Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetic oeuvre was pertinently characterized by a revolutionary spirit aimed at not only unravelling the facades of good governance, but also working towards imbuing in the commoners a zest for striving for their rights by instilling in them hope coupled with faith, which was to be their only panacea against dire socio-political situations. Like his contemporaries, Faiz was highly impressed by the contentions of post-colonial literary theorist Edward Said on the role of an intellectual in a society. Adhering to Said’s notions on the position of an intellectual, Faiz believed that he should be the one who raises “publicly embarrassing questions” rather than acting demure in the face of visible chaos and conflict. For Faiz, an intellectuals “raison-d’etre was to represent all those issues and people that are routinely forgotten or swept under the rug”. Therefore,Faiz’s poetic credo was “art for life and society’s sake”, rather than art for art’s sake something that he perfectly emblematizes in his couplet: “What good is a verse if it does not light up the world? / What good a tearful eye if it does not wash away the city?”
The employment of literature for the reconstruction of the society by attempting to mirror its flaws and failings was a pertinent political choice rendered by Faiz, when all that most of the other poets sought to do was to engage in the vacuously euphonious and lyrical renditions of love and romance in general. In contrast, Faiz’s poetry essentially functions on two levels. On the primary level it does have an emotional and lyrical appeal to it but this does not concede its social and political metaphor that constitutes its secondary level. Though a non-traditionalist in thematic areas of his poetry, Faiz comes across as a traditionalist in the stylistic nuances shading his verses through his employment of the classical Urdu forms of ghazal and nazm to spread froth his ideas, forms that were previously deemed appropriate to usually communicate romantic notions and contentions. Reinvention of the ghazal form enabled Faiz to convey the laments of the oppressed humanity rather than that of a forlorn lover. This is quite evident from his poem My Beloved, Do Not Ask FromMe a Love Like Before, in which the poet essentially stresses upon the exigency of concentrating upon pertinent areas of concern, necessary for social overhaul since “the world knows of other torments than of love”, that mandate immediate responses.
As a spokesperson of the common man, the pauper, Faiz was exceedingly disillusioned by the absence of social parity and justice coupled with muted freedom of exposition that had pervasively come to define the socio-political landscape of Pakistan. His poetry was a means for him to challenge the hegemonic practices of dictatorial regimes impinging the basic democratic rights of the citizens. He attained this goal through the employment of the colloquial idiom in his poetry. This not only displayed his attempts at establishing the veracity of local cultural originality but was also a means for him to convey his contentions to a larger, much receptive audience, audience that was consequently driven to act. The incorporation of the colloquial idiom did not make his poetry restrictive in nature, pertaining only to the dynamics of the Subcontinent. Instead, his poetry was poignantly colored with a universal tinge since he talked of basic human attitudes and yearnings: freedom from repression, justice, faith and hope that were common to all regions and societies.
He stimulated the commoner to voice up on his trials and tribulations to decry the grave injustices meted out against him in the name of governance, since for him the real and cogent means of change was the commoner himself who had the potential to denounce the despotic tyrannies of the leadership. This is primarily the reason why Faiz inspired the marginalized people to “speak”, for their “lips are free” and their “life is still their own”.
Patriotism, for Faiz, was more than a verbal evocation. It was something tangibly realized through struggle and strife in the face of despotism and autocracy. In his prominent poem Aaj Bazaar Mein, which he composed shortly after being arrested on account of involvement in the ‘Rawalpindi Conspiracy’, he calls out to “friends” and “people with injured hearts” to “go” forth in pursuing their resolve for a better future.
In doing so, he essentially imbued the masses with hope and faith when all seemed haywire. Despite being twice arrested for his revolutionary notions and ideas, Faiz continued to speak up against the divisively nefarious designs of the dictatorial regimes. For him, enamoring the persona of “calm indifferent peace” was not inconvenient, yet he made a conscious choice to “knock and knock at gates”, for the rights of the underrepresented, the downtrodden and the miserable. Being prophetic in his approach, he shows an unsheathed dagger to authoritarian regimes in his poem We Shall See, where the persecutors are given spine-chilling tidings of “the tossing of their crowns” the “seizure of their thrones” and their consequent doom which will signify the salvation of the fraught sections of the society.
This 20th of November marked thirty-three years to Faiz’s sad demise. Despite his physical departure from the earthly abode, he still continues to live in the hearts and minds of the people of Pakistan by virtue of his quintessentially thought provoking verses. If there is one thing that Faiz’s life and his political poetry essentially communicates is the virtue of persistence in the face of any dogmatism, denial or divisiveness. This feature holds all the more relevance for us Pakistanis today since “this stained night, this bitten dawn/… is not the dawn we yearned for”. Standing at a critical crossroads today, where we find ourselves embroiled in a mesh of conundrums ranging from security threats and economic crisis to the topsy-turvy game of political maneuvering and global politics, it is a visitation of Faiz’s poetry that can imbue some faith in us making us realize that “the night of sorrow is long, but it is only a night …after all”, since the heart may be “helpless” , but is surely not “hopeless” and awaits the coming of a brighter dawn , a new beginning , ushering winds of change conducive to the burgeoning of the nation.