Faiz was much influenced by his forerunner Ghalib, and between them the two may be said to mark the beginning and the end of a golden age, a century and a half of Urdu Poetry. What they had in common, apart from genius, was that each belonged to a society whose outlook on life was fadin, and which compelled them to open their windows to the outer world. Ghalib belonged to the twilight court of the Mughal emperors at Delhi, but he travelled far enough to see Calcutta, a modern city founded by the Europeans. Faiz belonged to the Punjab, and its capital Lahore, which was in his time still an intriguing blend of medieval and modern, ruled by a partnership of feudal landlords and British governors. He too was to visit Calcutta, as well as places even further, as remote as Addis Ababa, London, and Honolulu. Both Ghalib and Faiz heard voices calling to them from the outer world; the voice heard by Faiz was that of Karl Marx.
Faiz never lost touch with his native corner of the countryside, but when I got to know him, at the end of the thirties, he as a junior college teacher-of English and Arabic, symbolic perhaps of dual origins-first in Amritsar and then in Lahore. As a writer he came to the fore early. He and others of his time were assisted by the radio, then just being inaugurated; their recitations were assisted by the radio, then just being inaugurated; their recitations were a favourite item with listeners, especially poems that could be set to music and sung by professionals.
Te war began, the end of the empire was suddenly approaching, Faiz and his generation felt both excitement and hope, especially after the USSR was brought into the conflict by Hitler. Independence came, in 1947, but it was clouded by the manner of its coming. Life in what had suddenly become a new country, which had not yet found itself, might well have brought with it feelings of isolation and abandonment. Poem no.8 ‘Solitude’, is based on an old theme in the Persian tradition, but Faiz gives it new meaning. Hopes of change and progress, such as maybe found in no. 31, were often dashed. Yet is prison poems are among his very best. Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) spoke for many poets in his lines:
‘Out of my heavy griefs I make my little songs.
Peace in our twentieth century, so full of mankind’s self-inflicted sufferings, was another ideal quickly blighted. It is finely expressed in no.39, the gift of a visit to Sinkiang. At this moment in the year 2000, alas, the war-drums are beating as fiercely as ever on Faiz’s frontiers.
A letter from our joint friend Dr. Nazir Ahmad, the highly respected Principal of Government College, in April 1970, told me of rabid abuse of Faiz from religious fanatics, so outrageous that a murderous attack on him could well be feared. At that time Faiz was doing good in a quiet way by serving as an adviser on education in the occupied part of Kashmir; but he had been seen at socialist meetings, ad that was enough for the bigots.
He was not an armchair reformer, but a pioneer ready t take part in any ongoing efforts for progress. He took risks, and encountered many disappointments, which can be found reflected in various of his poems. Without so many of these experiences he might have found writing easier, and written more fluently. They compensated him, on the other hand, with a kind of stoic fortitude leavened by a wry humour. When he was asked to the over the editing of a drooping left-wing literary magazine for Eastern countries, he came to Edinburgh to see me, and we had long talks about what could be made of it –the obvious first need being to get rid of its absurd title, Lotus. He chose Beirut as a base, but it proved to be a very unlucky one. I got some news in a long letter from his wife. She talked of living on a powder-keg and of the nearby lraqi Airlines office being bombed by a guerrilla group in tea mall hour,- ‘the building shook for days –Faiz merely turned over and said “Go to sleep again”.’But before long Beirut proved impossible.
The same letter reminds me that at that time Alys was thinking of collecting the memories of the life and its ups and downs, and that Faiz had promised a publisher to do the same. I never heard hoe far these projects got, but Alys had a sense of history of every kind, and of the bygone echoes and associations cling to the past. She wrote a series of articles about survivals from the old Lahore, and how antique shrines and dwellings were mouldering away for want of anyone to take care of them. I had known her in England before either of us found ourselves in the East. Few women anywhere could have received so touching a tribute from their partner as the quatrain as the quatrain, no.21 in this collection.
In another way, faiz himself might be thought of as a protector and preserver of Urdu from the encroachments of English. Alresdy a long time ago, in 1834, Thomas de Quincey was writing in his Reminiscences of the Lake Poets: ‘The English language is travelling fast towards the fulfilment of its destiny… its ultimate mission of eating up, like Aaron’s rod, all other languages.’ Faiz welcomed translations of his work, which (in what is called ‘free verse’) have been plentiful. I was, I believe, the first to try, at his own invitation. But lately it has become a vogue in Pakistan to write poems, as well as stories, in English, instead of in any of the national languages. Faiz would not have approved of this.
