Why Faiz must be read today more than ever

Why Faiz must be read today more than ever
Faiz Ahmed Faiz

A new translation of selected poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, The Colours of My Heart (Penguin Random House) by Baran Farooqi, shows how his poetry remains relevant in every age and why we need it today more than ever before 

Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1912-1984), the illustrious poet of the Indian subcontinent, lives on. In his poems and ghazals. In his immortal turns of phrases. In the abiding beauty of his imagery. In the tonnes of tomes on his poetry, life and times. A new translation of his selected poems, The Colours of My Heart (Penguin Random House), translated by Baran Farooqi, gives a glimpse into the genius of Faiz, "the music of his verse and its rich imagery".

Over the years, Faiz’s poetry has been the toast of artistes — poets have sung their praises in awe of his craft, singers have sung his nazms and ghazals with incredible zeal, songwriters have appropriated his words, drawn inspiration from. These artistes include Iqbal Bano, the Pakistani singer whose Ham Dekhenge, a rendition of a poem by Faiz, can convince you about the inevitability of the fall of the evil: the law of nature has to run its own course and we all meet our destined end; the ruler, no matter how tyrannical, will meet his end too. 
The legend of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and the rich legacy of his oeuvre will continue to inspire millions in every millennium. However, it is in the dark times such as today that his poetry resonates more. In the times we are living in, the poetry of Faiz holds out a hope. “Today, when the word is in danger at the hands of the demagogue, the traducer of the reality of loneliness and pain, when the dignity of individual is at stake and the freedom of speech much at the risk of becoming an obsolete concept, we need the poetry of Faiz more than ever before,” writes Baran Farooqi in her introduction to the collection. 
Analysing how Faiz became a legend in his lifetime, Farooqi writes that the reasons for this were:

a) his image as a revolutionary who had an aristocratic background.

b) the circumstances of his political life  (he was imprisoned twice for his political acts and beliefs and went into self-exile later); 

c) his personal charm and his refusal to be dragged into controversies or even reply to his critics (of whom there were many to begin with, especially in the so-called ‘classical’ camp)

d) the music of his verse and its rich imagery which was not only evocative of Urdu poetry’s resplendent and much-admired premodern idiom, but which also still sounded contemporary and relevant

e) his melancholy voice which was never devoid of undertones of hope and promise. 

"As his reputation grew, so did his image, so much so that it almost became larger than life. And its lustre contin-ues to dazzle us long after his death in 1984," writes Farooqi. 

"Just as Ghalib became the mirror of the tumultuous changes occurring in India with the decline and fall of the Mughal empire and the ascendancy of the British, Faiz became the voice of his era with the rise of socialism and the cataclysms of the First and Second World Wars and all they entailed,” wrote Ali Madeeh Hashmi  
in Love and Revolution, Faiz Ahmed Faiz:  The Authorized Biographypublished by Rupa Publications India last year. 

While critics often hailed him, Faiz largely avoided reading critical works about his poetry. “These professional critics are like sleuths, who pry into your private emotions, often saying things they don’t mean. They write about others just to feed their own ego. Let me tell you that I often avoid reading any literary criticism of my work,” Faiz had told Professor Shiv K Kumar in an interaction in 1979 in Hyderbad. 

In his introduction to his translation of Faiz's poetry, The Best of Faiz (Random House, 2013), Professor Shiv K. Kumar, who was the guiding light behind The Punch Magazine's earlier avatar, The Byword, wrote: "Faiz's all-embracing poetic vision is like a mighty river that carries in its sweep countless tributaries. Faiz denies no experience, excludes nothing, to project reality in all its baffling complexity. He is a poet of many moods, and his work is a mosaic of diverse concerns — of classicism and modernity, of political commitment and romantic love, of affirmation and denial.”
Farooqi, whose translation is a worthy addition to the tomes on Faiz's poetry in translation, writes that Faiz stood for the dignity of man, the holiness of pain, the constructive power of the word and the sanctity of individual belief. “He will always be needed, and that is his triumph and our tragedy,” writes Farooqi.  

Faiz is a poet of all seasons. But his poetry gives us a perspective and resonates with us more in darker times.   

