Celebrating Faiz Ahmad Faiz and the spirit of Hum Dekhenge in today’s times

Zia ul Haq, after a coup against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1977, was ruling Pakistan. He was a religious fundamentalist, ruling the country with an iron-fist.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the revolutionary Urdu poet, who wrote, among his other legendary poems,(HT Archives)
Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the revolutionary Urdu poet, who wrote, among his other legendary poems,(HT Archives)
Updated on Jan 04, 2020 04:20 PM IST
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ByJaved Akhtar

The ignorance shown by some people, even in a prestigious institution like Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, over Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poetry surprises me. It’s quite obvious that they don’t know Urdu, the language in which Faiz composed his poetry; they don’t know the tradition of poetry; they don’t know anything about the poet; and they have no idea of the circumstances under which he wrote Hum Dekhenge, the poem at the centre of controversy.

Zia ul Haq, after a coup against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1977, was ruling Pakistan. He was a religious fundamentalist, ruling the country with an iron-fist. The poem was an act of resistance against the fundamentalist and Talibanised regime of Zia ul Haq. He had banned the sari, and in defiance, Iqbal Bano wore black sari and sang the anti-Zia regime poem to a crowd of perhaps a lakh, shouting Inquilab Zindabad.

To say that this poem is anti-Hindu is like saying the man who banned the poem, Zia ul Haq — a hardcore anti-Indian, fundamentalist, and with a Talibani mindset — was pro-Hindu.

Faiz was either an agnostic or atheist. Even before he wrote Hum Dekhenge, as a pacifist, the pain of Partition pain made him write verses such as:

Ye daaġh daaġh ujala ye shab-gazida sahar

Vo intizar tha jis ka ye vo sahar to nahin

Ye vo sahar to nahin jis ki aarzu le kar

Chale the yaar ki mil jaegi kahin na kahin

(This tainted light and this morning bitten by the night is not the dawn we were waiting for)

Often, his atheism and agnosticism was reflected in his poetry. For example:

Aaiye haath uthae ham bhi

Ham jinhen rasm-e-dua yaad nahin

Ham jinhen soz-e-mohabbat ke siva

Koi buut koi ḳhuda yaad nahin

(Let us raise hands, we who know no prayer, no idol, no god, except our love).

The recent objection pertains to these lines in Hum Dekhenge: Jab arz-e-khuda ke kaabe se, sab buutt uthwaye jayenge. By Arz-e-khuda ke kaaba, he doesn’t mean the Kaaba which is in Saudi Arabia but the expanse of the earth (arz), and by buutt, he didn’t mean idols but dictators who are acting like they are gods.

The next line puts it in perspective: Hum ahle-safa (pure, innocent, or guiltless) mardood-e-haram (those who are condemned by religion) masnad pe bithaye jaenge (will be put on the throne).

The fact that he used vocabulary and metaphors used by the religious fundamentalists, whom he opposed, to convey his message makes the poem all the more interesting. The next line is full of that symbolism, which the ignorant didn’t understand: Utthega anal-haq ka naara (The cry of I am god will rise up).

If I translate anal-haq in Sanskrit, its verbatim meaning is Aham Brahma, a concept alien to Semitic religions likes Islam, Judaism and Christianity; They consider the creator and the creation as two different entities, unlike Advaid and Sufism which believe everything — stars, birds, human — is the manifestation of god. So anal-haq is not a traditional Islamic thought by any stretch of imagination.

Historically speaking, it has been on many occasions a crime to say anal-haq. In 1659, Aurangzeb beheaded Sufi fakir, Sarmad Shah, for raising this slogan. Zia-ul Haq banned the poem because of that, among many other reasons. The current set of people is the third lot, after Aurangzeb and Zia, objecting the idea of anal-haq. Need I say more?

Another line which has been totally misunderstood is Bas naam rahega Allah ka. And how does he describe Allah? Jo manzar bhi hai nazir bhi. He is again saying that creator and the creation is the same — and who are they? They are the people. The world Bas is very poignant because the Bas says that the rest of the fundamentalist’s edifice will vanish.

Towards the end he says Aur raj karegi khalq-e-khuda, jo main bhi hain, aur tum bhi ho, by which he meant that ultimately it’s the people who are god and only they have the right to rule.

This is merely one poem. He wrote poetry for 60 years, often challenging the fundamentalists.

To begin with, Faiz was a poet of undivided India, and remained popular even after Partition. Soon after Independence, he was arrested in Pakistan for what is known as the Pindi conspiracy to topple the government by a leftist coup. He would have been hanged if not for the pressure from the Soviet bloc. He left Pakistan, but when he returned, he was jailed again. The extreme Right-wing in Pakistan was always suspicious of him, calling him Indian at heart. It’s interesting to see that Pakistan has an old tradition of calling the reasonable people, the pacifists, and those who talk about love and unity as anti-nationals. We are adopting this tradition now.

Javed Akhtar is a poet, lyricist and screenwriter
The views expressed are personal
(As told to Neyaz Farooquee)
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