Faiz - Between Romance and Revolution

Narodin March 5, 2012

A society without poets is a society in the last legs of its wretched existence, a society sans dreams and thus a society sans hope. Image Credits: http://sites.duke.edu/wordsonwalls/

Poetry has always held within it the potential to bring about sweeping changes. It is perhaps for this potential that poets and poetry are feared by both the despot and the fanatic; for their worlds are built on absolute adherence to decadent dogmas and total servitude to blind beliefs. Poetry has the power to ridicule the dogma and question the belief. Luckily for them, most of the poets choose to work on a realm of pure fantasy. The sweat, toil and tears of the real world rarely find their way into the world of the poet. But then, there are other poets-the exceptions to the general rule. Poets whose works unleash the power of human imagination, poets whose works inspire revolutions, poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz. For Faiz understood that a society without meaningful poetry is a society in the last legs of its wretched existence, a society sans dreams and thus a society sans hope. Faiz was born in Sialkot, British India on the 13th of February 1911. During the course of his formal education, he obtained Master of Arts degrees in both English and Arabic; yet it was Urdu that was to become Faiz's medium. And it was the common women and men that were destined to be his subject.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz was a member of the Progressive Writer's Movement (Anjuman Tarraqi Pasand Mussanafin-e-Hind) which was formed by a diaspora of writers ranging from the Gandhian Munshi Premchand to the Marxist Sajjad Zaheer. The artists of the PWM were committed to anti-imperialism and driven by an aim to bring arts to the masses. No longer was hunger, poverty, suffering and oppression topics barred from mainstream art. Inconvenient truths about the oppressed and the suppressed in British Indian society suddenly found form and expression through their works. At 25, Faiz was heading the PWM in Punjab and was absolutely clear about the politics of art. Art to him was a tool for social change, a hammer with which society could be forged. Urdu as a language has a rich tradition of poetry. The PWM and Faiz, interestingly chose not to have a radical break from these traditions. Instead, they chose to use the vehicles of classical Urdu poetry such as the ghazal and the nazm to spread their dreams and ideals. At the hands of an artistic rebel like Faiz even surrealism proved to be a weapon in the historical advance of the proletariat. Faiz was organic in the sense that he was inspired by the Sufi tradition of dissent and Faiz was progressive in the sense that he was an avowed Marxist.


'Intesab' is one of Faiz's simpler poems. Literally meaning dedication, Faiz dedicates the poem to the ordinary forgotten people in society. Rich in imagery, Intesab is the anthem of the insulted, the oppressed and the betrayed. Every line in this poem is in effect a declaration of revolution. The poem is rumored to have been left incomplete by Faiz.Perhaps it was symbolic.

