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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

faiz ahmed faiz - khalid hasan

Faiz, the way he was

Khalid Hasan

Faiz Ahmed Faiz wanted to be a Test cricketer and his interest in the game did not wane with the years. He never became one, though in the early days of The Pakistan Times, which Faiz edited, he played more than one match. Padded up, all in white, he very much looked like a cricketer, as a photograph taken by Chacha FE Chaudhry (whose 95th birthday was celebrated in Lahore in March) shows. Pakistan was still in its first innocence, the fervour and idealism of independence lingering in the air and the locust of military rule that was to descend on the land soon – never really to leave – the last thing on anyone’s mind.

Pakistan was still trying to find its feet, still trying to deal with the devastating loss of first the Quaid-e-Azam, who lived to see Pakistan’s birth by the sheer power of his will, and Liaquat Ali Khan, his chosen deputy, murdered by men whose identity remains unknown to this day. There was much jockeying for position among politicians, it is true, some of whom changed parties with the same frequency they changed their undershirts, but had the process not been interrupted, it would have all eventually settled down. That, of course, was not to be. The man who some years later would turn himself into a field marshal without scoring a single victory, struck one night to “save the nation”, a blow from which the nation has yet to recover.

Faiz’s innings, in journalism and cricket, had ended earlier because of the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, a “conspiracy” that when “unearthed” had long been abandoned. The men, some of them Pakistan’s finest soldiers, were guilty in thought at best, not in deed. Faiz once gave an interview to Anwar Maqsood Hameedi, conducted entirely in “cricket language”. Asked if he was afraid of fast bowling, Faiz said he had never worn a helmet. When reminded that he had had many opportunities to put one on, Faiz said, “Please don’t get it wrong: one is a different type of player.” Was he often out clean bowled? “Never,” Faiz answered. “Always caught, and always on the right side, since our left side was very powerful, which was why we tried to even hit balls pitched on our right to our left.” And why was the selection committee always against him? Because if the player himself is against the selection committee, there is nothing the committee can do. Was he a good fielder? “No, we let many fours go past us.” Why? “Because we do not know how to bend,” replied Faiz. Did he ever try his hand at bowling? “Yes, left arm googlies,” said Faiz.

Faiz was devastated by Bhutto’s execution. He was in the Soviet Union at the time. The USSR is, like him, no longer with us, but at least Faiz did not live to see it go; he died 20 years ago this year. His hosts broke the news of the execution to him late. Faiz was a man of few words, which would become even fewer when he was grieving. From Moscow he flew to London where I spent a good deal of time with him. The only thing he said about Bhutto’s execution was: “Not that he would do what one told him, but he was always there.” Faiz was also in London when Sufi Ghulam Mustafa Tabussum died in Lahore. He was not only Faiz’s teacher but also a friend. All Faiz said was: “One always sought Sufi sahib’s guidance, when in doubt. Whom does one go to now?”

Faiz left Pakistan in 1978 and lived in Beirut until 1984, travelling to various countries in between but always returning to the Lebanese capital. One of his books is dedicated to his friend Yasser Arafat. In Beirut he edited Lotus, the journal of the Afro-Asian Writers Association, published in English, French and Arabic. I translated a number of Urdu short stories for Lotus at his asking. I have three letters that he wrote to me from Beirut, two on the Lotus letterhead and one on his personal stationery, his address printed in green lettering: Post Office Box 135/430, Beirut, Lebanon. On January 19 (no year given), Faiz writes: “I am greatly saddened by events back home. The Soviet entry into Afghanistan reminds me of Iqbal’s line ‘Kal rwa rakhtay thay tum, jo mein rwa rakhta hoon aaj’ (What you considered legitimate yesterday, I consider legitimate today). In other words, the Americans think they have the right to kick hell thousands of miles from home wherever they wish, be it Korea or Vietnam, on the excuse that their interests are threatened. But when the Russians see the enemy at their doorstep, they are expected to remain quiet and do nothing. Sitting so far, one can perhaps say that their action is ill-advised, but what made them take that route, one cannot know. ‘Only the kings know what the secrets of empire are.’ Whatever it is, let us pray this catastrophe leaves us unscathed.” It did not, as time has shown.

In another letter sent on June 23, 1981, Faiz, just having turned seventy, writes, “In April, the Indians, determined to advertise our old age, invited us over. Lucknow, Allahabad, Bhopal, Bombay… we were made to sit through session after session where our praises were sung. In Delhi there was a virtual four-day ‘mela’. In Moscow and Pakistan, that sort of rumpus had already taken place. In Lahore, everyone associated with the celebration was nabbed. According to Shoaib Hashmi, when this troupe arrived at Kot Lakhpat jail, one of the inmates asked, ‘Which party?’ ‘Birthday party,’ Shoaib answered. While Shoaib, Mazhar, Tahira and Muhammad Ali (film star) were soon released, Abdulla Malik, Hamid Akhtar and Rehman continue to remain guests of the state. One hears they are in no particular hurry to go home.”

By 1981 I was in Vienna writing about oil and energy, not exactly my idea of thrilling work. When I told Faiz that I was missing all the action in London where an anti-Zia movement was raging, he wrote: “There is no need to have any regrets about ‘sitting it out’. From Moses to Marx to Lenin, each of these gents has done exactly that when forced by circumstance. There is no sense anyway in going out of one’s way to court trouble. When the Chinese still had their heads screwed on right, one of their seers told them, ‘When there is no space for doing politics, it is best to work hard, study hard and make friends.’”

He ended the letter with two verses that show his despair: “Deserted lie the scaffold, the mosque, the tavern. In whose care should we then place the burden of the world? Let’s go to the graves of our martyrs and sound the call to prayer. One of them may perhaps appear, tearing through his shroud.”

Maqtil mein na masjid na khrabaat mein koi:
Hum kis ki amanat mein gham-e-kar-e-jahan dayen.
Shai’d koi inn mein se kafan phaar ke niklay:
Ab jaayain shaheedoon ke mazaroon par azaan dain.


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