Faiz beyond Poetry
By Siraj Khan
Kar raha tha gham-e-jahan ka hisab
Aaj tum yaad be-hisab aaye
Remembering Faiz in the present complex and uncertain times is understandable. That was the sher (couplet) that somehow filtered into my mind while offering my Jumaa prayers last Friday. I may have been physically there in collective prayer with fellow Muslims from around the world, students and faculty members at Harvard University, but I must confess that my mind was somewhere else. I had planned to ask Allah and thank Him for a lot of things that day, but somehow my thoughts got sidetracked and I found myself thinking of Faiz and how quickly could I make a dash right after Jumaa to find a seat of my choice at the Faiz Centennial event at the Harvard University.
I managed to seat myself in a comfortable, quiet corner of the Thompson Room at Harvard’s Barker Center, watching as other members of the audience trickled in. The event was organized by the Literary Circle of the Pakistan American Democratic Forum (PADF) and cosponsored by the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program, to commemorate the Centennial of the great poet, who is revered as much in India as in Pakistan.
Not surprisingly, the large, responsive audience comprised mostly Indian and Pakistani scholars, intellectuals and students, although several others were also present. Dr Naseem Hines of Harvard’s Urdu Department served as the moderator and hostess over the next three hours as the participants paid tribute to Faiz. In the process, we were treated to a literary feast, looking at Faiz’s persona from poetical, political and philosophical perspectives.
The eminent Russian scholar of Urdu literature Dr Ludmila Vassilieva, who also has the distinction of being conferred the Sitara-i-Imtiaz award, spoke live on video from Ukraine. Reminiscing about her close association with Faiz in his lifetime, she termed him a bold and patriotic poet whose humane ideas were evident in his poetry. Members of the audience were enchanted with her speech in flawless Urdu and recitation of selected verses from Faiz’s rich and diverse anthology.
Grandson of the freedom fighter Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Raja Asad Ali Khan highlighted the political aspects of Faiz’s work and personality, with special reference to the Freedom Movement, in which Faiz as a young man operated under the guidance of Maulana Zafar Ali Khan.
Dr Razia Mashkoor, President of Aligarh Urdu Club and a Boston-based Indian spoke of Faiz’s multi-dimension vision as a thoughtful intellectual, humanist and a revolutionary poet. Dr Mashkoor, who also publishes the only Urdu magazine in this area Deedahwar (www.deedahwar.net), focused on Faiz’s embracing thoughts on the bonding and peaceful co-existence of Indians and Pakistanis.
She has co-organized other Indo-Pak events with me in the past, including one on Faiz in February, and an Iqbal Day adbi event last year. We are now planning a Jashn-e-Khusro for spring 2012 on a large scale, subject to getting some funding.
Dr Agha Saeed focused on the philosophical and romantic aspect of Faiz’s lyrical poetry.
In her presentation, Dr Naseem Hines mentioned that Faiz Ahmed Faiz emphasized equality and egalitarianism in his poetry and added that the best way to pay tribute to Faiz is to follow his message of humanism, social harmony and justice.
Faiz was the first Asian poet to be awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1963, the Soviet equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize. Faiz was also nominated for the Nobel Prize but his real award was the love and appreciation of his fans worldwide, which continues more than 25 years after his death.
Dosto bazm sajao ke bahar ayee hai
Khul gae zakhm, koi phool khile ya na khile
The afternoon slid into its tarannum session which, as a musically-inclined Faizian, I had been assigned to craft together for that afternoon. The goal was to have the participants demonstrate how some of Faiz’s selected ghazals and nazms had become more popular, further enriched by renowned singers combining vocals with melody.
Cyma Firdoos, a vibrant young doctor who is doing a fellowship at Harvard, opened with Hum ke tehre ajnabi and followed it up with Jo bachein hein sang samaet lo. Shua K Arshad then mesmerized everyone with her soulful renditions of Bahar Ayee and Dasht-e-Tanhai, which reminded some present of Tina Sani. Fauzia Sayeed was next with a melody-filled delivery of Gulon mein rang bhare and Tum ae ho na shab-e-intezaar guzri he, to a great applause. Salman Dar, a popular artiste in the local music scene, was in his element with Aaj bazaar mein followed by the popular Faiz nazm Hum dekhenge.
The session ended with Aiye haath uthaein hum bhi, Faiz’s eternal dua’a, his prayer dedicated to humanity, for people of all faiths and nationalities, recited movingly by Shaheen Rahim, an undergraduate student at Harvard.
After such a rich indulgence into Faiz’s works, one would have thought that the attendees would lighten down, after turning to chai and samosa. On the contrary, it seemed that their thirst was still unquenched and meeting of the minds was in high gear, as I forced myself to leave, more out of compulsion than choice, although still very much in the thoughts of Faiz’s magical poetry.
Sheikh se be-hiraas milte hein
Hum ne tauba abhi nahi ki hai
(Siraj Khan is a Boston-based world citizen, a connoisseur of film music who is passionate about bridge building through art and culture. Khansaheb2@aol.com | www.opnayyar.org) - Aman ki Asha