June 17, 2024

Jo Mai Asian Culture

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Faiz Ahmed Faiz: A true South Asian

12 min read

THIS is not the first time that champions of liberty in India have sung the verses of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Although born in Sialkot (now in Pakistan), as was Iqbal, Faiz acquired a huge following all over the subcontinent well before the tragic partition of India. Nearly half a century ago, during the Emergency, political prisoners in India’s jails found inspiration in his poem. It is all too appropriate that the protesters opposed to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) should chant Faiz.

One of the most insightful comments on Faiz has come from a public intellectual of world class whom India has produced, Professor Amartya Sen. In an interview to the Kolkata daily
The Telegraph on Republic Day this year, he referred to the wave of protests that have swept across the country in these terms: “And that is the context in which Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s beautiful song,
Hum Dekhenge , became such a positive thought. What is the point of that idea? Faiz is saying a different day will come. Don’t assume that any nasty thing that you can do now—and you can do it with impunity—would never be brought into reclaiming. The fearlessness of the authoritarian rulers makes them ruthless, and that has to be challenged. It is in this context, among others, that Faiz’s simple poem
Hum Dekhenge becomes very important. It’s the cry of the underpowered, who is getting strength from an attitudinal change. Faiz, with his usual range, even brought into the poem a touch of religion, nothing exclusively Islam (as it has sometimes been wrongly interpreted). The idea of the good triumphing over evil and the evil acts being brought up for reckoning is not only a Muslim thought. It is also a Hindu thought, also a Parsi thought, also a Christian or Sikh thought. And it can also be the thought of an atheist.… It is a universal thought.
Hum Dekhenge is a reminder to all potentially ruthless rulers.”

Faiz and Iqbal were the greatest poets in Urdu that India produced in the 20th century. Iqbal was a poet-philosopher. Faiz was a poet-ideologue, the pride of the Left. It is not well known that Iqbal drank deep at the fount of Hindu philosophy and wrote a moving poem on Swami Ram Tirth, on his death.

After Partition, to which Faiz was strongly opposed, he had, perhaps more soulmates in India than in Pakistan, where the Left was gasping for breath. Faiz read widely and well. He knew the great English poets as he did the great Urdu poets. There is a good collection of his English writings (
Culture and Identity: Selected English Writings of Faiz compiled and edited by Sheena Majeed, Oxford University Press, Karachi, Rs.395). In a talk on “Problems of Cultural Planning in Asia”, he said: “Alien imperialist domination of Asian countries was not merely a passive process of pure political supremacy. It was also an active process of social and cultural subversion. It tried on the one hand to kill or destroy whatever was good, progressive, and forward-looking in the old feudal or pre-feudal structures by way of arts, skills, customs, manners, humanist values or mental enlightenment. It tried to sustain and perpetuate, on the other, whatever was unwholesome, reactionary, or backward-looking, ignorance, superstition, servility, and class exploitation. What was handed back to the newly liberated countries, therefore, was not the original social structure taken over at the point of their subjugation but the perverted and emasculated remnants of the structure. Superimposed on these remnants were cheap, spurious and second-hand imitations of Western cultural patterns by way of language, customs, manners, art forms, and ideological values.”

Faiz married an Englishwoman, Alys, who was a member of the British Communist Party. The great Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdullah performed the marriage (nikah) ceremonies at Srinagar. Faiz’s first poem is perhaps the best. In it the loner warns his beloved not to ask him to love her as before, though he loved her still. Revolution now claimed his love, first. Noorjehan sang the song so beautifully that Faiz declared that the poem was no longer his. It belonged to her. The great composer Arshad Mahmood has not received his just dues for putting the poem to music. The poem and its English translation are reproduced in an excellent compilation by Faiz’s friend Victor Kiernan (
Poems by Faiz , George Allen & Unwin). It is dedicated to Alys. The poem is reproduced in Urdu, written in the Roman script, with a translation in English. I reproduce both. It is an immortal contribution.


