Chale bhi aao ke gulshan ka karobaar chale
By Sunayana Kachroo
What is your “landing emotion”? A resting thought, a “food for the thought” moment, a contemplative pause which you embed into your craft. A safe refuge where all your thoughts and words can rest for a moment. For Faiz, it was “optimism”. Faiz, a skilled weaver, a mysterious alchemist, a carefree potter, a contemporary thinker or just a simple poet of great genius? Or probably all of it! Above all, a human being who never lost hope…and that was reflected amply in his work.
Urdu poetry and literature became a part of our life even before I came into existence. My father, who was a very active member of the Communist Party and also managed their work in Jammu for years, is a staunch follower of progressive poets like Kaifi Azmi, Sahir, and Faiz. I was enamoured by the imagery of Gulzar sahib. Yet I had very consistent exposure to the literary works of these poets and I could identify with that gentle stain of the socialistic touch on their canvass.
My love for Faiz’s poetry rekindled quite accidently in the year 2011, when a friend sent me some audio recordings of “Gulon Main Rang Bharo” a poetic tribute to Faiz Ahmad Faiz, brilliantly conceived and orchestrated by one of the best theater directors of India, Salim Arif. The premise of this show was set on the letters that Faiz wrote to his wife Alyss during his tormenting stay at the prison. These letters were read on stage by Salim Arif and his wife Lubna Salim and the poems were sung by renowned singer of soul, Rekha Bharadhwaj. A poet can sometimes mask their real thought process in their usage of flowery words or cryptic emotions but “letters to wife” would be closer to the human Faiz and would have revealed some of the deeper layers. Director Salim Arif understood this and that made Faiz a more available and accessible human poet. When I talked to Salim Arif about this, he gave me many examples of this through his letters.
He said, “ When we study Faiz’s nearly one hundred and thirty five letters written during those four years, from June 1951 to April 1955, when he was imprisoned, there are a number of themes that emerge in his writings.”
In the beginning, Faiz believed that his stay in the prison might be short and he might be released in a few days or weeks but when weeks turned into months and months into years, he realized that he was facing a long term crisis and tragedy. As a student of human psychology, I am well aware that long term tragedies and sufferings are very stressful. One of his inspiring poems to Alys is:
“If they snatch my ink and pen
I should not complain
For I have dipped my fingers
In the blood of my heart
I should not complain
Even if they seal my tongue
For every ring of my chain
Is a tongue ready to speak.”
Many people who spend extended periods of time in prison have negative and detrimental effects on their personality. They either become sad, depressed, even suicidal, or become angry, resentful and bitter. Interestingly enough, Faiz was an exception. He absorbed all the feelings of imprisonment including indifference, boredom, longing, and loneliness in his personality and transformed his pains into poems and love letters.
One of the breakthroughs for Faiz was his realization that his prison experience was making him a peaceful person. He quoted his friend and colleague, Surjeet Singh, who had stated that ‘peace comes from within.’ Faiz’s letters from prison are a goldmine. Let me end by a stanza from one of Faiz’s poems titled, “A Prison Evening”, that is an island of optimism in the sea of pessimism.
“From every corner, dark – green shadows,
in ripples, come towards me.
At any moment they may break over me,
like the waves of pain each time I remember
The separation from my lover
This thought keeps consoling me:
though tyrants may command that lamps be smashed
in rooms where lovers are destined to meet,
they cannot snuff out the moon, so today,
nor tomorrow, no tyranny will succeed,
no poison of torture make me bitter,
if just one evening in prison
can be so strangely sweet,
If just one moment anywhere on this earth.”
Even beyond his letters if you traverse or tread on any of his creations there is invariably a hint or a thread of optimist woven in. There is realism, frustration, and disillusionment but as soon as you think it’s predictably going to land you in a land of “No Hope”, Faiz, the master craftsman, very subtly weaves in a hint of ‘hope’ and even ‘self-respect’:
“’Faiz’ Thii Raah Sar Basar Ma.Nzil
Ham Jahaa.N Pahu.Nche Kaamayaab Aaye”
What keeps his poetry always relevant and relatable is the acceptance of WHAT IS. He doesn’t over-romanticize pain or loss or the social issues that are prevalent and he doesn’t let it inundate you either.
Look at this couplet from his famous Ghazal, “Hum par tumhari chah ka ilzaam hee to hai”:
“dil naa-ummiid to nahii.n, na-kaam hii to hai
lambii hai Gam kii shaam, magar shaam hii to hai”
Probably because of his “Leftist” alignment, a lot of his writings have this inherent aspect of humanism. Yes there is a lot of symbolic mention of “Maikhana”, “Bewafai” and “Judai” and then there is this socialistic flavored nazm, “Kutta”. “Kutta” comes across to me as a rant of a poet over frustrations that the silence of the corrupted human values evokes. Yet it also suggest a solution at the end:
“Yeh chahein to duniyaa ko apnaa banaalein,
Yeh aaqaaon ki haddiyaan tak chabaadein.
Koi inko ehsaas-e-zillat dilaa-de,
Koi inki soyee hui dum hilaa-de.”
Many poets have eulogized the ‘pain of separation’ in their works uniquely. However, when Faiz describes the landscape of the “Land of Separation/Loneliness” (Dast-e-Tanhai), it doesn’t sound like a ravaged place of the aftermath of a torn relationship, but a place buzzing with the preparation of the anticipated arrival of the beloved.
The concluding verses of his famous and often sung nazm, “Dast-e-Tanhai”, are full of promise and possibilities:
“Is qadar payaar say ai jaan-e-jahaan rakha hai
Dil kay rukhsaar pay is waqt teri yaad nain haath
Yoon gumaan hota hai gerchay hai abhee subh-e-firaaq
Dhal gaya hijr ka din aa bhi gaee wasl ki raat.”
Sunayana Kachroo is a poet, writer, story and dialogue writer. Her published book, Waqt Se Pare (Beyond Time, 2013) is currently in its 2nd print. She has been recognized and awarded as one of the top-20 Women of the Year (2014) in the New England area. Sunayana is a film writer and her short film “In search of America – Inshallah” has been selected for the Short Film Corner at CANNES 2015.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.
Thanks for introducing to Faiz’s letters written from prison. I have come to realize that his best ghazals are the ones that he wrote when in jail. Not sure if one should thank the Pakistani authorities of the time to imprison him 🙂