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