Tuesday 22 January 2019

Reminiscing Faiz: Aap Ki Yaad Aati Rahi Raat Bhar

When the times are dark and the realities get delusional, no other art form but poetry can soothe our disquiet and arouse us to our complacency. Amongst all other languages and literature, Urdu language and Urdu poetry holds a unique place in everyone’s heart and one can never imagine having a complete understanding of contemporary Urdu poetry without recognizing the significance of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s varied oeuvre.
Born on February 13, 1911 in village Kala Qadir, Sialkot, that is now a part of Pakistan, Faiz began his poetic career in the 1930s during British imperialism in India. No later than that he became an iconic voice of a generation. He was one such poet whose revolutionary verses denounced tyranny and strove for justice. He used his melancholic yet musical lines to weave tender strands of hope and promise amongst the youth in those turbulent times. Faiz was also remarkably known for his coruscating and soulful love poems.
By the beginning of the 1930s, the Anti-British sentiment and desire for national freedom was at its peak, several anti-imperialistic and left-oriented groups mushroomed with the intention to inspire writings that advocated for an egalitarian society and stood up against injustice and backwardness. Faiz also became a member of the Progressive Writers’ Movement. Communalism had been sparked off between the Hindu and Muslim communities of pre-partition India and Faiz, a poet merely in his twenties then, got upset due to the political circumstances and he was triggered to write against these forces of communalism and confront the colonial presence.

In those times of oppressive socio-political structure, the Progressive Writers’ Movement was driven by Marxist ideology. The movement was founded in 1935 in London and had some famous idealists as its members- Sajjad Zaheer, Rashid Jahan, Kaifi Azmi, Ismat Chughtai, Ahmed Faraz, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Manto, Mulk Raj Anand, Makhdoom Mohiuddin and Faiz himself.
Faiz’s first collection of poetry got published in the year 1941 by the name of ‘Naqsh –e- Fariyaadi’ (The Image of Complaint). It had significant poems that arouse every emotion in the readers’ hearts – Mujhse Pehli Si Mohabbat Meri Mehboob Na Maang (Beloved, Don’t Ask Me for the Love That Was), Tanhaai (Solitude), Bol (Speak) and Iqbal (Iqbal). Tanhaai and Bol have been ranked high among literary critics. Iqbal had been written by Faiz in his memory where he called his fellow writer Iqbal ‘khush-nawa fakir’ (a sweet-singing fakir).
In 1947, Faiz became the editor of two dailies in Lahore - The Pakistan Times and The Imroz. He also became the Vice President of Trade Union Congress in 1951 and was sent to San Francisco and Geneva during this time as a part of Pakistani Government’s delegation to the International Labour Organization. While everything seemed to be working quite well for him, Faiz got arrested in connection with the Rawalpindi conspiracy case. But getting behind the bars couldn’t cage his stream of thoughts and emotions.
Faiz published his second collection in 1952 by the name of ‘Dast-e-Saba’ (The Touch of the Breeze). Several poems were included in this collection – Subh-e-Azaadi (Dawn of the Freedom), Sheeshon ke Maseeha Koi Nahin (The Heart’s Wine Glass, Once Broken, Cannot be Repaired) and others. The first poem of this collection, when he was denied the tools to write his poetry in prison, shows his undeterred optimism and protest against tyranny. With the Independence and Partition of India, tumultuous circumstances engulfed the subcontinent, mass migration and terrible massacres followed. It was then, Faiz wrote one of his greatest poems Subh-e-Azaadi (Dawn of the Freedom) that expresses deep sense of grief for the ways things had turned out. This poem is known for its ambiguous use of metaphors and context that it tries to portray.
By 1953, Faiz was transferred to Hyderabad jail and was released in April 1955 on bail, and then acquitted in September the same year.
The third collection of poetry by Faiz, published in 1956 by the name of ‘Zindaan-Nama’ (Prison Narrative) had poems like Ay Raushniyon ke Shahr (O City of Lights!) and Koi Aashiq Kisi Mehbooba Se (A Lover to a Beloved).
Faiz was again imprisoned for a short time during Ayyub Khan’s martial law in 1958. He was awarded Lenin Peace Prize four years later. His fourth collection of poems ‘Dast-e-tah-e-Sang’ (Poems from Duress) got published in 1965.
It was probably the Progressive Writers’ Movement from where Makhdoom Mohiuddin and Faiz got to know each other and became close friends.

Makhdoom, known for his remarkable verses Aap Ki Yaad Aati Rahi Raat Bhar and Phir Chhidi Raat, was characterized as a “reluctant Progressive” by Carlo Coppola. He argued that unlike Faiz, Makhdoom knew how to differentiate his romantic and revolutionary poetry. He remarked Makhdoom’s shift from one genre to another to be gradual and complex. After the Partition, he stayed in India while Faiz stayed in Pakistan, but Urdu connected them across borders. 
Both of them had love for their common language and an understanding for each other’s culture and the past as well as the contemporary struggles. Among Faiz’s eight volumes that had been published, his one of the last poems is a beautiful ghazal that Faiz wrote in 1969 when his dear friend passed away. This ode borrows the meter and the refrain from Makhdoom’s own ghazal Aap Ki Yaad Aati Rahi Raat Bhar. In his tribute, Faiz expresses his sorrow and says how his memories keep coming back to him all night.
In the contemporary times, when the present is so dark, the dignity of every individual is questionable, and the freedom to speak up against injustice has been snatched away in this world, the poetry by Faiz is relevant and hence needed to be read more than ever before.

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