Faiz Ahmad Faiz (6010 words)

Amina Yaqin (University of Exeter)
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The pleasure of listening to Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poetry is bittersweet. His poems are emotionally charged, and his poetic voice articulates resistance. The consciousness of Partition and a permanent separation from an Indian Muslim self is part of his oeuvre. The lines “aur bhi dukh hain zamane men mohabbat ke siva / rahaten aur bhi hain vasl ki rahat ke siva” [There are other sorrows in life besides love, there are other pleasures beyond the union of lovers] from his iconic poem, “Mujh se pehli si mohabbat meri mahbub na mang” [Beloved, don’t ask me to love you as I did before], reflect the essence of his poetic aesthetic as a lyricist and a realist. From realist romance to resistance anthems such as “Bol ke lab azad hain tere” [Speak for your lips are free] and “Hum dekhen ge” [We will see], his poetry has come to represent the spirit of public protest against authoritarian rule. According to Edward Said, who acknowledges him as “one of the greatest poets of this century”, the classical forms that have enriched Urdu poetry such as the “qasida, ghazal, masnavi and the qita” are absorbed in his poetry to create “a contrapuntal rhetoric and rhythm” (Edward Said quoted in Agha Shahid Ali 1991: xiii).

The nostalgia of his poetry has served as a musical background to international films, television dramas, and artistic creations, including filmic adaptations such as Ismail Merchant’s Muhafiz (1994), based on Anita Desai’s novel In Custody, and Mira Nair’s filmic interpretation of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012). Singers across India and Pakistan ranging from semi classical to pop have performed his verses, most memorably the Queen of Melody, Noor Jehan (1926-2000), and Nayyara Noor. Television dramas that have historically appealed to a mass public in Pakistan have either directly or indirectly benefitted from Faiz’s contribution, from Shaukat Siddiqui’s record breaking Khuda ki basti [The Slum], first aired in 1969 with Faiz as part of the production team, to the contemporary 2021 serial written by Bee Gul Raqib se [The Rival] inspired by Faiz’s poem with the same title.

Born in Sialkot in 1911, Faiz received his primary education at Murray College, Sialkot and completed his higher education at Government College, Lahore in Arabic and English literature in pre-Partition Punjab. In 1935 he joined Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, Amritsar where he taught English. This would prove to be a transformative place as it was here that he met the couple Mahmuduzzafar (1908-1956) and Rashid Jahan (1905-1952), who were at the heart of the revolutionary Progressive Writers Movement bringing realist representations to literature in order to engender social change (Jalil 2014). Another life changing encounter was with the Englishwoman Alys George (1914-2003), who would become his lifelong companion. Alys, the daughter of a London bookseller, had joined the Communist Party in London at sixteen years of age and worked with Krishna Menon toward the anti-colonial struggle. She was committed to the Progressive cause and stood by Faiz during his prison years choosing to live in Pakistan. They are survived by two daughters, Salima and Muneeza Hashmi and their offspring.

His first collection of poems entitled, Naqsh-e faryadi [The Imprint of Protest], resonating a phrase borrowed from Ghalib’s (1797-1869) ghazal, was published in 1941. He joined the British Indian war publicity department in Delhi as captain in 1942, and was made a lieutenant colonel in 1944 receiving an MBE in 1946. After Partition, at the behest of his friend Mian Iftikharuddin, he began a career in journalism as editor of the new Progressive national daily Pakistan Times and its sister publication in Urdu, Imroze to steer a vision for the country from the left (Hashmi 2012: 27). His links to the Progressive Writers Association cast a shadow over his perceived loyalty to the nation and attracted surveillance from the authorities. In 1951 along with army officers and his friend Sajjad Zaheer (1905-1973) – the founding member of the Progressive Writer’s Association – he was arrested on a conspiracy charge for his alleged involvement to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan (Dryland 1993: 57-81; Ali 2015). This case, known as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy, led to prison sentences for Faiz and Zaheer and marked the beginning of the end of the Progressives Writers Association which was formally closed down in 1954 (Toor 2011: 77). Faiz spent four years in prison from 1951-1955, and again in 1958 for six months. While in prison, he published Dast-e Saba [The Hand of the Breeze] (1952) and Zinda nama [Prison Manuscript] (1956). By the end of the 1960s Ayub Khan’s authoritarianism meant an all-out war against the left in Pakistan -- the Progressives with their close links to the Communist Party were shut down as the country fully embraced America’s Cold War policy in the region.

Despite his personal experiences and hostile national politics, Faiz was drawn to the intercultural mix of South Asia’s multilingual communities. He was also pulled in the direction of a national language. In his creative work he tried to bring them together in meaningful ways, attempting to smooth over the political tension between Urdu and Bengali through artistic intervention. Early on in his career, he adapted the screenplay Jago hua Savera (1959) from the Bengali novel, Padma Nadir Majhi [The Boatman of Padma] by Manik Bandhopadhyay. Directed by A J Kardar, Jago Hua Savera was based on the everyday lives of fishermen in East Bengal, with narration in Urdu mixed with some Bengali, accompanied by stark and spare cinematography. The song “Git” from the film, part of his collection Sham-e shahr-e yaran [An Evening in the City of Friends], best encapsulates the narrative arc of the story and its rhythm has a touch of the Bauls of Bengal (Openshaw 1997):

Ab kya dekhen rah tumhari
Bit chali hai rat
Chor do
Choro gham ki bat
Tham gaye aansu
Thak gain akhiyan
Guzar gayi barsat
Bit chali hai rat

Chor do
Choro gham ki bat
Kab se aas lagi darshan ki
Koi na jane bat
Koi na jane bat
Bit chali hai rat
Choro gham ki bat
Tum aao to man men utre
Phulon ki barat
Bit chali hai rat
Ab kya dekhen rah tumhari
Bit chali hai rat
(Faiz 1986: 563-4)

[There is no point in waiting for you
The night has passed
Leave it
Leave the sadness
Tears have stopped
The eyes are tired
The rainy season has passed
The night has passed

Leave it
Leave the sadness
For a long time you have been longing for a vision
Nobody knows what it is
Nobody knows what it is
The night has passed
Leave the sadness
If you come then my heart will be filled with
Bouquets of flowers
The night has passed
There is no point in waiting for you
The night has passed.]

This song echoes the simplicity of the film which received a gold medal at the Moscow International Film Festival. However, in Pakistan, Ayub Khan blocked its release. The film humanises the story of poverty-stricken Bengali fishermen using language sparingly to represent an alternative account to the one that had been normalised by the nationalist press in West Pakistan of the Bengali as the enemy within, a Hindu, a Communist, a traitor (Toor 2011: 18-51). Unfortunately, it was forgotten in the archives until Anjum Taseer, the son of the original film producer, had it restored in 2010. Due to be screened in India in 2016, it was ironically removed from the list by the Jio Mami 18th film festival organisers in Mumbai for nationalist reasons.

This reiterated the ban over Pakistani artists in India linked to skirmishes in Kashmir that year. These occurrences demonstrate how communalist politics in South Asia are cyclical and are echoed on both sides of the border according to party political interests. Faiz’s contribution to the film project highlights his ethical stance as a humanist who understood the power of narrative when it came to intercultural storytelling.

Faiz’s relationship to Urdu was that of a global language reflective of multilingual cultures infused with the spirit of cosmopolitanism. Regionally, Punjabi was part of his everyday life and a small selection of Punjabi poems are included in his collection Sham-e shahr-e yaran (Faiz 1986: 571-580). Translations from other languages into Urdu contribute to his overall outlook as a poet. In terms of geography, he had a special relationship to Kashmir both through his affiliation to Sialkot as a place of birth and through his friendship with Sheikh Abdullah who performed his nikah to Alys Faiz. Later in life he gave access to his poetry to the Kashmiri American poet, Agha Shahid Ali, whose translations in English cemented a lifelong link to Kashmir. In his introduction to The Rebel’s Silhouette, Ali shares his interaction with Faiz as a translator and the bond he felt with him as a Kashmiri poet:

I wrote to Faiz in 1980 […] Besides asking for permission to translate him, I told him that I would be taking liberties with the originals. But what I really did was to bribe him with a sort of homecoming. I reminded him that he had, years before my birth, stayed in our home in Kashmir. I created nostalgia. (Agha Shahid Ali 1991, xxii)

Their shared passion for the ghazal [love lyric] is synonymous with the theme of love and incorporates both romantic and spiritual manifestations.

