Faiz Ahmed Faiz (February 13, 1911-November 20, 1984) chose to stay in Pakistan after the Partition. But due to his enduring poetry on love and revolution, he continues to rule hearts on both sides of the border despite strained political relations between the two countries.
The life of the restless poet remained a roller-coaster ride. Owing to his firm faith that one should not stay in a particular profession for more than five years to escape the banality of life, he donned several hats in his lifetime: An established poet at 18, Faiz was the founding member of the Progressive Writers Association by age 24. In his late 20s and early 30s, Faiz taught British literature at Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Amritsar. Thereafter, he moved to Lahore and joined the Hailey College of Commerce and taught introductory courses on economics and commerce as professor. In his mid-30s, during World War II, he was a colonel in British Army. He became editor of a national daily, The Pakistan Times at 37.
When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s democratically elected government was overthrown in a military coup by Zia Ul-Haq, Faiz was forced into exile in Beirut, Lebanon—where he edited a literary magazine and continued writing poems in Urdu.
A recipient of Nishan-e-Imtiaz and Lenin Peace Prize, Faiz was earlier charged with complicity in a failed coup attempt known as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in 1951. The later years of his life were particularly marked by constant police surveillance and frequent arrests.
One of the letters that he wrote to his wife Alys—a British national who was his student at the Government College University where Faiz taught poetry—from the prison provides an interesting insight as to how Faiz perceived himself. In the letter dated August 15, 1952, Faiz in all humility writes about his poetic gift: “…..The lights and colours – the din felt more like Anarkali than Hyderabad jail and for a long time I could not sleep. In the morning I woke up with a strange happiness in my heart and I wrote a poem which I enclose. I was astounded to find that it took me hardly any time at all and I had practically finished when we went down to breakfast. I am still feeling rather intoxicated with it and am beginning to fear that perhaps someday I might end up as a poet (sic) after all….”
Gam-e-jahan ho, rukh-e-yaar ho, ke dast-e-udu,
Salook jis se kiya hum ne aashiqana kiya !
(Be it the worldly sorrows, face of the beloved or hand of an enemy, Whomsoever I treated, I treated them like an intoxicated lover.)
The last TV mushaira of Faiz Ahmed Faiz can be viewed below:
His iconic poem Subh-e-Azadi (Dawn of Independence) is considered a masterpiece in the literature on partition of the subcontinent in 1947. The same sentiments that echo in his poem, resonated through an editorial that appeared in the Pakistan Times dated August 15, 1947.
Ironically, the poem drew criticism from both left and the right. “Faiz’s friend and fellow Progressive poet, Ali Sardar Jafri, called the poem ‘half truth’ and wrote that a poem like this could be written by both a member of an Islamist or a Hindu religious organization, that if Faiz felt that independence (and its ensuing partition) was a negation of the aspirations of common people, he should have been more forceful in his denunciation of it,” Dr Ali Madeeh Hashmi, Faiz's grandson, writes in Love and Revolution: Faiz Ahmed Faiz – The Authorised Biography. “Those on the right said outright that it was a betrayal of the cause of Independence and that Faiz was against Pakistan. His enemies were also upset that he had not criticised the Radcliffe award outright in the poem.”
Nevertheless, both in his poem and the editorial, Faiz talked lovingly but sadly about the land and the disappointments and dreams of its long-suffering people. In the poem he used metaphors such as “stained light” and “night bitten dawn” for the first morning of long awaited country’s freedom that accompanied partition of the subcontinent. And in the editorial also he stated that the dawn of freedom is “black with sorrow and red with blood.”
It is August 15 today. The dawn that brought this day into the world also restored to our people their long-lost freedom. Through many bleak decades of political serfdom, millions of us have waited and hoped for this dawn. It has arrived at last and yet, for us in the Punjab, it is not bright with laughter and buoyant with song. It is black with sorrow and red with blood. The heart does not lift to the great diction that has descended on us on this wonderful day and the reality of freedom, compared to the reality of the death and suffering around us, appears insubstantial and far away. While, in the West, the new edifice of Pakistan is emerging above its foundations, in the fire ravaged countryside of the East, the ancient homesteads of our less fortunate brothers are crumbling into ashes: while we are entering into our heritage, they are being turned out of theirs. It is a cruel tradition and our day of joyous thanksgiving is also the day of mourning.
