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The man called Faiz

A new biography of the poet addressing some tough questions with sobriety

The man called Faiz

Love and Revolution by Ali Madeeh Hashmi had been labelled as an authorised biography of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Usually, an authorised biography is one that has the blessings of the person on whose life it is being written. This can either be based on an interview or a series of interviews given with the intention of penning it down, the final draft then carrying the approval of the person. Though not an autobiography, it gets as close to it as can be.

So it was a little strange that a biography by the maternal grandson has been classified as an authorised biography, especially since Faiz Ahmed Faiz passed away more than thirty years ago. Ali Madeeh Hashmi must have been too young, probably in his pre-teens to know about the life and works of the person. At best, it must be consisting of a few memories that every grandson has about the grandfather.

In the flap, however, an explanation has been given as to why the book has been called an authorised biography. It had been authorised by the family of the poet, also because it was to be seen as the official version of his life as approved by the Faiz Foundation Trust.

Mercifully, the difference between the official version and ones that may not be is not large because Faiz had very little to hide. Usually the lives of public figures who seemed to have suffered a plenty for their point of view are viewed with great deal of heroism and cast in the mould of an unflinching, unbending individual, totally constant. But is it really so?

The best thing about this biography is that Faiz is seen in the light of a normal individual who feared for his life, the safety of his wife and the well-being of his daughters. He was concerned about other relationships too — like that of his mother, brothers, father and sisters. Surrounded by apprehensions and fears, he still decided not to be cowed down and resisted the temptation of doing so.

It is hard to say that there is much that is new in the biography but perhaps some additional information, especially about the family of Faiz and the family of Alys, the wife of Faiz, has probably not been published before. The family of Faiz, his father Sultan Muhammed’s early days, his various professions and interests and his immediate family is also new. The relationships with people in his times like Allama Iqbal, his warmth and then his sudden death (Faiz got admission to the Government College on the recommendation of Iqbal) are also a part of this biography.

Faiz was above all a poet, a creative individual, who assessed everything in life against the perception of beauty and aesthetics, and all his politics and other contribution flowed from this core of his sensibility.

Included in the volume are some photographs which probably have never been seen before. Similarly, very few people know about the life and family of Alys Faiz and, not surprisingly because she was British and married an Indian Muslim, as indeed her elder sister by marrying M. D. Taseer. It must have been an unusual step to say goodbye to their native land and become daughters of the soil here. Though she braved all the storms, the slings and arrows without flinching which were quite commendable but, as quoted in a remark of her elder daughter Salima Hashmi, she advised her not to marry someone outside her culture.

Some sore points have been addressed in the book and have not been shied away with. One was as to why Faiz agreed to meet Ziaul Haq before permanently returning to Pakistan just before his death. This has been seen by many as a sign of compromise. The second was as to why Faiz did not write in his mother tongue which was Punjabi rather than Urdu, for he always spoke for the fundamental rights of the people and the most fundamental of them is the right to use your own language. The third was why was Faiz given a burial according to religious rites for he was not really enamoured of the ritualistic side of religion.

Faiz AhmadFaiz

All these questioned have been handled with a great deal of sobriety without the bravado which has ruled most of our mannerism, if it happens to be contrary to mainstream belief and religious practice. Faiz himself expressed his inability to express in Punjabi in the light of the great poets that had preceded him in the language like Waris Shah and Bulleh Shah. Faiz was old and tired of resistance and wanted to live the last days die in his own country from which he had exiled himself in protest. As a person he did not take on enemies where he found none; he opted for the policy of least resistance and did not ruffle feathers unnecessarily. His being buried like a conventional Muslim should have been a non-issue because he never said that he should be buried any differently.

There was little that Faiz had to hide and, as he himself said, he attracted accusations and confessed to failings but none that caused shame and embarrassment. No great compromises, no startling sell-outs and at the same time no desire to build him as a colossus that challenged the gods. There might be some lack of diffidence where his relationships with women were concerned but then it was also a sign of courage because usually personal or romantic relationship of public figures, including poets and artists, are whitewashed.

Faiz was above all a poet, a creative individual, who assessed everything in life against the perception of beauty and aesthetics, and all his politics and other contribution flowed from this core of his sensibility. It was a unified vision that he upheld and it was in fragments that people or outsiders saw his life. He was foremost a poet and the various references to his poetry in the volume are either in relation to the events in his life or the particularity of his circumstances. There should have been a more sensitive approach to his poetry, assessed in the light of the artistic canons that he first helped foster and then lived up to. 

(The book is available at Liberty Books)

Love and Revolution
A biography of Faiz
Author: Ali Madeeh Hashmi
Publisher: Rupa Publications India, 2016
Pages: 301
Price: Rs595 (INR)

Sarwat Ali

sarwatali
The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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