‘A part of me seems t have died with him’, an Urdu novelist of Lahore, an old friend of ours, wrote to me with the news of Faiz’s death in December 1984, at the age of 73. A little later l read of the large meeting called in Lahore to pay homage to his memory; a mixed gathering with many from the working classes, progressive students, and others, whose side he had taken all his life.
This volume is and expansion of a set of verse translations from Faiz which were begun in a forest rest-house on the banks of Woolar Lake in Kashmir in the summer of 1945, continued at intervals over the next dozen years, and published in 1958 at Delhi (later reprinted at Lahore). These translations have now been revised throughout, and also brought into line with the latest editions of the originals: Faiz is a reviser and polisher, as careful literary craftsmen have often been, and has made various alterations over the years. Sixteen poems are added, from his last published collection and from some recent verses that have not yet appeared I book form. All these, like most of the former set, were chosen by Faiz himself, and all the translations have been discussed with him.
In addition, this volume contains the Urdu text of each poem, with a romanized transliteration and a literal prose rendering. This apparatus is designed to assist Western students of language, who are beginning to be rather less few than they used to be; it is hoped that it may be of service also to some East Pakistanis and Indians desirous of acquainting themselves with the Urdu literature of West Pakistan. Even to readers not concerned with the language it may be hoped that the Urdu text will make an artistic appeal. It has been written by Syed Saqlain Zaidi, reputed by many to be one of the finest copyists now working in Pakistan of the nastaliq one of the Arabic script, which developed in Persia by the fifteenth century and went through a further evolution in Indo-Pakistan.
An experiment at turning this script into roman letters may not be without interest for Urdu-speakers familiar with English, besides its practical value for learners of Urdu. It must I think be admitted, it is far Jess well adapted to the requirements of a utilitarian age. Even as calligraphy it is already, according to many connoisseurs in Pakistan, a declining art in which a katib such as Syed Saqlain Zaidi is likely to have few successors. Like the Chinese characters, it grew in a society where writing was confined t a few; both, possibly, may have a better chance of keeping their artistic quality if their more modern and mundane duties are handed over to the workaday alphabet that has already been adopted in Turkey and debated in China and India. Faiz’s poems, it may be remarked, are circulating in India not only in Urdu scrip but also in the less decorative but far, ore scientific Nagari script of Hindi, without losing much by the change except in the eyes of lovers of nastaliq whose loyalty to it, aesthetic or sentimental, can only be respected.
I am grateful to the People’s Publishing House of Delhi for readily acceding to the re-issue of the translations published by it; and to Mr. Altaf Gauhar, a senior civil servant sat Rawalpindi, for lending his good offices towards securing the approval of the Government of Pakistan for the preparation of this volume under the auspices of Unesco. I owe many thanks to Syed Saqlain Zaidi for the patience and skill with which he adapted himself to the exceptional demands made on him by the plan of this edition; also to Syed Baber Ali, once a pupil of mine in the Aitchison College at Lahore and now managing director of the firm of Packages Ltd there, for generously lending the services of this distinguished katib, who has been in his firm’s employment. With regard to the rest of the work my own knowledge of the language and its literature complexities is very far from sufficient to have enabled me to get on without a great deal of aid and counsel. ‘Truly, sir, in respect of a fine workman, I am but as you would say a cobbler.’ In an undertaking beset with so many linguistic and technical problems I cannot hope in the end to have avoided all errors, and for whatever errors may remain I must blame myself and not my counsellors. Among these Vazir ul-Hasan Abedi, R eader in Persian at the oriental College of the University of the Punjab at Lahore, has been very helpful on nice points both of text and of translation. Mr. R. Russell, Reader in Urdu at the London School of Oriental Studies, gave me the benefit of his knowledge of systems of transliteration from Urdu; and he was kind enough to read and point out lapses in the first draft of the Introduction, as was also Faiz’s and my old friend of Lahore days, Mr. Som Nath Chib. Faiz himself, besides supplying many elucidations of meaning, and other information, likewise read this draft, and made a number of criticisms which I have been happy to avail myself of, even if I cannot feel sure that even now everything in it would meet with his agreement. His wife has been invaluable in expediting correspondence on all these matters.