To enjoin and to practice a correct reaction to this day therefore, is difficult, and it is equally difficult to preach the pattern of collective and individual behavior that should govern our actions to day and hereafter. The difficulty, however, absolves no one of this duty to himself, to his people; and to the future of the great State that has today come into being. At a time of dire emergency, helplessness is as reprehensible as blind passion and to lose either courage or reason is criminal. Let us, therefore, try to put by our anger and our sorrow and look at thinks as they are. In Eastern Punjab an undetermined number of Muslims villages have been destroyed, an indefinite number of Muslim men, women and children have been bestially butchered and the killing and destruction, as yet, show no sign of abatement. Our unfortunate country has witnessed other tragedies of a similar nature in recent times but a number of crucial factors which operated in Eastern Punjab, did not exist elsewhere. In the first place the Provincial Governor who has against the will of the majority party in the Legislative, taken the responsibility for law and order upon him was fully aware of the menace that was developing. His administration were duly informed, both through their own resources and through repeated representations made to them by responsible public men, that one community was making extensive preparations for organized offence while the community marked out as the victim was being reduced to utter helplessness through forcible disarming.
The answer of the Governor and his administration to these representations was to abet the arming of the belligerents and to enforce the disarming of their victims more vigorously than before. Secondly, while thousands of men were clapped into jail under various Safety Ordinance for merely suspected “dangerous thoughts”. The Sikh leader who went about preaching fire and sword in every hamlet and town were allowed the maximum liberty of action and speech. All the stringent laws banning public meetings, provocative speeches, organisations for violence, etc. suddenly paled into invalidity at the remotest approach of hate-maddened communalists. Thirdly, even though the timing of the tragedy was known well in advance, the civil administration was allowed to go completely partisan precisely at the same juncture and to cap it all the entire Muslim police force stationed in Amritsar was collected and disarmed under false pretences. This last was the most treacherous act of all and its repercussions were frightful and immediate. It is impossible to believe, therefore, that the misfortunes of our brethren in the East were either a visitation of Fate or a calamitous upheaval of unforeseen communal frenzy. It appears to have been, on the other hand, cold-blooded premeditated murder and if the criminals are not made to appear the bar of justice, they will not escape the bar of history. Whatever the place assigned to Governor Jenkins in the annals of the Indian Civil Service, he will long be remembered in the history of the Punjab as either the most incompetent or the most unscrupulous occupant of the gubernatorial chair. How far his policy of setting the people of the Pubjab at each other’s throats has the tacit support or sanction of the British Government, we do not know, but if the British are still aiming to use the Sikhs as a permanent wedge between Pakistan and Hindustan they could not have found a better player to handle the cards. We regret to have to soil our pen on this day with this sordid tale but it has to be told and it has not yet concluded. Our brothers in the East are today the subjects of another State. We have no desire to cringe or whine before the new administration that has today taken over and we shall not enjoin this course on our brothers. We may not be able to render them any great material help, although we shall do the best we can, but we are fully confident that they will bear up bravely in the ordeal that confronts them and retain their self-respect and their solidarity, however hard these virtues might appear to be in the face of cold, mechanised destruction. Unlike Acharya Kripalani we shall not talk of the hostages of the other community that are among us, as one innocent life is no repayment for another, and one burnt out homestead does not regain its inhabited contentment, if we burn out another. Revenge and retaliation may appear to some as normal and human, frenzy and passion may be mistaken for love and courage. We have to realize, however, that the only real support that we can render to our people outside Pakistan is to make Pakistan so strong and so powerful that all our neighbours are forced to territories. We cannot even set about this task if we encourage lawlessness and disorder and violence in our midst, whatever the end in view. We have no moment to fritter away in idle destruction, not a sinew, nor a muscle to spare for any task except the urgent tasks of constructing and fortifying the State we have won, after countless years of suffering and privation. Our present sorrow is but a passing phase and must not be allowed to damage our national heritage that is permanent and enduring. Let us enter into our heritage, devoutly and thankfully, even though the steps are stained with blood and the threshold washed in tears.