Faiz Ahmed Faiz is among the greatest of Urdu poets ever born. His words were as inspiring, as his life momentous. Credited for bringing path-breaking changes to the way poetry was written, Faiz combined socio-political messages and revolutionary ideas with the sweetness of the Urdu language, thus creating a heady oeuvre. On his 25th death anniversary, Akrita Reyar tried to get insights into his great personality in a chat with prof. Sadiq ur Rahman Kidwai, an ace academician, who is an authority in Urdu and a connoisseur of its poetry.
On what makes Faiz great… From the time that Urdu language began to flower, its poetry has had the intrinsic trait of reinventing itself. Urdu poetry can be compared to a flowing river that does not stop at any destination but continues to move from one bank to another. If anyone epitomised this quality in poetry, I would say it was Faiz. On his style of writing… His style, coming after Iqbal, was a new trend. It took Urdu poetry into an altogether new phase. Earlier, as you know, Urdu poetry was recited in a very affected style. It was full of romanticism. It talked of love, gardens, flowers et al. It is not that Faiz did not use these phrases or interpretations of life, it was just that his poetry had a revolutionary style. If you see, he says: “Gar aaj tujhse juda hain to kal baham hongey Yeh raat bhar ki judai to koi baat nahin” It was not that he is not using the previous imageries; it is just that there is a solid infusion of new ideas, and more so in the way of presentation. In these lines, he has adopted the old, but also merged them with a new style. Similarly his “Teri aawaaz ke saaye...Tere honthon ke seraab…Dasht-e-tanhaayi mein...Aye jaan-e-jahaan larzaan hai...” was revolutionary in style. It was an absolute new way of presenting poetry, even if it was romanticism. On his influences… He belonged to the time when our civilization’s association with the West – America and Europe- was deepening. So there was a cultural impact. English or Western literature was written in a way that was different from our treatment of subjects.
Faiz was deeply inspired by the new method of presenting thoughts. One can safely say that he reached a pinnacle in adapting the Western usage of metaphors and imagery in Urdu poetry. So, it added a richness of words to already lucid sentiments. His approach was rumani, it was earthy. It was a reflection of the times he lived in. His writing had a certain pace, rhythm, and thus his technique was unique. On his leanings… Even though there was already a plethora of poets and authors who were talking of revolution, Faiz had activism without the noise that went with it. He was a socialist in leanings. He had joined the Progressive Writer’s Movement in the 1930s, which is very well-known for its Communist edifice and ground-breaking ideas. People like Habib Tanvir were involved in this, if one may say, radical movement. On what set him apart… Despite his association with radicalism, the striking thing about his poetry was that his rebelliousness was sans violence, his Inqalabi josh (revolutionary energy) was without bloodshed. “Bol, ki lab aazad hain tere Bol, zaban ab tak teri hai Tera sutwan jism hai tera Bol, ki jaan ab tak teri hai... Bol, ki thoda waqt bahut hai Jism-o-zuban ki maut se pehle Bol, ki sach zinda hai ab tak Bol, jo kuch kehna hai kehle” He gave Urdu poetry a socio-political resonance and thus made it very pertinent to his times. What was also perhaps distinctive about Faiz’s personality was that he did not use his personal suffering to get “Wah Wahi”(laurels). Instead, there was humanness to it. On his trials and tribulations… It was not that Faiz did not have to face pain. He suffered a lot. He had many dark phases in his life. He was accused of plotting a coup and attempting to overthrow the government in Pakistan in 1951. He was put behind bars. He was kept in death row for four years, before being released in face of international pressure. So, in a sense, he narrowly escaped being killed. In later years, he was exiled and spent years in Beirut. What is to his credit is that he never made a hero of himself for having spoken the truth or for the subsequent torment inflicted on him by the State. He used those years productively to write about his country, and those turned out to be among the most inspiring words he ever penned. What should be noted is that his works have immense optimism. There is no hopelessness in his works. Also in a sense, Faiz was a revolution who is evergreen. On his rare interpretation of love… Raqib has been the villain of all Urdu and Persian poets. The villain in all love-triangles. Now again, what is new is the way Faiz looks at him. There are no regular verses about first encounters, love and then heartbreak. An all encompassing love defines his personality. There is no negativity when he is even dealing with Raqib. Yeh ek ajeeb-o-gareeb mohabbat thi (This was strange sort of love). He was a man who even had the heart to love his enemy. “Gar aaj auj peh hai taal-e-raqib to kya Yeh chaar din ki khudai to koi baat nahin” Personal experiences and encounters with Faiz… Oh! Yes. I met him several times. He came to India many a times. He was very soft spoken. He was a very decent person. He was always surrounded by people. I took him around the JNU campus, which he really liked. Those were the moments that I really cherish. He was always thronged by people wherever he went. But if there is one way I will always remember him, it will be for his humility. Personal favourites… No, I would not like to point out to any one. There are just so many of his poems that are classic. And really, it depends on the mood. There is something to relish for every mood. Faiz is someone you savour in leisure. I would recommend that he be read in solitude. Even though there are a lot of cassettes and CDs in the market of Faiz’s songs, but his words are really timeless gems which one can delight in, even when not accompanied by music. Because the everlasting quality of his lexicon is such, Faiz stays with you for a long time.