Poets in this century, like leaders of nations, have emerged from some unexpected nooks and corners. Faiz Ahmed’s forbears were Muslim peasants of the Punjab, that green patch between mountain and desert, between middle India and inner Asia. His father, born with the instincts of a wanderer, set off in early life to Afghanistan, where he rose high in the service of the Amir ‘Abdul-Rahman, and acquired some of the habits of a feudal grandee. Having fallen foul of his royal employer and escaped in disguise, he turned up in England, where his advent aroused curiosity in the highest circles: Afghanistan was always a sensitive spot in the perimeter of the empire. Cambridge and Lincoln’s Inn, a bizarre exchange for Kabul and Kandahar, made a lawyer of him, and he returned at length to his birthplace to practise: not with great financial success, for lavish habits were hard to shake off, and an old man’s tales of bygone splendour fell in less and less credulous ears.
If his son inherited an adventurous bent, his journeys of discovery were more of the mind, and it was not until long after he had grown up that he roamed far from home. It may have been a good thing for him that he did not go to Europe to study, as a young man of wealthier family would have done. Too many Indians of that day came back from the West full of enthusiasms that failed to survive transplantation, or that they could not spread to others. Faiz Ahmed imbibed the nineteen –thirties, more gradually but tenaciously, from books or smuggled pamphlets, travellers’ tales, and that impalpable genie known as the Spirit of the Age. They rooted themselves in his own soil, he saw them and their shadows by familiar sunlight; they took possession of his imagination, a strong-hold from which ideas are less easily dislodged, as well as if his mind.
He studied, chiefly philosophy and English literature, at Lahore, the provincial capital and centre of the network of affiliated colleges making up the University of the Punjab, where a number of gifted young men came by education in the fullest sense of the word. In due course he gained a junior lecturing post in a college at Amritsar, where I first had the good fortune to get to know him, thirty years ago. It was a Muslim college in the city sacred to the Sikhs, where the communal passions already fermenting were strong. But there was no hostile frontier then as now between Amritsar and Lahore, and the Punjab was still in many ways a Sleepy Hollow where life moved at the pace of the feeble cab-horse drawing their two wheeled tongas: where young men could indulge in old carefree idle ways, with long hours of daebate in coffee-houses and moonlight picnics by the river Ravi. In this mode of living, verse-making played a part it has long since lost in the busy practical West. It was a polite accomplishment, a hobby cultivated by men, and a few women, in varied walks of life; often, to be sure, a racking of brains over elusive rhymes not much more elevating than a Londoner’s crossword-puzzle. The mushaira or public recitation by a set of poets in turn, the novice first, the most admired writer last, was a Popular social gathering, as it still remains; an audience would often guess a rhyme-word phrase before it came, and join in like a chorus. Radio, then getting under way, was lending it a new medium, broadening into an entertainment for a whole province what had begun long age as the recreation of a small Court circle. It might be highly artificial, as when participants were supplied beforehand with a rhyme to manipulate; and a scribbler will endowed with voice could make the most hackneyed phrase or threadbare sentiment sound portentous by delivering them in the half-singing or chanting (tarannum) fashion, or the declamatory style of recitation, that many affected. Still, the institution has helped to keep poetry before the public, and, along with floods of commonplace, to make known an occasional new talent.
Faiz Ahmed rhymed with the rest, and unlike some innovators complied with usage by adopting a pen-name or takhallus-that of Faiz, meaning ‘bounty’ or ‘liberality’: looking back one may be tempted to read into it a meaning not yet in his mind, dedication to the service of his fellow –men. He emerged quickly from among the poetasters of whom every year engendererd a fresh warm, thoug not by dint of cultivationg an aesthetic deportment, as some did. To outward appearance he was a good-natured, easy-going fellow, fond of cricket and dawdling, those favourite pastimes of Lahore, and readier to let others talk than to talk himself. It was characteristic of him that when reciting his verses, whether among a few friends or in a crowded college gathering, he spoke them quietly and unexcitedly.
Their quality was naturally mixed. The fine quatrain that stands at the beginning of his first book of verse published in 1941 (no. I in this anthology) was not the first to be written. He began with exercises, conventional enough, on well –worn topics, sighing over the cruelty of a non-existent mistress or estolling the charms of the grape. These also were invested with some fanciful attributes, for neer and whisky, not wine, were the liquors that the British presence had familiarize in India, and for literary purposes a beverage had to be poured not from bottle into glass but from flask into goblet. (Shisha, a classical word, has come to be used for ‘tumbler’. But there is no term for ‘bottle’ except the impossible English word, spoken with a long ‘o’ and rhyming with Indian pronunciation of ‘hotel’.)
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