Faiz Ahmed Faiz: From home to the world


Art by Khuda Bux Abro

Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s internationalist vision was based on working-class movements and the struggles of colonised peoples everywhere.

This period of Third World solidarity saw the Progressives composing poems on issues such as the struggles of Iranian students in 1959, the McCarthy era of repression of dissent in the United States, the European student uprisings in the 1960s, the Algerian freedom movement, the Palestinian struggle and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Faiz weighed in on a variety of global debates of the time, but with a lyricism that was unmatched. When Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed in 1953 by the US government on the charge of being Soviet spies, Faiz was inspired to write a poem. But rather than write it as a protest against the injustice, he framed it as a lyrical tribute to their love, as they stubbornly refused to betray each other despite inducements, threats, incarceration, and ultimately, execution. His tribute is heartbreakingly titled Hum jo tareek raahon mein maare gaye (We who were executed on dark highways). Here is an excerpt:

Tere honton ke phoolon ki chaahat mein hum
Daar ki khushk tahni pe vaare gaye
Tere haathon ki shammom ki hasrat mein hum
Neem-tareek raahon mein maare gaye…
Jab ghuli teri raahon mein shaam-e sitam
Hum chale aaye laaye jahaañ tak qadam
Lab pe harf-e ghazal, dil meiñ qandeel-e-gham
Apna gham tha gavaahi tere husn ki
Dekh khaayam rahe is gavaahi pe hum
Hum jo tareek raahon mein maare gaye

In the desire for the flowers that were your lips
We were sacrificed on the dry branch of the scaffold
In the yearning for the light of your hands
We were killed in the darkening streets…
As the evening of tyranny dissolved in your memory
We walked on as far as our feet could carry us
A song on our lips, a lamp of sadness in our heart
Our grief bore witness to our love for your beauty
Look, we remained true to that love
We, who were executed in the dark lanes.

Himal for more

(Thanks to Robin Khundkar)

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