Love is a dominant force in Faiz’s poetic journey, particularly his attraction to the form of the ghazal. It is part of Urdu’s Islamicate heritage, linked to Persian through courtly culture. Faiz interweaved the classical ornamentalism of an aristocratic stylised Urdu rhyme and metre with the modern functionality of social realism. Deploying the classical imagery of the lover and the beloved, the literal and metaphorical desolate desert of their separation, and the hopeful metaphor of the morning breeze, he articulated a new expression. His poem “Mujh se pehli si muhabbat mere mahbub na mang” remains a modern day classic as it changed the perception and representation of the pre-modern beloved for twentieth-century poets. This change is encapsulated in the refrain which conveys a farewell to the traditional theme of unrequited love and introduces a new self and subjectivity that was a driving force for progressive developments in poetic thought. Themes of alienation and dehumanisation of the body and soul confront the reader/listener:

Mujh se pehli si mohabbat meri mahbub na mang
Main ne samjha tha tu hai to darakshan hai hayat
Tera gham hai to gham dahr ka jhagra kya hai
Teri surat se hai alam men baharon ko sabat
Teri ankhon ke siva dunya men rakha kya hai
Tu jo mil jaye to taqdir nigun ho jaye

Yun na tha, main ne faqat chaha tha yun ho jaye
Aur bhi dukh hain zamane men mohabbat ke siva
Rahaten aur bhi hain vasl ki rahat ke siva
An-gint sadiyon ke tarik bahimana tilism
Resham-o atlas-o kamkhab men bunwae hue
Ja baja bikte hue kucha-o bazar men jism
Khak men lithre hue khun men nehlaye hue

Jism nikle hue amraz ke tannuron se
Pip bahti hui galte hue nasuron se
Lot jati hai udhar ko bhi nazar kya kije
Ab bhi dilkash hai tera husn, magar kya kije

Aur bhi dukh hain zamane men mohabbat ke siva
Rahaten aur bhi hain vasl ki rahat ke siva
Mujh se pehli si mohabbat meri meri mahbub na mang
Yeh bhi hain aise kai aur bhi mazmun honge
Lekin us shokh ke ahista se khulte hue hont
Hae us jism ke kambakht dil-avez khutut
Ap hi kahiye kahin aise bhi afsun honge?
Apna mauzu-e sukhan inke siva aur nahin
Tab-e shair ka vatan inke siva aur nahin
(Faiz 1986: 61-2)

[Beloved, do not ask me to love you as I did before
I had thought that as long as I have you life is beautiful
Pining for you made me forget the sorrows of our times
Your form inspires an eternal Spring in the world
There is no greater earthly treasure beyond your eyes
If we are united then fate will be turned upside down
It was not like this but I had wished it so

There are other sorrows in the world besides love
There are other pleasures beyond union
The frightful allure of uncountable centuries
Woven in silk, satin and brocade
Bodies sold everywhere in bazars and streets
Bathed in blood, covered in dust

Bodies that have baked in diseases
Dripping discharge from rotten abscesses
I can’t help it, my eye is drawn to this too
Even now your beauty is riveting, but I can’t turn away
There are other sorrows in the world besides love
There are other pleasures beyond the joy of union
Beloved don’t ask me to love you as I did before
There is this and there must be other metaphors
But ah, her sweet lips that part gently
The arresting curves of her ravishing body
Can you tell me if others are bewitched like me
Whose only muse is the beloved
A poet whose only home is his love.]

This shift in the metaphorical world of love was negotiated with a materialist style. The human body is marked with disease, its loss and destruction distracting the poet from the desirable and unattainable beloved.

