Faiz poetry strikes chord in Delhi

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By PHEROZE L. VINCENT
  • Published 2.01.11
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Faiz Ahmed Faiz

New Delhi, Jan. 1: Love, don’t ask me for that old love again (mujhse pehle si mohabbat, mere mehboob, na maang), Faiz Ahmed Faiz had written. The audience wasn’t ready to hold back, though.

It wasn’t just the poetry connoisseurs going “waah waah” over the Pakistani communist poet’s lines on the packed lawns of Delhi’s Vithalbhai Patel House yesterday. The performances seemed to move even non-Urdu speakers, such as Theo from the New Zealand Drama School who is in the city for a conference.

Theo said he could feel the “energy” in the recitations, ghazal renditions and dances while 25-year-old ornithologist Mehran Zaidi suggested that English translations would popularise Faiz’s work further. “His Urdu is tough but his message is so different,” said Zaidi.

It was perhaps technology that drew a large number of youngsters to the mehfil, organised in Faiz’s centennial and on the 22nd death anniversary of theatre personality Safdar Hashmi.

Many of them would have seen the popular YouTube video of singer Iqbal Bano’s iconic rendition of the poet’s Hum Dekhenge (we shall witness) at a Lahore stadium to protest Zia-ul Haq’s military rule.

Other dictators too have felt Faiz’s rapier thrust. “Songs like Hum Dekhenge became the anthem of the lawyers’ movement (against Pervez Musharraf),” said Ali Sethi, 26, a Pakistani novelist whose debut book, The Wishmaker, has become a bestseller.

Sethi said Faiz had deliberately been excluded from the school curriculum in Pakistan. But the poet, who died in 1984, is now an icon for voices of progress in his country, where a literary festival is being planned in February to celebrate his centenary.

“Faiz’s poems are gaining popularity now after they have been made into songs,” said Sethi, whose singing and humour won applause.

Astad Deboo added passionate dance to Faiz’s poems; Manu Kohli sang Hum Dekhenge, which speaks of how “high mountains of tyranny and oppression” will evaporate and “crowns will be flung in the air and thrones will be overturned”.

Arundhati Roy, Sitaram Yechury and Jairam Ramesh were in the audience. Calendars with M.F. Husain’s interpretation of Faiz’s work and a special issue of the journal Naya Path, with pictures and essays of the rebel icon, sold well.

A Hindi translation of Jyoti Basu’s memoirs and Manini Chatterjee’s Do and Die were also on sale. A BBC Urdu documentary on Faiz was screened.

The annual Safdar Hashmi memorial event has now become a feature of Delhi’s cultural calendar. The Left has an umbilical connection with the event but what Delhi saw last night went beyond party solidarity.

For once in recent times here, it seemed that the embattled Left had got its finger on the pulse of the people.