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The words of others

Faiz Ahmed Faiz with friends: Faiz’s poetry is now being used to advertise phones

Habib Jalib: anti-establishment

Opposition to the military regime was marked by a liberal ethos, a value-system that stressed constitutionalism, rule of law, and the independence of judiciary, rather than identifying with the politics of redistribution or attacking Pakistan’s problem uno supremo: poverty

My piece published in the Friday Times last week

For decades, Pakistan’s poets and writers have defied conventions and the almighty establishment. Rooted in the progressive writers’ movement, the literature of resistance was a pro-people ideology that kept redistribution of power and resources at its core. The great poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz was often jailed and kept on the margins of the literary and cultural establishment and castigated as a “foreign agent” and “anti-Pakistan.” Scores of other writers had to suffer torture and silencing by the state when they challenged its arbitrariness. Habib Jalib faced similar treatment and died a poor man after decades of acting as the poetic conscience of a nation.

It was the lyrical, direct poetry of Habib Jalib that stirred the street for decades, echoing the vision of the world from below. Jalib’s expression was popular and immediate, and could be related to easily by the average listener. During the rule of General Ayub Khan, from 1958 until 1969, Jalib particularly represented the public conscience when he chanted his poem Dastoor (Constitution), which was about Ayub Khan’s tailor-made “constitution.” Later, this work was utilised in support of Fatima Jinnah’s (the Quaid-e-Azam’s younger sister’s) campaign against the general:

Aisay dastoor ko,

Subh-e-baynoor ko,

Mein naheen manta,

Mein naheen janta

(I do not accept/I do not recognise/A constitution that resembles/A morning with no light).

In 2008, we saw the Punjab Chief Minister chanting these lines. The poetry has come full circle. While the Chief Minister’s […]

Pakistan’s rich dissident literary tradition

Himal Magazine had published this article on the resistance poetry in Pakistan. I had uploaded it on the Pak Tea House some time back. However, I just realised that it should be published here as well..

The long spells of authoritarian rule in Pakistan have nurtured a rich dissident literary tradition. This tradition has its roots in the Progressive Writers’ Movement, which originated in colonial India with major Urdu poets and writers as its vanguards. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was, of course, the best-known torchbearer of this tradition, while other luminaries included Sajjad Zaheer, M D Taseer, Rashid Jahan, Kaifi Azmi, Ismat Chughtai, Sahir Ludhianvi and Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, to name only a few.

With the post-Independence Pakistani state continuing the old-style approach to ruling over the masses, the progressive movement too carried on its dissent long after 1947. Those who had migrated to Pakistan faced a new reality, which, in the words of Faiz, was far from the dawn for which they had hoped. “This blemished light, this dawn by night half-devoured,” Faiz wrote ruefully. “surely not the dawn for which we were waiting.” […]

Faiz, a Peaceful Revolutionary

This is in continuation of the splendid translation series undertaken by Mr. Anis Zuberi and contributed by JZ for this blog. Earlier posts can be found here here and here.

Drawing on the Persian tradition, the subject of Urdu Ghazal has always been about earthly or heavenly love. With the rise in social consciousness Urdu poets started using the form of nazm to address such issues like injustice, poverty, uneven distribution of wealth, highhandedness of the privileged, tyranny of rulers, exploitation by priests, etc. However, Faiz introduced protest and dissent as a regular subject in ghazal. He did it by keeping the ghazal’s traditional format but giving the lexicon of ghazal a different meaning. This has had such a profound effect on Faiz’s poetry that at times it is hard to draw a line between his ghazal and nazm. For instance, Hum ke threy ajnabi itni madaaratuN ke baad though written in ghazal form is also a topical nazm titled Dhaka se wapsi per, reflecting his deep emotions after he visited Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) in 1974.

He also discovered that whispering is more powerful then screaming and that became his hallmark. Unlike Iqbal, Josh or many others who wrote poetry of protest like us khet ke her khoushae gandum ko jalado or kakhe-umaraa ke dar-o-dewar hila do, Faiz does not confront injustice with hostility and anger. His protest is not direct, loud, thunderous, or deafening. He faces up to his tormentor by his moral strength, power of endurance and persistence. He believes in a soft and gradual revolution. He challenges the conscience of all human beings by showing his resolve and defiance when he says, aaj bazaar meiN pa-ba-julaN chalo or jo bache haiN sang samet lo. Even in moments of extreme anguish he avoids confrontation and invokes heavenly justice when he says lazim he ke hum bhee dekheN ge.
He captivates his audience by mixing traditional love with protest; lout jati hei udher ko bhi nazar kiya kije. It is amazing how Faiz has changed the traditional meaning of idioms used in ghazal for centuries. For example, love (ishq) is synonymous with struggle for justice (tohmat-e-ishq poshida kafi nahiN); his lover (aashiq, Qais, majnouN, Farhad) is a victim of oppression who is offering sacrifices while waging a struggle for justice; His rivals (raqib and adoo) are exploiters (Agar urooj pe hei ta’lae raqib to kiya).
Keeping the above background, I will attempt to translate and explain the meaning of the ghazal.

Woh buton ne dalay hain waswasay ke dilon se khauf-e-Khuda gaya
Woh parri hain roz qayamatain, kekhayal-e-roz-e-jaza gaya

(So much) cynicism (waswasa also means confusion; uncertainty) is created by the idols that fear of God has vanished from hearts.
(Because People) have gone through Armageddon daily the thought of the Day of Judgment is gone.

Here ButoN is not a metaphor for beloved, earthly gods or goddesses, but a symbol of brute authority. The word khauf in the second line also reinforces that meaning. The meaning of butuN in the above line is same as in the following couplet: […]

April 17th, 2008|Poetry, Translations, Urdu|9 Comments

Faiz’s Aaj bazaar mein pa-bajo-lan chalo … translated & explained

Another translation of Faiz rendered by a Toronto based poet – Anis Zuberi. This is a timeless poem or nazm, aaj bazaar main pa ba jolan chalo has been translated and explained below. I am also posting a video that shows Faiz reciting the poem followed by a beautiful rendition by Nayyara Noor. […]