Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui
(This story has been published from The Quint’s archives to mark Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s birth anniversary on 13 February.)
Dr Ali Madeeh Hashmi is a psychiatrist by profession even as poetry runs in his genes. Being Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s grandson, it’s only laazim that Dr Hashmi is also an author of two books and numerous articles, including an authoritative biography of the poet. Amidst the storm around Faiz’s poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’ in India, complete with the constitution of an IIT committee to judge the verse, The Quint spoke to Dr Hashmi about Faiz’s life, poetry and wit.
Below is a select excerpt from the interview.
What do you think about the ‘Hum Dekhenge’ controversy in India?
Most of us were surprised in India and Pakistan. We were amused, we thought it was rather funny because it is rather silly to take words out of context out of a poem and then make an issue out of that. But I think one should be careful that one doesn’t dismiss it as only fun because the idea behind it is dangerous and the idea behind it is that art and dissent and all ideas which challenge the prevailing status quo should somehow be censored they should be stopped, people should not be allowed to hear them.
Not at all surprising that some people in India are finding it offensive although they are using rather silly arguments in favour of their banning the poem, which don’t really make any sense. But I think the reason that it stirs up rulers and establishments in countries is because of the imagery of the poem ‘When the thrones will be brought down, When the crowns will be tossed. And then god’s creation will rule, which is I, as well as you.’ So it’s very rousing, it inspires people to overthrow corrupt governments – tyrannical governments. I think it would apply to really any country not just India or Pakistan, but many countries today like Egypt, Brazil under Bolsonaro.
Pakistan has also responded to Faiz’s poetry in a ridiculous fashion. Would you like to share incidents where Faiz has been a victim of censorship? For example, Coke Studio season 11 excised some crucial lines from ‘Hum Dekhenge’.
One of the lines from ‘Hum Dekhenge’, “Utthega an-al-haq ka nara” has more or less been permanently deleted from Faiz sahab’s collected works in Pakistan. And that was his publisher’s decision, he (Faiz) was opposed to that. But there is another story many people may not be aware that there is a whole stanza in his poem titled ‘Sar-e Wadi-e Sina’ which is missing. It’s a whole stanza written in support of the Palestinian struggle. I wrote an article on it and I kept the title of it ‘The Mystery of Faiz’s Missing Verses’.
Do you feel that in South Asia, religious identities are so strong that the metaphors that work the best are only religious? Like Ram Rajya in India and Kaaba in Pakistan.... Why else would Faiz use an essentially religious imagery for a people’s awakening?
I think religious imagery is something that has been commonly used in the poetry of the Indo-Pak subcontinent because religion is something that has been with mankind since the very beginning and so in our part of the world it’s very easy to get your message across if you frame it through a religious lens. It can be dangerous; it can be misused. Obviously, the religion itself can be misused it has been misused, it is being misused but I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong in using religious imagery. If it is used in the service of noble ideals, then it’s perfectly okay. One just has to make a distinction between what the use of that imagery is for.
So, Faiz did use a lot of religious imagery in many of his poems not just in the poem which is under attack but in other poems also. He was well-read in not just Islam but many other religions. He was well aware of the impact and of religious symbolism and how it affected people’s hearts and their minds and so he used that in his poetry and in his ideas.
Listen to the full interview here:
What is your favourite family anecdote about Faiz?
There is one anecdote that I particularly enjoy. I think I have written about it somewhere. It is from the 60s or 70s and Faiz was at a gathering. He had a distinct way of reciting his poetry. If you have seen on YouTube, he recites in a laidback style. There was a guy who didn’t like Faiz sahab’s style of reciting so he went to Faiz sahib and said, “Faiz Sahab you write so well it is such a beautiful poem but your style of reciting is not good. Please take voice lessons.”
Faiz Sahab had a cigarette in his hand all the time and he wouldn’t usually speak much. So he heard the man’s thoughts and when he had finished talking, Faiz Sahab, in his usual style, took a drag of the cigarette, turned towards the man and said, “Should I only do everything?”
Does Pakistan have an equivalent Indian poet/writer that’s quoted/cited often by dissenters?
Poets don’t belong to one country. Poets belong to all of humankind. Poets belong to the entire world. So, basic premise of the argument that a poet is Pakistani or Indian or American or British is flawed to begin with. But to answer your question, one poet that comes immediately to mind is Bismil Azimabadi of Patna who wrote ‘sarfaroshi ki tamannah ab humare dil mein hai’. You must have seen in the recent Faiz festival in Lahore in November a group of students from Lahore were chanting the poem raising awareness for the students solidarity march. And that video of students chanting the poem become very controversial in Pakistan.
But there are many other poets that are read in Pakistan, admired in Pakistan. Josh Malihabadi, Kaifi Azmi, Javed Akhtar, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Majaaz all of these poets are read in Pakistan, admired in Pakistan, recited in Pakistan.
What is your favourite couplet, ghazal from your grandfather’s repertoire? Would you like to recite it for us?
There are a lot of poems that I like of Faiz sahib. I will recite one of them which I learnt by heart as a child. This was written by Faiz sahib in the early 60s during Ayub Khan’s military dictatorship—Pakistan’s first military dictatorship.
Ayub Khan thought that elections must be held in order to legitimise the military dictatorship just like any other military dictator. Against him, Fatima Jinnah, sister of ‘Qaid’ Muhammad Ali Jinnah—she decided to fight the elections.
Ayub Khan was scared of her because Fatima Jinnah had her own personality and because of her family tradition. In one of Fatima Jinnah’s rallies, Ayub Khan’s son Gauhar Ayub along with some goons attacked the followers. They beat up some people, some were killed, some were injured and after that Fatima ji lost the elections.
Faiz sahib wrote a poem in remembrance of the people who got injured or who died during this incident.
(Recites Faiz’s famous poem ‘Lahu ka Suraagh’ which highlights how state-sponsored violence can be easily hushed upand no proof is allowed to emerge that can incriminate the rulers.)