CELEBRATING THE IDEA OF REVOLUTION
IT is a remarkable coincidence that this issue of People’s Democracy is dated on the birth centenary of eminent poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a powerful ideological symbol of fight against oppression, defence of democratic rights and love for humanity. We commemorate this occasion as a celebration of the idea of Revolution.
A committed Marxist, one of the greatest Urdu poets, a journalist, film maker, trade unionist, broadcaster, teacher, translator, Lenin Peace Prize winner, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, had also served the British Indian Army rising to the rank of Lt Colonel. Born in Sailkot, Faiz was educated in Lahore, the city which served as his base throughout his life. He continued to live there after the unfortunate partition of the sub-continent. The trauma, torture and torment of the partition are deeply reflected in his poetry. His love for the liberation of the peoples of the sub-continent as a whole was unquestionable. When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, a London newspaper said that he was “A brave enough man to fly from Lahore to Delhi for Gandhi’s funeral at the height of the Indo-Pakistan hatred”.
His work reflects that his identification with the masses of the poor and exploited, his espousal of the cause of liberation from all forms of oppression and exploitation was complete. He was an active member of the anti-fascist movement and the struggle for freedom from colonialism led by the Communist Party of undivided India. Along with great stalwarts of his time, he was instrumental in founding the Progressive Writers Association in 1936 when the Communists also organised the students in the All India Students Federation and the peasantry in the Kisan Sabha in the same year.
The Communist Party had sent Comrade Sajjad Zaheer along with some others to organise the Communist Party in Pakistan. Sajjad Zaheer, also a noted and accomplished intellectual and writer, became the founding general secretary of the Communist Party of Pakistan. However, in 1951, Sajjad Zaheer, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and other leading Communists were imprisoned in solitary confinement under sentences of death in the infamous Rawalpindi conspiracy case. Faiz remained in prison for over four years.
Far from either breaking his spirit or sapping his energy for the cause of the revolution, imprisonment stimulated Faiz’s creativity. The remarkable tribute brought out by Pakistan’s leading group of newspapers Dawn, in 2004, informs us of his impressions during imprisonment. “Like love”, he wrote, “imprisonment is a basic experience. It opens many new windows on the soul”. Some of his best works were to emerge from the confinements of the jails. Dast-e-Saba (the wind writes) and Zindan Nama (prison journal) elevated him to the status of a literary poetic genius.
In Dast-e-Saba, he reflects the basic essence of the Marxist outlook when he states that: “The understanding of the struggle of human life, and a participation in it is not only a pre-requisite of life, it is also a pre-requisite of art”.
While studying the eternal man-nature dialectic, Marx and Engels reached the conclusion that: As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are coincides with their production, both with what they produce and how they produce. Hence what individuals are depends upon material conditions of production.
Eric Hobsbawm, in his latest book How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism recollects that at the 2007 Jewish book week coinciding with Marx’s death anniversary, Jacques Attali while paying tribute to Marx had said, “Philosopher before him had thought of man in his totality, but he was the first to apprehend the world as a whole which is at once political, economic, scientific and philosophical”. This personal attribute of Marx is actually a reflection of the attribute of the Marxist world outlook. This goes beyond conventional meaning of `interdisciplinary’ approach to the world. Marxism, a creative science, is trans disciplinary which integrates all disciplines of thought and creative capacities of the human mind.
Faiz, in a sense, reflects such an integrated approach through his life and work in the times that he lived. In his preface to The Rebel’s Silhouette Agha Shahid Ali says: “Faiz was such a master of the ghazal, a form that predates Chaucer, that he transformed its every stock image and, as if by magic, brought absolutely new associations into being. For example, the Beloved – an archetypal figure in Urdu poetry – can mean friend, woman, God. (Or, for that matter, Motherland, that Bahadur Shah Zafar, lamented for his burial, when blinded in confinement by the British in Rangoon.) Faiz not only tapped into those meanings, but extended them to include the Revolution. Waiting for the Revolution can be as intoxicating as waiting for one’s lover.”
Adopting the penname, Faiz, which can be best described to mean `dedication to the service of his fellowmen’, he revolutionised Urdu poetry. He relentlessly showed that the pen is mightier than the sword in rousing the people. Just one example of his work as a poet of the Revolution is his work known as Hum Dekhengay.
We shall see,
It is certain that we shall see
The day for which there is a promise,
The day recorded in the eternal tablet,
When the weighty mountains of cruelty and oppression,
Shall be blown about like cotton-wool;
When under the feet of the oppressed ones
The earth shall shake noisily,
And over the heads of despotic rulers
Thunder claps will burst …
When the crowns will be toppled,
When the palaces will be demolished….
His eternal humanism, which in the first place, led him to embrace Marxism and its world outlook, drove Faiz to espouse the cause of revolution all across the globe. He was a true internationalist.
In the book Poetry East, Carlo Coppola calls him: “A spokesperson for the world’s voiceless and suffering peoples – whether Indians oppressed by the British in the ‘40s, freedom fighters in Africa, the Rosenbergs in cold war America in the ‘50s, Vietnamese peasants fleeing American napalm in the ‘60s, or Palestinian children living in refugee camps in the 1970s”.
Faiz traveled abroad widely some times out of choice as the editor of the Afro-Asian literary magazine Lotus being published from Beirut. On some other occasions, he traveled abroad in exile.
Edward W Said described a meeting with Faiz: “To see a poet in exile – as opposed to reading the poetry of exile – is to see exile’s antimonies embodied and endured. Several years ago, I spent some time with Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the greatest of contemporary Urdu poets. He had been exiled by Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime and had found a welcome of sorts in the ruins of Beirut. His closest friends were Palestinian,” further he said in his essay The Mind of Winter: Reflections on Life in Exile: “The crucial thing to understand about Faiz is that like Garcia Marquez he was read and listened to both by the literary elite and by the masses…His purity and precision were astonishing, and you must imagine therefore a poet whose poetry combined the sensuousness of Yeats with the power of Neruda. He was, I think, one of the greatest poets of this century”.
Much has been written and will, indeed, be written in the future about the work of this socially committed literary genius and a dedicated Communist. A particular lesson that everyone of us who aspires for and works towards Revolution must learn is to combine the passion of commitment with creativity. Faiz did this with his poetry and mastered the use of classical forms transforming them before his audience rather than break from the old forms. He makes you hear and recite his revolutionary message in the old and the new together and at once.
People’s Democracy continues to draw inspiration from Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s celebration of the idea of the Revolution.
(February 9, 2011)