Remembering Faiz Ahmed Faiz's revolutionary poem

On his 32nd death anniversary, hark back to an explosive evening of music and rebellion.

 |  6-minute read |   20-11-2016
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Faiz’s most famous nazm (poem) got both the writer and the singer in trouble.

The year was 1985. A packed auditorium in Lahore, with more than 50,000 in attendance. It’s the first death anniversary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

A woman dressed in a black saree - attire outlawed by Pakistani dictator Zia-ul-Haq - takes the stage and starts singing a nazm. There is immediate commotion in the crowd. By the time, the singer hits the crescendo, the restless audience is already incited to passions of rebellion.

Excited members join the rendition, the jampacked auditorium, with people sitting on stairs and near the gate, reverberates with chants of “Inquilab Zindabad” (long live the revolution!)

Action is swift. The lights are switched off; the microphone is disconnected. It’s pitch dark. But she doesn’t stop as if her life depends on it. Defying the authorities, the audience stands with the singer -singing with her till the poem ends. A riotous situation prevails.

The woman was none other than Iqbal Bano, one of the most beloved singers of Pakistan. The nazm was Hum Dekhenge, penned by the most celebrated and yet revolutionary poet of Pakistan - Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

According to reports, Iqbal Bano was later banned from singing anywhere in Pakistan. Several members of the audience were rounded up and quizzed, with some even being detained. Military police hounded and raided the homes of several members of the audience many days after the event.

Poet Gauhar Raza says: “One need not be surprised by this. Listening to Faiz’s poetry, even when sung by the most celebrated musical diva of the country, was an inherently anti-imperialist, anti-dictatorship and anti-fascist act. It was highly subversive. We may not realise it, but tyrants always recognise the explosive potential of an apparently harmless piece of text.”

The recording was smuggled out and distributed on tapes across the country. The performance has achieved iconic status.

Raza says: “Shoaib Hashmi, Faiz’s son-in-law, once narrated before a packed hall in Delhi how the recording was smuggled out, hurriedly edited with makeshift editing facilities, and a few copies quickly handed out to avoid confiscation. With these few audio cassettes, further copies were made. The number swelled in geometric progression and soon the copies crossed the border, and within weeks the cassette reached individuals in Delhi.”

It gives me goosebumps even to imagine that evening. That one single act of bravery, subversion, and resistance proved to be a beacon of hope for the Pakistani people reeling under the heavy-handed regime of military dictator Zia-ul-Haq. It was the victory of resilience and persistence, it was the victory of popular voice against the tyranny of a despot.

Hum Dekhenge, the poem

Hum dekhenge, laazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge, hum dekhenge

woh din ke jiska waada hai, jo lauh-e-azal pe likha hai, hum dekhenge

We shall Witness. Surely, we too shall bear witness

To the promised day etched on all eternity

Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-giraan, rui ki tarah ud jaayenge

Hum mahkoomon ke paaon tale, yeh dharti dhad dhad dhadkegi

Aur ahl-e-hakam ke sar upar, jab bijli kad kad kadkegi, hum dekhenge

When mountains of tyranny will blow away like cotton

When the ground beneath the feet of us who are the oppressed will shake and tremble

When thunderous lightning will hover over the rulers, we shall surely witness

Jab arz-e-Khuda ke kaabe se, sab but uthwaaye jaayenge

Hum ahl-e-safa mardood-e-haram, masnad pe bithaaye jaayenge

Sab taaj uchhaale jaayenge, sab takht giraaye jaayenge, hum dekenge

When idols of falsehood would be cast aside from the abode of God (Kaaba)

When we - the pure, the outcasts of sacred place (haram) would be placed on thrones

When crowns would be tossed around, when thrones would be demolished

Bus naam rahega aallah kaa, jo gaayab bhi hai haazir bhi

Jo manzar bhi hai naazir bhi, uthegaa ana-l-haq ka naaraa

jo main bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho, aur raaj karegi Khalq-e-Khudaa,

jo main bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho

hum dekhenge, laazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge, hum dekhenge

Only the name will remain, which is both invisible and visible

Which is both the spectacle as well as the beholder, the cry of truth will upsurge,

Which is I and you, and God’s own creations would reign

Which is I and you

We shall Witness, definitely we too shall witness

(This is the author’s translation along with other web inputs)

Faiz clearly stands with the oppressed throughout the poem and against exploiters and oppressors. He says that "mountains of injustice" would be “blown away like cotton". The day would come when the ground would beat like a heart below the feet of the poor and oppressed, and lightning would thunder over the head of those in power.

ziia-embed_112016070924.jpg During the regime of Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan, Faiz was under constant surveillance. (Photo: AP)

Insurmountable mountains of injustice and oppression will evaporate into thin air. Drawing heavily on Islamic imagery, Faiz deals with injustice and oppression. He writes that the idols would be thrown away from the Kaaba and the pure-hearted will be honoured. The crowns of those in power will be tossed about. He directly criticises Zia’s regime and its authoritarian style of functioning, eventually exhorting people to overthrow the tyrannical regime through the poem.

To this day, Faiz lives on as his ideas and writings continue to inspire and spur millions of oppressed throughout the world. His thoughts are as relevant today as they were half a century back. Faiz’s words seem prophetic and ring true when contrasted against the tumbling of dictatorships across the Arab world.

Faiz was often behind bars for his writings

The revolutionary poet was never one to toe the official line. The immortal lines of Hum Dekhenge were written in 1979 after the religiously conservative and repressive Zia rose to power through a coup in 1977. Hum Dekhenge is a thinly-veiled effort to criticise the dictatorship. Not surprisingly, he was a frequent jail bird.

He wrote openly against military regimes; he was a staunch critic of the government’s actions in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) when the country was being ruled by General Yahya Khan. He was jailed for the infamous Rawalpindi case by Liaquat Ali Khan’s government in 1951 and stayed there till 1955.

In 1958, he was again detained by President Iskander Mirza, for allegedly publishing and promoting pro-communist ideas. Even during Zia’s years, he was under constant monitoring. But none of these tribulations ever perturbed him.

In fact, Faiz always thought of his prison stays as periods of enlightenment.

Also read: Why Faiz Ahmed Faiz - the poet - was more revolutionary than romantic

Writer

Muqbil Ahmar Muqbil Ahmar @muqbil_ahmar

The writer is a theatre activist, film critic and blogger who wants to bring harmony in society. Music, poetry and food are his passions.

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