Faiz and Minto
By Lisette Poole

The year was 1949. A young student leader in Pakistan was asked to drive an underground intellectual to an unpublicized meeting with individuals whose identity he did not know. Two years later both were arrested. The underground intellectual was none other than South Asia’s poet laureate, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and the youth was Abid Hassan Minto, a rising star in the progressive movement.
The two, along with a number of other progressive intellectuals, writers and thinkers, and 13 military officers, including Major General Akbar Khan and his activist wife Naseem Akbar, were arrested in March 1951 on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government and bring about a socialist revolution. The government was unable to prove these charges in the court of law. All accused were set free after a few years in prison. The case is popularly known as the Rawalpindi conspiracy case and Faiz was among the last to be released in September 1955.
While they were all still in prison, Faiz’s new book of poems entitled Dust-e-Saba was published. Commenting on the book, Syed Sajjad Zaheer, a leading Marxist intellectual of South Asia, perceptively predicted that “in the fullness of time, when people will forget about the Rawalpindi conspiracy case, the historian will evaluate the important events of 1952 and most likely this short book of poems will be judged as the most important historical event of the year.”
That this came to pass is self-evident.
Faiz and Minto remained life-long colleagues working together to uplift the masses and resist the marshal law, feudalism and imperialism in the whole region. Despite his incarceration Faiz had become the most revered poet of his time. His poem, Sub’hai Azadi (“Elusive Dawn”) became the unofficial anthem of Pakistan for those who were unwilling to settle for a corrupt society. He wrote:
This trembling light, this night-bitten dawn,
This is not the dawn, we have waited for so long
This is not the dawn whose birth was sired
By so many live, so much blood

Generations ago, we started our confident march
Our hopes were young, our goals within reach
After all, there must be some limit
To the confusing constellation of stars
In a vast forest of the sy
Even the lazy languid waves
Must reach at last their appointed shore

And so we wistfully prayed
For a consummate end to our painful search
Many a temptation crossed our forbidden path
Many inviting bodies, many longing arms
Many seductive pleasures beckoned on our way

But we stayed faithful to our distant dream
We kept marching to a different drum
We kept searching for our lost freedom
We kept looking for our elusive dawn

We are told: our new Dawn is already here;
Your tired feet need journey no more
Our rulers whisper seductively
Why this constant struggle? Why, this perpetual search
Come, join us, enjoy this new-found wealth
Built by the toil of our “liberated” poor

And yet, even today
Our hearts are aflame
Our desires unquenched
Our goals unmet

Was there a streak of light?
Where did it go?
The wayside lamp just blinked unawares

This is yet no relief in the darkness of the night
No liberation yet of our souls and minds
So let us keep marching, my tiring friends
We have yet to find our elusive dawn (Translation by Mahbul Haq)
Faiz understood the inherent flaws of the newly decolonized countries of the Third World. Noted political scientist Dr. Eqbal Ahmed astutely observed that Faiz was the first intellectual in the Third World to capture the incipient “mood of disillusionment” with the post-colonial states and their incipient elites. Faiz’s poems, published exactly a decade and a half before Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, highlighted the frustrating incompletion of the newly- won freedoms—thus the metaphor ‘Elusive Dawn.’
This July 2005, roughly 54 years since Faiz and Minto walked together down the difficult path, the Pakistan American Democratic Forum (PADF) conferred its prestigious Faiz Ahmed Faiz award on Minto, now 74, to honor him for his life-long work on behalf of human rights, equality and social justice in Pakistan. It read:
“Presented to Mr. Abid Hassan Minto in recognition of his lifelong struggle against militarism, feudalism, neocolonialism and imperialism.

“Cognizant of the fact that you have spent fifty years, half a century, leading nationwide movements for poverty alleviation, rule of law, due process and equal justice in Pakistan, we salute you for your continued struggle for human rights, women’s rights, minority rights and rights of the working classes.”