Aaj ke naam aur aaj ke gam ke naam Aaj kaa gam ki hai zindagii ke bhare gulsitaan se khafaa zard patton kaa ban. zard patton kaa ban jo mera des hai dard kaa anjuman jo mera des hai Kiarkon ki afsurdaa jaanon ke naam kirm khurdaa dilon aur zabaanon ke naam postmanon ke naam tangewaalon ke naam rel baanon ke naam kaarkhaanon ke bhole jiyaalon ke naam Baadshaah-e-jahan, waali-e-maasivaa, naebullaah-e-fil-arz, dahakaan ke naam jis ke dhoron ko zaalim hankaa le gaye jis kii betii ko daaku uthaa le gaye haath bhar khet se ek ungssht patavaar ne kaat lii hai doosrii maaliye ke bahaane se sarkaar ne kaat lii hai jis ke pag zor waalon ke paaon tale dhajjiyaa ho gayi hai Un dukhi maaon ke naam raat mein jin ke bachche bilakhte hain aur neend kii maar khaaye hue baazuuon me sambhalate nahi dukh bataate nahi minnato zaariyon se bahalate nahi Un haseenaaon ke naam jinki aankhon ke gul chilmanon aur darichon ki belon pe bekaar khil khil ke murjhaa gaye hai un byaahataao ke naam jinke badan bemohabbat riyaakaar sejon pe saj saj ke uktaa gaye hai bewaaon ke naam Katidiyon aur galiyon, muhallon ke naam jinki naapaak khaashaak se chaand raaton ko aake karataa hai aksar wazuu jinkii saayon mein kartii hai aaho-bukaa aanchalon ki henna choodiyon kii khanak kaakulon kii mahak aarzuumand seenon kii apne paseene mein jalne kii buu Padnewaalon ke naam wo jo ashaab-e- tablo-alam ke daron par kitaab aur qalam kaa takaazaa liye, haath phailaaye pahunche, magar laut kar ghar na aaye wo maasoom jo bholepan mein wahan apne nanhe chiraagon mein lau kii lagan le ke pahunche jahaan bant rahe the ghattaatop, be-ant raaton ke saaye Un aseeron ke naam jin ke seenon mei fardaa ke shabataab gauhar jel_khaanon ki shoreedaa raaton ki sar-sar mein jal-jal ke anjum-numaan ho gaye hai. Aanewaale dinon ke safeeron ke naam wo jo khushbu-e-gul ki tarah apne paigaam par khud fidaa ho gaye hai.
Dedicated to these times, and the sorrow of these times. The pain of today, that arises from the plentiful garden of life. The forest of dead leaves The forest of dead leaves, that is my land. The congregation of pain that is my land. Dedicated to the gloomy lives of clerks Dedicated to moth eaten hearts and tongues Dedicated to the postmen Dedicated to the coachmen Dedicated to the railway workers Dedicated to the innocent beings in the factories. O Emperor of the World, Master and God’s representative on this Earth, Dedicated to the farmer whose herds were stolen by the wicked men whose daughter was carried off by the dacoits. One finger of whose scarce land was cut by the bureaucrats and another finger by the government, in the name of taxation. Whose pride has been destroyed under the feet of the powerful men. Dedicated to the sad mothers whose children cry at night. Who are sleepless and not comforted by an embrace. Who don’t share their sorrows and are not consoled by requests or tears. Dedicated to those beautiful maiden, the beauty of whose eyes on every balcony, behind every veil, blossomed in vain only to wither away. Dedicated to those wives whose unloved bodies have grown tired of decorating loveless beds Dedicated to those widows. Dedicated to those lanes in the slums and colonies Whose scattered garbage and refuse are sanctified by the moon in the night. From amongst whose shadows emanates The hennaed hair under the veils The clink of bangles The scent of loosened tresses. The stench of impassioned bodies burning in their own sweat. Dedicated to those students Those who arrived at the gates of the officials Prostrating on the door steps with their pens and book Requesting to be heard But never came back. Those innocents who, in their idealism, took the lamp of dedication in their young hearts and reached where The shadows of endless nights were being distributed. Dedicated to those prisoners in whose hearts the future shone like a pearl But was burnt in the troubled nights of the prison and diminished into a tiny flicker. Dedicated to the travellers of the days to come Those, who, like the scent of a rose, are Enraptured by their own message.

The Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) was formed in India. During the Communist Party of India's Second All India Conference held at Calcutta in 1948, an idea of a separate Communist Party for the newly formed nation of Pakistan was mooted. Sajjad Zaheer was elected to lead the party and a good number of Muslim leaders of the CPI were delegated to work in Pakistan for the organizational strengthening of the CPP. Three years down the line, the hope of fomenting a revolution in Pakistan was cut short with the Rawalpindi conspiracy case of 1951. The Rawalpindi conspiracy case was perhaps the first proof that in Pakistan, the military had no intentions of taking orders from the country's civilian leadership. Eleven military officers and four civilians including Sajjad Zaheer and Faiz Ahmed Faiz were arrested on charges of planning a military coup against the civilian government. Perhaps the real conspiracy in the case was how the names of Sajjad Zaheer and Faiz Ahmed Faiz found themselves along with a group of dissatisfied military officers. The credit for this is generally attributed to the American and British 'anti-communist experts' which were advising the Pakistani establishment at the time. The end result was that the Rawalpindi conspiracy case greatly damaged the CPP infrastructure. Any hope that a democratic opposition would be tolerated in Pakistan was rubbished. Pakistan began its spiral into chaos. By 1958, martial law was declared and General Ayub Khan assumed power- Pakistan's first military administrator. The Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case had landed Faiz in jail. The sensitive and soft spoken poet was separated from his family. Faiz was married to George Alys, who was a member of the British Communist Party by the time she was 16. Despite advices from well wishers to return to England with her two young daughters, she chose to stay back in Pakistan. She wrote frequently to her husband during the period and visited him whenever the authorities permitted her to. Faiz would write “Like love, imprisonment is a basic experience, for it opens many new windows for the soul.” It was in that period of imprisonment he would write the Dast-e-Saba (The Fingers of the Wind). Faiz would summarize that the struggle of human life was the fundamental pre-requisite of art.

