Subversive Poetry in a Rebellious Atmosphere
By A.H. Cemendtaur
Take a poet regarded as the master of resistance poetry and bring his poems to the audience of a university known for a tradition of rebellion and you would see sparks--resulting from the sheer energy of the event. 'Guftugu: Faiz Ahmed Faiz, A Centennial Celebration' arranged by the Berkeley Urdu & Pakistan Initiatives of the Center for South Asia Studies, featuring Faiz's daughter Salima Hashmi, was indeed such an electrifying program.
In Guftugu, held on September 25, at the Bancroft Hotel in Berkeley, Salima Hashmi gave two presentations. In her first appearance Ms. Hashmi answered Professor Saba Mahmood's questions and provided rare insights into the day-to-day life of her legendary father. In her second presentation, Salima Hashmi used slides to explain how art produced by various South Asian artists has been influenced by Faiz's poetry.
Salima Hashmi described Faiz as a very easygoing father; "We children never took him seriously." Hashmi said it was her mother who would make sure the children were going to school on time and were studying. As a child Salima Hashmi would fake headaches and stomachaches to skip school. When Hashmi would make such an excuse, her mother would ask Hashmi to talk to the father, expecting a reprimand from the dad. When Hashmi would tell her father she did not want to go to school, he would comfortably agree that she should not go to school if she did not want to. On other occasions, if she would tell her father she had failed a math test, he would say, "That's fine. I too used to fail math tests."
Salima Hashmi said when a poem would come to his father, he would start humming and would go out for a walk, typically to the Lawrence Garden. When Faiz would return home his relaxed demeanor would indicate to everyone in the household that the poem had been completed.
Salima Hashmi described her father as a humanist who saw people as human beings, beyond their national and other parochial affiliations.
In her other presentation Hashmi elaborated on the influence of her father's poetry on visual art produced in South Asia: from Sadequain's elongated, cactus like human depictions accompanied by Faiz's couplets to works infused by Faiz's poetic themes created by contemporary artists like Naiza Khan, Nalini Malani, Anwar Saeed, Imran Qureshi, and others.
The program organized by a committee comprising of Sanchita Saxena, Raka Ray, Puneeta Kala, Behnaz Raufi, Umair Khan, Saba Mahmood, Munis Faruqui, Adnan Malik, Nosheen Ali, and others was moderated by Munis Faruqui. Besides Raka Ray, Chair, Center for South Asia Studies; Anthony Cascardi, Dean of Arts & Humanities; Qamar Jail, Lecturer in Urdu; and A. Sean Pue of Michigan State University also spoke at the event.
The program included recitation of Faiz's poetry, with and without music. Anil Chopra and Hamida Banu Chopra read Faiz's poems. Tashie Zaheer read his poetic tribute to Faiz.
'Dasht e Tanhai' was sung by Anupama Chandratreya. Irum Musharraf sang 'Mujhse pehli si Mohabbat'; she was accompanied by JahanZeb Sherwani on guitar. The last recitation was of Faiz's masterpiece 'Hum Dekhenge' by Nandita Kala Dabral--poetry so powerful, words so magical, rhythm so enchanting, the poem gives you goosebumps and brings tears to your eyes. And it was a befitting ending to the program, as that prophetic poem epitomizes the hopes and aspirations of the people of South Asia, set in the context of class struggle--the real struggle that the independence in 1947 should have been about, a struggle that time and again has been hijacked by opportunists only to be shamefully framed within the confines of ethnic, religious, regional, and linguistic parameters.