Rereading Faiz And Fahmida’s Poetic Tributes To Major Ishaq

Rereading Faiz And Fahmida’s Poetic Tributes To Major Ishaq
The most conspicuous introduction of Major Ishaq Muhammad – the peasant leader and arch-dramatist who was born a hundred years ago today in Jalandhar – is that he was a revolutionary leader constantly at war with the Pakistani establishment. He was arrested in 1951 by the Liaqat Ali Khan government in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. Upon his release in 1955, which verified his hardships to be a form of blessing, and after being discharged from the army, Major Ishaq turned to politics and earned a great reputation. So from the Awami League and the National Awami Party, he came to found the Mazdoor Kisan Party. Even those who disagree with him politically and ideologically acknowledge his vision, his courage of refusal and steadfastness. Though by removing him from his position, the army lost such a military expert who was not only a witness to the post-WW2 changing military technique but also had a great eye on politics and society.

Not for nothing, some of our great literary luminaries like Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Ahmad Bashir, Habib Jalib and Fahmida Riaz have paid tributes to Major Ishaq and made him a subject of their writings. To remember Major Ishaq’s tremendous memory and legacy on his birth centennial, I am presenting a humble translation of Faiz’s better-known and Fahmida Riaz’s lesser-known tributes to Major Ishaq on his untimely death on April 2, 1982.

Faiz’s tribute titled Major Ishaq Ki Yaad Mein (In Memory of Major Ishaq) forms part of his last collection of poems titled Ghubaar-e-Ayyam (The Fog of Time). More than a standard ode, it is rather a heartfelt complaint to his old comrade of leaving him for the heavenly plane so early:

Lo you too went, so we had thought

That some other vow of loyalty was under your consideration

The promise that you will remain active with us lifelong

When the other people of purity would take the path of separation

We had thought the quiver of the hunter had emptied

But one arrow of death yet remained for your annihilation

Every thorn is a petitioner of the path of the desert of the nation

Let us wait for some other tired traveller in anticipation

If Doomsday wanted to come with hesitation

It was well for you too to delay your final destination.

Riaz’s ode titled Nauha — Major Ishaq ke Intiqal Par (Dirge — On the Death of Major Ishaq) also complains of the early departure of Major Ishaq from the ranks of the living, but also compares him to Mehar, the Sindhi expression for Mahinwal, the legendary folk hero and lover of Sohni, in his passion and dedication to his cause. My English translation follows the poem in the Urdu text:

Is andhiyari, dukhi raat mein

Kahan chale Mehar!

Ab nahin saath nibhaoge kya

Itna dukh de jaoge kya

Pagal raat hava toofani

Gali mein ghutnon ghutnon paani

Maande maande pair tumhare

Aur chhaati par chot purani

Bhoot nagar mein naach rahe hain

Kutiya mein barje viraani

Thar thar chhapar kaanp raha hai

Dekho ik shahteer gira hai

Kaandha nahin lagaoge kya

Lamba kaaj umar ya thori

Lauta do yeh ujli ghori

Aansu le lo, aahen le lo

Qasmen vaade saare le lo

Jo hai paas hamare le lo

Is dukhiyari raat ko hum tum

Saath jo karte paar….

Arre Mehar!

Arre Mehar!

(In this sad night of darkness

Mehar! For where did you put on your harness

Will you now stand by no longer

Will you leave us with so much distress

The mad night, the stormy air

Water upto the knees in the street

So tired are your feet

And the old injury on the chest

Ghosts dance in the city

The cottage sits lonely

The thatch is shivering

Look a beam has fallen

Will you not lend a shoulder

Life whether a long or short affair

Return this bright mare

Take the tears, take the sighs

Take whatever oaths, promises you require, everything

Take whatever I have

Would that you and me

Cross this suffering night together….

Arre Mehar!

Arre Mehar!)











The writer, is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic, and an award-winning translator based in Lahore. He is currently the President of the Progressive Writers Association in Lahore. He can be reached at: