VIEW: Faiz fetes Iqbal —Elf Habib - Tuesday, March 15, 2011

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Faiz had exalted socialist thought to the niche of the most cherished idol that had pervaded the Urdu and Persian literature for centuries. He had imparted it the beauty of the beloved, with its maddening magic of long hair, eyes, cheeks, stature, style and grace

In the lush vast manicured paradise expanse, cooled by the shades cast by the floating clouds and sprawling majestic oaks overhanging the limpid honey, milk, wine and water streams, were seated the two most illustrious and revered scions of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Dr Allama Muhammad Iqbal, enthusiastically acknowledged as the poet pioneering the idea of an exclusive land of the pure on this planet, had come to grace the centenary celebrations of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, idolised for his fight against tyranny, dictatorship, deprivation of the oppressed and the downtrodden and denial of the dignity and decent living to the toiling masses. The wide-eyed voluptuous houris and cup bearing Hermes hovered around in utter awe, admiration and wonder. They had been almost incurably mesmerised by the scintillating splendour, beauty, mood and style of their verses and serenades. Both icons also had some other stunning similarities, like being born at Sialkot and studying at the same institution at Lahore. Both imbibed the marvelous spirit and substance of the original Arabic and Persian sources. Both transformed the traditional Urdu and Persian ghazal from its genetic mode and matrix of beauty and romanticism to the thematic expressions generally elicited in nazm based almost on revolutionary psalms and charters. Both emphasised struggle and change and yet their thoughts, message and the mantra, despite their similarities, had been separated by the cataclysmic years of the Second World War, liberation and nationalist movements and the apocalypse that had rattled the old world notions and ideologies.

Their conversation following the cursory cordial congratulations had in fact stumbled to the same divergence. Iqbal wondered why Faiz had not followed his clarion call of waging a revolution by first becoming a true momin (believer), the ultimate paragon of faith, knowledge, piety, purity, valour, justice and obedience, and creating a corps of kindred superhumans imbued with the same intellect and intuition capable to command the change. Faiz explained the rather impossible mission of breeding the superhuman momins. Many undoubtedly acclaimed momins had, in fact, miserably flubbed in grooming even their own scions into their coveted ideals. He lightheartedly reminded him of a popular perception that his famous verses, bemoaning that the pure breed eaglet was spoiled by associating with the crows (Kharab ker gai shaheen bacchay ko suhbat-e- zagh), actually reflected Iqbal’s pain and disenchantment with his own children. Even if those apotheosised incarnates could somehow be created, the world had moved away from obeying the super genre elites, preferring more participatory and inclusive egalitarian polities devoted to the mundane problems of the common folk. Even the most organised and regimented structures, like Hitler and Mussolini’s, moulded on the supremacy and invincibility of their nations and ideologies and the strength of their men and machines, had miserably mouldered. Hosni Mubarak, Gaddafi and Kim were now similarly crumbling. Faiz also lightly mused over the surprising resemblance of Iqbal’s moustache to Mussolini’s.

Iqbal heaved an audible sigh, spewing sadness, and revealed how he had also once been intoxicated with the spirit, struggle and success of the communist revolution. This tickled the love, romance and realities to the very innards in Faiz. Iqbal continued how he had nonchalantly heralded it by announcing the demise of capitalism together with all its juggleries by declaring that Gia daur-e-surmayadari gia (The era of capitalism is gone). Yet, he craved for fusing the concept of the Creator into communism, in order to bring it closer to his idealised Islamic elixir. But now he felt dismayed as the role of religion in the state and international policies had been fast eclipsing.

Faiz was carried away by this discussion, as he had also devoted his entire life and energies to this marvellous human endeavour to extirpate the power and influence of wealth for exploitation and the miseries caused by its misdistribution and control. He had exalted socialist thought to the niche of the most cherished idol that had pervaded the Urdu and Persian literature for centuries. He had imparted it the beauty of the beloved, with its maddening magic of long hair, eyes, cheeks, stature, style and grace. Yet, he was grieved, for capitalism had been far more flexible and shrewd to incorporate some of the quintessential socialist features and thus tame the thirst for sudden change and revolution. Both agreed how the impact of revolutions, despite their romance, ravages, gory trail and heavy toll, had not been that long lasting. The straitjacket ideologies, both of Faiz and Iqbal, had been yielding to pluralism and the world had been turning more towards evolution and rapid and requisite reforms.

Evolution momentarily led them to Darwin and the power and expanse of his thought in reshaping human thought, approach and customs. They analysed how the changes had even penetrated poetic symbolism. Iqbal wondered how Faiz had entirely reversed and downgraded his concept about the power, majesty, swift rise and sweep of shaheen, the falcon. Iqbal emphasised its ascent, agility and aversion to low mundane necessities like food and shelter, and repeatedly exhorted the Muslim youth to emulate its glorified attributes. The bird actually enamoured the Romans and other ancient emperors and still fascinates the ambitious, fighters, hunters, Arab sheikhs and even adorns the great US seal. Faiz, however, in his love for the lowly and contempt against the crowned glories, turned it into a symbol of oppression and exploitation that swoops to extract even the barest minimum from the poor. Iqbal was rather more concerned about verses like “Faqa muston key nawalon peh jhapputay hain uqab/ Per tolay hooway, mundlatay huway atay hain” (The eagles snatch at the morsels of the starved/ They come with wings spread, hovering in the air). The reference to the deprived and the destitute rather depressed Faiz, who as usual felt a sudden fire leaping across the entrails as he expressed in his verse: “Ik aag see seenay main reh reh kay ubalti hai nah pooch” and could never control his heart at the thought or sight of the oppressed. Iqbal had also noticed this sudden incipient sombre introspection.

The evening shades had now quite lengthened and Iqbal began to depart with a promise to call again. Faiz also promised to visit him in April to celebrate Iqbal’s ascent to his seraphic abode. The houris and the attendants retreated in reverence, marvelling at the wondrous luck of the compatriots of this rarest duo. Nonetheless, they were also utterly amazed at their bitter failure to grasp or pursue the real core and context of their thought and crusade.

The writer is an academic and freelance columnist. He can be reached at

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