The Master of His Own Words

By Dr Afzal Mirza

The NEWS 10-13-2002

Whatever little Punjabi poetry Faiz wrote proves the point that the real concerns of the masses can be conveyed only in their mother tongue

 Faiz is and remains the most outstanding Urdu poet of the second half of the last century. During the last few years of his life, however, he wrote some Punjabi poetry as well which can be found in his last two books namely Shaam-e-Shehryaraan and Mairay Dil Mairay Musaafir.

These two books actually contain the poetry he wrote during the 1970s and early 1980s, till he died in 1984 in Lahore. After General Zia removed the government of    Z A Bhutto in a midnight coup in 1977, Faiz went into exile and remained abroad till 1983. It was only a year before his death that he returned to Pakistan.

When ZAB came out with a revolutionary manifesto of Pakistan People's Party in 1967 Faiz, like most of the leftists of the time, thought that it could be a step in the direction of the socialistic order that he and his colleagues were craving for. The period preceding the general elections of 1970 was full of hectic political activity. During the days of Ayub Khan's martial law, the pathos of the poetry Faiz wrote was characterised by a lack of civil liberties and his personal periodic stints in jail or exile.

Aa gai fasl-e-sakoon chak gareeban walo

Sil gae hont koi zakhm silay ya na silay

But the changed political atmosphere of the country after Bhutto came to power resulted in a positive impact on his poetry and his tone again became full of optimism. It was at this stage that he thought of writing some poems in Punjabi.

Since the day Faiz appeared on India's literary scene, some people had been complaining that though Faiz wrote for the common man his diction was beyond the comprehension of the people he wrote for, barring of course poems like Bol keh lub azaad hain tairay or soach. Whenever Faiz was encountered with this question, he would concede that this had been a weakness in his Urdu poetry.

In an introduction to Faiz's collection of poetry, Zindaan Naama, Major.Ishaq wrote: "Faiz's poetry has the spirit and emotions of a man of heart. Within it beats the heart of the nation but I don't know why the warmth of the sweat and the blood of a worker is not present in it in the required proportion. He remembers the roses and the jasmines with great affection but he does not describe the plight of the one who produces them with great toil and has full right to benefit from their beauty, fragrance and colours. His poetry has yet to come out of drawing rooms, schools and colleges and to spread to the streets, roads, fields and factories. He (Faiz) says that it could only be done through Punjabi."

In a letter to Major Ishaq, Faiz's friend and old comrade Syed Sajjad Zaheer also pointed out this fact in these words: "I agree with you that he should now gather courage to jump in the direction where -- in addition to beauty, colour and fragrance of flowers -- there should also be the mixture of blood and sweat of a common man who actually makes and unmakes life. I fully agree with you but I do not want to push him in that direction. From the latest trend in his poems and ghazals I see a true democratic direction. I think he himself understands this point. The land of Punjab has centuries old tradition of producing democratic poetry in the verses of Baba Fareed, Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah... Why can't similar songs be sung again."

Throughout his life Faiz was cognizant of the fact that whenever he would write true democratic poetry he would use Punjabi language which was his mother tongue and that of millions of Punjabis. He expressed same views while talking to Dr Ayub Mirza, author of Faiz's biography Hum Keh Thehray Ajnabi.

Once while driving for Faiz in England, journalist Khalid Hasan popped a cassette of Khawaja Fareed's Kafis in the player. The singer was either Zahida Parveen or Mansoor Malangi and the Kafi that started playing was

Ghamaan di maari jindrialeel ay

Sohna naeen sunda dukhandi appeal ay

When Khalid Hasan pointed out to Faiz about the use of an English word in the verse, the great poet appreciated it and told Khalid that a poet should not be subservient to language rather language should be subservient to him.

Faiz had enormous love for Punjabi poets and poetry and was proud of the great heritage of Punjabi poetry. He was a great friend and admirer of Ustad Daman, the Punjabi poet who wrote for the common man. During the last few days of Faiz's life, both the poets spent quite some time together. Faiz used to say that Daman was the real poet of the masses. Daman died a few days after Faiz.

