Faiz Ahmed Faiz would have turned 102 years old yesterday.
In his absence, the world has changed. Pakistan has changed. And yet, his memory remains a constant amongst the people.
Those close to him remember him as a multi-faceted man who became the voice of a generation through the power of his poetry and his political ideals.
His grandson Ali Hashmi, a psychologist, was around 16 years old when Faiz passed away.
“He loved people, he was quite talkative and I, for one, never saw him angry,” he said.
While growing up, Ali observed Faiz as a busy man of many interests who was always on the move. Although particularly interested in literature and poetry, Faiz also dabbled in writing a screenplay for a film about Bengali fishermen Jaga Hua Savera, which was released in 1958.
He was surrounded by a circle of admirers almost all the time, and there was always something happening at his house.
Drawing up more old memories, Ali recounted a time when Faiz had helped him understand Iqbal’s works. “We spent quite some time trying to learn Iqbal’s poems. My grandfather was actually very critical of Iqbal’s Pan-Islamism,” he said.
Today, Ali tries to keep his grandfather’s legacy alive by doing what he can. In fact, recently he transcribed a series of rare interviews that provided a unique insight into Faiz’s personality.
Faiz’s daughter, Moneeza Hashmi, agreed with most of what Ali said but also added that although the poet was always encircled by admirers, he would often detach himself from the social setting and be lost in his own world. “I remember he would sit in a room surrounded by people, all the while thinking about something else as he twirled his cigarette,” she said.
Even now, in moments of despair, Moneeza said she draws strength from her father’s uncanny optimism.
“He had this positive attitude that was so comforting. That this, too, would pass. He could reassure anyone,” she said.
This very optimism and resilience is illustrated in the published correspondence between Faiz and his wife, Alys.
IA Rehman, who worked alongside Faiz during the 1950s and 1960s, while he was at Pakistan Times, recalled Faiz as a complex but compassionate individual, and a great leader.
“Faiz was a difficult person to understand, and I really believe we only got to see too little of him,” said Rehman. “
According to him, Faiz tried to create complete a newspaper which placed adequate emphasis on culture and film. He then went on to found the Al Hamra Arts Council, which became a premier art institute for the public.
“He was one of those people who could accurately assess someone’s strengths and weaknesses, which meant that he tried to get the best out of everyone. He would always listen, and also help the younger people with their development,” said Rehman. “Overall, he had a vision, and made a very positive impact on Pakistan.”
Even across border, Faiz’s memory remains untainted. Veteran Indian activist and writer Kuldip Nayar said, “Faiz remains a beacon of light and his poem, ‘Hum Dekhenge’, shines in every dark nook and corner of the world where oppression prevails. Even in India where democracy is well entrenched, victims of oppression and poverty cry in their own way, in their own language ‘hum dekhenge.’
The Faiz Ghar will be hosting ‘Rendering letters between Faiz and Alys’ on Thursday and Friday with Indian performers Banwari Taneja and Salim Raza at the Al Hamra Arts Complex.
Additionally, on Sunday, the Faiz Amn Mela committee and the Awami Workers Party will hold the annual Faiz Amn Mela, which started in 1986 to commemorate the beloved poet. It will include performances by Jawad Ahmed and other local entertainers.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2013.