Mujh-se pahli-si mahabbat, meri mahbub, na mang.

Main-ne samajha tha ke tu hai, to darakhshan hai


Teri gham hai to gham-e-dahr ki jhagra kya hai?

Teri surat se hai alammeri baharon ko sabat,

Teri ankhon ke siwa duniya men rakkha kya hai?

Tu jo mil-jae to taqdir nigun ho-jae.

Yun na tha, main-ne faqat chaha tha yun ho-jie.

Aur bhi dukh hain zamane men mahabbat ke siwa.

Rahateri aur bhi hain vasi ki rihat ke siwa.

An-gimat sadyon ke tarik bahemana tilism

Resham o atlas kamkhab meri bunwae hue

Ja-ba-ja bikte hue kucha o bazar men jism

Khak me lithare hue, khun men nahlae hue,

Jism nikale hue amraz ke tannurron se,

Pip bahti hui galte hue nasuren se—

Laut-jati hai udhar ko bhi nazar, kya kije?

Ab bhi dilkash hai tera husn, magar kya kije?

Aur bhi dukh hain zamane men mahabbat ke siwa.

Rahaten aur bhi hain vasl ki rahat ke siwa,

Mujh-se pahli-si mahabbat,meri mahbub, na mang.

English translation:



Do not ask from me, my beloved love like that former


I had believed that you are, therefore life in shining,

There is anguish over you, so what wrangle is there

over the sorrow of the age?

From your aspect springtimes on earth have


What does the world hold except your eyes?

If you were to become mine, fate would be humbled.

—It was not so, I had only wished that it should be so.

There are other sufferings of the time (world) besides


There are other pleasures besides the pleasure of


The dark beastly spell of countless centuries.

Women in silk and satin brocade,—

Bodies sold everywhere in alley and market.

Smeared with dust, washed in blood,

Bodies that have emerged from the ovens of diseases,

Pus flowing from rotten ulcers—

My glance comes back that way too: what is to be


Your beauty is still charming, but what is to be done?

There are other sufferings of the time (world) besides


There are other pleasures besides the pleasures of


Do not ask from me, my beloved, love like that former



This was a poet who spoke to his rival in love without bitterness.



Aa ke vabasta hain us husn ki yaden tujh-se

Jis-ne is dil ko pari-khana bana-rakha tha,

Jiski ulfat men bhula-rakkhi thi dunya ham-ne,

Dahr ko dahr ka afsana bana-rakha tha.

Ashna hain tere qadmon se vo rahen jin-par

Uski madhosh jawani-ne inayat ki hai,

Karawan guzare hain jin-se usi ran a I ke

Jiski in ankhon-ne jbe-sud ibadat ki hai.

Tujh-se kheli hain vo mahbub hawaen jin-meri

Uske malbus ki afsurda mahak baqi hai;

Tujh-pe bhi barsa hai us bam se mahtab ka nur.

Jis-men biti haui raton ki kasak baqi hai;

Tu-ne dekhi hai vo peshani, vo rukhsar, vo hont

Zindagi jinke tasawwur men luta-di ham-ne,

Tujh-pe utthi hain vo khoi hui sahir ankhen,

Tujhko malum hai kyun umar ganwa-di ham-ne.

Ham-pe mushtaraka hain kihsan gham-e-ulfat ke,

Itne ihsan ke ginwaun to ginwa na sakun;

Ham-ne is ishq men kya khoya hai, kya sikha hai,

Juz tere aur ko samjhaun to samjha na sakun.

‘ajizi sikhi, gharibon ki himayat sikhi,

Yas o hirman ke, dukh dard ke mani sikhe,

Zerdaston ke masaib ko samajhna sikha,

Sard ahon ke, rukh-e-zard ke mani sikhe.



English translation:


Come, for memories are linked with you of that


Who turned this heart into a fairy-house,

In attachment to whom I had forgotten the world,

I had turned the age into a fable of an age.

Familiar with your steps are those paths on which

Her intoxicated youth bestowed itself,

By which the caravans of her charms have passed

That these eyes profitlessly adored.

