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:

Hum aise saada dilouN ki niaz mandi se
ButuN ne ki hain jahaN meiN khudayaN kiya kiya

These god-like figures are domineering who manipulate and wield control over the society. They are all around in the form of feudal lords, police, army, intelligence, prison guards, and mill-owners that can give and take livelihood like God.

(Here is a living example of manipulation. Just a few days back, I was watching an interview of Mumtaz Bhutto, chief of the Bhutto tribe, on BBC. Before the interview, he was shown sitting comfortably in his ancestral haveli with all trappings of a feudal aristocrat of the bye-gone days, holding court to settle disputes among his feudal subjects. During the interview he was lamenting that Pakistan Peoples Party had deviated from its original socialist manifesto that included struggle against feudalism; PasbaaN milgae kaabe ko sanam khane se)

Coming back to the explanation of the first verse, what the poet is saying is that masses are so terrified of these agents of oppression in their every day lives that they have no fear of God.

In the second line, he says that because of that tyranny the daily lives of common folks have been extremely miserable. After passing through hell in their daily existence (Woh parri hain roz qayamataiN), there is nothing left to fear on the Day of Judgment (khayal-e-roz-e-jaza gaya).

Jo nafas thaa khar-e-gulu bana, jo uthay toh haath lahu huye
Woh nishat-e-aah-e-sahar gayee, woh viqar-e-dast-e-dua gaya

My breath has turned into thorn in my throat; my raised hands are dripping with blood.
The bliss of the sigh of dawn is no more, pride in hands raised in prayer, no more.

In the first line, he is saying that his life has become so miserable that his breath is painful and hands are useless. The reason of this gloomy state is explained in the second line: his life has lost the serenity and harmony that he enjoyed once, when he was at peace with himself and his God. aah-e-sahar and dast-e-dua are manifestations of his relationship with God that he is missing now. To understand why he lost that strong bond with God that he once cherished, one has to go back to the first verse: Woh butoN ne dalay hain waswasay ke dilon se khauf-e-Khuda gaya;Woh parri haiN roz qayamatain, ke khayal-e-roz-e-jaza gaya

Na woh rang fasl-e-bahar ka, na ravish woh abr-e-bahar ki
Jis ada se yaar thay aashna, woh mizaj-e-baad-e-saba gaya

The colors of the spring season (are no more), the ways of cloud of the spring season no more.
The spirit of the early breeze with which my friends were familiar the is gone

He is just reminding himself of those good old days when he had enjoyed life and its ordinary pleasures like color of the flora, beauty of clouds and early breezes.

Knowing the temperament of Faiz, I would say he is implying without actually saying it that this painful sense of the loss of harmony and serenity in the lives the vast majority is caused by the greed and injustice meted out by a few.

Abhi baadban ko teh rakho, abhi muztarib hai rukh-e-hawa
Kisi raastay main hai muntazir, woh sukoon jo aakay chala gaya

Keep the sail (baadban) furled; the winds are blowing in (muztarib) varied directions
Waiting in some path is the tranquility that came and went

He is saying the uncertainty is temporary as the tranquility (that once he enjoyed) and has vanished is waiting to come back. In his usual style in the last lines, he keeps his hope alive that serenity and calmness has not disappeared forever; it is waiting somewhere to come back. His advice is to be optimistic and look forward to the essence of life that is (sukooN) peace and harmony.

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