Faiz Ahmed Faiz: A true South Asian


Faiz Ahmed Faiz

The Shaheen Baghs that sprang up all over India in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act reclaimed Faiz Ahmed Faiz as truly one of us, a fighter against oppression, bigotry, poverty, destitution and imperialism.

This is not the first time that champions of liberty in India have sung the verses of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Although born in Sialkot (now in Pakistan), as was Iqbal, Faiz acquired a huge following all over the subcontinent well before the tragic partition of India. Nearly half a century ago, during the Emergency, political prisoners in India’s jails found inspiration in his poem. It is all too appropriate that the protesters opposed to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) should chant Faiz.

One of the most insightful comments on Faiz has come from a public intellectual of world class whom India has produced, Professor Amartya Sen. In an interview to the Kolkata daily The Telegraph on Republic Day this year, he referred to the wave of protests that have swept across the country in these terms: “And that is the context in which Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s beautiful song, Hum Dekhenge, became such a positive thought. What is the point of that idea? Faiz is saying a different day will come. Don’t assume that any nasty thing that you can do now—and you can do it with impunity—would never be brought into reclaiming. The fearlessness of the authoritarian rulers makes them ruthless, and that has to be challenged. It is in this context, among others, that Faiz’s simple poem Hum Dekhenge becomes very important. It’s the cry of the underpowered, who is getting strength from an attitudinal change. Faiz, with his usual range, even brought into the poem a touch of religion, nothing exclusively Islam (as it has sometimes been wrongly interpreted). The idea of the good triumphing over evil and the evil acts being brought up for reckoning is not only a Muslim thought. It is also a Hindu thought, also a Parsi thought, also a Christian or Sikh thought. And it can also be the thought of an atheist.… It is a universal thought. Hum Dekhenge is a reminder to all potentially ruthless rulers.”

Faiz and Iqbal were the greatest poets in Urdu that India produced in the 20th century. Iqbal was a poet-philosopher. Faiz was a poet-ideologue, the pride of the Left. It is not well known that Iqbal drank deep at the fount of Hindu philosophy and wrote a moving poem on Swami Ram Tirth, on his death.

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