Faiz Ahmad Faiz (Punjabi, Urdu: فیض احمد فیض , born 13 February 1911 – 20 November 1984) MBE, NI,Lenin Peace Prize was an influential left wing intellectual, revolutionary poet, and one of the most famous poets of Urdu. He also wrote poems in Punjabi language as well. A notable member of the Progressive Writers’ Movement (PWM), Faiz was an avowed Marxist. Listed four times for the Nobel Prize in poetry, he received the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union in 1962. Despite being repeatedly accused ofatheism by the political and military establishment, Faiz’s poetry suggested a more nuanced relationship with religion in general and with Islam in particular. He was, in fact, greatly inspired by both secular poetry and South Asia’s Sufi traditions. His popular ghazal Hum Dekhenge is an example of how he fused these interests.
Faiz was controversially named and linked by Prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s government for hatching the conspiracy (see Rawalpindi conspiracy case) against Liaquat Ali Khan’s government, along with a left-wing military sponsor Major-General Akbar Khan. Having been arrested by Military police, Faiz among others received a maximum sentence by JAG branch, although his sentence was commuted after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951.
He remained extremely influential in Pakistan and his work continues to influence the country’s literature and arts. Faiz was publicly honored by the Pakistan Government after his literary work was publicly endorsed and posthumously honored him with nation’s highest civil award, Nishan-e-Imtiaz, in 1990.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz was born on 13 February 1911, in Sialkot. Faiz hailed from an academic family that was well known in literary circles. His home was often the scene of a gathering of local poets and writers who met to promote the literacy movement in his native province. His father was a barrister who worked for the British Government, and an autodidact who wrote and published the biography of Amir Abdur Rahman, an Emir of Imperial Afghanistan. Although his family were devoted Muslims, Faiz was brought up in a secular tradition of Islam. Following the Muslim South Asian tradition, his family directed him to study Islamic studies at the localMosque to be oriented to the basics of religious studies by Maulvi Ibrahim Mir. According to Muslim orthodox tradition, he learnedArabic, Persian, Urdu language and the Quran. According to a book written by Sarvat Rehman, while Faiz was brought up as an orthodox Muslim, he saw himself as an agnostic. Faiz was also a Pakistan nationalist, and often said “Purify your hearts, so you can save the country…”.
His father later took him out of Islamic school as he wanted his son to follow the footsteps of the great Indian Muslim educationist Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, sending him to attend the Scotch Mission School, which was managed and run by a local British family. After matriculation, he joined the Murray College at Sialkot for intermediate study. In 1926, Faiz enrolled in Department of Languages and Fine Arts of the Government College University (GCU), Lahore. While there, he was greatly influenced by Professor Mir Hassanand Professor Shamsul Allam who taught Arabic language. Professor Hasan had also taught the renowned philosopher, poet, and politician of South Asia, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal. In 1926, Faiz attained his B.A. with Honors in Arabic language, under the supervision of Professor Mir Hassan. In 1930, Faiz joined the post-graduate programme of the GCU, obtaining M.A. in English literature in 1932. The same year, Faiz passed his post-graduate exam in the 1st Division from Punjab University’s Oriental College, where he obtained a Master’s degree in Arabic in 1932. It was during his college years that he met M. N. Roy and Muzaffar Ahmed who influenced him to become a member of the Communist Party.
In 1941, Faiz became affectionate to Alys Faiz, a British national and a member of Communist Party of the United Kingdom, who was a student at the Government College University where Faiz taught poetry. While Alys opted for Pakistan citizenship, she was a vital member of Communist Party of Pakistan, played a significant role in Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case when she brought together the communist mass. Together, the couple gave birth to two daughters Salima and Moneeza Hashmi.
