Celebrating Faiz and Urdu in New York
By Qaisar Abbas

Celebrating Faiz Ahmed Faiz and the Urdu language in New York is a rarity which actually materialized as part of the 5 th Almi Urdu Conference that devoted a whole day to this legendary Urdu poet, his work and his life. The colorful activities also included a book launching, presentations of research papers, two musical performances and an international mushaira.

The conference itself was a grand meeting of the known Urdu writers, poets and scholars from all over the world including India, Pakistan, England, Canada and the United States who came to Long Island , New York for a three day conference, June 24-26.

Dr. Gopi Chand Narang from India and Faiz’s daughter Muneeza Hashmi, along with two known poets from Pakistan Amjad Islam Amjad and Anwar Masood, were the chief guests. Two scholars, David Mathews and Naomi Lazard, came all the way from England to talk about Faiz and emerging issues in Urdu literature. Ali Ahmed Fatemi, Sadiq Naqvi and Shahid Mahli, the noted Urdu writers from India also participated in the conference.

Muneeza Hashmi and Dr. Gopi Chand Narang launched Dr. Taqi Abedi’s extraordinary new book “Faiz Fehmi” published in Lahore. The voluminous book of over 1400 pages includes numerous chapters on the poetry and life of the poet, photographs and Sadaqian’s paintings on his poetry.

Scholars and writers presented papers on Faiz and his poetry on the first day and discussed issues of journalism and Urdu the next day of the conference. Dr. Narang was very hopeful of the future of Urdu as a thriving language. He said despite politics the language will be flourishing on both sides of the border in India and Pakistan.

Muneeza Hashmi introduced the newly established “Faiz Ghar” in Lahore in a short documentary. The Ghar, she said, established with an objective to continue the poet’s legacy and thoughts, is becoming a center for literary, artistic and peace activities. To her, this is the only way we can respond to increasing extremism in our society.

Dr. David Mathews stressed the need for more research work, publications and serious discussions on Faiz and the rich Urdu literature. Despite the claim that Ghalib and Faiz are international poets there is not much material available on these poets in English, he added.

Dr. Qaisar Abbas from the University of North Texas in his paper “Faiz and the Youth Revolution in the Middle East” analyzed the youth movements in these countries and their ideological relevance to the poet’s dream of a free and vibrant society. He said, Faiz as a revolutionary poet, was against dictatorship and his poetry reflects his strong belief in the Muslim youth in shaping the future.

Professor Ali Ahmed Fatemi from the Allahbad University, who is also president of the Progressive Writers in India, said Faiz as a founder of this movement in Pakistan was one of our great comrades and we are continuing his legacy. He pointed out that his poetry was deeply integrated with the tradition, history and culture of the subcontinent and as such he was the poet of the whole region.

In his paper on myths about Faiz, Noon Meem Danish said interpretation of Faiz’s poetry has been done based on dominant myths which limited alternate interpretations. Faiz is also being claimed, unfortunately, by conservatives these days who are trying to explore connections between his poetry and extremist ideologies, he deplored.

Dr. Ashraf Adeel, a philosophy professor of Kutztown University, Pennsylvania, discussed aesthetics of the poet’s work. Using some examples of his poetry, he said, apart from his traditional diction Faiz juxtaposed aesthetics with ideological polemics brilliantly. Shaista Rizvi, a scholar from Canada, also discussing aesthetics of Faiz’s poetry, said the poet did carry on esthetic traditions of Urdu poetry while adopting the modern poetic trends.

Raja Anwar, the former progressive student leader who is currently heading the Punjab Education Foundation in Lahore, discussed the poet’s work during his confinement in the 1950s. To him, Faiz’s poetry is deeply rooted in social consciousness in his society.

Overall, the failure of integrating Urdu with the Internet and information technologies was cited as a major hurdle in introducing it to our new generations and making it a global language.

The participants questioning professionalism of Urdu journalists emphasized the need for better training of journalists.

Vocalists Zafer Iqbal and Seema Sehgal entertained the conference attendees with their musical performances, singing ghazals and nazms of  Faiz.

The conference concluded with a grand mushaira in which poets from all over the world including Amjad Islam Amjad, Anwar Masood, Dr. Taqi Abedi, Iqbal Haider, Dr. Qaisar Abbas, Nasim Syed, Mona Shahab, Shoukat Fehmi, Muqsat Nadim, Dr. Sadiq Naqvi, Noon Meem Danish, Younis Aijaz, Aysha Malik, Shahid Mahli, Wakil Ansari, Abudrrehman Abd, Nahid Varak, Altaf Tirmizi, Noor Amrohvi, Zareen Yasin, Mubarak Ahmed and a long line of local poets participated.

Organizing international conferences of this stature needs a lot of hard work and planning. The selfless team led by Khalilur Rehman of Urdu Times in the US and Dr. Taqi Abedi from Canada deserves more community support, sponsorship and encouragement.



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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