Aaj Bazaar mein

Faiz is at his cryptic best in 'Aaj Bazaar mein'. A literary reading of the poem will lead one to conclude that it is a poem dedicted to romance. Critics have acclaimed Faiz's use of imagery in this poem. To Faiz , love was eternally pure and the true lover was one who refused to submit to the hypocrisies of a flawed social system. Faiz exposes the the systematic oppression and the hegemony of the system. The poem highlights the public displays of power as methods to reinforce that hegemony. That shackled walk in the marketplace, in this era of commodification, seems to attain a whole new meaning.

Aaj bazaar main pa-bajolan chalo Chashm-e-nam, jaan-e-shoreeda kafi nahin Tohmat-e-ishq-posheeda kafi nahin Aaj bazaar main pa-bajolan chalo Dast afshan chalo, mast-o-raqsan chalo Khak bar sar chalo, khoon badaman chalo Rah takta hai sub shehr-e-janaan chalo Hakim-e-shehr bhi, majma-e-aam bhi Teer-e-ilzam bhi, sang-e-dushnam bhi Subh-e-nashaad bhi, roz-e-naakaam bhi Unka dum-saaz apnay siwa kaun hai Shehr-e-janaan main ab baa-sifa kaun hai Dast-e-qatil kay shayan raha kaun hai Rakht-e-dil bandh lo, dil figaro chalo Phir hameen qatl ho aain yaro chalo
Come, lets walk in the marketplace, shackled Teary eyes and a stormy life are not enough The accusation of a secret desire is not enough Come, lets walk in the marketplace, shackled Hands thus adorned, let us walk in a trance Walk with dust over head and blood on attire Come, walk to the city of lovers where everyone is waiting- The city ruler and the common spectators; the arrow of accusation and the stone of insult the sorrowful morning and the day of failure. Who will be their ally, if not us? In the city of lovers, who else remains? No one worthy of the hand of executioner remains. Mend your heartbeat, and come O' broken hearted Friends, come lets us go and be slain

Faiz was released in 1955, after 4 years of imprisonment and found himself to be in a totally changed nation. Pakistan was firmly on the American side of the Cold War. Censorship was normal. Trade unions were suppressed. CPP and Progressive Writers Association were banned. Faiz returned to his job as the editor of the Pakistan Times. In 1958, Faiz was attending the Conference of Afro-Asian writers at Tashkent, when the Pakistani Army took over the reins of power under General Ayub Khan. Friends and well-wishers pressurized Faiz not to return to Pakistan. The rebel in Faiz prevailed; he chose to return and was arrested. The jail term would last six months. Faiz found it frustrating to be a journalist under a military dictatorship and ventured into teaching. Then in 1962, the unexpected happened. Faiz was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. International recognition followed. Things went on well for Faiz until 1969, when a new military dictatorship under General Yahya Khan, threatened civil society in Pakistan.

Faiz being awarded the Lenin Peace Prize Faiz being awarded the Lenin Peace Prize. Image Courtesy: Dawn

“Human ingenuity, science and industry have made it possible to provide each one of us everything we need to be comfortable provided these boundless treasures of nature and production are not declared the property of a greedy few but are used for the benefit of all of humanity… However, this is only possible if the foundations of human society are based not on greed, exploitation and ownership but on justice, equality, freedom and the welfare of everyone… I believe that humanity which has never been defeated by its enemies will, after all, be successful; at long last, instead of wars, hatred and cruelty, the foundation of humankind will rest on the message of the great Persian poet Hafez Shiraz: Every foundation you see is faulty, except that of Love, which is faultless.” -Faiz, in his acceptance of the Lenin Peace Prize.

