Faiz Ahmad Faiz: A Rebel for all Seasons
Review by Sharaf Rehman, PhD
Professor of Communication
The University of Texas
Rio Grande Valley
Faiz Ahmad Faiz: From Romance to Revolution, A Selective Anthology
Translated by Dr Nazir Khaja
Illustrations by Ayesha Khalid
Designed by Hamid Najmee
Publisher: Mira Digital Publishing.
Here is a name that needs no introduction with the diaspora of the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Simply, Faiz, is enough to remind us of the message of a genius who was recognized throughout the world – the Russians refer to him as their poet. They awarded him the coveted Lenin Peace Prize. His own country, Pakistan, put him behind bars.
The selection offers a sampling of Faiz’ full spectrum – from his early youthful romanticism to maturation into a seasoned sage. What remained consistent throughout Faiz’ work were his challenging the authority, his optimism for change, and his philosophy of non-violence. While taking the rulers and oppressors to task, his scalpel never dulled; his hand steady as of a surgeon.
Although he is known as a poet of protest, his romanticism is unmatched. Here’s an example:
Last night in the wilderness of my mind,
Came memories of you, left behind.
It was as if on barren land,
Refreshingly, spring had laid its gentle hand;
And as if the desert’s heat to ease,
Blows gently the cool morning breeze,
And as if one who has ailed for long,
Has healed suddenly and become strong.
Like so many of his contemporaries, Faiz was skeptical about the outcomes of the independence and creation of Pakistan. In his Dawn of Freedom – August 1947, he warned:
This tattered raiment of darkness
This sputtering of dawn,
This is not the dawn that we had hoped for.
His fears soon came true as the newly created Pakistan was tossed between the military generals and the feudal lords. In My Beloved Country he laments the tragedy of a people freed from the chains of colonialism only to be suppressed by new masters in the guise of friends.
Behold my beloved country,
To the dust of thy narrow pathways
I bequeath my life.
Where now a strange new order is decreed
That no one should walk with his head held high.
Penned during his detention, Loneliness describes the essence of being alone and without hope:
Is there someone outside?
Nay, My broken heart.
Alas no one,
Only a wayfarer, going elsewhere.
Blow out the candles hence,
And put aside the wine and the chalice.
Pull down the sleepless shutters.
No one, but no one will come here now!
Faiz paid a steep price for his political ideology and commitment to the people. The hardships dealt him pushed him dangerously close to desperation. But only close, he never lost hope; only became more of a realist. In No More, his existentialism seeps through:
Ask not my love, for the love
That was once between us.
Then I had thought due to you
My life sparkled.
Besides longing for you,
Other timeless sorrows paled.
For me, there are other sorrows in this world,
Besides the agony of love.
And there are other pleasures besides
The joyful nights of us being together
Therefore, my dearest,
Ask me no more the love
That once was between us!
The suffering, the humiliation, the imprisonment, and the self-imposed exile did not silence him; he never lost hope. In Accountability he reminds the unjust rulers:
Warn everyone in authority
That they be mindful of their actions.
For when the people will rise
Gallows and ropes will loom large for those in
None will be there to save them.
Rewards and punishments will all be here.
Heavens’ own promise of reward and punishment
Also will all be fulfilled here only.
From here will start the commotion of Judgement Day
And here on earth only
Will be the Day of accountability.
Faiz’ loudest challenge to the authorities and a reassurance to the masses culminated in his Hopes for Tomorrow.
We shall see …
It is a must that we see
The day that was promised,
And that which is written on the tablet of fate.
This we will see …
When the lofty mountains of oppression
Will be blown away like fluffs of cotton.
Under the feet of us downtrodden,
This earth will shake and tremble;
And lightning will strike
Upon the heads of the tyrants.
This we will see …
When from God’s earth,
This hallowed ground,
All false idols shall be ejected,
And we, the truthful yet damned,
The rejects of the sanctuary,
Shall don the robe of honor and be at last exalted.
The crowns will be tossed in air
The thrones will crumble.