In 1935 Faiz joined the faculty of Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh, serving as a lecturer in English and British literature. Later in 1937, Faiz moved to Lahore to reunite with his family after accepting the professorship at the Hailey College of Commerce, initially teaching introductory courses on economics and commerce. During the midst of World War II, he enrolled in the British Indian Army in 1942. He was commissioned and attained the rank of Captain. Faiz served with the unit led by Akbar Khan, a left-wing general. Although, he was kept out of World War II war operations, Faiz was given a desk assignment when he joined the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in New Delhi. In 1943, Faiz was promoted to Major rank, and then Lieutenant-Colonel in 1944. In 1947, Faiz opted for newly established State of Pakistan. However, after witnessing the 1947 Kashmir war with India, Faiz decided to leave the army and submitted his resignation in 1947.
Academia and literacy
In 1936, Faiz joined a literary movement, Progressive Writers’ Movement (PWM) and was appointed its first secretary by his fellow Marxist Sajjad Zaheer. In East and West-Pakistan, the movement gained considerable support in civil society. In 1938, he became .or-in-chief of the monthly Urdu magazine “Adab-e-Latif (lit. Belles Letters) until 1946. In 1941, Faiz published his first literary book “Naqsh-e-Faryadi” (lit. Imprints) and joined the Pakistan Arts Council (PAC) in 1947. From 1959–62, Faiz served as the secretary of Pakistan Arts Council, and later became Rector of Abdullah Haroon College in 1964. The same year, Faiz became the vice-president of Pakistan Arts Council in 1964.
Faiz was a good friend of Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko who once said “In Faiz’s autobiography… is his poetry, the rest is just a footnote”. During his lifetime, Faiz published eight books and received accolades for his works. Faiz was a humanist, a lyrical poet, whose popularity reached neighbouring India and Soviet Union. Indian biographer Amaresh Datta, compared Faiz as “equal esteem in both East and West”. Throughout his life, his revolutionary poetry addressed the tyranny of military dictatorships, tyranny, and oppressions, Faiz himself never compromised on his principles despite being threatened by the right-wing parties in Pakistan. Faiz’s writings are comparatively new verse form in Urdu poetry based on Western models. Faiz was influenced by the works of Allama Iqbal and Mirza Ghalib, assimilating the modern Urdu with the classical. Faiz used more and more demands for the development of socialism in the country, finding socialism the only solution of country’s problems. During his life, Faiz was concerned with more broader socialists ideas, using Urdu poetry for the cause and expansion of socialism in the country. The Urdu poetry and Ghazals influenced Faiz to continue his political themes as non-violent and peaceful, opposing the far left politics in Pakistan.
Internationalism and communism
Main article: Communism in Pakistan
Faiz believed in Internationalism and emphasised the philosophy on Global village. In 1947, he became .or of the Pakistan Times and in 1948, Faiz became vice-president of the Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF). In 1950, Faiz joined the delegation of Prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, initially leading a business delegation in the United States, attending the meeting at the International Labor Organization (ILO) at San Francisco, California. During 1948–50, Faiz led the PTUF’s delegation in Geneva, and became an active member of World Peace Council (WPC).
Faiz was a well-known communist in the country and had been long associated with the Communist Party of Pakistan, which he founded in 1947 along with Marxist Sajjad Zaheerand Jalaludin Abdur Rahim. Faiz had his first exposure to socialism and communism before the independence of State of Pakistan which he thought was consistent with his progressive thinking. Faiz had long associated ties with the Soviet Union, a friendship with atheist country that later honored him with high award. Even after his death, the Russian government honored him by calling him “our poet” to many Russians. However his popularity was waned in Bangladesh after 1971 when Dhaka did not win much support for him. Faiz and other pro-communists had no political role in the country, despite their academic brilliance.
Although Faiz was a not a hardcore or far-left communist, he spent most of the 1950s and 1960s promoting the cause of communism in Pakistan. During the time when Faiz was .or of the Pakistan Times, one of the leading newspapers of the 1950s, he lent .orial support to the party. He was also involved in the circle lending support to military personnel (e.g. Major General Akbar Khan). His involvement with the party and Major General Akbar Khan’s coup plan led to his imprisonment later.
