A locomotive and a hearseJawed Naqvi - Thursday, February 10, 2011

Source : www.dawn.com

LOVERS of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a large number of them in India, are celebrating his birth centenary with fervour this week.

To the cognoscenti Faiz represented revolutionary zeal clothed in a formidable tradition of Urdu poetry. On both counts though his legacy today bears the countenance of a powerful locomotive drawing a rickety hearse.

Take the problem facing Urdu first, and then of the muddled revolution if there was one waiting to happen. Urdu is a potent language — too potent at times for its own good. Did it not play a part in the creation of Pakistan but then also contributed to the country’s dismemberment? The common people were shortchanged as Faiz himself copiously laments in his poem Subh-i-Aazadi.

Whichever way we see it, the cultural fallout of 1947 was unhelpful to people on both sides of the border. Foolish communalisation of the language by votaries of Pakistan (who wrongly believed Urdu was a language of Muslims) made it a handy ruse for its instant betrayal and ghettoisation in India. As we celebrate Faiz’s anniversary, a poignant poem by another poet, an Indian comrade of his, comes to mind.

Let me hand you over to Sahir Ludhianvi, iconic Urdu poet who like his senior comrade wove dreams for a revolutionary future for South Asia. The year is 1969 in Delhi. The Indian government, paying lip service to its constitutional commitment to Urdu, has pledged a small budget to celebrate Mirza Ghalib’s centenary. There is an Urdu equivalent of a Woodstock in the offing. Sahir responded by penning an acerbic poem Jashn-i-Ghalib. It may hold a lesson for Faiz’s partisans in India and perhaps elsewhere too. It goes like this:

Ikkees baras guzray aazadi-i-kaamil ko/Tab ja kay kahi’n hum ko Ghalib ka khayaal aaya/Turbat hai kaha’n us ki, maskan tha kaha’n uska/Ab apnay sukhan-parvar zahno’n may sawaal aaya

Sao saal say jo turbat chaadar ko tarasti thi/Ab uss pay aqeedat ke phoolo’n ki numaaish hai/Urdu ke ta’aluq say yeh bhed nahi khulta/Ye jashn, ye hungama khidmat hai ki saazish hai

Jin shehro’n may goonji thi Ghalib ki nava barso’n/Un shehro’n may ab Urdu benaam-o-nisha’n thehri/Azaadi-i-kamil ka ailaan hua jis din/Maatoob zuba’n thehri ghaddaar zuba’n thehri

Jis ahd-i-siasat ne ye zinda zuba’n kuchli/Uss ahd-i-siasat ko marhoomo’n ka gham kyu’n ho/Ghalib jisay kehtay hain Urdu hi ka shaayar tha/Urdu pay sitam dhaa kar Ghalib pe karam kyu’n ho

Ye jashn ye hangama dilchasp khilaunay hai’n/Kuchh logo’n ki koshish hai kuchh log bahel jaae’n/Jo waada-i-farda par ab tal nahin saktay hai’n/Mumkin hai ki kuchh arsaa is jashn pay tal jaae’n.

Yeh jashn mubaarak ho, par yeh bhi sadaaqat hai/Hum log haqiqat ke ehsaas se aari hai’n/Gandhi ho ki Ghalib ho insaaf ki nazro’n mei’n/Hum dono ke qaatil hai’n dono ke pujaari hai’n.

(Years after Independence it was Ghalib’s turn to be remembered/We scurried to find his grave, his home, his services rendered.

(But for the centenary binge, there would be no flowers for him/His celebrated language lay dying too, and still looks grim.

(His verses encased the fragrance of a liberated thought/ Urdu carried that perfume to places afar.

(That was before Independence, many a battle for which it fought/Only to be declared a traitor, to be told how now it was a blot.(Having throttled a thriving language where was the need/To celebrate a dead poet?/Ghalib was a lover of Urdu, after all./Why fawn on him now, and look down on his heritage, his creed?

(This centenary celebration could be likened to a child’s toy/Useful to salve our conscience, like any other ploy./Truth of the matter is/Gandhi or Ghalib, we killed them with deceit/Now that they are dead, it is tempting, even safe, to fall at their feet.)

There are evident reasons why Faiz is allowed to be celebrated by the ruthless system he had rebelled against. The foremost is that like Gandhi and Ghalib, he is now considered harmless and safe. The left movement, which was the vehicle of his rebellious poetry even as it doubled as his muse, lies in the grave it perhaps unwittingly dug for itself.Consider the Indian context. What is the biggest threat — even bigger in its scheme of things than religious fascism — the communist-led parliamentary left sees to its survival? Where is it expending its energies and ideological capital? For one, it is busy courting big business for investments in the diminishing geographical areas it still controls. And fighting a ragtag militia of Maoists appears to be its main plank.

For Faiz taking sides in this unequal standoff would have been a heartbreaking proposition. The Maoists share his egalitarian dream, and, going by the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case in which he was jailed, perhaps also his method. They were last heard crooning Hum Dekhenge. The anthem-like poem still reverberates through the deep recesses of the Chhattisgarh forests. The parliamentary left may be taking the lead role in the Faiz centenary celebrations, but it is the poorest of the poor tribespeople rejoicing in his verses that offer greater hope.

Of course, it is hardly ever a poet’s lot to savour the fruits of his dream. Faiz may be likened to
Hafiz of Shiraz who remained not only untouched by religious edicts of a mediaeval order that swamped his country but continues to inspire his Iranian followers to reject bigotry. However, that is in Iran where the poet’s language does not face imminent extinction, and where revolutionary fervour will not give way to ennui. It is in fact waiting for its chance, as it is perhaps in Egypt too.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.


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