Today, all Faiz lovers know Kala Kadir. Annual functions held in the village on the poet’s birth or death anniversary have introduced this village to literary and cultural circles.
However, till mid-1980s, it was an unknown village of Sialkot District. Narowal, then a tehsil headquarter for the village, and was 57 kilometres away from the district headquarter. Narowal town that is only three kilometres away from Pak-India border was hardly known to the rest of the province.
In Central Punjab, though, it was a familiar name due to an old folk song Gadi aye gadi aye Narowal dee.
On Sialkot-Pasrur-Shakargarh road, a few metres after crossing Zafarwal Chowk of Narowal town, a small road, lined with green trees had always enchanted me. So, one day in 1985, I asked my driver Nazir, where this road leads. “To village Kala Kadir. A poet’s family lived there,” he replied, then pausing, as if struggling to remember something, “Faiz, that was the name of the poet”.
Little was known about Faiz’s personal life back then since he was never fond of talking about himself. The newspapers, mostly hostile during the Zia period, portrayed him only as a Surkha (socialist), a Lenin Prize awarded poet and as someone who was convicted in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. Most accounts of his personal life were based on introductions written by Sajjad Zaheer and Major Ishaq in Zindan Nama.
In those days, time was not on Faiz’s side. After the non-party elections, a civilian government had come into power but General Zia actually ran the country. And, he was not a fan of Faiz. The evergreen Raja Zafar ul Haq of Rawalpindi, an opening batsman of Ziaul Haq’s team, was holding fort at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This is when ‘purification of thoughts and deeds’ was the declared objective of the government. Russians were in Afghanistan and Pakistan aligned with the US. No doubt, Faiz’s mention in the government-controlled media was rare.
So, my ignorance about Faiz’s connections with Narowal was not my fault.
The information provided by Nazir came in handy once when the same year deputy commissioner Sialkot Shahid Najam asked, “Did Faiz Ahmed Faiz belong to Narowal?”
I quickly replied, “Yes”.
He was impressed by my knowledge. He revealed that Anwar Khawaja, a leading industrialist of Sialkot, had donated some amount for the construction of a monument in memory of Faiz in Kala Kadir. “Are you ready to take up the project?” he asked.
I was more than happy.
Faiz’s cousin Chaudhary Nazir suggested we consult Alys Faiz about what to build in memory of the great poet. Alys wrote a letter to us and advised that we build a maternity hospital – because Faiz’s mother wanted a maternity hospital in the village. We were impressed by the vision of the ‘lady’ who was thinking about women’s welfare.
To construct the building with the available amount was an uphill task. But credit goes to Ch. Nazir and his young fellows who managed to build a small dispensary through community participation.
On the day of inauguration, Saleema Hashmi along with her colleague, Samina Ahmed, and a team of Lok Rahas, led by Huma Safdar, participated in the ceremony. Saleema represented Alys as chief guest at the village ceremony. A few chairs were collected from villagers and the ceremony commenced without a tent under the open sky — small and simple. On a small stage the drama team performed a Punjabi drama. The story, dialogue and performance of actors enthralled everyone present; whether they agreed with the theme was another story.
The Imam of Jamia Mosque thought the play would unnecessarily charge the crowd. But I politely reminded him that this was perhaps the purpose, that these plays represent public feelings and aspirations.
That was the beginning. Thereafter, functions in the memory of Faiz in Kala Kadir became an annual feature. PTV aired the functions where Faiz’s poem Hum Dehkain Gay emerged as a theme song. As a result, this poem now resonates in the collective conscious of youth — Hum Dekhain Gay, Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhein gay, Hum dekhain gay.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Kala Kadir was an unknown village till mid-1990s instead of 1980s. The error is regretted.