ROVER’S DIARY: Faiz’s unfinished agenda and the new generation — II —Babar Ayaz - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

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The disconnect between Faiz’s message and the teacher/student of today is because, when he was alive, the establishment incarcerated him and forced him to live in exile

Last Tuesday, I briefly touched upon the relevance of Faiz’s poetry and lamented that his social agenda remains unfinished. Perhaps today he would have been more tormented at a time when freedom of expression is seriously endangered. It has been 27 years since he left the baton of social change in our hands, but, unfortunately, we have not been able to further his cause.

From the presidential houses of Pakistan and India to the workers’ katchi abadis (squatter camps), his 100th birthday is being celebrated in the country and abroad. Though Faiz was one of the greatest poets of the last century, the younger generation has not been initiated in the works of Faiz in schools and colleges. Many who are now attempting to understand him and his work, I am afraid, are likely to misinterpret the message of Faiz. Let me give you one such example: a few days back, a club in Karachi undertook a good initiative to organise an evening to celebrate his centenary. The main speaker was my friend who can today be called a hafiz of Faiz. Schoolgirls from a government school presented a tableau on Faiz’s anthem Hum Daikhain Gay. The teachers and children did well but, unfortunately, they had taken Faiz’s poetry too literally. As much of the Urdu poetry is influenced by the Islamic diction, the hazards of its misinterpretation are many. So the teachers took the line “Jab arz-e-Khuda kay ka’bay say/sab but uthwa-e-jaaingay” (The day when all idols/ Will be thrown out of this sacred world), a flag with Islamic icons removed the girls who played the but (idols). And when Faiz says, “Utthay ga Anul-Haq ka na’ra” (The cry ‘I am Truth’/ Will rend the skies), the tableau shows children dressed as Arab warriors with swords in their hands chanting, “Allah-o-Akbar” (God is great).

Now this interpretation of Faiz, who believed in a pluralistic, secular society and that his poetry was for all, breaking the barriers of religion and geography, is a distortion of his humane philosophy of life. The children and teachers who worked hard cannot be blamed for this because, in these times, religious extremism and revivalism are rising in our country. The disconnect between Faiz’s message and the teacher/student of today is because, when he was alive, the establishment incarcerated him and forced him to live in exile. His poetry and prose were never included in the curriculum. Since his death, Faiz has been sung but that is all. What should be done is the inclusion of his selected poetry at various levels in the Urdu curriculum along with articles on his life and message.

Faiz was not a man without an ideology on life. He joined the Progressive Writers Association (PWA) and was the first secretary of Punjab in 1938. He was deeply involved with the Communist Party of Pakistan and was the first Editor of Pakistan Times and other progressive papers of the group. He was also the president of trade unions and was not a poet who believed that his task ended after writing beautiful verses. He participated in the struggle for the dispossessed throughout his life. As for himself, he said, “Poetry should include artistic qualities and a social message.” He once wrote, “A completely good verse is the one which fulfils not only the quality of art but should also meet the quality of life” (the quotes are translations from Urdu).

This is the message that the progressive writers gave in 1936 when the movement was launched in Lucknow by Sajjad Zaheer and many other leading writers, keeping in line with the international movement. This message influenced writers of all languages around the world and is valid even today. The role of progressive writers is to contribute, through their works, in dealing with the realities of life and helping in hastening the process of human progress. On the other hand, there has always been a view that art has to be for art’s sake, without accepting any social responsibility.

It is because of this commitment to progressive thought that the PWA was banned along with the Democratic Students Federation and Communist Party. Faiz was jailed much before that by the government, which wanted to please the Americans by showing that they had cracked down on the socialist movement in the country. After a few years of his release, he launched the Awami Adabi Anjuman with one of the most respected Marxists, Dr M R Hassan, who was also his vice-principal at the Abdullah Haroon College. This college is located in the old Karachi Lyari area and it gave many progressive writers and activists to society. Awami Adabi Anjuman’s manifesto is perhaps the only document that was signed by the writers of all the languages of Pakistan like Sheikh Ayaz, Ajmal Khattak and Gul Khan Naseer. The manifesto was also an important document because, for the first time, writers declared that provincial languages should have the status of national languages and Urdu the status of lingua franca. The courage to float such a document obviously attracted the wrath of the writers in the official fold and the Writers’ Guild ran a newspaper campaign claiming that the progressives were weakening the process of “Pakistani nation building”.

This remains an unresolved issue even today. This year, many national language writers held seminars and rallies in support of their respective national languages. The fact is that because our basic education is not in our respective mother tongues, many children are left behind in education and in understanding completely what they are taught. The need is that basic education and official correspondence should be in the national languages and Urdu and English should be compulsory.

Faiz was a clear-headed intellectual, a fact that is reflected in the views expressed by him on various national issues in his articles and speeches. Let us strive for his universal and humane messages and thoughts to be passed on in their true spirit. The government has declared 2011 as ‘Faiz Year’ but that should not be all. I reiterate that a committee of scholars on Faiz and academicians be formed to decide which poem or article on him should be included at what stage. Otherwise, once the year is over, the fervour will die down and Faiz will be hijacked by the very elements he struggled against.


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