Reminiscing about Faiz
As soon as the literary festival was up, I got caught in the PIA strike fest.
I had left for Karachi eager to watch the literary festival sponsored by the British Council and the Oxford University Press. But when I wished to return there was just no way to do that.
PIA’s flights were suspended. I thought of leaving the city on board the old whistle-blowing train. But the trains today are worse than a bullock cart. The latter is slow but reliable the former is not to be trusted at all. There is no telling where and when it may be stopped and for how long. Several trains have been abolished. The remaining may be stopped any day. The railway seems to be in its death throes in the country.
As soon as the literary festival was up, I got caught in the PIA strike fest. The latter was hard on the passengers but in the end the striking protesters had their way. They were baton charged but won the case.
Hazrat Ali is reported to have said that when there is a quake whoever happens to be walking should stop and whoever is standing should sit down. I wish to advise frequent travellers that in times of momentous change it is best not to undertake a journey. Those in the middle of a journey should try to hasten whatever they wish to do and promptly return home. Whoever ignores this advice ignores it at his peril and is not unlikely to go through what I did.
I was at least paying for being away from home. To my surprise I saw several people in Karachi eager to board a plane. The Faiz Festival in Lahore was at hand and they were meant to be there. Asif Farrukhi told me his departure had been delayed by a day. Having given up on PIA, he said, he had reserved a seat on another flight. Zehra Nigah was uncertain all the while. “I don’t know,” she said, “if I will make it.”
Ahmed Shah, the Karachi Arts Council secretary, then came up with a wonderful idea; or maybe Fatima Hassan did. He arranged a dinner which quickly turned into quite a Faiz Festival. Zehra Nigah was there and while at a Karachi Arts Council function recently she had been so upset at the arrangements it became hard to calm her, here she was in a good mood. A reference to Faiz spurred her on. She held forth and it seemed that she was not going to stop until she had said everything she knew about Faiz, possibly since she was not sure if she was going to make it to Lahore in time to speak there. Hearing Zehra Nigah talk about Faiz is such a pleasure. You cannot stop smiling while she goes on.
Truth be told, the Faiz discourse these days has been dominated by his friends from London: Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi, Zehra Nigah, Iftikhar Arif. One should be grateful actually for Saqi Farooqi remains in London. The recent speeches make it sound as if Faiz had essentially lived his life in London and been to Lahore for only an insignificant period.
Iftikhar Arif, who set the ball rolling, possibly thought somebody was going to challenge his claim on Faiz and anticipated it by publishing Faiz’s letters to him.
But Faiz’s friends and admirers in Lahore too need to speak about him. Many who would be believed have passed away. But I think of Hameed Akhtar, the surviving spokesman of the Progressive Writers’ Movement. Let us hear it from him and be content.
*Translated from Urdu
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2011.