Later in his life, while giving an interview with the local newspaper, Faiz was asked by the interviewer as if he was a communist, Faiz he replied in his usual nonchalant manner: “No. I am not, a communist is a person who is a card carrying member of the Communist party ever made. The party is banned in our country. So how can I be a communist?…”.
Rawalpindi plot and exile
Main article: Rawalpindi conspiracy
The Liaquat Ali Khan’s government failure to Indian-held Kashmir had frustrated the military leaders of the Pakistan Armed Forces in 1948, including Jinnah himself serious doubt on Ali Khan’s ability to ensure the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan. After returning from the United States, Ali Khan imposed restrictions on Communist party as well as Pakistan Socialist Party. Although the East Pakistan Communist Party had ultimate success in East-Pakistan after staging the mass protest to recognized Bengali language as national heritage.
The Muslim League after Jinnah founded struggling to survive its existence in West-Pakistan. Therefore, Prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan imposed extreme restrictions and applied tremendous pressure on communist party for not being properly allowed to function openly as a political party. The conspiracy had been planned by left-wing military officer and Chief of General Staff Major-General Akbar Khan. On 23 February 1951, a secret meeting was held at General Akbar’s home, attended by other communist officers and communist party members, including Marxist Sajjad Zaheer and communist Faiz. General Akbar assured Faiz and Zaheer that the communist party would be allowed to function as a legitimate political party like any other party and to take part in the elections. But, according to communist Zafar Poshni who maintained, in 2011, that “no agreement was reached, the plan was disapproved, the communists weren’t ready to accept General’s words and the participants dispersed without meeting again”. However the next morning, the plot was foiled when one of the communist officer defected to ISI revealing the motives behind the plot. When the news reached to Prime minister, the orders of massive arrests were ordered to Military Police by the Prime minister. Before the coup could be initiated, General Akbar among other communists were arrested, including Faiz. In a trial led by the Judge Advocate General branch’s officers in a military court, Faiz was announced to spent four years in Montgomery Central Jail (MCJ), due to his influential personality, Liaquat Ali Khan’s government continued locating him in Central Prison Karachi and the Central Jail Mianwali. His case later proceeded by socialist Huseyn Suhravardie as his defence counselor. Finally on 2 April 1955, Faiz’s sentence was commuted by the Prime minister Huseyn Suhrawardy, and departed to London, Great Britain soon after. In 1958, Faiz again returned but was again detained by President Iskander Mirza, allegedely blamed Fiaz for publishing the pro-communist ideas and advocacy for pro-Moscow government. However, due to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s influence on Ayub Khan, Faiz’s sentence was commuted in 1960 and he was departed to Moscow,Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; he later settled in London, United Kingdom.
Return to Pakistan and government work
Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s grave in Model Town Lahore.
In 1964, Faiz finally returned to his country and settled down in Karachi, and was appointed Principal of Abdullah Haroon College. In 1965, Faiz was first brought to government by charismatic democratic socialist Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was tenuring as Foreign minister in the presidency of Ayub Khan. Bhutto lobbied for Faiz and giving the honorary capacity at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting(MoIB) working to rallying the people of West-Pakistan to fight against India to defend their motherland. During the 1971 Winter war, Faiz rallied to mobilize the people, writing patriotic poems and songs that opposed the bloodshed during separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan.
In 1972, Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto brought him back when Bhutto appointed Faiz as Culture adviser at the Ministry of Culture(MoCul) and the Ministry of Education (MoEd). Faiz continued serving in Bhutto’s government until 1974 when he took retirement from the government assignments.
Faiz had strong ties with Bhutto, and had been deeply upset upon Bhutto’s removal by Chief of Army Staff General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haqin 1977, in a military coup codename Fair Play. Again, Faiz was monitored by Military Police and his every move watched. In 1979, Faiz departed from Pakistan after learning the news of Bhutto’s execution had been taken place. Faiz took asylum in Beirut, Lebanon, but returned to Pakistan in poor health after renewal of the Lebanon War in 1982. In 1984, Faiz died in Lahore, Punjab Province, shortly after hearing a nomination of Nobel Peace Prize.
