Sketches of a Poet’s soul

Faiz’s poetry kept on transcending geographical boundaries and made him the most celebrated poet of the Indian subcontinent. But what makes Faiz unique, and I have said this earlier in an article, is that his poetry also transcends caste, class, regional and even linguistic boundaries.

Written by Gauhar Raza | Published:July 22, 2017 1:16 am
Faiz Ahmad Faiz: Colour of My Heart, Baran Farooqi, Penguin Random House India, indian express book review, book review, indian express news Above all, the name Faiz Ahmad Faiz reminds us that the partition of a country fails to divide music, visual arts, poetry and literature.

Book- Faiz Ahmad Faiz: Colour of My Heart, Selected Poems
Translated by- Baran Farooqi
Publication- Penguin Random House India
Pages- 304
Price- Rs 499

The name Faiz Ahmad Faiz reminds most people of melodious voices of Noor Jahan and Nayyara Noor, and the songs Mujh Se Pahli Si Muhobbat Meri Mehboob Na Mang, Ham Dekhenge or Aaj Bazar Mein Paa-ba Jolan Chalo. For those who have a deeper interest in Urdu poetry, it evokes many more images. Faiz symbolises a turning point in the history of the Urdu language — his name evokes memories of the Progressive Writers Association (PWA), his poetry is reminiscent of an era when the best of minds produced great literature in Urdu, which inspires writers and poets even today.

Above all, the name Faiz Ahmad Faiz reminds us that the partition of a country fails to divide music, visual arts, poetry and literature. No nation state has been able to create impermeable fortifications thick enough to withstand the osmotic pressure which arts and literature produces. Even if these walls are constructed on the dense bedrock of hate and animosity.

Faiz’s poetry kept on transcending geographical boundaries and made him the most celebrated poet of the Indian subcontinent. But what makes Faiz unique, and I have said this earlier in an article, is that his poetry also transcends caste, class, regional and even linguistic boundaries. It is not unusual to see processions in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, where workers, students or political activists walk on streets with posters on which Bol Ke Lab Azaad Hain Tere or Nisar Main Teri Galyon Pe Aye Watan Ke Jahan, Chali Hai Rasm Ke Koi Na Sar Uttha Ke Chale is written. If you walk into a five star hotel and witness Faiz being sung by a renowned singer, it would not be considered out of the ordinary. Faiz is the only poet who has no adversaries. Even the mullahs in Pakistan did not pass a fatwa against him.

Faiz Ahmad Faiz: Colour of My Heart, Baran Farooqi, Penguin Random House India, indian express book review, book review, indian express news Faiz Ahmad Faiz (centre) with Javed Akhtar (right). Express Archives

Faiz’s name also reminds us of the great divide between taraqqi pasand (the progressives) and jadidiyat pasand (modernists). Those who called themselves modernists in India were essentially anti-communist, backed by international groups who professed ‘art for the sake of art’ and ‘art with no political objective’. This group consistently attacked all writers, poets, filmmakers and artists who were members of PWA. Their politics drove them to condemn and reject all those who were committed to the idea of equality and justice, and created literature to build consciousness around these ideals.

Faiz demolished the wall created by the modernists. They initially tried to ignore him but did not succeed. In an Urdu magazine, Tehrik (Silver Jubilee Number), Wazir Agha wrote an article on ‘25 years of Urdu literature in Pakistan’. He listed the names of 30 poets, without mentioning Faiz. In passing elsewhere in the article, he mentioned Faiz as a progressive poet who “did not toe the party line and therefore created some good literary pieces”.

Similarly in Guftugoo, Balraj Komal, in an article titled ‘Poetry of Straight and Curvilinear Lines’, placed Faiz’s work on the border of this divide vis-a-vis Ali Sardar Jafri, Sahir Ludhyanvi and Josh Malihabadi; and, therefore categorised it as ‘effective’. These assertions were utterly false because Faiz remained committed to the ideals of socialism till his last breath. These were only excuses for liking a revolutionary poet. Almost every word of his poetry is dedicated to the idea of building an equitable and just society, yet his grandeur was accepted by even those who stood on the other side of the political fence.

The book Faiz Ahmad Faiz: Colour of My Heart, Selected Poems provides yet more proof of my assertion. In her introduction, the translator, Baran Farooqui, has made her political position very clear. She has referred to Faiz and many other progressive writers as “armchair socialists”, ignoring the fact that some of them, including Faiz, spent long years in jail for their ideological commitment. An unnecessary reference to Stalin could also have been avoided. She has not minced her words to reveal her unsympathetic attitude towards Faiz’s political views. The rest of the introduction is full of ‘illuminating’ information and she has translated the poems with utmost care, restrain and thoughtfulness. The soft, firm and robust ‘king of romantic realism’ deserves no less, even from those who do not agree with him. The ideological bias is completely absent in the translation.

When I read the list of 57 selected poems I was a bit disappointed that Intisab, Raqeeb Se, and Mauzu-e-Sukhan were missing. But when I moved on to the introduction it was clear that these poems did not measure up to the taste of the selector for obvious reasons.

If you are in love with a piece of literature in its original form — and I am an unashamed lover of every poem that Faiz wrote — then it is painful to read its translation. For me there are two indicators of good translation. The first test is: choose lines from the middle of a poem, read, and if you are able to recollect the original, then it is a good translation. I performed this test on every poem in this book. The second test is: the translated poem must invoke the same or similar feeling which the original does. Farooqi’s translation passes both these tests with very high marks. For all those who understand Urdu but cannot read ‘farsi rasm-ul khat’ the appendix provides transliteration of all selected poems, carefully scripted with the correct pronunciation of each word.

Farooqi refers to seven translators who introduced Faiz to non-Urdu readers, during his lifetime. I have not read all of them, but on the basis of whatever I’ve gone through, Farooqi’s translation is incredibly close to the spirit of Faiz’s poetry. I’m sure after reading this book, non-Urdu-Hindi readers will gain a deeper understanding of his life and poetry.

Gauhar Raza is a poet and former chief scientist with CSIR
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