San Francisco, California
July 12, 2005

Ostensibly, PADF named the award for Faiz because he has come to symbolize the quest for freedom and equality, fraternity with the Third World, opposition to oppression and a thirst for peace. Moreover, Faiz is seen as the poet who felt that the pursuit of freedom was incomplete despite the end of British rule. It was he who wrote “Cha’lai cha’lo keh voh munzil aabhi nahin ay’ ee (“keep going, the destiny is still far away”).
In his essay “Faiz: A Poet of Mansur and Qais”, Dr. Agha Saeed writes:
Faiz thinks through the mind of a revolutionary, feels with the heart of a lover, speaks the language of a poet and is in constant consultation with a Sufi’s conscience…. The uncharted journeys of struggle, which came after he had been harassed, maligned and imprisoned, took him to foreign lands and newer destinies. His concerns became global and his passion universal. A world map emerged in his poetry. He looked at Africa and called out:
Come, Africa! 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 scrapped 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. (Translation by Victor Kiernan)
Faiz dedicated one of his last books Me’rai Dil, Me’rai Musafir to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom he considered one of the major freedom fighters of the 20th century. The poems are replete with his unbounded love for the Palestinian:
Your enemies have destroyed one Palestine
My wounds have blossomed into many Palestines.
Palestine blossomed in Faiz’s imagination during the last years of his life, and brought a new, somewhat sadder, shade to his poetry. Between Palestine and Pakistan the poetic journey was concluded.
In the concluding years of his life, Faiz had gained such a universal recognition that at that stage, as Ahmed Faraz puts it, “Neither his friends could add to his stature nor his detractors could lessen it.”
Too humble and shy to tell the audience about his personal friendship with Faiz, Minto thanked the group saying “It is a great honor to receive this award. Faiz was a great poet and I am gratified.” Yet, those who know Minto well could see how deeply he was moved largely because of his profound understanding and appreciation for Faiz’s prodigious intellectual contributions that have sustained generations in hopeful pursuit of the “Real Dawn”—Sub-e-Sadiq.
Minto, soft spoken, yet firm in his convictions, remains active in the political life of Pakistan since late 1940s when he, Faiz and a core of committed progressives and nationalists sought independence from British colonial rule. He is one of the most articulate voices of his generation to champion the rights of the underprivileged demanding higher wages for the working class, land reform and benefits for the farmers and an end to the feudalism and comprador capitalism which concentrates wealth in the hands of a few.
On a professional level he is a constitutional expert, law professor, author, literary critic, public intellectual, political leader, and the current President of the National Workers’ Party of Pakistan—a grassroots organization, similar to the Green Party in the US.
In 1974, Minto boldly stood down the growing dictatorship of Zulfikar Ali Bhuto when he represented Khan Abdul Wali Khan, leader of the combined opposition in the national parliament, during the infamous Hyderabad conspiracy case. In addition to Khan Abdul Wali Khan, the case also implicated two governors, two chief ministers, scores of national and provincial parliamentarians, revolutionary poet Habib Jalib and even some of Bhutto’s former colleagues, many of whom were later re-elected and became federal or provincial ministers. Most of the accused were leaders of minority provinces.
At stake were constitutional rights, rule of law, provincial autonomy, institution building, the democratic right to dissent, and the freedom of speech and association. It was a decisive moment in the history of the country as Bhutto, who having presided over the adoption of a consensus constitution had suspended it within 48 hours and ruled the country under emergency laws for the duration of his tenure till his overthrow by Zia ul-Haq in July 1977.
During the presidency of Zia ul-Haq, Minto was elected to chair the All-Pakistan Lawyers’ Association against Martial Law to lead the national struggle against yet another dictatorship. Of course he had to pay a heavy price for his courage of conviction. Imprisoned by Gen. Zia, he was adopted as a prisoner of conscience by the Amnesty International. In 1990, when Mr. Nelson Mandela was elected President International Lawyers’ Association, Mr. Abid Minto was elected as Vice President of the same organization. They worked as a team from 1990 to 1995.
Shortly after, in 1997, he was elected President of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association. As documented in the press, “declining many offers of judgeship in the higher courts and ministries in various governments, he has spent fifty years, half a century, leading nationwide movements for poverty alleviation, rule of law, due process and equal justice in Pakistan. His principled stand and struggle against militarism, feudalism, nepotism and malfeasance has been internationally applauded. He has spent his life struggling for human rights, women’s rights, minority rights and rights of the working classes in Pakistan.”
Minto and Faiz continued to work together in one forum or the other till Faiz’s death in 1984. Minto was twice blessed by his close friendship with Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib, the two most gifted and conscientious poets of Pakistan. Often confused with the legendary fiction writer Sadat Hassan Manto, his uncle, Abid Hassan Minto along with C. R. Aslam and others, gave the best years of his life to build foundations on the ground to sustain the visions of his poet friends. This praxis – translating ideas into material reality – is his contribution.
The revolutionary poet Habib Jalib called C. R. Aslam and Abid Minto ‘the two most civil and dignified people’ in Pakistani politics.
“It is wonderful that a handful of people like Minto – the cream of intelligentsia – can continue the struggle for human rights in Pakistan. I think the struggle must continue. We must change the existing mindset,” veteran community leader Dr. Shabbir Safdar said. “You cannot have human rights for yourself if you do not honor the same for other people.”
(Lisette B. Poole, a freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay area, also lectures at CSUEB, Hayward )


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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