books (PVT) Ltd , South Publications, London


Ground Hog Day in the Bazaar’s of Pakistan

Here is a beautiful rendition of poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz,  Aaj Bazaar Mein (Today in the Bazaar) being initially read by him, then continued by song which is sung to images  of the day to day life in Pakistan during the Zia-ul-Haq  era. It seems that Pakistan is trapped in a ground hog day.

A dedication to Kenya

As events continue to spiral out of hand in Kenya, the plight of many minorities in the country remains uncertain. Once a country on the road to recovery from it’s colonial past, Kenya looks like as if its on a journey of no return. The hopes and desires in this poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, written for Africa  now seem to lay in ruins. 

Come Africa by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Come, I have heard the ecstasy of your drum –
Come, the beating of my blood has become mad –
‘Come, Africa!’
Come, I have lifted my forehead from the dust –
Come, I have scraped from my eyes the skin of grief –
Come, I have released my arm from pain –
Come, I have clawed through the snare of helplessness –
‘Come, Africa!’

In my grasp a link of the manacle has become a mace,
I have broken the iron-collar on my neck and moulded it into a shield –
‘Come, Africa!’

The earth is throbbing along with me, Africa,
The river dances and the forest beats time;
I am Africa; I have taken your figure
I am you; my walk is your lion walk:
‘Come Africa!’
Come with lion walk –
‘Come, Africa!’

‘Come Africa’ appears in ‘Poems by Faiz’ translated by Victor Kiernan and published by Vanguard Books PVT Ltd, South Publication, London 1971. Copyright UNESCO 1971

Salima Hashmi Arrested

“The objective of art is to give life a shape and though artists cannot change the world they can, through their work, give flight to imagination; they can give you the direction” Salima Hashmi

The recent arrest of Professor Salima Hashmi, daughter of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, highlights the crisis that Pakistan continues to face as democratic forces fail to engage effectively with the masses and the occupying power. General Musharraf’s knee jerk reaction of arresting human rights activist, lawyers and Judges leaves no room for progress and instead invites the like of Benazir Bhutto to intervene ensuring a bloody civil war. Silencing artists, thinkers, and intellectuals mirrors the actions of dictators such as Saddam Hussain and the Iranian regime.

Salima Hashmi’s contribution to the advent of art in Pakistan cannot be understated. She has been the Dean at the School of Visual Arts, Beacon house National University, Lahore. In addition, she is an activist, a painter, art educationist, writer and curator. In recent years she has been working on developing closer links with India and working towards a unity group. She was educated at the National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore, the Bath Academy of Art, U.K., and the Rhode Island School of Design, USA.

In addition, Salima taught for 30 years at NCA, Pakistan’s premier art institution, and retired as its Principal. Her work has been exhibited, and she has traveled and lectured extensively all over the world. She has also curated numerous international art shows in England, Europe, the USA, Australia, Japan and India.

Salima Hashmi is a recipient of The President’s Award for Pride of Performance, Pakistan.

Despite international protests, Salima Hashmi’s arrest alongside that of the renowned human rights Activist Asma Jahanghir has gone unheard. Surender Bhutani, Indo-Asian News Service from Doha, at the Hindustan Times writes further about Salima Hashmi’s arrest.

Salima Hashmi, an activist, painter and daughter of famous Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, has been arrested in Pakistan following the imposition of emergency, fellow activist Asma Jahanghir told a TV news channel Sunday.

“I am under house arrest (and) so is my dear friend Salima Hashmi,” Jahanghir, president of the Pakistan Human Rights Movement, told the Al Jazeera TV channel from Islamabad.

To read the full article go to Hindustan Times

Mehdi Hasan

When Lata Mangeshkar described Mehdi Hasan as perhaps one of the greatest singers, she was making a much needed recognition of an extraordinary talent. She further commented that she had much to learn from him, particularly his ability to take you to the place of the lyrics imparting from his lips.

Mehdi Hasan was born in India into a family which hailed from a great tradition north Indian classical music. Forced to move to Pakistan after the partition of India, Mehdi Hasan perhaps lost out on the global recognition for his extraordinary talent had he stayed in India.

Despite the limited audiences initially, he soon made the ghazal popular and inspired many to sing in a semi classical style and he had a major impact in the Urdu/Hindi speaking world with making ghazals popular in film per se.

Singing the works of Ahmed Faraz and Faiz Ahmed Faiz in Pakistani films, Mehdi Hasan reached international fame.

Perhaps it was the fate of artists of that era who were given begrudging recognition in Pakistan. Unable to embrace its artists due to Pakistan’s Islamic heritage, shunning many and letting traditions such as Mehdi Hasan’s slip away will no doubt leave a deep crevasse in creative expression.


Rapture and Spirit – the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz

I return often to the poems by Faiz, the Pakistani poet writing Urdu – perhaps out of some romantic memory or a longing to be a particular way, I don’t know. I know my mother loved him – I know that he had a profound effect on the psyche of the nation of Pakistan. Despite his protests, very little progress occurred in a land created to protect minorities from persecution, religious or otherwise. Reading in-between his words, you sense a feeling of betrayal – like that of Sahir’s epic lyrics in Pyaasa: “Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Per Woh Kahan Hai?” (Those who have pride in India, where are they now?).

In Poems by Faiz, translated by Victor Kiernan (where I return to, as if a refuge), Kiernan writes about Faiz that:

“Love and religion shared besides a common emblem in wine, another refinement of gross fact into ideal essence. If in the feudal courts liquor forbidden to the faithful ran freely, and Ghalib might be a serious drinker, poetically wine stood for exaltation, inspiration, and the tavern was the abode of truly heart-felt spiritual experience as opposed to the formal creed of the mosque. Drunkenness and madness are near allied, and the later – junoon, ‘rapture’ in the literal sense of possession by a spirit (Jinn) – retain some of the aura that surrounds it among primitive people, it might be either the passion of the worshipper of beauty throwing the world away for love or the ecstasy of the acolyte despising material success in his heavenly quest. All this vogue of ‘madness’ was a recoil from the hard fixity of life, the rigid framework within which man as a social animal imprisons himself….”

Complex, genius, profound, provocative and revolutionary – Faiz Ahmed Faiz remains an enigma.


These wandering unemployed dogs of the streets,
On whom has been bestowed ardour for beggary,
The curses of the age their property,
The abuse of the whole world their earnings,
Neither rest at night nor comfort in the morning,
Dwellings in the dirt, night-lodgings in the drains:-
If they rebel, make one fight another,
Just show them a piece of bread –
They who suffer the kicks of everyone,
Who will die worn out with starvation.

If these oppressed creatures lifted their heads,
Mankind would forget all its insolence;
If they wished they would make the earth their own,
They would chew even the bone of the masters –
If only someone showed them consciousness of degradation,
If only someone shook their sleeping tails!

Poems by Faiz – translated by Victor Kiernan Vanguard Books (PVT) Ltd South Publications, London 1971

Faiz – Love, Do Not Ask

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.