Jashn-e-Faiz Introduces Faiz Ghar to the San Francisco Bay Area
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Pictures above: Glimpses of the Faiz Ghar function in the San Francisco area. Mrs Moneeza Hashmi is first from left in
the first row
Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911 to 1984) established a leading place for himself in Urdu poetry during the last century with his remarkable grasp of both Nazm and Ghazal writing. Known as Faiz Sahib by his many followers and admirers across south-Asia (including surprisingly even Bengali-speaking Bangladesh), Faiz spent his life highlighting the causes of the oppressed and giving them a voice through his formidable pen. Whether it was the struggle of the poor in Pakistan or the plight of wronged people anywhere, revolutionaries and romantics from a wide geographical range read his work, often in translation. But for people from both India and Pakistan , the life work of Faiz Sahib holds a special meaning. Even though Pakistan can claim exclusivity of possession of Faiz Sahib, India and especially Kashmir also have a legitimate claim for cultural co-ownership.
Keeping this background in mind, it was not too surprising that around 300 people from various backgrounds including the diminishing numbers here of the old Left, gathered at the ICC in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Milpitas on Sunday, July 11th to remember one of the greatest Urdu poets ever. And this time they also came to delve into the legacy that he left behind via his daughter Moneeza Hashmi who graced the event with her presence. Local Urdu language luminary Hamida Banu-Chopra and sponsors CSI (Berkeley) made this afternoon program possible for which both deserve our thanks.
When this scribe pointed out to Moneeza Sahiba that a number of family members and friends had come to meet her, she replied that that credit should go exclusively to Faiz Sahib, and that she was just here to recollect and reflect on his legacy.
Hamida Banu started off the program by reciting Faiz Sahib’s verses and took the opportunity to introduce chief guest Mrs. Hashmi, who was born in Shimla , India and attended college in Hawaii . Moneeza, the daughter of Faiz Ahmed Faiz is currently General Manager of Hum TV in Pakistan (no wonder they air such wonderful TV Drama serials) and has also recently been elected President of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. Hamida started things off with “Aaayiey haath uthain hum bhi, hum jinhein rasme dua yaad nahin” one of Faiz Sahib’s few poetic forays into religion.
Under most circumstances this report would have included a more detailed description of the various presentations by locals especially by the young people, some from Hamida Banu’s Urdu classes who presented Faiz Sahib’s work at this event. But this time briefly, a huge round of thanks and appreciation are in order to Aftab Iqbal and Mahnaz Naqvi along with young Urdu enthusiasts Anshuman, Sujata, Sangeeta, Nasreen and Hitten for their fine tributes to Faiz Sahib via the recitation of his poetry or narrative. And on Hamida Sahiba’s introduction of Moneeza Hashmi via the words of her father, well it left many at the event speechless.
In her keynote address Moneeza started off by recollecting the tough times in her family life. Faiz Sahib was in jail in 1954 when the family visited him there. She recalled that it was around the time of her birthday and like any other kid she had expected or had asked for a doll as a present. Instead her father wrote her a poem which she threw down on the floor. Today, she said (choking on her emotions) that she understood the value of that poem much more. She added that during the past 26 years since Faiz Sahib’s passing away she had found it difficult to express herself in front of his many fans because she had really only known him as a father.
Moneeza said that it has not been an easy task to take his message to the next generation. With a Power Point presentation on Faiz Sahib through his own words and those of others and holding back her tears, Moneeza took the silent audience on a journey into the great poet’s life. One segment, with Faiz Sahib addressing the topic of “Zulm” (Cruelty) and his complaint to God on its existence, was especially moving.
Mrs. Hashmi went on to explain her answer to sometimes silly questions from people who asked her if she herself knew how to write poetry being Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s daughter? She delved into her memories of her English mother Alys and the time that they came to arrest Faiz Sahib when she was very young. She explained the difficulty of their family visits to the jail where they were holding him, especially after they moved him to distant Hyderabad , not knowing whether his captors would allow them to actually meet him. She also mentioned how his jail mates became like family to them. And how the poet retained his spirit. “Abbu was very fond of roses,” she recalled, describing a little garden that existed in a particular jail. She described the sobs of her mother which sometimes woke her up at night and how Alys Faiz would always put on a brave face. “She was the rock behind him,” said Moneeza. On the night that he finally came back home; “You could slice the tension with a knife.” She described her happiness, “Abbu was home again. “And just for the record I do not write poetry. Who could measure up to him?” After he came home Moneeza’s only wishes for her father were that he smoke less than 20 cigarettes a day and that he take up ballroom dancing to stay in good health.
Moneeza thanked Anil and Hamida Chopra especially and the people at the gathering for sharing the valuable gift of their time with her. She also made a pledge for world and regional peace and informed us about the Faiz Centennial coming up next year when the Faiz Foundation is planning to team up with The Citizens Foundation (TCF) to hold concerts in various cities in this part of the world featuring the legendary Tina Sani singing Faiz Sahib’s work. There was also an element of fundraising here as this new project, Faiz Ghar (http://faizghar.org/) had slowly become a reality. A Saint Louis gathering recently helped to accumulate close to $20,000 and the goal was to reach $60,000 before the end of the year. (Those interested can send their cheque / demand draft in the name of the FAIZ FOUNDATION TRUST to: Faiz Ghar, 126/F Model Town, Lahore , Pakistan , Phone: 042-5835289). Arrangements are being made for this effort to be set up here in the US ( Arkansas ) too.
“We the Faiz family know that he does not belong to us alone,” said Moneeza. The Faiz Ghar (House of Faiz) project’s goal once again is to promote art, poetry and literature and peace. And from looking at the situation in Pakistan today, projects like Faiz Ghar need our support more than ever before. “Peace and fraternity is the goal of the Faiz Foundation,” added Moneeza. Faiz Ghar will “display of memorabilia related to Faiz and promote activities to promote the progressive ideas of humanism, peace, tolerance, and love of the arts and literature” that Faiz Sahib stood for throughout his life. About 20 people also took the opportunity to purchase “Aaj Ke Naam” or “A Song For This Day”, a book of 52 poems of Faiz Sahib translated by his son in law Shoaib Hashmi and illustrated by his daughter Salima at this event.
It was a pleasure to finally meet a member of the Faiz family right here in northern California . Anil and Hamida had hosted Faiz Sahib himself here during the late 1970’s but unfortunately this scribe did not get to meet him.
To conclude, one observation could not escape this writing. The Urdu language continues to owe a great deal to two Kashmiri-Punjabi-Sialkotis, namely Allama Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz for some of its finest modern works. The Tehzeeb associated with the Urdu language knows no borders, but its preservation in both Pakistan and India could use Diaspora support. Please be generous and support Faiz Ghar.