Jab We Met: Faiz Ahmed Faiz and I
I was searching for some tangible memorabilia of my chance meeting with him in the winter of 1982, which would stand scrutiny. That took time, and alas, also ended in failure.Updated: Jan 16, 2020 23:45 IST
I’ve been late latching on to Faiz Ahmed Faiz this tumultuous season when his poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’ has become a clarion call for, and a metaphor of protests in universities and elsewhere across the country.
I was searching for some tangible memorabilia of my chance meeting with him in the winter of 1982, which would stand scrutiny. That took time, and alas, also ended in failure.
I’ve never been an autograph hunter, and 38 years back, there were no cell phones to make ‘selfies’ possible, so I’m afraid you’ll have to rely on my fading memory of the completely unexpected and – in hindsight – agonizingly brief encounter.
This happened at the office of the ‘Muslim’, an English daily, where I accompanied a Pakistani sports journalist to meet his editor. I was on my first international tour as a cricket writer, and meeting different people in a foreign country is always full of insights.
In the Muslim office, we were asked to wait outside the editor’s office as he was busy meeting someone else.
Also seated on the bench was a middle aged lady, distinctly European. The Pakistani journalist saw her and whispered excitedly in my ear, ``She is Alys Faiz, wife of Faiz Ahmed Faiz!’’
I had perfunctory interest in Urdu poetry then, but had heard of Faiz from a close friend in Bombay, the well-known poet Abdul Ahad Saaz, who regarded him very highly.
“Faiz is unique in writing on romance and rebellion, sometimes together,’’ Saaz had often told me. “Not in some childish manner, but with great depth of thought.’’
Faiz had come to Bombay a few times. Lahore had been the hub of the Progressive Writers Movement when it started. Post Partition, it gradually shifted to this city where some of the most illustrious from that movement resided: Kaifi Azmi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Ismat Chugtai, Chetan Anand among others.
Faiz would be in huge demand when he came to Bombay. But what he loved best, Saaz would say, was spending time on Marine Drive.
“He would take a long walk, chain smoking, oblivious to everything.’’
On the 1982 tour, I was reintroduced to Faiz by a music album of 12 of his poems sung by the dulcet voiced Nayyara Noor, having bought a cassette on the Lahore streets on that tour itself, to go with several others of Bollywood songs for a three-month long tour.
The album’s called ‘Nayyara Sings Faiz’ and includes some recitations by the poet himself. Khushwant Singh, who translated several of Faiz’s work, called it a masterpiece, as much for the poetry as Nayyara’s singing. Years later I heard that at a party during a cultural festival involving artists and writers from both countries, Faiz admonished Nayyara for getting into an argument with Khushwant Singh on the ever-contentious Indo-Pak relations.
When putting together an anthology on India’s 50 years of Independence in 1997 to which he also contributed, I asked Khushwant Singh about this. He smiled and waved away the question, saying let’s talk about Faiz.
“He was a communist but also an internationalist,’’ said Khushwant of Faiz.
“He spoke for the oppressed. He was provocative. Not by asking people to take to arms with thoughtless bravado, but standing up to atrocities with courage and resilience.’’
Let me here return to that cold December day in 1982 at the office of the Muslim in Lahore where the Pakistani journalist and I were seated on a bench, waiting for the editor to finish his meeting.
Shortly, a thickset, white-haired man with a slightly unsteady gait, presumably because of dodgy knees, emerged from the room with the editor.
He seemed diffident to the world, but had a magnetic presence.
Aly Faiz rose from the bench and walked towards the man, holding him by the arm. While the two were walking out of the office, somebody stopped them and introduced us.
After brief handshakes, both hobbled out.
Curious to know the reason for Faiz’s visit, I asked around. Someone said, “He’s only just returned from exile, does some writing for The Muslim and had come to collect his cheque.’’ If memory serves me right, it was for