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A conversation with Salima Hashmi

By Saba Ahmad

“Qafas udaas hai yaaro saba se kuchh toe kaho
Kahin to bahre khuda aaj zikre yaar chale.”

Once Arshad Mehmood asked Faiz Ahmed Faiz,“What is the difference between you and me? Why can’t I be like you? After all we have both studied from Government College Lahore, we both have a Masters degree, we both studied Literature, then how come you are Faiz Ahmed Faiz and I’m just me?” Faiz saheb took a leisurely puff on his cigarette and then replied, “The difference is that my teacher was Ahmed Shah Bokhari (Pitras) and your teacher is Shoaib Hashmi.” 

But jokes aside, I have also been intrigued as to what it takes to be Faiz saheb, to create that awe-inspiring persona? He has always been known to be a man of few words, and a very mellow temperament, yet his convictions stood strong and clear. How does one retain that composure in a chaotic and unjust world? 

A lot has been written about Faiz Saheb, and there isn’t much one can add to it. “His life is an open book,” says Salima Hashmi, his daughter. I met her in Lahore where she revisited her memories to give me an insight into the various facets of his personality. What follows is Faiz in Salima Hashmi’s words.

He would humour the human idiosyncrasies. He did not believe in taking oneself too seriously. He took everything in his stride. His father was known to be very jovial, so it must be in his genes, I guess!

An event was held in his honour in Sialkot, and, as a child, I accompanied him. The speakers were all praise for him and he sat there all along smoking a cigarette with a subtle smile glancing at me from time to time. On our way back I asked him, “Who were they talking about?” “Not me!” he replied.

While he was in exile, he asked, “So, is something negative being written about me in Nawai-e-Waqt (newspaper)? “No, they haven’t written anything,” I replied, to which he said, “Tell them to write something, otherwise people will think I have ceased to exist.”

Whenever he visited London, he would stay at Zehra Nigah’s house. One day he was invited to dinner and Zehra apa said, “I’ve never interfered in anything, but tonight you should not go to this person’s house. He said nasty things about you.” He thought for a moment and said, “Why do you listen to nasty things?” and went to meet him, nonetheless.

One day I decided to play a prank on him on April fool’s day. I wore my grandmother’s burqa and desguised myself as an old woman and sat in the living room. My mother (who was an accomplice in this prank) sent him to me by saying that there is a woman who insists on seeing you, please go and meet her. I started relating a tale of misery and asked him for help. He patiently listened to my sob story and left the room. After a few minutes he returned with a chequebook and asked, “What amount should I write?” At that point, I pulled away my veil, laughing.

Once he even accepted a Sardarji’s offer to inaugurate his shop in London, when I asked him what the shop sold, he had no idea. He just said, “He asked me with so much love, I could not say no, it would break his heart.”

“Jo ruke to kohe garaan thay hum
Jo chale to jaan se guzar gaye.”

I remember during the ‘Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case’, he was abroad, my mother had bought a car and enquired whether he would be arrested on his return, and in that case she would not bring the car home and was assured that the question didn’t arise. When they came to arrest him, my mother lost it at the sheer audacity of the authorities. He quietly said to me, “She won’t take this easily.” 

My mother was a black and white sort of a person, whereas he could see all the shades of grey. He had a profound understanding of human existence with all its fragilities. He used to say, “These are the people that exist, angels are not going to descend from the sky.”

Muneeza was the naughty one. When she teased me, we would fight and she would get annoyed. When I complained to him, he would say, “She is like your mother. You and I are the peace-loving ones. You shouldn’t let it upset you.”

He was a true harbinger of peace. He was against war. During the 1971 war, he went into hiding because he did not want to glorify the military action. Yet, when he went to Dacca later, the people there were reluctant to associate with him. On his return, I asked him if he met uncle Zain-ul-Abedin, who he was once very close to. He replied with a heavy heart, “I met him in the lobby, he did not come up to my room.”

He was acutely aware of his role as a Pakistani. While he was in exile, he was invited to India for his birthday celebrations. He was showered with praise and complements. And his response was, “The honour you have given me today is an honour for my country.”

Sheikh Abdullah expressed his desire to see my father before his death. They had been very close on a personal level and he had even written the sehra on my parents’ wedding. My father sought permission to go to Kashmir. He was told that it was not advisable. So he politely declined. My mother and daughter however later went to pay their condolences on his demise.

He never lost his cool. On a rare occasion in his later years, we were travelling together and there was some confusion with his boarding card. He said to me, “I’m getting old. I got angry.” What did you say?” I asked. He said, “I didn’t say anything but I felt angry!”

If he disagreed with something, he would give a disapproving look, but he did not believe in imposing himself.

That is what makes Faiz saheb who he was! He was someone at peace with himself, who never took things personally. He always maintained a level of objectivity, humility, and dignity. Someone who could relate to and even empathize with a rival as he does in “Raqeeb se”: 

“Aa ke waabasta hain uss husn ki yaadein tujh se.”


Saba AhmadSaba Ahmad is daughter of the famous poet, Zia Jallandhari. She holds double Masters in English Literature from Kinnaird College and MBA in Marketing. She has taught English Language and Literature. She has been involved with the performing arts all her life. She has an event management company. She has two very talented daughters and lives in Islamabad.


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. What a finely written piece on Faiz. We know so little of him as a person, while he seems to know everything that goes on in our hearts and mind, and sometimes even more than what we are aware of.

    May 17, 2015
  2. Saba Ahmad #

    @ Bhupinder Singh, Thank you for the appreciation.

    May 17, 2015
  3. My daughter is also called Saba, so many resonances, so many years later. Thank you. This is lovely.

    May 22, 2015

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