Faiz was an avowed supporter of Sufism. He had close relations with several Sufi saints of his time. He was a favorite of Baba Malang Sahib, a Sufi of Lahore, Wasif Ali Wasif, Ashfaq Ahmad, Syed Fakhruddin Balley and other renowned Sufis. Once when he was asked how he could compare Sufis with socialist comrades, he replied, “They are the real comrades”. He is also cr .ed for coining the term Ana al-Haqq in the political sense.
Faiz was first accused of Atheism during his trial, when to the Prosecutor-General, Faiz famously quipped: “Don’t you know applying ‘”Fragrance“’ is Sunnah?…”. The questioner protested and said: “My dear sir, I doubt if you are a great one for following the Sunnah and so on!”, then Faiz replied: “Why not, I am also a part of the Islamic culture…”.
Although living a troubled life, Faiz’s work, political ideology, and poetry became immortal, and often dubbed as “greatest poet” of Pakistan. Faiz remained extremely popular and influential figure in the literary development in Pakistan’s arts, literature, and drama and theatre adaptation. In 1962, Faiz brought a great name for his country in the Soviet Union who had been hostile and antagonistic relations with Pakistan. The Lenin Peace Prize, a Soviet equivalent of Nobel Peace Prize, helped lift Faiz’s image even higher in the international community. It brought Soviet Union and Pakistan much closer, putting past behind and working for development of people of both sides. Most of his work was translated in Russian language.
Faiz, whose work is considered the backbone of development of Pakistan’s literature, arts and poetry, was one of the most beloved poets in the country. Along with Allama Iqbal, Faiz is often known as “Poet of East”. While commenting on his legacy, classical singer Tina Sani mesmerised Faiz’s legacy as she puts it:
Faiz Ahmad Faiz… (was) like a comrade, his thoughts were soft but effective and inspired the classical singers as it did others in the plays we did… Faiz’s poetry never gets old because the problems and situations in this country have not changed. Today we sing him because of his beautiful poetry, missing out on the reasons behind his poems that had predictions…
—Tina Sani, commenting on the legacy of Faiz,
Major literary works
- Naqsh-e-Faryadi (1943)
- Dast-e-Saba (1952)
- Zindan-Nama (1956)
- Dast-e-Tah-e-Sung (1965)
- Mere Dil Mere Musafir
All these have been combined as one book Nuskha Haa-e-Wafa (Urdu: نسخہ ہاے وفا).
Accolades and international recognition
Faiz was the first Asian poet to receive the Lenin Peace Prize, awarded by the Soviet Union in 1962. In 1976 he was award the Lotus Prize for Literature. He was also nominated for the Nobel Prize shortly before his death in 1984.
At the ceremony held in grand Kremlin hall in Moscow, Faiz received the award with stage full of Russian attendees, Faiz thanked the Russian government for conferring the honor, and delivered the acceptance speech at the ceremony, which appears as a brief preface to his collection Dast-i-tah-i-Sang (Hand under the rock) is a great piece of humanist literature, as he delivered:
Human ingenuity, science and industry have made it possible to provide each one of us everything we need to be comfortable provided these boundless treasures of nature and production are not declared the property of a greedy few but are used for the benefit of all of humanity… However, this is only possible if the foundations of human society are based not on greed, exploitation and ownership but on justice, equality, freedom and the welfare of everyone… I believe that humanity which has never been defeated by its enemies will, after all, be successful; at long last, instead of wars, hatred and cruelty, the foundation of humankind will rest on the message of the great Persian poet Hafez Shiraz: ‘Every foundation you see is faulty, except that of Love, which is faultless….
