These past few days, I have been on a Faiz Ahmed Faiz poetry trip. It all started after a few friends posted the legendary Pakistani poet’s work on Facebook following the Gauri Lankesh murder. “We need someone like Faiz,” said one comment. And the song regularly posted was his iconic and revolutionary ‘Hum dekhenge‘, rendered by the brilliant Iqbal Bano.
Personally, I have experienced Faiz’s poetry only through song. I can’t read Urdu. Having grown up in a different cultural environment, I still find it difficult to understand half of what he tried to convey. Yet, he’s been an all-time idol.
Interestingly, there was this song I heard back in 1983 as a 20-year-old. I loved it immensely but it took me three years to figure it was written by Faiz. The meaning came later but Mehdi Hassan’s ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’remains a favourite even today.
The actual Faiz journey began in 1986 when a friend played the melodious Nayyara Noor. Songs like ‘Hum ke thehre ajnabi’, ‘Tum mere paas raho‘ and ‘Intesaab’ just grabbed me with their power. It went on. Bano’s ‘Hum dekhenge’and ‘Dasht-e-tanhai‘. Akhtar’s ‘Aaye kuchh abr’ and ‘Donon jahaan teri mohabbat mein haar ke’.
Farida Khanum’s ‘Yaad-e-ghazaal-e-chashma’. Noor Jehan‘s ‘Mujhse pehli si mohabbat’ and ‘Tum aaye ho na shab-e-intezaar guzari hai’.
The list continued. Ghulam Ali, Abida Parveen, Pankaj Udhas, Zehra Nigah, Radhika Chopra. Besides the songs, so did the quest for their meanings.
Faiz used a lot of high-flown Urdu terms and metaphors with multiple interpretations. He would strike at governments, talk about global development or write eulogies on romantic minds. That was his oeuvre, style and genius. For some years, I found translations in books but today you get practically everything online. It’s still a journey and my attempt at a personal thesis.
Faiz was Faiz. But to come back to the point, why were so many remembering him after the Lankesh incident? Probably because both were symbols of freedom and expression. Protest has always been a form of writing, and Bob Dylan was the supreme Western songwriter in this genre. His songs were posted too.
Here I come to the personal angle. I am not a poet and I know it. I am a nobody. But after listening to so much Faiz and a bit of Dylan for a few days, I made my first attempt at writing verse. Understandably, it’s an amateur debut. It’s titled, ‘So What If I Think Freely?’.
My mind has a heart, my tongue has a soul;
My voice comes through my navel, my art is my only goal
I paint through my eyes, I dance through my brain;
Write poetry through my ears, nothing ever goes in vain
I feel I am extremely creative, it’s just a gift and blessing;
I shoot films with my arms, no matter what the cast is dressing
And then I am abruptly stopped, disbelievers call me a stink;
Don’t blame their brains at all, but I have the freedom to think
Oh if I live in another world, devoid of hatred and greed;
All of us artistes can unite, and be proud of our common creed
Well, amateur or otherwise, it was simply inspired by music and poetry of protest.