With you have played those beloved breezes in which

The faded scent of her dress remains;

On you too has rained from that roof the light of the


In which the pain of bygone nights remains.

You have seen that forehead, that cheek, that lip,

In contemplation of which I squandered existence;

On you have been raised those lost-in-thought ma

gical eyes;

To you is known why I wasted life.

Ours in partnership are the favours of the pain of


So many favours that if I were to count I would not be

able to count;

What I lost in this love, what I learned,

If I were to explain to anyone except you I would not

be able to explain.

I learned helplessness, I learned protection of the


I learned the meaning of despair and frustration, of

suffering and pain,

I learned to understand the afflictions of the


I learned the meaning of chill sighs, of livid faces….

(Sun g again, most admirably, by Noorjehan.) It is typical of Faiz to blend romance with realism, love and political and social injustices.



In August 1947, he wrote:

SUBH E-AZADI (August 1947)

Ye dagh dagh ujala, ye shab-gazida sahar,

Vo intizar tha jis-ka, ye vo sahar to nahin,

Ye vo sahar to nahin jis-ki arzu lekar

Chale the yar ke mil-jegi kahin na kahin.


English translation:

DAWN OF FREEDOM (August 1947)

This stain-covered daybreak, this night-bitten dawn,

This is not that dawn of which there was expectation;

This is not that dawn with longing for which

The friends set out, (convinced) that somewhere

there would be met with.



Faiz was put in priso n twice after conviction in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy case and, later, but not before he saw dictatorship creep across Pakistan.


Nisar main teri galyon ke, ai watan, ke jahan

Chali hai rasm ke koi na sar uthake chale,

Jo koi chahne-wala tawaf ko nikle

Nazar churake chale, jism-o-jan bachake chale;

Hai ahl-i-dil ke liye ab ye nazm-e-bast-o-khusad,

Ke sang o khisht muqaiyad hain aur sag azad.”

English translation:


May I be a sacrifice to your streets, oh fatherland,


It has become custom that no-one shall go with head


And that any lover who comes out on pilgrimage

Must go with furtive looks, go in fear of body and life;

Applied to the people of heart now there is this

method of administration,

That stones and bricks are locked up, and dogs free.



Hum Dek henge
had its precursor in his poem on Dogs:


Ye galyon ke awara be-kar kutte,

Ke bakhsha-gayi jinko zauq-e-gadai,

Zamane ki phitkar sarmaya unka,

Jahan bhar ki dhatkar unki kamai,

Na aram shab ko no rahat sawere,

Ghilazat men ghar, nalyon men basere;

Jo bigren to ek dusre se lara-do,

Zara ek roti ka tukra dikha-do—

Ye harek ki thokaren khanewale,

Ya faqon se uktake mar-janewale.

Ye mazlum makhliq gar sar uthae,

To insane sab sarkashi bhul-jae;

Ye chahen to dunya ko apna bana-len,

Ye aqaon ki haddiyan tak chaba-len—

Koi inki soi hui dum hila-de.


English translation:


These wandering stray dogs of the streets,

On whom has been bestowed ardour for beggary,

The curses of the age their property,

The abuse of the whole world their earnings,—

Neither rest at night nor comfort in the morning,

Dwellings in the dirt, night-lodgings in the drains;—

If they rebel, make one fight another,

Just show them a piece of bread—

They who suffer the kicks of everyone,

Who will die worn out with starvation.

—If these oppressed creatures lifted their heads,

Mankind would forget all its insolence;

If they wished they would make the earth their own,

They would chew even the bones of the masters—

If only someone showed them consciousness of


If only someone shook their sleeping tails!


In this spirit Faiz advis es writers:

Mata-e-lauh-o-qalam chin-gai to kya gham hai,

Ke khun-e-dil men dabo-li hain ungliyan main-ne.

Zaban pe muhr lagi hai to kya, ke rakh-di hai

Harek halq-e-zanjir men zaban main-ne.


