Faiz’s unfinished agenda and new generation
By Babar Ayaz
Last Tuesday I had briefly touched on the relevance of Faiz’s poetry and lamented that his social agenda remains unfinished. And perhaps today he would have been more tormented when freedom of expression is seriously endangered. It’s been 27 years since he left the baton of social change in our hands, but unfortunately we have not been able to further his cause.
From the President house of Pakistan and India to the workers ‘Kutchi Abadies’ his 100th birthday is being celebrated in the country and abroad. Though Faiz was one of the greatest poets of the last century, the younger generation has not been initiated to Faiz in schools and colleges. Many who are now attempting to understand him and his work, I am afraid are likely to misinterpret the message of Faiz.
Here let me give you one such example: A few days back a club in Karachi took a good initiative to organize an evening to celebrate his centenary. The main speaker was my friend who can today be called ‘Hafiz’ of Faiz. School girls of a government school presented a tableau on Faiz’s anthem ‘Hum Daikhain Gay.” The teachers and kids did well but unfortunately to my horror they had taken Faiz’s poetry too literally. As much of the Urdu poetry is influenced by the Islamic diction, the hazards of its misinterpretation are many. So the teachers took the line “Jab arz-e-Khuda kay ka’bay say/sub buth uth wa-e-jaaingay’ a flag with Islamic icons removed the girls who played “buth.” And when Faiz says “Utthay ga Anul-Haq ka na’ra” was sung, the tableau shows children dressed as Arab warriors with swords in their hand chanting “Allah-o-Akbar.”
Now this interpretation of Faiz, who believed in a pluralistic secular society and that his poetry is for all, breaking the barriers of religion and geography is distortion of his humane philosophy of life. The children and teachers who worked hard cannot be blamed for this, as in these times religious extremist and revivalism is at the rise in our country. Disconnect between Faiz’s message and the teacher/student of today is because when he was alive the establishment incarcerated him or forced him to live in exile. And his poetry and prose were never included in the curriculum. Since his death, though Faiz is sung but that is all. So what is to be done is the inclusion of his selected poetry at various levels in the Urdu curriculum and articles on his life and message.
Faiz was not a man without an ideology of life. He joined the Progressive Writers Association and was the first Secretary of Punjab in 1938. He was deeply involved with the Communist Party of Pakistan and was the first Editor of Pakistan Times, and other progressive papers of the group. He was also the President of trade unions and was not the poet who believed that his task ends after writing beautiful verses. He participated in the struggle for the dispossessed throughout his life. As for him “poetry should include artistic qualities and social message.” He wrote: “A completely good verse is the one which fulfills not only the quality of art but should also meet the quality of life.” (Quotes are translations from Urdu).
This is the message which the Progressive Writers gave in 1936 when the movement was launched in Luckhnow by Sajjad Zahir and many leading writers, keeping in line with the international movement. This message influenced writers of all languages around the world and is even valid today. A role of progressive writers is to contribute through his/her works in dealing with the realities of life and helping in hastening the process of human progress. On the other hand there has always been a view that ‘art has to be for arts sake’ without accepting any social responsibility.
It because of this commitment with the progressive thought that Progressive Writers Association was banned along with Democratic Students Federation and Communist Party. Faiz was jailed much before that by the government which wanted to please the Americans by showing that they have cracked down on the socialist movement in the country. After a few years of his release he launched Awami Adabi Anjuman with one of the most respected Marxist Dr. M. R. Hassan, who was also his vice-principal at the Abdullah Haroon College. This college is located in the old Karachi Lyari area and gave many progressive writers and activists to the society. Awami Adabi Anjuman’s manifesto is perhaps the only document which was signed by the writers of all the languages of Pakistan like – Sheikh Ayaz, Ajmal Khattak, and Gul Khan Naseer. The manifesto was also the important document because for the first time writers declared that the provincial languages should have the status of national language and Urdu the status of lingua franca. The courage to float such a document obviously attracted wrath of the writers in the official fold and Writers Guild ran a newspaper campaign claiming that the progressives are weakening the process of ‘Pakistani nation building.’
This remains an unresolved issue even today. This year many national language writers held seminars and rallies in support of their respective national languages. The fact that because our basic education is not in our respective mother tongue many children are left behind in education and in understanding completely what they are taught. The need is that basic education and official correspondence should be in the national languages and Urdu and English should also be compulsory.
Faiz was a clear-headed intellectual which is reflected in the views expressed by him on various national issues in articles and speeches. Let us strive that his universal humane messages and thought is passed on in its true spirit. The government has declared 2011 as Faiz Year that should not be all. I would reiterate a committee of scholars on Faiz and academicians should be formed to decide which poem or article on him should be included at what stage. Otherwise once the year is over the fervor will die down and Faiz would be hijacked by the elements he struggled against. (Concluded) (firstname.lastname@example.org)