His detachment from metaphor becomes more pronounced as the poetic voice narrates the trauma of history in “Subh-e Azadi” August 1947 [Freedom’s Dawn], part of his second collection, Dast-e Saba. The well-known and often quoted line “dagh dagh ujala” [the blemished dawn] visualises the violence of Partition and post-Partition politics in Pakistan. The poem offers an ambivalent mood of hope and desolation representing independence and Partition:

Ye dagh dagh ujala, ye shab gazida sahar
Vo intizar tha jis ka, ye vo sahar to nahin
Ye vo sahar to nahin, jis-ki arzu lekar
Chale the yar ke mil jae gi kahin na kahin
Falak ke dasht men taron ki akhiri manzil
Kahin to ho ga shab-e sust mauj ka sahil,
Kahin to ja ke rukega safina-e gham-e dil.
Jawan lahu ki pur-asrar shahrahon se
Chale jo yar to daman pe kitne hath pare
Diyar-e husn ki be-sabr khwabgahon se
Pukarti-rahin bahen, badan bulate-rahe;
Bahut ‘aziz thi lekin rukh-e-sahar ki lagan,
Bahut qarin tha hasinan-e nur ka daman
Jigar ki ag, nazar ki umang, dil ki jalan,
Kisi pe chara-e hijran ka kuch asar hi nahin
Kahan se ai nigar-e saba, kidhar ko ga’i?
Najat-e-dida-o-dil ki ghari nahin a’I;
Chale-chalo ke vo manzil abhi nahin a’i.
(Faiz 1986: 116-118)

[This night ridden day break, this blemished dawn
This is not the beginning we had hoped for
Friends had set off convinced that they would find
In the desolation of the sky the final destination of the stars
Somewhere the tired evening wave would reach its shore
Somewhere the giant vessel of heartache would stop
From the mysterious boulevards of young blood
As friends set off they lost their centre of gravity
From the restless chambers of the territory of desire
Bodies kept calling, arms kept beckoning
But precious was the burning need for dawn
Very close was the centre of divine light
The liver on fire, a sparkle in the eye, the heartburn
No impression on any of a release from separation
Where did the beloved morning breeze come from and where did it go?
It is not time for deliverance from sight and sound yet
Keep going, the final destination isn’t here yet.]

In this poem he archives a double loss, that of Partition and of post-Partition disappointments. Aamir Mufti reasons that Faiz’s lyric poetry with its undeviating referentiality to hijr [separation from the beloved] transports his listeners to the permanent trauma of August 1947 and the minority status of the Indian Muslim (Mufti 2007: 223). This state of hijr separation is something that seeps through the lines above permeating the poetic voice with nostalgia and loss.

The meaning of hijr shifts in his verse based on different experiences of geographic and political exile from Partition to imprisonment, Bangladesh to Beirut. A poem that narrativizes his state of exile as a traveller and a stranger is “Dil-e man, musafar-e man” [My heart, my traveller] composed in London, a title poem from his collection, Mere dil mere masafar [My heart, my traveller]:

Mere dil, mere musafir
Hua phir hukam sadir
Ke vatan badr hon hum tum
Den gali gali sadaen
Karen rukh nagar nagar ka
Ke suragh koi paen
Kisi yar-e namabar ka
Har ik ajnabi se puchen
Jo pata tha apne ghar ka
Sar-e ku-e nashnayan,
Hamen din se rat karna
Kabhi is se bat karna
Kabhi us se bat karna
Tumhen kya kahun ke kiya hai
Shab-e gham buri bala hai
Hamen ye bhi tha ghanimat
Jo koi shumar hota,
Hamen kya bura tha marna
Agar ek bar hota!
(Faiz 1986: 595-6)

[My heart, my fellow traveller
It has been ordained again
That you and I be exiled
We beg in every street,
We scour every town.
In order to find a code
For a messenger of love
We ask every stranger
The address of our old home
In this town of unfamiliar people
Days turn into nights
While we speak to visitors,
Talking from one end to the next
How can I tell you this, my friend
The desolation of lonely nights is not a good thing
It would have been enough for us
If there was just some reckoning
Death would have been welcome for us
If it were to come but once]

“Dil-e man, musafir-e man” portrays the strangeness of exile from a London perspective in which there is familiarity, friendship, and a desire for death. Written in 1978, the narration reimagines the desert of loneliness from an earlier poem “Yad” [Memory] composed in 1958. In doing so, the poet renews the sentiments from the experience of a forced imprisonment within Pakistan to the feelings of living in exile when the poet was under siege from the military state. The poet narrator is consumed by eternal traumas of separation and exile that give him sleepless nights and deny him the comfort of love. The mood of the poem is melancholic, echoing the desire for annihilation that is characteristic of classical love poetry.

