Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s work as a poet who bridged gaps between India and Pakistan must not be tainted by accusations of spreading communal hatred
The legendary Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz "paved the way to lighten our pathways and act as a bridge between India and Pakistan". "Recent events have only proved that his words grow more meaningful by the day," said the muse's Lahore-based elder daughter, Salima Hashmi in an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency. Herself a well-known artist, painter and educator, she was referring to the controversy about the poem, Hum Dekhenge which was sung last month at the Kanpur campus of the Indian Institute of Technology.
She ridiculed the imposed accusation by the Uttar Pradesh government that the song was "spreading hate". The poem begins with words "Wo Din Ke Jis Ka Vaada Hai/Jo Lauh-E-Azal Mein Likha Hai/Hum Dekhenge/ Jab Zulm-O-Sitam Ke Koh-E-Garan/Rooyi Ki Tarah Ud Jayenge, Hum Dekhenge/Hum Dekhenge (The day that has been promised/That is written in the book of destiny./We will See./When the mountains of oppression and cruelty./Will float away like carded wool. /We will see.)." Salima recited it while speaking to the news agency.
The poem became a symbol of resistance after a public rendition in Lahore by famous vocalist Iqbal Bano in 1986, two years after Faiz's death. When asked about her father's hypothetical reaction to the situation, Salima said, "He would have just lit the cigarette and pushed aside the controversy, with a smile." She went on to add, "Knowing him well as much a daughter can, I imagine he would not have been perturbed at all! He was famous for his serene temperament and his ability to smile in the face of every kind of provocation."
Born in Sialkot, a city in north Punjab in 1911, Faiz had served in the British Indian Army and thereafter joined the undivided Communist Party of India in pre-Partition years. He was among the founders of All India Progressive Writers Association, the literary front of CPI. After Pakistan's independence, he became one of the top leaders of the Communist Party of Pakistan. He was arrested and sentenced to death in 1951 for alleged participation in the infamous Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case to overthrow Pakistan's first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. General Akbar Khan was court-marshalled for alleged involvement in it. After Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto took over as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Islamabad officially buried the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, which was a reflection of a feud inside the military-bureaucratic structure of power-grabbers and feudal overlords that called the shots in the troubled polity of new-born Pakistan.
Faiz, a top leader of the Communist Party of Pakistan, wrote the iconic poem in 1979 talking about bringing down mountains of oppression and cruelty during the extremely counter-revolutionary dictatorship of General Zia-ul Haq. But this poem has now become a rallying cry over the past one month, used in opposition to the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act in India, widely perceived as discriminatory against minorities and Muslims. Lashing out at the tendentious discovery of communal hatred by the rightwing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party without naming it, the poet's daughter said, "Investigating their content to establish if they are a danger to the public is a waste of energy and time. However, the recent debates in India regarding Faiz's words have caused great amusement."
One of the greatest Urdu poets of the Indian subcontinent, Faiz has countless admirers in India and his verses were translated into all major languages of India. Among his admirers was the former Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the founder-president of the ruling BJP. In 1981 at a reception in honour of the poet in Delhi, he broke the protocol to greet the muse. A poet in Urdu and Hindi, Faiz was one of Vajpayee's idols. But in May 2018, the poet's younger daughter, Moneeza Hashmi, an internationally renowned media personality, was humiliated by the Narendra Modi government by forcing her to return to Pakistan and thus, preventing her from delivering a keynote address at a media summit in Delhi, organised by the Kuala Lumpur-based Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development.
She was officially invited and had a multiple entry visa to India, which she uses frequently to see friends and invite artists and writers to participate in the activities of the Faiz Foundation. But in the evening, the organisers received a distressed call from her from the hotel where she was about to check-in. She was curtly told that her registration had been cancelled. She gracefully tweeted, "We, the Faiz Family and Faiz Foundation will continue to work for peace between our two countries. As Faiz would say, Lambi hai gham ki sham magar sham hi to hai."
Salima described her 'abba' as "a secular person and an internationalist", having faith in friendship and amicable relations with India. She recalled that the poet flew to Delhi to attend the funeral of India's freedom icon, Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. As an editor of the English language newspaper, The Pakistan Times, he wrote two moving editorials on Gandhi.
She reiterated the camaraderie between Pakistan and India that the communist poet craved for, "He always considered himself a bridge between the two South Asian nations. This was intuitively understood by people across the border. Thus, I think all young people in India, Hindu, Muslim, and others, know he speaks for all of them and not only for his people."
Views expressed are strictly personal