Nisar mein

The poem 'Nisar mein' is a treasure trove of powerful social imagery conjured up by Faiz. It is without doubt that Faiz's exile has had a bearing on the poem. Cryptic and often troubling, these images convey the tyranny of dictatorship and the pain of separation. Faiz laments that as the constructive and progressive forces of society are shackled, the fanatic and the fascist proceed to mould society in their image. Faiz's statement the rebellion is eternal seems to be a testament to Marx's observation that that the [written] history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.

Nisaar mein terii galiyon ke ae watan, ki jahan Chali hai rasm ki koii na sar utha ke chale Jo koyi chaahanewala tawaaf ko nikale Nazar churaa ke chale, jism-o-jaan bachaa ke chale Hai ahl-e-dil ke liye ab ye nazm-e-bast-o-kushaad ki sang-o-khisht muqayyad hai aur sag aazaad Bahut hai zulm ke dast-e-bahaanaa-juu ke liye jo chand ahl-e-junoon tere naam levaa hai Bane hai ahl-e-hawis muddayi bhi, munsif bhi kise wakiil kare?, kis se munsifii chaahe? Magar guzaranewaalo ke din guzarate hai Tere firaaq mein yu subh-o-shaam karte hai Bujhaa jo rauzan-e-zindaa to dil ye samjhaya hai ki terii maang sitaaron se bhar gaii hogii Chamak uthe hai salaasil to hamne jaanaa hai ki ab sahar tere ruKh par bikhar gaii hogi Garaz tasavvur-e-shaam-o-sahar mein jeete hai giraft-e-saayaa-e-diwaar-o-dar mein jeete hai Yoo hi hamesha ulajhtii rahii hai zulm se khalq na unki rasm nayi hai, na apanii riit nayi Yoo hi hameshaa khilaaye hai hamne aag mein phool na unki haar nayi hai na apni jeet nayi Isi sabab se falak kaa gilaa nahii karte tere firaaq men ham dil buraa nahi karte Gar aaj tujhse judaa hai to kal baham honge ye raat bhar ki judaaii to koii baat nahii Gar aaj auj pe hai taala-e-raqiib to kyaa ye chaar din ki khudaaii to koii baat nahi Jo tujhse ahd-e-wafa ustavaar rakhate hai, ilaaj-e-gardish-e-lail-o-nihaar rakhate hai!
My salutations to thy sacred streets, my nation.Where, the rule is that no one should walk with their heads held high If one is to embark on a journey in search of the truth One must walk with eyes lowered, with the body and soul under threat The condition on the heart is one of pain When the bricks and stones are locked up while the mongrels roam free. This tyranny find numerous reasons to perpetuate itself The mad ones who take your name Have become both the judge and the prosecutor Whom are we to trust to defend us? Whom are we to expect justice from? But for those destined to live through these days, Spend their days and dusks in your painful memories Whenever the hope of life begins to dim, my heart has convinced me That your forehead must have been sprinkled by stars by now. Whenever my chains have glittered, I have realised That the dawn must have burst upon your face. In the memories of thy dawns and dusks do I live Imprisoned in the shadows of my high prison walls do I live The world has always grappled with tyranny thus Neither is their method new, nor is our rebellion. Thus we have always fed the fire with flowers Neither is their defeat new, nor is our victory new. With this in mind, we do not blame the heavens In your memory, we do not bitterness spread in our hearts Today we stand separated to be united tomorrow This night long separation is inconsequential Today our nemesis may have reached the zenith of his power But his four days of omnipotence shall also pass. Those whose love thee thus keep beside them The cure for a million heart breaks!
Faiz and his ideas are as relevant today as they were five decades back Faiz and his ideas are as relevant today as they were five decades back. Image Courtesy: Asia Society

