Recently, a friend forwarded me a request on Twitter from someone in New York. This gentleman had recently read my Faiz biography Love and Revolution: Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the authorized biography and wanted to know about the “ten missing verses from Faiz’s collection (sic) Sar-e Wadi-e Sina”. I had written about the missing verses from the poem by the same name but this was the first time someone had actually taken the trouble to ask about it.
In fact, there are two instances in Faiz’s kulliyat (collected works) Nuskha Hai Wafa where a poem was censored by his publisher, each time without Faiz’s knowledge or consent. The more commonly known poem is ‘W’Yabqa wajhu rabbika’, Faiz’s only poem named after a Quranic verse (the name is from Surah Rahman). It is more commonly known as ‘Hum dekhen gay’ and was immortalised by the late Iqbal Bano who famously sang it at a Faiz mela in the late 1980s to a raucous cheering crowd at Lahore’s Alhamra Arts Council in the waning days of the Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship. That poem is missing one shair of two misras. It is from Faiz’s collection Mere Dil Mere Musafir.
In this poem, after the verse jo ghaaib bhi hai haazir bhi/jo manzar bhi hai naazir bhi comes the verse:
Uthay ga an’al haq ka na’ara/jo main bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho
And then the last verse:
Aur raj karay gi khalq-e khuda, jo main bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho
It is perhaps, not a surprise that the aforementioned verse was deleted from the poem by Faiz’s Lahore publishers, Maktaba-e Karwan. An’al Haq (I am Truth) of course, was the cry of famed Persian mystic Mansur Al-Hallaj indicating the ultimate Sufi goal of annihilation of the self into the Divine. Some, though, saw it as a claim to divinity and Mansur was declared a heretic and executed. His story has since been immortalised in poetry and literature and he has been held up as a rebel as well as a reformer. It is understandable then, that this verse, celebrating Mansur, was excised by Faiz’s nervous publisher during the Zia dictatorship but sadly it has never been restored although it is present in the limited edition collection of Faiz’s complete works published in London in 1983 titled Saaray Sukhan Hamaray.
Less well-known is the deletion of an entire one third of Faiz’s poem celebrating the Palestinian struggle named ‘Sar-e Wadi-e Sina’ in the collection of the same name. Faiz almost named the collection ‘Lahoo ka suragh’ after another poem but was dissuaded when someone pointed out that ‘Lahoo ka suragh’ sounded like a bad detective novel (an anecdote I related in my Faiz biography). This poem, full of fire and fury, goes like this:
This is supposedly the complete poem in ‘Nuskha Hai Wafa’ but in fact, a full one-third of the poem is missing. Faiz read this poem in public in 1970 at a Kissan conference in Toba Tek Singh organised by (then) East Pakistan’s National Awami Party (Bhashani group). Those were the heady days of revolution in Pakistan. Military dictator Ayub Khan had been overthrown by a popular revolt and a young firebrand by the name of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the most popular political leader in West Pakistan. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party was an enthusiastic participant in the conference and also in the audience was the Red Maulana Bhashani himself. In fact, by some accounts, the ten verses later expunged from the poem were the most popular in the poem with many people committing them to memory and reciting them repeatedly.
Reading the verses, it’s hard not to be struck by their power and also easy enough to see what those in power and their religious allies found objectionable. They went like this:
Faiz’s use of words like noor-e saiqal (burnished light), a sahifa (book) descending from the heavens, harf-e lam yazal (the eternal word), aleem and khabeer (omniscient/the aware-both God’s names), basheer (Messenger of good tidings, bringer of good news) and nazeer (the one who warns), both titles of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) raised religious hackles and calls for both the poem and the poet to be censured and punished for blasphemy (a word that did not yet carry the lethal implications it does today).
Faiz’s Lahore publisher, Maktaba-e Karwan requested that Faiz remove this poem from his published collection. Faiz refused and gave his collection to Karachi’s Maktaba-e Daniyal. He also published his next collection Mere Dil Mere Musafir with Maktaba-e Daniyal and to this day, the same publisher has continued to publish those collections. In 1982-3, when Faiz decided to publish his collected works under the title of Nuskha Hai Wafa, Maktaba-e Karwan again approached Faiz and asked that they be allowed to publish it. Faiz agreed. When the first copies of the collection came out though, the aforementioned 10 verses had been excised from the poem. Faiz was in Moscow at the time and when informed by friends of this, expressed his surprise since the poem had been complete when he had examined and approved the final proofs. Subsequently, in his typical fashion, he forgot about it and the subject never came up again.
To this day, these 10 beautiful verses (plus the single shair mentioned earlier from the other poem) remain missing from Faiz’s collected works.
It has now been more than 30 years since Faiz died. As with all revolutionary or radical figures, his poetry has gradually become more acceptable and mainstream and is now freely quoted and sung in schools and colleges all over the country. Some poems are even part of school and university syllabi, something which was unthinkable just two or three decades ago. Politicians of both the left and right and even some religious leaders quote Faiz’s verses to suit their message.
Perhaps it is time to return the missing verses to their rightful places and let the readers judge for themselves what the poet meant when he wrote:
Ab sadiyon k iqrar-e itayat ko badalnay/laazim hai k inkaar ka farmaan koi utrayy.