Faiz Ahmed Faiz must be the most celebrated of the Urdu poets in Pakistan after Iqbal.
The poets writing in languages like Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi and Pashto are also celebrated but in a different manner. Nearly all the great poets, especially in Punjab and Sindh, have been placed under the generic label of Sufis and their persons and contributions are celebrated and remembered by events organised around the shrine in a quasi religious manner. The day of death of all these poets becomes the rallying point called urs which literally means marriage. It is celebrated with singing, dancing and other rituals that may be associated with the poet or the shrine.
All famous poets like Shah Hussain, Bulleh Shah, Shah Lateef, Sachal Sarmast, Mast Tawakli, Shahbaz Qalandar, Waris Shah, Rahman Baba, Baba Fareed, Khushal Khan Khattak and Khawaja Fareed are remembered and eulogised in similar fashion across the length and breath of the region now called Pakistan. In other parts of the subcontinent similar occasions are also held where people gather and participate in large numbers.
But no such celebrations are allied to the Urdu poets. The manner of their remembrance is totally different in character and style. The organisers both in the public or the private sector hold seminars, papers are read, an odd mushaira may be conducted and formal discussion may also take place. In this day and age of the media’s ubiquitous coverage, programmes televised for the viewers are seen across the land. But it is rare that rituals that surround our more traditional poets are also practiced on the shrine of Urdu poets.
It is possible that the Urdu poets never had the following at the popular level which the poets writing in Pushto, Sindhi, Punjabi and Balochi did, or that the Urdu poets came at a later stage when the British colonisers were almost in total control of the subcontinent. The method and style of celebrating Urdu poets thus must have been laid down more on the lines of the celebration of the British/European poets — like holding of seminars, reading of papers and engaging in more formal discussions on the contribution and the personal qualities of the individual.
Iqbal, a popular poet even in his own lifetime, especially among the urban middle classes is considered even by his detractors to have broken new ground in formal poetical restructuring in Urdu based on a new sensibility different from that of the ghazal poets that preceded him. But he was lucky in a way that later, he was owned by the establishment of the new country, Pakistan.
So for Iqbal, whatever his popularity in the middle classes or among the masses, the state patronage has been principally responsible for casting him in the hagiographic mould and launching him into an above reproach super stardom in the post 1947 era. As often pointed out, hardly has there been a poet in the world who have had localities, housing societies, roads, buildings, institutions(not only of art and education) scholarships, fellowships, residential blocks, special occasions — call it what you may — named after him.
In many cases in order to duck charges of parochial or regional bias in the naming of an institution, the dice is cast in favour of a more neutral national figure like Iqbal.
Urs was celebrated on the day of the death of a person but now birthdays are celebrated rather than the day of death. For years Iqbal Day was observed on the day of his death, April 21; it was later, much later that the switch over took place and now the day of his birth, November 9, is celebrated nationally.
Similarly, the birthday of Faiz too is celebrated rather than his death as a symbolic gesture signifying the future rather than the past. One reason could be that when people are born no one knows whether they will become famous but when they die as famous individuals the dates are remembered. One does not know the date of birth of many famous people and it is only with suspicion and doubt that one accepts the birthday having been discovered through some obscure or highly mysterious source.
But since the very beginning, the birthday of Faiz has been celebrated, rather than his death and the programmes were spread over three days — the Faiz Foundation lecture or mushiara, a concert usually in the early years by Iqbal Bano and then Faiz Aman Mela which was supposed to be in a public venue where common people could also participate without any entrance charges.
The song and dance in the mela was of a more populist nature and the people felt free to sing, dance and eat more in the spirit of a traditional mela.
This year too many of the popular artistes took part in the mela like Arif Lohar, Taranum Naz, Rahat Multanikar, Waris Baig, Meena Sadaf, Sara Raza, Nida Faiz and Ahsan Rahi. There were also Jhummar and Bhangra groups that not only danced themselves but made the audience dance with them as well. Poetry by Khalid Javed Jan too was read out enlivened by his especially signature verse “main baghi hoon”.
Last week, a quaint concert was held to initiate the celebration by a group from Karachi Terz. It was a befitting beginning to the week long celebrations followed by the now familiar pair of Muhammed Farooqi and Danish Hussain performing in the newly build auditorium at the Beacon House University.
Faiz Aman Mela at the Open Air Bagh-e-Jinnah rounded off the programme.
Of all such progrmmes that have been held so far, none has been able to capture the spirit of the few earlier ones when the audience were on the edge of their seats during the superb performances of Iqbal Bano. She must have sung her most memorable numbers in those concerts not only based on the compositions of Faiz’s poetry but also of the other poets that she had sung earlier. There she sang them with greater purpose and involvement before a hugely appreciative audience.