Anyhow, it was only in 1971 that Faiz wrote his first Punjabi poem. The country was going through a socio-political upheaval at that time, though subsequent developments took a direction not entirely to the liking of people like Faiz. So when he wrote his poem Lammi raat si dard firaq waali, he had not yet lost hope and was still expecting that things would change for the better. In the last stanza:of this poem, he wrote:

Ajj lah ulahmay mithrayyaar mairay

Ajj aa vehray vichhray yaarmairay

Fajar hovay tay aakhiy bismillah

Ajj daulatan saaday ghar aiyaan nay

Jehday qaul tay asaan visah kita

Ohnay orak torr nibhaiyaan nay


(Fulfill your promise today my sweet friend

Come to my abode my lost friend

I shall praise God when the day dawns

I'll say that the fortune has come to my home

In whose promise we believed He has fulfilled it at last)

Even in this poem it is quite evident that Faiz had not lost sight of the Fajar or the morning that he was longing for. And no doubt he was longing for this morning from the day he wrote Yeh woh sahar to nahin jis ki aarzoo lay kar.

The troubled events of 1971, however, resulted in the loss of East Pakistan and the surrender of 90,000 of Pakistani soldiers in Dhaka. These soldiers were taken as prisoners of war and spent two years in Indian prison camps while their families were waiting for their return. Faiz wrote two poems on the event; one in Urdu, Hum keh thehray ajnabi, and the other in Punjabi. His Punjabi poem was the lamentation of a beloved for her lover who had become a prisoner of war in India:

Kidhray nan paindiyan dassaan

Pardesia vay tairian


(I don't hear anything about you

My lover, living far away)

These very simple lines reflect the agony and suffering of the Punjabi woman in the most effective words possible.

Shaam udikaan, fajarudikaan

Aakhain tay sari umar udikaan

Ahand gawandi deevay balday

Rabba sada chanan ghalday

Jug vasda ay main vi vassaan


(I am waiting in the evenings and mornings

If you so desire I can wait the whole of my life

There are lights everywhere  in the neighborhood

O God, Send my light also The whole world is living and I might also live)


Faiz also wrote a poem on the floods that ravaged Punjab in 1973. The poem is written in the traditional Punjabi diction. In Heer Waris Shah, Heer addresses her father when she is being driven away by Kheras and so in every Punjabi folk song signifying marriage the girl complains to no one else but to her father, figuratively called babal in Punjabi. Faiz's poem (Mairi doli shauh darya) is also reminiscent of Ahmad Rahi's poems on the theme of partition.

But of all his Punjabi poems, Rabba sachya is the best example of poetry with a purpose. It is a complaint quite different from the one Allama Iqbal made to God. The poem evokes a strange feeling and passion wherever it is recited:

Rabba sachya toon tay akhya si

Ja oay bandya jug da shah ain toon

Sadian naimtaan tairian daultan nay

Sada naib tay alijah ain toon Ais laaray tay tore kad puchhyai

Keeh ais namaanay tay beetian nay


(O God the Truthful you had said

Go O Man, you have been made king of the world

My bounties are your treasures

You are my deputy and viceroy

After sending me with this promise have you ever asked

What has transpired with this poor thing?)


Then he enumerated in the poem the problems of immediate concern to a Punjabi peasant:


Kithay dhauns police sarkar di ay

Kithay dhaandli maal patwaar di ay

Anvain haddan wich kalpay jaan mairi

Jeeven phahi wich koonj kurlandi ay

Changa shah banayai rab saiyaan

paulay khandyan vaar na aundi ay


(Somewhere there is the terror of police people

Somewhere there is fraud in the revenue department

My soul is shackled in my bones

like a squeaking lark caught  in a net.

Dear God what a king you made out of me

I can't count the number of beatings that are given to me)

Then in a fit of frustration he concluded that "if You can't look after me then I should search for another God for myself."

In another poem addressed to a peasant, Faiz tried to wake him up from his slumber and fight for his rights because in his words:

Bholia! Toon jag da andaata

Tairi baandi dharti maata

Toon jag da palan haar

Jarnal, karnal, subedar dipti, DC, thanedar

Saray taira ditta khawan

Toon jay naan beejain toon jay naan gaahain

Bhukay bhaanay subh mar jawan

Aih chaakar toon sarkar


(O simpleton, you feed the whole word

The whole earth is your slave

You are rearing the whole world

Generals, Colonels, Subedars

Deputies, DCs and Police officers

Every one eats what you give them

If you won't plough, If you won't sow

All of them would die of starvation

They are servants, you are the master)

The poems quoted above show that Faiz was right when he said that he could write genuine democratic poetry only in Punjabi. And whatever little Punjabi poetry he has left is a tribute to the Punjabi peasants and workers and goes a long way in establishing the fact that Faiz was capable of using a language, understood best by the very people he wrote for.