Thursday, February 24, 2011

Birth Centenary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz (13 February 1911 – 2011)

These days, the birth centenary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz is being celebrated throughout the world where Urdu is spoken and understood. Faiz was a renowned Pakistani poet and an avowed Marxist and Communist besides his love for Sufism.
Born in the village of Kala Kader of the Sialkot district, bordering India, on 13th February 1911. His earlier education was from the village madrassa and he learnt the basics of the religion from there as was the vogue in those days. Later he was admitted in the famous missionary school of Sialkot, the Scotch Mission School. Thereafter for higher studies he joined the Murray College of Sialkot and graduated from the same college. For his post graduation, he came to Lahore and obtained his Masters in English literature from the prestigious Government College Lahore. He also obtained another Masters in Arabic literature from the Oriental College Lahore.

Right from his early days, Faiz had an inclination towards Marxist ideas and that was the reason that he joined the Progressive Writers’ Movement in 1935, while he was a lecturer of English at the M.A.O College, Amritsar. He later came back to Lahore for a stint at the Hailey College of Commerce. During the WW-II, he joined the British Army and attained a rank of lieutenant colonel in 1944. He resigned from the army in 1947 and came back to Lahore once again to pursue his literary strides. He joined the famous Enlish daily The Pakistan Times as its first editor. In 1959, he became the secretary of the Pakistan Arts Council, a post he held till 1962. Besides Pakistan Times, faiz also worked with the famous Urdu daily of its times “Imroze” and the weekly Lail-o-Nihar. In 1964, he moved to Karachi and became the principal of Abdullah Haroon College. During the 1965 Indo-Pak War, faiz briefly worked with the Department of Information.

Faiz stepped into the word of poetry in the early 40s and has his first collection published in 1943, titled “Naqsh-e-Faryadi.” Right from the beginning, Faiz wrote on the sufferings of the poor and the downtrodden. His concern for the oppressed and poor associated him with the communism and he also joined the Communist Party of Pakistan. He spent much of the 1950s and 1960s promoting the cause of communism in Pakistan. He was also involved in the circle lending support to a failed military coup led by Major General Akbar Khan in early 50s, for which he was imprisoned. During the 1950s, his two other collections, Dast-e-Saba and Zindan Nama were published.

Although his main theme focused on the Marxist and Communist ideas, he also had a great love for the Sufism. His association with some of the notable Sufis, like Wasif Ali Wasif, Ashfaq ahmed, Baba Malang and Fakharuddin Balley speaks volums of his love of Sufism.

Faiz married a British lady Alys Faiz in 1941. She also had a great flare for literature and also published a book of memoirs, Over My Shoulder (1993), about her life as a British expatriate living in Pakistan.

Faiz’s poetry renewed the traditional romantic imagery of Urdu poetry, which gained him huge popularity. Faiz also supported to the use of regional languages of Pakistan in education, the media, and literary expression. But a major portion of Faiz’s work was politically motivated, and includes some of his most famous poems based on his prison experiences.

One of the famous poem of Faiz "Bol - kay lab azad hain terey" is fine piece of work by him, which express the feeling of freedom after the end of an oppressive era. 

Bol – kay lab aazad hain terey 
Speak, your lips are free.
Speak, it is your own tongue.
Speak, it is your own body.
Speak, your life is still yours.
See how in the blacksmith's shop
The flame burns wild, the iron glows red; 
The locks open their jaws, 
And every chain begins to break.
Speak, this brief hour is long enough
Before the death of body and tongue: 
Speak, 'cause the truth is not dead yet, 
Speak, speak, whatever you must speak.

Despite his inclination towards Marxist beliefs, Faiz also wrote on traditional forms of poetry with new symbols derived from Western political ideas. Faiz was of the view that a poet should always present some kind of philosophical, political or some other sort of thesis." Like Muhammad Iqbal, a great poet and philosopher, he reinterpreted the most important theme in the Urdu ghazal, the theme of love. The word ghazal comes from Arabic and has been translated as "to talk with women" or "to talk of women." Faiz often addressed his poem to his "beloved", which can be interpreted as his muse, his country, or his concept of beauty or social change.

For his love for Marxism and his poetry centred on the poor and oppressed, he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union in 1962. Faiz died in Lahore on November 20, 1984.

Related Reading:
Faiz Ahmed Faiz, pseud. of Faiz Ahmed (1910-1984)
Languages and Literature (of Pakistan)