NOSTALGIA As Delhi celebrates the Faiz centenary, R.V. SMITH recalls an afternoon spent in the company of the poet
Faiz Ahmed Faiz: how can one forget an interaction with him as the Capital celebrates his birth centenary? It happened at Urdu Ghar in Rouse Avenue while it was still trying to get over its tag of “Love Lane”. When Delhi's population was one-fourth of what it is now, young couples from the Walled City found it an ideal spot for romantic interludes. Probably Faiz was not aware of it though he was well acquainted with Delhi and liked the city (where he spent World War II years) and its ambience, which still reflected the historical legacy of a thousand years. Faiz's last visit to Urdu Ghar was five or six years ago and Khaliq Anjum, its head, remembers clearly that he came alone, leaving his British wife Alice in Pakistan. Recently his daughters, Salima and Moneeza, paid a visit to the Capital and talked animatedly of their father's old associates here, including Khushwant Singh who enjoyed sharing the ‘jaam' with him on memorable evenings at Sujan Singh Park.
One's reminiscences of Faiz go many years back when he came to attend a lunch, if memory serves right, hosted by the Ghalib Academy. He did not care for the sherbet as he was used to stronger stuff, but did justice to the murgh biryani and chicken korma and roti all right. He spoke informally of his stay abroad. In Lebanon, particularly as a representative of a U.N. body he was attracted to the personality of Khalil Gibran, whose “footprints on the sands of time” had not been erased even years after his death, far away from his native land.
Absence of mushairas
However one thing that irked Faiz during his stay was the absence of mushairas and other poetic symposiums which were the lifeblood of his existence. Time and again he longed for Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi, Delhi, Lucknow and Hyderabad with their Urdu culture and association with the poets of yore. This is what he told this scribe in a hurried interview before being swept away into another discussion with Gulzar Dehlvi, Kuldip Nayar and other acquaintances.
Dressed in a grey suit and matching tie with a cigarette in his mouth, he hardly gave the impression of being a shair. For those who did not know him he could have passed off as a business executive or a government official. But that was until he recited a line or two of his poetry (cloying with emotion) like “Jab dard aiyaga dabe paaon” (when pain will come on tiptoe) or “Chaley bhi aaoo/ke gulistan ka karobar chale” or “Mere mehboob mujh se pehli si mohabbat na maang” (my beloved do not expect the same love from me as before). However, one felt that there was a Punjabi tang in his speech, maybe due to his Sialkot upbringing.
When Josh Malihabadi died, Faiz reportedly came out with the comment that Josh was “a master craftsman”. He held similar views on Jigar Moradabadi and thought Firaq Gorakhpuri to be a bit pedagogic. A poet of his stature could afford to pass judgment on his contemporaries, even though they were older than him and, along with the mighty Iqbal, had cultivated the minds of post-uprising generations. Josh, who treated Faiz as his literary heir, wouldn't have liked to be considered just an exalted wordsmith for, as Firaq testified, he was the ustad who could help a puzzled shair round off an intricate verse, as he had done for him once. Jigar, chained to the wine cup, was the quintessential poet who dipped his pen in his heart. Some uncharitably thought Faiz to be somewhat uppish, considering that he was a “University Wit”. Firaq, though unsophisticated, was at par with him in that respect. But a colossus like Faiz, in conformity with most poets, could not be expected to be entirely bereft of an ego. One could, however, not glean any trace of it at the luncheon.