To make sense of the passage Faiz endured, it should be read alongside his earlier nazm “Aaj bazar men pabajolan chalo[With feet in chains walk through the bazar today] from his collection Dast-e tah-e sang [Powerless], written during the time of his incarceration in Lahore jail in 1959. In this poem, the narrator plots history as testimony of the humiliating and debilitating experience of imprisonment by the military state:

chashm-e nam, jan-e shorida kafi nahin
tohmat-e ishq-e poshida kafi nahin
aaj bazar men pabajolan chalo
dast-e afshan chalo, mast-o raqsan chalo
khak barsar chalo, khun badaman chalo
rah takta hai sab shahr-e janan chalo

Hakim shahr bhi, majma-e aam bhi
Tir-e ilzam bhi, sang-e dushnam bhi
Subh-e nashad bhi roz-e nakam bhi
In ka dam saz apne siva kaun hai
Shahr-e janan men ab basafa kaun hai
Dast-e qatil ke shayan raha kaun hai

Rakht-e dil bandh lo, dil figaro chalo
Phir hamen qatl ho ayen yaro chalo
(Faiz 1986: 43-44)

[Tears of rage are not enough,
The accusation of secret love is not enough
With feet in chains walk through the bazar today
Walk moving your hands in dance, walk swaying to an intoxicating rhythm
With ashes on your head and a blood stained cloak
Everyone is waiting, walk the beloved city

The ruler of the city too, the ordinary crowd too
The arrow of slander too, the sticks and stones of abuse too
The cheerless morning too, the unsuccessful day too
Who is their friend other than me
Who is sincere now in the beloved city
Who is left worthy for the hand of the murderer

Get ready harnessing your heart walking toward heartbreak
Come friends, let us go again and get murdered.]

In the 1960s Faiz’s health suffered, he remained under surveillance and turned his attention to the Lahore Arts Council, nurturing a culture of performance. He received the Lenin Peace Prize in 1962 cementing his relationship to Moscow and acknowledging his work amongst an international community of socialist-leaning writers. Some of his notable influences included Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963), Mahmoud Darwish (1942-2008), and Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), and his poems were translated into many languages (Oesterheld 2013: 34-61). After a brief stint in London he returned to Karachi in 1964 to serve as principal of Abdullah Haroon College. With the arrival of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in office as Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1971, Faiz was appointed as the founder and Director of the Pakistan National Council of Arts to advise the government on cultural policy and represent Pakistan in international conferences. As part of his vision, he founded the Lok Virsa [Folk Heritage] organisation.

Through multi-media technologies, including national radio and television, he influenced a new generation of broadcasters, writers, intellectuals, and artists. His ideas on “national culture” were aired on national television and have since been published as a series of lectures in Urdu entitled Pakistani kalchar aur qaumi tashakus ki talash [Pakistani culture and the search for national character]. He reignited the debate on Islam and Pakistani culture – could they co-exist in harmony? Searching for answers, he was drawn to Muhammad Iqbal’s (1877-1938) philosophy. As a secular liberal intellectual he was looking for creative alternative solutions to an ideological battle over Islam enacted by the state. In the lectures, Faiz returns to Jinnah’s secular principles and references the Nehruvian ideal of ‘unity amongst diversity’ as a desirable quality of qaumi [national] culture. He argues:

Pakistan was made not to escape cultural confusion but to be trapped in it. If you remember the two nation theory – Muslims are a separate qaum [nation] and so need their watan [homeland] because their culture is separate […] At that time nobody asked the qaum if our culture is separate then what is our culture? (Faiz 1998: 39).

Faiz’s lectures illustrate his own complex relationship to the nation not as a nationalist poet, but as the poet of the nation. In the words of Victor Kiernan, “[t]o be a nationalist writer is easy, to be a national writer hard” (1971: 27). Hounded by criticism for his opinions, Faiz was never afraid to voice his position.