—Faiz Ahmad Faiz, 1962,
In 1990, his services were belatedly honoured by the Pakistan Government when ruling Pakistan People’s Party led by Prime minister Benazir Bhutto, accepting the recommendation, and posthumously awarded Faiz, the highest civilian award, Nishan-e-Imtiaz in 1990. In 2011, the Pakistan Peoples Party’s government declared the year of 2011 “as the year of Faiz Ahmed Faiz”. In accordance, the Pakistan Government set up a “Faiz Chair” at the Department of Urdu at the Karachi University and at the Sindh University, followed by the Government College University of Lahore established the Patras, Faiz Chair at the Department of Urdu of the university, also in 2011. The same year, the Government College University (GCU) presented the golden presented shields to the University’s Urdu department, which was issued and presented by the GCU vice-chancellor Professor Dr. Khaleequr Rehman, who noted and further wrote: “Fiaz was poet of humanity, love and resistance against oppression”. In 2012, at the memorial ceremony was held at the Jinnah Garden to honour the services of Faiz by the left-wing party Avami National Party and Communist Party, by the end of the ceremony, the participants chanted his name: “The Faiz of workers is alive! The Faiz of farmers is alive…! Faiz is alive….!”.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poetry has been translated into many languages, including English and Russian. A Balochi poet, Mir Gul Khan Nasir, who was also a friend of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, translated his book Sar-e-Wadi-e-Seena into Balochi with the title Seenai Keechag aa. This work by Faiz was translated by Gul Khan while he (Gul Khan) was in jail during Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s regime for opposing the government’s policies. It was published in 1980, after Zia-ul-Haq toppled Bhutto’s government and freed all the political prisoners of his (Bhutto’s) regime. Victor Kiernan, British Marxist historian translated Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s works into English, and several other translations of whole or part of his work into English have also been made by others; a transliteration in Punjabi was made by Mohinder Singh.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz, himself, has also translated works of notable poets from other languages into Urdu. In his book “Sar-i Waadi-i Seena” there are some translations of the famous poet of Dagestan, Rasul Gamzatov. “Deewa”, a Balochi poem by Mir Gul Khan Nasir, was also translated into Urdu by Faiz.
Plays and dramatic productions on Faiz
- Sheeshon ka Maseeha by Omer Khawaja and Shabana Azmi.
- Dard Aayega Dabe Paon by Sheela Bhatiya.
- Kuchh Ishq kiya Kuchh Kaam written by Danish Iqbal and staged by IPTA Delhi. This multi-media Stage Production is being premiered at Sri Ram centre, New Delhi on 11 November 2011. This Play is basically a Celebration of the Faiz’s Poetry and featuring events from the early part of his life, particularly the events and incidents of pre-independence days which shaped his life and ideals. Directed by K K Kohli this musical Production featured Artists like Shamir Abadan, Jaishri Sethi, Dr Naseem, Izhar, Minhaj, Prateek Kapoor, Twinkle Khanna and Amit Bajaj in lead roles. This script is the first part of Faiz trilogy written by Danish Iqbal at the occasion of Faiz Centenary Celebrations.
- Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan – A dramatised reading of Faiz’s letter and letters written by his wife Alys Faiz. This Production was initially done at the start of his birth centenary celebrations at India Habitat Center, New Delhi by Danish Iqbal and Salima Raza. ‘Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan’ was also done at Amritsar Faiz Festival organised by Preet Ladi, at Punjab Natshala, Amritsar, on 6 October 2011. This time it was done by Suchitra Gupta and Danish Iqbal.
- 2011 Drama Festival of Delhi Urdu Academy is basically devoted to Productions about Faiz. Apart from ‘Kuchh Ishq kiya Kuchh Kaam’ by IPTA, Delhi and ‘Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan’ by Wings Cultural Society, this Festival will also feature Plays by Peirreot’s Troupe on Faiz, namely ‘Jo Dil Pe Guzarti Hai’. The festival also presented, for the first time on stage ‘Tera Bayaan Ghalib’, directed by Dr Hadi Sarmadi and performed by Bahroop Arts Group, which was an adaptation of one of Faiz’s few plays for the radio.
In popular culture
A collection of some of Faiz’s masterpieces in different genres and tributes by his family, contemporaries and scholars who knew him through his immortal poetry was published in 2011, under the name of “Celebrating Faiz” .ed by D P Tripathi. The book was released on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary in Punjab province of Pakistan.