Faiz Ahmed Faiz; a symbol of revolution

We often tell our students.’The future’s in your hands.’ But I think the future is actually in your mouth. You have to articulate the world you want to live in first.” – Ocean Vuong.

History has witnessed this idea countless times; those who dare to bring change, cannot do it without language.  It is the core trait that holds the sheer power of awakening a dignified sense of unity in people. It is the fundamental medium that can be used to convey ideas beyond a limited number of communities, a vessel through which humans can propel a large change.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz is a prime example of one such poet who used language to prove that it is an integral instrument for change and showed the world the invincible power it holds. Born in Sialkot, he grew up in an age when the spirit of freedom and Hindu-Muslim rivalry was highly prevalent. In those days, the ‘All-India Radio’ was a medium of sharing poetry and music, a platform which may have encouraged Faiz’s love for the Urdu language.  In his twenties, he felt the aggravating need for an idea that could combat the foreign power in his very own motherland as well as the increasing sentiments of communalism. 

And that was where his journey of using language as his weapon in this fight against social exploitation began. He wrote about the failure of the government, and those in power, to pay heed to the necessities of the oppressed, and the need for economic and social forces to govern human lives. Because of this, his poetry came to be known as revolutionary.

Some of my favorite verses by Faiz perfectly encompass the essence of his beliefs;

bol ke lab azad hain tere

bol zaban ab tak teri hai

tera sutvan jism hai tera

bol ki jaaa ab tak teri hai

His intriguing use of language was the reason his poetry left a considerable mark on his readers. He used ‘hum’ instead of ‘mein’ indicating a universal call for change, whilst also awakening a sense of utopia in the people. His poetry is undoubtedly for everyone, no matter their religious identity, ethnicity or gender. His use of the ‘nazm’ instead of the ‘ghazal’ helped him stand apart from others and bring attention to the important revolutionary themes highlighted in his poetry.

He also became a significant part of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, a movement that used the power of language to exhort people to pave way for freedom, augmenting the activist sentiments and calling for actions to end suffering. It advocated for the liberation of India, for socialism as the proper economic system, and an end to imperialism. The movement strongly believed that as long as the common masses were the driving force, united by the power of a common language, change was inevitable.

On 14th August 1947, the world witnessed history. The masses were seen to be celebrating but what Faiz felt was the opposite. In “Subh-e-Azadi”, he wrote:

Yeh daagh daagh ujaalaa,

yeh shab ghazidaa seher,

woh intezaar tha jiska,

yeh woh seher to nahin

He beautifully used language to express a gamut of emotions; his sorrow for what had happened and his apprehension for what was to come.  His ability to be so precise with language, to express such depth of emotions in a few simple words, which depict a deep love for his homeland and his empathy for its people, allowed those people to feel his emotions with the right amount of intensity needed to inspire revolutionary sentiments.

Kahin tau hoga shab-e sust mauj ka saahil

Kahin tau ja ke rukay ga safeena-e gham-e dil.

By continuing to write his revolutionary verses even after partition, he gave hope to people, whilst urging them to transform their sufferings into action. He made them realize the potential for change that was needed to reconstruct the country in light of Jinnah’s dreams. For Faiz, partition was not a stopping ground. He viewed it as the beginning of a much longer and more difficult journey for Pakistanis, which is why his efforts through language continued even as they resulted in his imprisonment. And he wasn’t wrong. 

During Zia’s reign, he was against Zia’s beliefs, which led to him writing his infamous poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’, which soon became an anthem to protest against Zia-ul-Haq, making it the biggest symbol of defiance.

Hum Dekhenge

Hum Dekhenge

Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge

Hum Dekhenge

Hum Dekhenge

Wo din ke jis ka wada hai

Jo lauh-e-azal mein likha hai

This poem uses language in a way that is rich with religious symbolism. The irony of Faiz using religion to fight Zia, whose entire rule was based on religion, truly shows his brilliance when it comes to language. Furthermore, his religious symbolism succeeded in not only catching the attention of Pakistanis, who tend to lean toward religious ideas, but also created an uproar. 

It is believed that the idea and imagery of the poem was taken from Surah al- Waqiah from the Holy Quran. The Surah mentions the Day of Judgment when everything would be overturned. Faiz took inspiration from this to give birth to the concept of a social revolution where, similar to doomsday, everything would be overturned. He also used it to give hope to his people by using phrases like ‘zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garan’, indicating that justice will be served in the end.

This poem blatantly called out Zia, whom Faiz considered to be a worshiper of power and not of God. When it was sung by Iqbal Bano in front of an audience, the crowd reverberated with chants of ‘ Inquilab Zindabad’ and it undoubtedly catapulted Pakistan towards change a few months later when Pakistan witnessed the end of Zia’s reign.

We are all always waiting, waiting for a change, waiting for our rights to be given, waiting for the state of the country to change, but Faiz showed how something as simple but intricate as language could be used toward resistance. He showed how language could be used as a tool to shed light on our rage and the truths we need to change our lives and transform the world into a better one. Faiz articulated the kind of world he wanted to live in, propelling people to endeavour toward it. It is time we begin to do the same.

TLC Writer

Ansa Mubashir

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