This we shall see.
Only the Lord’s name will endure.
The One who is unseen but ever present,
The One we witness in each and all
And also the same in whose eyes we all dwell.
“I am the truth!”
The cry will ring out,
Then will the meek, you and me
Inherit the earth.
This we shall see!
Faiz was not only the rebellious voice of his generation; he is still the voice of the current generation. His poetry of protest is as applicable today as it was from the 1940s to the 1980s. He was a troubling voice for the politicians in the formative years of Pakistan and continues to be a concern for the current rulers.
His piercing words, “chali hay rasm ke koi na sar utha kay chaley” (That none should walk with head held high), are as relevant today as they were during Ayub Khan’s dictatorship or during General Zia’s rule, or during the past ten years since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The alarming message of his famous poem, “Ham dekhain gey” (We shall bear witness) is as troublesome to the Nawaz Sharif government as it was to General Zia, or General Musharraf.
It is the timelessness of Faiz’ poetry that makes him the poet not only of his time but for all times to come lest an honest, civilian, and a democratic government attains control in Pakistan – a nearly-failed nation (1) where people have long given up on miracles or hope.
Where new voices of protest are swiftly silenced, where the millennials are aptly pacified by their Smartphones, it’s refreshing to see that Dr Nazir Khaja has revived Faiz’ old fires vibrantly and passionately. It is noteworthy that the book ends with the national anthem of Pakistan. Over the past 70 years, we witnessed time and again how the politicians have made a mockery of the words penned by late Hafeez Jalandheri. Every idea and ideal carved in the anthem has been nullified, ignored, forgotten, and reversed in Pakistan. Never mind that palaces in the UK, and the now-exposed bank accounts (2), the people of Pakistan have been doped to believe (by the likes of Pervez Musharraf, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif) that the nation is marching forward, it’s making progress, and the media are free to raise their voice against all injustices and wrongdoings.
Faiz is granted the status of a national poet, yet his words have been swept under the silk rugs. Just as a fish does not realize it is wet, the Pakistani nation needs to be reminded of the forgotten promise of Pakistan. The reminder has to come from outside. Khaja has provided this timely reminder by bringing the words of Faiz to life.
It is said that when poetry is translated from one language to another, poetry is the first thing that is sacrificed. Not unless the translator has mastery of the original and the target language, and that the translator is a sensitive and accomplished poet who understands the poetic essence of the original text. Fortunately, Khaja passes these two tests with flying colors. Moving from Urdu to English is a great deal more than traveling from one language to another. This is a travel between two worlds. Two diagonally different worlds with vast differences in pathos and logos. One sees the world through the colored glasses of one’s language. Language does not copy reality, it shapes it. (3)Translating poetry from one language to another amounts to translating reality from one culture to another, from one worldview to another, from one temperament to another. A translator’s challenge is to build a bridge between two different worlds and still remain invisible. To change the foreign-ness of the original text into domestic vernacular and sentiment. These are the limitations of translation.
The two essential elements in a successful translation of poetry are fluency and essence; here, Khaja has successfully served these in equal portions. He is apologetic for taking ownership in his translation. His modesty is touching. However, he need not worry. Neither Faiz’ words need illustration, nor Khaja’s translation need any visuals support. In this collection, with words alone, he has served us the finest of caviar and champagne; the illustrations and art work only make it better. - Sharaf.firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes: 1. Acemoglu, D. and Robinson, J. (2013). Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. New York: Crown Publishing.
2. Baker, R. (2005). Capitalism’s Achilles Heel: Dirty Money and How to Renew the Free-Market System. New York: John Wiley.
3. Gadamer, H. (1989). Truth and Method. London: Sheed and Ward.
(The artistic rendition of this work is by Ayesha Khalid, a Pakistani-American artist based in Atlanta who is well known in local circles. She deserves commendation for her extraordinary work for embellishing Faiz’s poetry.
The book is available on Amazon and the proceeds from the purchase are dedicated to charities working towards improving the lives of the needy in Pakistan. – Editor)