What Firaq would have told Faiz’s critics: ‘Folks, don’t murder poetry’
There is a new bee in our bonnet these days. Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s stellar poem “Hum Dekhenge” has snowballed into a nationwide discussion to find out if it is offensive to Hindu sentiments. It is very dismal and incoherent. Being an Urdu poetry lover, I would like to highlight that most of the popular Urdu poetry including ‘Hum Dekhenge’ is very secular and not at all offensive to any religion. Albeit, myriad of popular verses of Urdu poetry is most of the time allegedly very critical about ‘Muslim sentiments’. Even the poem “Hum Dekhenge” which talks about ‘analhaq ka naara’ is basically inkling towards the very Vaidik concept of ‘Aham Brahmaasmi’!Let me elaborate to substantiate my argument. I would like to begin with a quote from another verse of Faiz:“Sheikh sahab se rasm-o-raah na ki,Shukra hai zindagi tabah na ki”Or“Kuch to mohtasib ke paimane main, kuch waize ke ghar jati hai,Hum badakashon ke hisse ki, ab jam main kam tar aati hai”Let’s read the following revolutionary verse of Faiz and then I’ll tell you it’s context:“Na sawal-e-wasl, na arz-e-gham, na hikayaten na shikayaten,Tere ahed main dil-e-zaar ke sabhi ikhtiyaar chale gaye”During an interview somebody once asked Faiz, “Did you write this poem against the government?” Replying to the interviewer with a smile he revealed that he had written this sher for his wife because after she took over the reins of domestic power, all rights of his poor heart had been put under siege by her.Let’s see some more apparently objectionable verses from other poets:“Ye janab-e-shekh ka falsafa hai ajeeb saare jahan se,Jo wahan piyo to halal hai, jo yahan piyo to haram hai”Or enjoy this satire:“Lutf-e-mai tujhse kya kahoon zahid,Haye kambakht tune pee hi nahi”What would you say about Dagh Dehelvi’s sher below — what a hype?“Di shab-e-wasl muazzin ne azan pichli raat,Haye kambakht ko kis wat khuda yaad aaya”What our beloved ‘Ghalib’ says, let’s enjoy this:“Hum ko maloom hai jannat ki haqeeqat lekin.Dil ko khush rakhne ko Ghalib ye khayal achcha hai”Going forward he says:“Kahan maikhane ka darwaza Ghalib aur kahan waize,Par itna jante hain, kal woh jata tha ki hum nikale”People who are cognizant of the art and nuances of poetry know that in poetry words are not used to stress their literal meaning. Poetry is a parlance of metaphors, similes and symbols. In Urdu poetry, ‘maikhana, butkhana, haram, waize, shekh, mohtasib, muazzin, qafas- all these words are symbolic. Taking succour of these symbols, poets try to highlight the evils of our society. Hence, inferring meaning of any poetry with religious lens must be bonkers and uncouth. One would never enjoy and grasp the real understanding of a particular verse. Inimitable ‘Madhushala’ says:“Bair badhate mandir – masjid, mail karati madhushala”By any chance, can we conclude that these lines from Poet Bachchan’s Madhushala are hurting communal sentiments?“Kankar-patthar jori ke masjid lai banaye,Ta chadhi mulla bang de, ka bahera bhaya khudaye”Has anyone ever issued any fatwa against Kabir after listening to this couplet? Never! because here Kabir wants to highlight hypocrisy and pageantry of our society. People also understood this couplet with the same spirit and appreciated it. We need to be meticulous, whenever we read and try to interpret the creative work of any artist especially poets. We should scan the writings in the background of her/his ideology, thought process and lifestyle. As far as Faiz is concerned, he was a practising communist and almost an atheist. In fact, he was a deeply secular person, a recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize and was much maligned by the extremist elements in Pakistan. Therefore, it is tragic to even think that the poetry of such a great poet can be communal.I would like to conclude my point with the help of a few more examples. I vividly remember my interview with the renowned poet Dr. Suhail Ahmad Zaidi for a newspaper in the 1990s when he recited a beautiful sher, which I still remember:“Suhail sham dhal gayi, dukan apni badh gayi,Zara si roshni hai aur, hisab dekhta hoon main”There are four key words in this verse, ‘ Sham, Dukan, Roshni aur Hisab’ and all these four words are not used for their literal meanings here. ‘Sham’ is used for ‘Age’ and ‘Dukan’ indicates ‘life’ not any general store or shop. ‘Zara si roshani’ symbolizes that now the poet has become very old and ‘Hisab’ does not talk about balance sheet or accounts but showcases that now the poet is thinking in his remaining days of life about his good and bad deeds he did in the past.Here goes a very famous sher of ‘Momin’:“Shab jo masjid main ja phanse Momin,Raat kaati khuda-khuda karke”If we take literal meanings of the words that Momin used to deliver this sher, then from religious point of view, it would be a very objectionable verse. But, even today, ‘Momin’ is very dear to all. This is because, in this verse, the poet does not say that he offered prayers throughout the night. By Khuda-Khuda karke’ he gives us an inkling of how horrible that night was for him there to pass.There is another popular sher by Mir:“Ishq, ek bhari patthar hai,Kab ye tujh natawan se udhta hai”It is clear that through this verse, Mir wants to convey that love is not an easy piece. Sher does not say that love is indeed a big heavy boulder! We have to understand that mostly in poetry words are not used for their literal meaning. If at all it is so, then it would become just a ‘statement of facts’, not classic poetry.Well, those acquainted with the depth of poetry are not carried away by the exact and literal meaning of a word or two but appreciate the figurative beauty that lies hidden in those words. In other words, an appreciative ear goes after the poetry’s quintessence—the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form. Hence, before tampering with poetry, those, not sensitive enough to understand the core idea of a verse, should first seek clarification from those who understand poetry instead of jumping to hasty, provocative conclusions. Once this realization dawns upon them and broadens their vision, they will realize that all the furore created by them was much ado about nothing.I am also reminded of the fact that Faiz and Firaq Gorakhpuri were fast friends. We know how outspoken and popular Firaq was. He spared none. Even the audience in Pakistan heard him with awe and admiration when he lashed out at them in a poetic get-together. Firaq spared neither politicians nor bureaucrats. Had he been alive today, he would probably have bombarded Faiz’s critics with such fiery words as to leave them dumb and stunned – as if they had been struck by a thunderbolt. For all that we know, Firaq might as well have said: ‘Folks, don’t murder poetry’.