Talking Faiz: ‘In This Hour of Madness’

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In this conversation academician, writer and social activist Zaheer Ali talks about his latest book ‘Romancing With Revolution : Life and Works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’ (Aakar Books, Delhi, 2019) and why Faiz is ‘ extremely relevant in today’s India’

SUBHASH GATADE | Caravan Daily

LIKE Ghalib, it is rather difficult for anyone to recollect when and how Faiz entered our lives.

When did one first read his ‘Matae Lauho Kalam..’ or ‘Darbare Watan Me Jab Ek Din..’ or his depiction of beloved’s ‘Samundar Aakhein‘.. or heard about the travails and tribulations he faced in his life or the tremendous love and affection he was showered with wherever he went.

In fact, with passage of time one’s fascination for Faiz seems to be increasing and it is a marker of his growing popularity that despite publication of quite a few books, monographs and articles on Faiz, one’s thirst to know him does not seem satiated.

Prof Zaheer Ali’s book ‘Romancing the Revolution – Life and Works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’ is a welcome addition to this ever growing collection. We posed few queries before Prof Zaheer Ali and here follows his response :

Subhash Gatade (SG) : Prof Zaheer Ali, Congratulations for this beautiful book on Faiz, which has very succinctly brought out various facets of Faiz’s life. My first query is to you as a person. We have known you more as a social activist and an academician – basically a political scientist – who has many books to his credit as well and now a full book length study on Faiz but these are formal details, can you tell us more about yourself ?

Zaheer Ali (ZA) : The first query is about me personally. You got a bit surprised to see my book length study of Faiz because you are not aware of my works in Urdu. Prior to this study of Faiz I have written a book in Urdu dealing with “Allusions in the Poetry of Faiz”. I have other books mostly literary criticism in Urdu. I am known to Urduwallahs more as a literary critic than a social scientist and activist.

SG : In the preface of the book you emphasise how Faiz is ‘extremely relevant in today’s India’. It has been more than three decades that Faiz breathed his last (1984) and situation the world over has undergone tremendous changes. For a layperson it is rather difficult to fathom this idea of relevance. Can you please explain why do you think so ?

ZA : My comment about his relevance is in the sense that all those who believe in liberty, equality, justice and intend to transform the socio-economic and political conditions, in particular, in the Indian subcontinent may seek inspiration from his poetry. The reason is that, Faiz all his life was struggling against the dictators and the unjust social order. We in India are faced with fascism. In the Preface to my book I have also commented that organized fascism is much more dangerous and threatening to human values than dictatorship. So the progressives of myriad hues in India may seek inspiration from Faiz. In this sense he is relevant.

SG : For quite a few people, who have read, sung and admired Faiz all their lives and still draw inspiration from him, there are two episodes in his life which rather give a discomforting feeling. One is his reaction ( or say the lack of it) when British ruled India was partitioned into two countries and the second concerns separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan after a very bloody civil war.

The chapter ‘Faiz : The Man’ ( Page 83) you also mention ‘Faiz lamented the lack of true independence in the ‘independence… in his famous poem, ‘Yeh Daag Daag Ujala..’.he as such, did not take a stand against the division of the country’

We are also told that Faiz rather maintained a similar ambivalence when Pakistan army led by its Generals resisted the creation of Bangladesh. Is it true ?

How does one explain this ambivalence of a man who was a Marxist and as you write sticked to humanism all his life ?

ZA : There are two posers in your third query. First of all we must not lose sight of the fact that Faiz was neither a card holder of the Communist Party nor he was a freedom fighter in the sense the term is used in India. Immediately before the dawn of purported ‘independence’ he was in the British Indian army and you know why. You must also keep in mind that the CPI did not keenly opposed the partition of the country. Faiz never thought that what we got by way of independence was a sham and his famous poem on the subject is testimony to the fact.

On the issue of Bangladesh, his studied reticence naturally surprised many of his true admirers. After all he was a father of two daughters without a proper source of income, he was ageing and a marked man in Yahya Khan’s Pakistan.. This made him vulnerable though it does not justify his ambiguous standpoint on the massacre of the Bengalis by the Pakistani armed forces.

SG : Whenever one thinks of Faiz, one is reminded of Alys (1914- 2003) who started her life as a member of the British Communist Party at the age of 16 and who in the words of a commentator “..gave her today for a better tomorrow of the South Asian People”, who was an accomplished journalist and activist as well and one gets a feeling that a proper evaluation of her role has to be done yet ? Any comment ?

I cannot stop myself from quoting one of her poems which she had written for Faiz :

I Will Sing of You Later, / When the tread of a thousand feet / the unending roll of sorrow / the breath of roses enfolding / the eulogies, the warranted praise / the drawn out memories of others / the grief of recalling, / the total acceptance of death are  over.

Then I will sing, / Not to the tread of thousand feet, / nor to the roll of sorrow / Nor will I lift the roses nor echo praise nor recall, nor accept / My song neither begins nor ends / It is eternity. (A Poem for Faiz written by Alys)

ZA : Alys was indeed a great lady, a committed Marxist, a devoted wife and a doting mother. I have quoted her at a couple of places in the book. A British Marxist lady whose husband was accused of sedition surviving with two daughter in a fanatically religious nation of Pakistan was itself a great achievement. I agree that her role with Faiz and as an individual should be properly assessed in a study. I am also looking forward to such a book.

SG : What are your future plans?

My future plan includes a book on Averroes (Ibn e Rushd), a 12th century Spanish Muslim scholar who is truly known as the father of secularism. The major difficulty for me is that some of the reliable sources about the life and works of Averroes are still available in Arabic only, a language that I don’t know. So, if this does not materialize, then I will write something on political Islam.

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Subhash Gatade is an eminent author, activist and the Convener of New Socialist Initiative. He is the author of Pahad Se Uncha Aadmi (2010), Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India,(2011) and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India (2011). 

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