If m y tablet and pen are taken away, what grief is it,

When I have nipped my fingers in the blood of the


A seal has been set on my tongue: what of it, when I

have put

A tongue into every link of my chain?



Zulfika r Ali Bhutto took Faiz along to Bangladesh, his first visit. He had enlisted Faiz as his adviser on cultural affairs. What Faiz wrote on his return is a fine blend of romance and realism, a unique verse on estranged lovers who do meet again but part because neither could speak frankly to the other. The poem was sung by Nayyara Noor, whom Faiz had come to like a lot. It reads:


Hum ke thahre ajnabi itni mulaqaton ke baad/ phir

banenge asana kitni mulaqaton ke baad/ Kub nazar

aaega bey daagh subze ki bahar/ khoon key dhabbey

dhalenge kitni barsaton key baad.

They bohat bey dard lumhey khattun dard ishq key/

then bohat bey make subhen mehrbaan raston key


Dil to chaha pur shikastay dil ney mohlat hi na

di/ Kuch giley shikvey bhi kar letey manajaton key


Un sey jo hame gaye they Faiz jam sadqa kiya/ Un

kahi hi rehgai who baat sub baton key baat.


English translation:

On Return from Dhaka

We remain strangers, though times out of

mind we met,

How many reunions will it take to be

friends again?

When will the eye behold the sight of

grass without blemish?

How many rains will it take for

the blood spots to wash away?

The moment of separation was

cruel, of pain without respite,

And unforgiving was the morn

ing after the night of union,

Though the heart wanted, there

was to be no time

To speak of how we felt after beg

ging forgiveness.

What we wanted to say, Faiz, our

heart in our hand

Remained unsaid when all else

had been said.



To end with Hum Dekhenge, there is an able translation in O City of Lights: Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Poems Selected and Edited by Khalid Hasan, translation by Daud Kamal and Khalid Hasan (Oxford University Press, Karachi). Khalid Hasan was a friend and devotee of Faiz. Iqbal Bano gave her voice to it and made the song unforgettable.


Laazim hai ki hum bhi dekhenge

Woh din jiskaa ke waada hai,

Jo lau-e-azi mein likha hai

Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garaan

Rooi ki tarah udd jaayenge,

Hum mehkoomon ke paaon tale

Jab dharti dhad dhad dhadkegi,

Aura hl-e-hukam ke sar oopar

Jab bijli kad kad kadkege,

Jab arz-e-khudaa ke kaab se

Sab but uthwaaey jaayenge,

Hum ahl-e-safaa mardood-e-haram

Masnad pe bithaaey jaayenge.

Sab ttaj uchaaley jaayenge.

Sab takht giraaey jayeenge.

Bas naam rahega Allah kaa,

Jo ghaayab bhi hai, haazir bhi,

Jo manzar bhi hai, naazir bhi.

Utthegaa ‘An-al-haq’ kaa naara

Jo main bhi hoon, aur tum bhi ho,

Aur raaj karegi khalq-e-Khuda

Jo mai bhi hon, aur tum hi ho.


English translation:

We Shall Overcome

We shall live to see,

So it is writ,

We shall live to see,

The day that’s been promised,

The day that’s been ordained;

The day when the mountains of oppression,

Will blow away like wisps of cotton;

When the earth will dance

Beneath the feet of the once enslaved;

And heavens’ll shake with thunder

Over the heads of tyrants;

And the idols in the House of God

Will be thrown out;

We, the rejects of the earth,

Will be raised to a place of honour.

All crowns’ll be tossed in the air,

All thrones’ll be smashed,

And God’s word will prevail,

He who is both present and absent

He who’s beheld and is the beholder.

And truth shall ring in every ear,

Truth which is you and I,

We, the people will rule the earth

Which means you, which means I.

It was writte n in the United States in January 1979.

The Shaheen Baghs that grew all over India reclaimed Faiz as truly one of us, a fighter against oppression, bigotry, poverty, destitution and imperialism.


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