In this spirit, he wrote on the unspoken subject of Bangladesh’s war of independence from Pakistan in his poetry. The first two poems, “Hizr karo mere tan se” [Stay Away from my body] and “teh beteh dil ki kudurat” [the anguish of my heart], written in March and April 1971, are part of his Sar-e vadi-e Sina collection (1971), and the third, “Dhaka se vapsi par” [On our return from Dhaka], was published in 1974 in his Sham-e shehr-e yaran compilation (c1978). His focus on a Bangladesh trilogy of poems historicises a memory and nostalgia for a lost home that is absented from official archives. “Dhaka se wapsi par”, written in the style of a ghazal, culminates in the death of emotion and language in contrast to the bloodied imagery and anger of the earlier poems. According to Ali Madeeh Hashmi, this poem was composed in response to a request by the leader of the Awami League and the first Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Hashmi 2012: 65):

Hum ke there ajnabi itni madaraton ke bad
Phir banen ge ashna kitni mulaqaton ke bad

Kab nazar men aye gi bedagh sabze ki bahar
Khun ke dhabe dhulen ge kitni barsaton ke bad

The bohat bedard lamhe khatm-e dard-e ishq ke
Thin bohat bemohar subhen mehrban raton ke bad

Dil to chaha magar shikast-e dil ne mohlat hi na di
Kuch gile shikwe bhi kar lete manajaton ke bad

Un se jo kehne gaye the Faiz jan sadqa kiye
Unkahi hi reh gayi voh bat sab baton ke bad
(Faiz 1986: 527)

[We who remain strangers after so much hospitality
After how many meetings will we become friends

When will we see a lush unblemished spring
How many rains will it take to wash away the bloodstains

The end of love was marked by heartlessness
The mornings were unremarkable after precious nights

Our defeated heart didn’t have the resilience to love again
We could have aired our complaints after we’d made up

Faiz, that which we had travelled to say, having sacrificed our life
Remained unspoken, after all that was said.]

In 1977 when General Zia-ul Haq came into power and Pakistan reverted to military rule, Faiz resigned from his position and exiled himself to Beirut in 1978. Here, Faiz served as editor of the Afro-Asian magazine Lotus. While in Beirut he became passionately involved in the Palestinian struggle for freedom and he made many Palestinian friends. His poem “Ek tarana mujahidin-e falastin ke liye” [An Anthem for the Warriors of Palestine], composed in Beirut in 1983, part of his Ghubar-e ayyam collection, underlines his passionate support for the cause of Palestinian independence and his personal friendship with a fellow poet in exile, Mahmoud Darwish, and with Yasser Arafat, the Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation organisation.

Hum jiten ge
Haqqa hum ik din jiten ge
Bilakhir ik din jiten ge
Kya khauf zelghar-e ada
Hai sina sipar har ghazi ka

[We will win
One day, in truth, we will win
At last, one day we will win
What do we fear the onslaught of enemies
Every warrior stands straight and tall]
(tr. Hashmi 2012: 73)

Speaking for those who had been made powerless by the Israeli occupation, Faiz dedicated his verse to a global Palestinian resistance struggle. After the Israeli attack on Beirut in 1982 Faiz departed a war-ravaged city amid fears for his safety.

The anthem-led mood of Faiz’s poetry for Palestine is characteristic of some of his iconic poems, such as “Bol” [Speak] and “Hum dekhenge” [We will see], both of which had an everlasting resonance as resistance songs amongst activists. “Bol”, an anti-colonial poem, part of his first collection, emphasises free speech, protests censorship and advocates for justice and freedom (Miraji 1944, Patel 2013):

Bol ke lab azad hain tere
Bol zaban ab tak baqi hai
Bol ke such zinda hai ab tak
Bol, jo kuch kehna hai keh le!
(Faiz 1986: 81-82)

[Speak for your lips are free
Speak your tongue is still intact
Speak for truth is still alive
Speak, say all that you wish to!]