Carlo Coppola described Faiz as "a spokesperson for the world's voiceless and suffering peoples whether Indians oppressed by the British in the '40s, freedom fighters in Africa, the Rosenbergs during the Cold War America in the '50s, Vietnamese peasants fleeing American napalm in the '60s, or Palestinian children in the 1970s”. Faiz was a wizard with words and had absolute control over the content of his poetry. This coupled with the universality of his works has helped Faiz survive even after his physical demise in 1984. It is easy to see that Faiz and his ideas are as relevant today as they were five decades back. The toppling of dictatorships in the Arab world make his words in 'Hum Dekhenge' (We shall witness) seem prophetic. All throughout his life, Faiz refused to toe the 'official line'. He wrote openly against military actions against what was then East Pakistan (present day Bangaldesh) when Pakistan was reeling under the jackboots of General Yahya Khan. More than a decade later (in 1985), Pakistan's celebrated singer Iqbal Bano would sing this song at the Lahore stadium; in defiance of another dictator- General Zia-ul-Haq. General Zia represented a sharp break from scotch drinking military dictators who had raped Pakistan until then. For he was not just a despot but also a fanatic. Faiz and his poetry symbolized everything that the fanatical dictator stood against. The Sufi tradition of dissent questioned his dogmatic faith and the promise of change weakened his dictatorial grip on society. As Iqbal Bano sang Hum Dekhenge in violation of a ban, wearing a black saree (the saree was banned as an un-Islamic dress by the Zia regime) as a symbol of protest, she was received was a 50, 000 strong audience with slogans of 'Inquilab Zindabad!” (Long live the Revolution!). Through his poetry Faiz had transcended time, he had become eternal, he had become immortal.

Hum Dekhenge

All throughout his life, Faiz refused to toe the 'official' line. He wrote openly against military actions against what was then East Pakistan (present day Bangaldesh) when Pakistan was reeling under the jackboots of General Yahya Khan. More than a decade later (in 1985), Pakistan's celebrated singer Iqbal Bano would sing this song at the Lahore stadium; in defiance of another dictator- General Zia-ul-Haq.

Hum dekhenge Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge Wo din ke jis ka wada hai Jo lauh-e-azl mein likha hai Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garan Rooi ki tarah ur jaenge Hum mehkoomon ke paaon tale Ye dharti dhar dhar dharkegi Aur ahl-e-hakam ke sar oopar Jab bijli kar kar karkegi Jab arz-e-Khuda ke kaabe se Sab but uthwae jaenge Hum ahl-e-safa mardood-e-harm Masnad pe bethae jaenge Sab taaj uchale jaenge Sab takht girae jaenge Bas naam rahega Allah ka Jo ghayab bhi hai hazir bhi Jo manzar bhi hai nazir bhi Utthega an-al-haq ka nara Jo mai bhi hoon tum bhi ho Aur raaj karegi Khalq-e-Khuda Jo mai bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho
We shall Witness It is certain that we too, shall witness That day that has been promised Of which has it has been written on the slate of eternity When the enormous mountains of tyranny Will be blown away like cotton. Under the feet of us, the oppressed This earth will resonate deafeningly And on the heads of our rulers when lightning will strike. From the most holiest of shrines The icons of falsehood will be removed, We, who are the faithful, yet the outcasts will be seated on high seats All the crowns will be crushed, All the thrones will be toppled. Only The name will survive Of the unseen yet omnipresent Of the spectacle yet the beholder I am the Truth- the slogan shall rise, Which is I, as well as you And then the divine creation shall rule Which is I, as well as you

Disclaimer: The literal translations provided here are for a basic understanding of the poems, and in no way do justice to the poetry of Faiz. Drawing heavily on the traditions of Persian poetry, Faiz built his poems around similies, metaphors and symbols that are difficult to translate from Urdu.

faiz, pakistan, poetry, songs of resistance, Literature, Note, World Share this Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International


Add comment

Login to post comments



Some of the translations are really superb. Wonderful, Narodin.

Thank you for your

Thank you for your appreciation Birenjith. I think I should point out that in some instances, the translations were sourced from the internet, and from multiple sources. Faiz's style of poetry is driven by imagery and is thus quite difficult to translate. The translations thus tend to vary with the translator.

Hum dekhenge

Is the recording of Hum Dekhenge the famous 1985 recording??
If so, thanks so much...have been searching for quite a while now ever since I heard of the story

Regarding Hum Dekhenge

Dear Prasanth,
Unfortunately, we at Bodhi had no way of confirming if the recording was from Iqbal Bano's 1985 performance.Frankly,it was used in this article under the belief that it was. The reactions of the audience, that are evident in the recording, seems to support this belief.