It is only through legal strictures that the legacy of the influential poet can survive, say his kin. RakHshanda Jalil

At the worst of times, when upheaval and change are the order of the day, politics and poetry become intertwined, as though both draw sustenance from one source: The People. There can be no better example of this axiom in the 20th century than the poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz. He wrote, prolifically and compellingly, on the events that shaped the destiny of the sub-continent. Half a century after his death, his poetry continues to strike a chord with millions of readers and, given the immense ‘singability’ of his poetry, with listeners, too. It is little wonder, then, that younger generations have interpreted and ‘used’ his poetry for newer concerns. Be it a teachers’ strike at a Delhi campus or a lawyers’ agitation in the streets of Lahore, Faiz’s poetry is invoked with a passion that shows no signs of diminishing. For instance, there can be no better anthem of revolt, one that reminds them that they are free despite their fetters than these ageless lines: Bol, ke lab azaad hai tere/Bol, zabaan ab tak teri hai/Tera sutwan jism hai tera/Bol, ke jaan ab tak teri hai. (Speak, for your lips are free/Speak, for your tongue is still yours/Your supple body is still yours/Speak, for your life is still yours.)

In this scene, if we introduce the dreaded word ‘copyright’, do we risk being ‘party poopers’ at best and ‘materialistic’ at worst? Does the work of a great writer belong to the people or should it also come under the purview of the laws of the land? Copyright laws — meant to safeguard a writer’s work, and after him, his estate — ensure that due permission is taken from the holders of the copyright for 60 years after a person’s death.

Salima Hashmi, Faiz’s elder daughter and Chairperson of the Faiz Foundation Trust in Lahore, rues the laxity with which creative works are appropriated: “In the sub-continent, the notion of copyright is almost alien. Poets, writers, musicians, artists and creative people of all kinds, loved and revered by millions, have rarely had their creative inputs protected by law to benefit either them or their legacy once they pass on. This is financially challenging. The Faiz Foundation Trust was set up to bring together Faiz’s writings, letters, documents, photographs and memorabilia to encourage research, analysis and the spread of his poetry and ideas. This is only possible if there is financial support. Protecting copyright of his writing will help strengthen these efforts and will keep benefiting scholars and lovers of poetry not only of the sub-continent but all over the world, which needs voices such as Faiz’s.”

Set up on March 1, 2009, the Faiz Ghar is a project of the Faiz Foundation Trust. Meant to be both a museum and an open space for the city’s creative people to practise and pursue their diverse interests, it is located in a bungalow in the sprawling Model Town neighbourhood — not far from the house in which Faiz spent his last few years. Faiz Ghar is a unique experiment. The house itself is leased to the Faiz Foundation by an admirer of the poet’s for a token rent of one rupee a month. As Ali Hashmi, the poet’s grandson and an active member of Faiz Ghar, says, “The idea is to provide a space for cultural events including literary, poetic and musical events preferably with (but not necessarily) a connection to Faiz and his work.” While there are several institutions — both governmental and private — in culturally vibrant Lahore, the core group behind Faiz Ghar — Faiz’s family, liberal/left individuals and civil society groups — felt the need for a space that could effectively counter the influence of the religious right.

In Hashmi’s words, this house is meant as “a permanent space for both Faiz’s physical exhibits (medals, pictures, documents, etc.) as well as a physical space to “anchor” the Faiz Foundation and restart its work.” The Foundation was formed in the immediate aftermath of Faiz’s death in 1984, worked for several years, then disbanded primarily because of lack of resources. Rafiq Jaffer, Member, Faiz Ghar Management Committee and Director, Institute of Social Sciences, Lahore, adds, “Presently, Faiz Ghar runs on the money contributed by individual donors, Pakistani foundations, corporate sponsorship, sale of event tickets, membership fees and fees from activities (music, yoga, workshops, summer school, etc.), rental of space, and sale of products (CDs, books, T shirts, etc.).” A one-time grant from the Punjab government in 2010 went towards setting up a library; since no other grant is forthcoming, money is tight.Salima’s sister, Moneeza Hashmi, who serves as a trustee with the Faiz Foundation Trust, has arrived in India and, with the help of lawyers, set about securing copyrights for Faiz’s works — profusely translated and transliterated and abundantly published in India. She says: “It was a shock for The Faiz Foundation Trust to learn that his work was being published by some persons in India without our permission or our knowledge. The Faiz Foundation Trust is now forced to take this matter seriously and seek legal action if any allegations are proved. Faiz in his lifetime (and his wife after him) gave all Hindi rights of publishing his works to Messrs. Raj Kamal. That agreement still stands. Anyone else who publishes Faiz’s works in India without permission will be duly investigated and action taken accordingly. The Faiz Ghar in Lahore needs financial support. These funds will go a long way in keeping the legacy of Faiz alive.”

Ali Hashmi and others in the Faiz Foundation “aspire to have Faiz Ghars in every big and small city in Pakistan, eventually develop a FFT publishing house, support artists who are working on projects which align with our mission. If we accumulate enough resources, we would like to develop a media/internet presence to propagate our message. Our mission includes promoting peace/development in Pakistan and neighbouring areas and we are already liaising with artists in India and plan to expand that to other neighbouring countries including Iran, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Eventually, we would like to grow into perhaps a Faiz school or college, focusing on the humanities, arts and literature.”

The Faiz daughters wish to safeguard their father’s legacy just so they can channelise the funds where they are most needed: to sustain a living monument to Faiz.

Does the work of a great writer belong to the people or should it also come under the purview of the laws of the land? A trustee with the Faiz Foundation Trust has arrived in India and, with the help of lawyers, has set about securing copyrights for Faiz’s works.