The Pakistani columnist and educationist Anjum Altaf has commemorated the poem in English dedicating his adaptation of it to Kanhaiya Kumar, the former Student Union President at Jawaharlal Nehru university, National Leader of the All India Student Federation, and an affiliate of the Communist Party of India. Kumar was charged for sedition by the Indian state for allegedly chanting anti-national slogans on campus in 2016. After being released on bail he gave a rousing talk on freedom of speech. In making the connection between the Pakistani poet and the Indian student activist, Altaf’s “Speak” reiterates the shared solidarity of “Bol” across the border (Altaf 2019).

A poem that is a natural successor to “Bol” is “Hum dekhenge”, written for a different purpose. It begins by condemning those who oppress ordinary people in the name of religious leadership and the fate that awaits them on the Day of Judgement:

Hum dekhen ge
Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhen ge
Voh din ke jis ka vada hai
Jo loh-e azl men likha hai
Jab zulm-o sitam ke koh-e giran
Rui ki tara ur jaenge
Hum mehkumon ke paon tale
Jab dharti dhar dhar dharkegi
Aur ahl-e hukam ke sar upar
Jab bijli kar kar karkegi
(Faiz 2021: 656-57)

[We will see
It is a certainty that we too will see
That day which is promised
It is written on the tablet of eternity
When the towering mountains of oppression and torture
Blow away like cotton wool
We who are trampled by our oppressors
Its soil will beat harder and louder
And when bolts of lightning strike
On the heads of those in power
We will see]

The poem originally conceptualized as “wa yabqa wajhu rabbika” [The Countenance of Your Lord Will Remain] echoed in its title a line borrowed from Sura-e Rahman (Quran 55: 26, 27). The Sura speaks of life and death, heaven and hell, and the Day of Judgement addressing both jinn and mankind. It repeatedly asks the question ‘Which of the favours of your Lord will you deny’ in a natural world. Thus, Faiz underlines a moral and ethical questioning of those who speak in the name of God without integrity. He drafted the poem as a critical response to the Iranian revolution and it became relevant to General Zia’s Pakistan, acquiring different meanings (Arif 2012, Hashmi 2021). Written in exile, it found its way to Pakistan through the well-loved voice and bravery of Iqbal Bano, at a time of state censorship. The poem has an interesting publishing history in Pakistan in that it has not been available in print form until recently (Hashmi 2021). Brimming with the power of nature, onomatopoeic sound effects and a demand for justice, it has acquired iconic status as “Hum dekhen ge”. The rallying cry of the phrase “Ana al-Haqq” [I am Truth] from the Sufi poet Mansur al-Hallaj (c.858-922) reverberates through the poem asking for a different kind of renaissance to the one that had just taken place in Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini’s leadership.

The poem’s critique of authoritarianism in the name of religion makes it stand the test of time as part of shared resistance and protest in Urdu and global literary cultures against nationalist agendas that seek to outlaw minorities. This is evident across the border in India where “Hum dekhenge” has become a means of peaceful protest against the constitutional changes to citizenship as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s populist Hindutva led agenda (Singh 2020). The poem remains popular with student activists and women protestors, speaking out against the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act. Notable amongst these are the dissenting women’s voices in the Muslim majority neighbourhood of Shaheen Bagh. In Pakistan, Faiz’s verse has been appropriated for political activism by a variety of groups ranging from the Marxist rock group Lal Band to the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of judiciary to Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e Insaf party. The living memory of Faiz is evident in festivals dotted around the world that commemorate his work and the one closest to his legacy takes place annually (since 2009) in his hometown of Lahore, organized by Faiz ghar, a project of the Faiz Foundation Trust, whose members include his daughters and grandchildren.

In conclusion, Faiz was a humanist whose poetic aesthetic was influenced by Islamicate and Indic cultures. His style was affected by his political identification as a Marxist and a Progressive. While the trauma of Partition disrupted his nationalist vision with a minority consciousness, he continued to look for a plural Muslim community inclusive of minorities and multilingual in its outreach. Drawn to Jinnah’s secular Pakistan ,his poetry is both a chronicle of the times he lived in and reflects the aesthetics of his experience. His legacy resonates through the lyric form with transnational connections across Asia, Africa ,and the Middle East. The labour of love that both draws him to the nation and distracts him from the craft of poetry is captured in his nazm “Kuch ishq kiya, kuch kam kiya” [We made some love, we did some work]:

Voh log bahut khush qismat the
Jo ishq ko kam samajhte the
Ya kam se ashiqi karte the
Hum jite ji masruf rahe
Kuch ishq kiya, kuch kam kiya,
Kam ishq ke arre aata raha
Aur ishq se kam ulajhta raha
Phir akhir tang aa kar ham ne
Donon ko adhura chor diya
(Faiz 1986: 544)

[Those people were very lucky
Who thought that love was work
Or who were in love with work
We remained busy while we lived
We loved a little, we worked a little
Our labour benefitted from love
And love came in the way of work
In the end we got tired
And left both unfinished]

Note on Translations

In this article, the translations of Faiz from the Urdu are by Amina Yaqin, unless stated otherwise. All transliterations of Faiz poems are from the Nuskha-e vafa 1986 edition, except for “Hum Dekhenge” which is from the 2021 edition. Attributions to Hashmi 2021 in the essay are to Salima and Moneeza Hashmi. The author wishes to thank the Hashmi sisters for their generosity in sharing information and insights on Faiz.

Works Cited

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Altaf, Anjum. Transgressions: Poems Inspired by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Delhi: Aakar Books, 2019.
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Arif, Ifttikhar. “Faiz Ahmed Faiz: The Relevance of his poetry today.” Pakistaniaat, 2013: 5.1. 
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Hashmi, Ali Madeeh and Hashmi, Shoaib. The Way it was Once, Faiz Ahmad Faiz: His Life, His Poems. India: Harper Collins, 2012.
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Mufti, Aamir R. Enlightenment in the Colony: The Jewish Question and the Crisis of Postcolonial Culture. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007.
Narang, Gopi Chand. “Tradition and Innovation in Urdu poetry”, Poetry and Renaissance: Kumara Asan Birth Centenary Volume, ed. M. Govindan, Sameeksha, Madras, pp. 415-34.
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Openshaw, Jeanne. “The Radicalism of Tagore and the Bauls of Bengal.” South Asia Research, 1997: 17.1. 20-36.
Patel, Geeta. “Rumination on Chronopoetics and the Political Subject: Miraji reads Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s Lyric.” Pakistaniaat, 2013: 5.1. 16-33. Available at, http://pakistaniaat.org/index.php/pak/article/view/185. Accessed 13 August 2021.
Toor, Saadia. The State of Islam: Culture and Cold War Politics in Pakistan. London: Pluto Press. 2011.
Singh, Sushant. ““He is still haunting unjust rulers from beyond the grave,” says Faiz’s grandson.” The Indian Express. January 2020. Available at, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/faiz-ahmed-faiz-poetry-hum-dekhenge-controversy-kanpur-iit-6203226/ Accessed 10 July 2021.
Yaqin, Amina “Faiz Ahmad Faiz: the worlding of a lyric poet.” Introduction to Special issue on Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Pakistaniaat, 2013: 5.1 Available at, http://pakistaniaat.org/index.php/pak/article/view/183. Accessed 13 August 2021.
––––. “Variants of Cultural Nationalism: Faiz, Faiz Ahmad, Jalibi, Jamil, and Riaz, Fahmida” in Shared Idioms, Sacred Symbols: Process, Power, and the Articulation of identities in South Asia, ed. Kelly Pemberton and Michael Nijhawan. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2009, pp.115-42.


Jago hua savera. Dir. A.J. Kardar. 1959.
Muhafiz / In Custody. Dir. Ismail Merchant. 1994.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Dir. Mira Nair. 2012.

Television Dramas

Khuda Ki Basti. Dir. Ishrat Ansari and Rasheed Umar Thanvi. PTV. 1969
Raqib Se. Dir. Kashif Nisar. MD Productions. 2021.

Citation: Yaqin, Amina. "Faiz Ahmad Faiz". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 28 September 2021 [https://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=5617, accessed 24 May 2022.]

5617 Faiz Ahmad Faiz 1 Historical context notes are intended to give basic and preliminary information on a topic. In some cases they will be expanded into longer entries as the Literary Encyclopedia evolves.

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