Theatre of the absurd

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Faiz Ahmed Faiz  


It is ironical that a poem denouncing Islamic fundamentalism should be condemned as anti-Hindu

IIT-Kanpur’s decision to set up an investigation committee in response to complaints that the reading of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem, “Hum dekhenge (We are sure to witness)”, at an anti-Citizenship Amedment Act rally on December 17 was an anti-national and anti-Hindu act is nothing short of a theatre of the absurd. The complaints registered by a temporary faculty member and 16 others demonstrate their ignorance of Urdu literary idiom, poetic metaphors, Faiz’s political views, and, above all, the context in which the poem was written.

Against injustice

Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984) was arguably the greatest Urdu poet of his generation. The fact that he was a Pakistani national was purely an accident of birth. He was a native of Lahore, which fell to Pakistan’s share. Additionally, Lahore had become a major centre of Urdu literature as well as progressive thought when he was growing up in pre-independence India and it was but natural that Faiz would find the literary and cultural atmosphere in that city conducive for the flowering of his poetic talent.

Faiz was a part of the All-India Progressive Writers’ Association established in 1936. The goal of the association was to promote equality and social justice, and many of its leading lights belonged to the Communist movement. The ideals of social equality and opposition to injustice and authoritarian rule inspired much of Faiz’s poetry.

His famous poem “Mujh se pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang” (My beloved do not demand from me the earlier intensity of love)” is a classic embodying his quest for social justice. In it, Faiz tells his imaginary beloved not to expect the same intensity of love from him that existed earlier, now that he has become aware of the oppression inflicted on his people by an age-old system based on inequality and injustice. Consequently, he implies, his passion for his beloved is bound to be diluted because a major part of his energies has to be diverted to fighting oppression and injustice.

Faiz’s anguish when Partition accompanied independence was embodied in his poem “Subh-e Azadi (The dawn of independence)”. It begins with the couplet, “Yeh daagh daagh ujaalaa, yeh shab gazidaa seher; Woh intezaar tha jiska, yeh woh seher to nahin (This blemished light infused with the darkness of night; Surely, this isn’t the dawn we waited for so eagerly)”. This political statement cannot be surpassed in its intensity of feeling by political speeches denouncing Partition.

A clarion call

Faiz spent a few years in Pakistani jails in the 1950s for his revolutionary views and produced an anthology of poems titled Zindan Nama (Prison Musings) while incarcerated. He had to go into self-imposed exile from 1979 to 1982 because of persecution under the Zia-ul-Haq regime. His poem, “Hum dekhenge”, written in 1979 was a clarion call for resistance against Zia’s authoritarian and fundamentalist rule. Written for a predominantly Muslim audience it effectively used Islamic imagery to denounce the fundamentalism and authoritarianism that had become the hallmark of the regime. It uses the allegory of judgment day when all false gods (authoritarian rulers) will be overthrown and all thrones and crowns will be destroyed (“sab taaj uchhale jayenge; sab takht giraye jayenge”) in order to project a democratic and egalitarian future for the world.

It is ironical that a poem condemning authoritarianism and Islamic fundamentalism should be denounced as being anti-Hindu and anti-Indian. It demonstrates the cultural philistinism of those making the charge and their total lack of understanding of the poem’s context. “Hum dekhenge” was written to inspire the masses not only in Pakistan but everywhere to take their destiny in their own hands and overthrow authoritarian and bigoted rulers. For, as Faiz posits, the day is bound to come when dictators who behave like gods will be toppled and the will of the people will prevail.

Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 6:12:48 AM |

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