The Colours of My Heart: Selected Poems
Penguin Books/Penguin Random House India
Translated by Baran Farooqi
Rs 499, pp. 192

A Few Days More, My Love

A few days more, my love, just a few days
Breathing the air under the shadow of tyranny
Suffering cruelty, injustice, weeping some more
We are doomed, crippled by our inheritance
With caged bodies and chained emotions
Imprisoned are our thoughts, and utterances censored
Just staying alive speaks of our courage
Is life nothing but the tattered gown of a
poverty-stricken man
On which is added every moment a new patch of pain?
But tyranny’s term is now due to depart
A little more forbearance, and our days of
complaint are numbered
In this scorched wilderness of time’s desert
We have to live, but no longer the same
We may have to put up with the heavy, nameless
tyranny of alien hands
Today, but not forever
Misfortune’s dust clings to your radiant body
Witnesses to youth that lasted but a day or two
The futile smouldering pain of moonlit nights
The ineffectual throb of the heart, the call of the
despairing body
A few days more, my love, just a few days


Speak, for your lips are free
Speak, for your tongue is still yours
Your upright body belongs to you
Speak, for your soul still is yours
Look, how in the blacksmith’s shop
The embers are hot, the iron glows
The mouths of the locks are being opened
Chains lengthen their reach
Speak, for the little time that you have is sufficient
Before the death of body and tongue
Speak, for the truth still lives
Speak, say all that is to be said

My Companion, My Friend

If I was sure, my companion, my friend
If I was sure the weariness in your heart
The sadness in your eyes and the burning in your breast
Can be dispelled by my comforting words, my love
Were my words of solace a medic which
could bring back to life your desolate and extinguished mind
Washing away the stain of humiliation from your forehead
and cure your ailing youth
If I was sure, my companion, my friend
Day through night, morning through evening
I would spend whiling away your pain
Singing to you light, melodious songs
Of spring, gardens and waterfalls
Of sunrise, of the moon and the planets
I would tell you tales of beauty and love
I’d tell you how
Unresponsive bodies of proud, snow-moulded women
Melt under the heat of passionate hands
How the stable contours of a familiar face
Change shape in an instant
How the crystal-bright visage of a beloved
Flushes red with a sip of the ruby red wine
How the rose branch offers itself to the flower-picker
How the night’s mansion becomes fragrant
I would sing to you, go on singing for you
Weaving songs for you, always around you
But my songs are not the cure for your grief
Melodies may not be surgeons, though they
can be friends and sympathizers
Songs may not be lancets, though
They can be a salve for pain at least
There’s no help for your affliction but the knife
And that cruel blood-letter is not in my power
Not in any earthly being’s power
Except you yourself, you, only you

Ghazal: Let There Be Some Clouds,
Let There Be Some Wine 

Let there be some clouds, let there be some wine
After this let there be whatever punishment there may be
Let the moon come down from the decanter’s balcony
And the sun shine in the hand of the cup-bearer
Let every vein in the body light up like fire
Let the beloved appear unveiled once again
On every page of life the heart saw inscribed
Chapters of your love and fidelity
I was taking count of life’s sorrows today
Your memories flooded my mind uncountably
The sovereignty of love’s sorrows never went away
Though the heart witnessed revolutions every day!
The pillars and arches of the rival’s assembly
burst into flame
Whenever the homeless like us happened to arrive there
My silence echoed everywhere so
As if every direction were in response
Every road, every path was the destination, Faiz
We arrived successful wherever we reached

The Colours of My Heart

Before you had come, everything was just what it is now
The sky endless, the road a road
the wine glass a wine glass
And now: wine glass, road, the sky’s hue
Have all become the colour of my heart
until the liver’s crushed into blood
The colour of the champak flower
and occasionally the hue of the joy of seeing you
Occasionally the steel grey that’s the shade
of tedium
The colour of yellowed leaves, of brambles and twigs
Crimson red flowers, the colour of a flaming garden
The colour of poison, of blood and of the black night
Sky, road, wine glass
The soaked hem of a garment, a throbbing nerve
A looking glass constantly changing
Now that you have come, stay
so that some colour, some season, some entity
Should stay in place
One more time everything become just what it really is
The sky endless, the road a road
the wine glass a wine glass

Do What You  Must Do

Now why talk of the day
When the heart will be shattered
And all kinds of sorrow will be no more
Whatever was gained would be lost
And we’ll get what we never could get?
This day is that very first day—
The first day of love
The day we always longed for
And whose advent we always dreaded
Numerous are the times when this day came
We were settled a hundred times, plundered
a hundred times
Sacked, and compensated a hundred times
Why worry now about the day
When the heart will be shattered
And all kinds of sorrow will be no more?
Pass by anxious thoughts and fears
Que sera sera—
If it’s to be laughter, then laughter it’ll be
If it’s to be tears, then tears it’ll be
Do what you must do
Whatever happens, we’ll see how it goes

(Excerpts from The Colours of My Heart: Selected Poems by Baran Farooqi, with permission from Penguin Random House)

An interview with Baran Farooqi follows: 

Donate Now


*Comments will be moderated