Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the iconic Urdu poet, whose work has been read, loved and appreciated, is known for his contribution to the literature in the Asian subcontinent, his rich body of work has mesmerised poetry lovers for years.
While varied works have been penned on Faiz, the latest addition to this long list is a new book, which has been authored by his grandson Ali Madeeh Hashmi.
Titled The Way It Was Once, the book has been conceptualised and documented by Ali, while Faiz’s son-in-law and noted Pakistani writer Shoaib Hashmi has translated his poems. This year being his 100th birth anniversary, The Way It Was Once offers a tribute to him. The book features photographs from Faiz’s family album, a biography by his grandson, Ali, and translations of 52 of Faiz’s poems by Shoaib. It also contains several extracts from Faiz’s handwritten letters and poems and clippings of his interviews.
Ali, apart from being the legend’s grandson, is also a psychiatrist practising in Lahore and a trustee of Faiz Foundation trust and Faiz Ghar, Lahore. He remembers his grandfather lovingly and mentions how he came up with the idea for this book, ‘It was an extension of an article I wrote for Himal SouthAsia, for a special Faiz issue they published in February 2011 for the beginning of the Faiz Centennial. I later expanded that into a lengthier essay for the Pakistani daily Dawn and that became the nucleus for this recent book. I’m currently working on a full length biography on Faiz’s life.’
What was the concept he had in mind, while penning the life of such a genius? Ali elucidates, ‘I wanted to write about Faiz as a poet in the light of his political and social beliefs and struggles. At the same time, I wanted to explore Faiz the man, what he felt, what he thought, why he did what he did. Since I am a psychiatrist, I’m interested in what makes people do what they do. All of that went into writing the book.’
He talks about the challenges he faced during the process of translation. ‘I’ve talked at some length about that in the introduction to the book. It’s difficult to translate poetry accurately without losing some of the essence especially if the languages are as dissimilar as English and Urdu. I tried to stay faithful to the spirit of the poem and still retain some of its harmony in the translation,’ says Ali.
So how did Ali manage to encapsulate Faiz’s life via this book? He mentions candidly, ‘I tried to provide a broad overview of his life and works with some personal details thrown in to ‘humanise’ him. Its difficult to capture all the facets of any person’s life in one book so I stuck to what I felt were the high points.’
Ali remarks, ‘I tried to put his work in the context of the socio-historical circumstances in which he lived. I think that is the most accurate way to understand a person’s beliefs and his ideas as well his work.’ As for his views regarding his grandfather’s persona, he tells us, ‘Privately, he was a very shy person. He preferred to listen more than talk. He was affectionate and courteous to everyone, loved to sit down with a group of friends in the evening for drinks and generally enjoyed the company of people, especially women. A lot of this I discovered in my research since he died when I was not quite 16 and I never knew him very well when he was alive.’
At a personal level, what are the experiences that Ali has shared with him? Ali says, ‘As a grandson our relationship was a slightly distant one, not because of any relationship issues but because he travelled all the time so we did not get to see him much. even when he was home, he was surrounded by admirers, friends so we felt that he belonged to everyone. I never knew him very well when he was alive. I’ve actually gotten to know him better through writing the book.’