When Faiz Ahmad Faiz Helped Make A ‘Dismissive’ Indian Judge Liberal
Today is the death anniversary of the great Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984), whom I regard as the greatest Urdu poet of the 20th century (though I have also great regard for other Urdu poets like Firaq Gorakhpuri).
In 1981, when I was a lawyer in Allahabad High Court, Faiz saheb came to Allahabad, my home town.
An event was organised in his honour in the Allahabad University lawns. The University lawns are massive, and so was the crowd that evening. There were many poets on the dias that day: Firaq Gorakhpuri, Mahadevi Verma, etc. and of course, Faiz Saheb. It was like a galaxy of poetic stars on the firmament. Firaq Saheb was so old that though mentally alert, he could not walk, and so he had to be carried by some University boys onto the dias.
Since I am very fond of Urdu poetry, and since I am particularly fond of the poetry of Faiz, I went to the function. I took along with me my son Vikram, who was then only 6 years old, knowing that he would not be able to understand anything, but yet in later life he could tell his friends that he had seen Faiz and Firaq.
The function began with the convenor reciting a sher of Firaq: “Aane waali nuslein tumse rashk kareingi hum aasron / Jab woh jaanengi ki tumne Firaq ko dekha hai”
He then said that he would like to slightly alter the sher and make it: “Aane waali nuslein tumse rashk kareingi hum aasron / Jab woh jaanengi tumne Faiz, Firaq aur Mahadevi ko dekha hai”:
Thereafter, a well known nazm by Faiz, ‘Gulon mein rang bhare baad-e-naubahaar chale’ was sung by some Allahabad University girls. I have heard that song sung innumerable times, but I have never heard it sung as beautifully as it was sung that memorable evening 39 years ago by the Allahabad University girls. The poets on the dias then recited some of their poems. The last to be called upon, and the one we were really waiting for, was Faiz Saheb himself.
There was massive cheering when Faiz saheb rose to speak. Here was the man who had stood by his principles all his life, who was even jailed for several years in Pakistan by the martial law regime, falsely implicated in the Rawalpindi conspiracy case, who had written “Bol ki lab azad hain tere, bol zubaan ab tak teri hai.” He was a hero in our eyes.
Faiz Saheb first said that he was proud to be in Allahabad, the city of Rishi Bharadwaj, where Lord Rama had come during his exile from Ayodhya, and of other Rishis and Munis. He then related to us about his association with the Progressive Writers Association in the 1930s and the work he had done. He ended by reciting to us some of his kalaam.
The recollection of that memorable evening is indelibly etched into my memory. As I mentioned before, Faiz Saheb is my favourite Urdu poet of the 20th century (though I regard Mirza Ghalib the greatest Urdu poet of all times). So I quoted him in some judgments of mine in the Supreme Court, beginning the judgment with his sher (couplet).
When I decided to issue an appeal through my judgment to the Pakistan government to release an Indian citizen, Gopal Das who was undergoing a life sentence in Pakistan for espionage, and had been in Pakistani jails for 27 years I began with a couplet of Faiz:
“Qafas udas hai yaaron, saba se kuch to kaho / Kaheen to beher-e-khuda aaj zikr-e-yaar chale”
The sher had such a powerful impact on the Pakistani authorities that they announced that the Pakistan government would honour the appeal made by the Indian Supreme Court. Gopal Das was released a few days thereafter and he came back to India and has got married.
This was unprecedented. Never perhaps in world judicial history was such an appeal made by any Court, and never was it so honoured. Such is the power of Urdu poetry.
In another judgment in the Supreme Court I again began by quoting a sher by Faiz:
“Bane hain ahal-e-hawas muddai bhi munsif bhi
Kise vakeel karein kisse munsifi chaahen?” i.e. “When selfish people are both petitioners and judges
Whom should I make my lawyer? From whom should I seek justice?”
I was informed by a lawyer friend who went to Pakistan soon after I gave the judgment quoting the above sher that printouts of my judgment were being distributed by lawyers like hot cakes in Lahore, Karachi, etc. I was told by another friend that when one of my judgments was cited in a High Court in Pakistan, the Judge asked the lawyer, “Is he the same Judge who quotes Faiz?”
And let me end this post by mentioning a mischief I did over 47 years ago, but which I have not revealed to anyone till now.
This incident happened in the year 1972 or 1973. I was then a very junior lawyer in Allahabad High Court. When I have so much fire in me even now at the age of 74, you can imagine the fire in me at the age of 26 or so.
It so happened that a very ‘dismissive judge’ (if I may use a vulgar term) came to the Allahabad High Court, having been elevated from the subordinate judiciary. He would dismiss almost all petitions and appeals. Some lawyers came to me and said “Katju Saheb, bachaiye, yeh to hamein barbaad kar dega” (Katju Saheb, save us , this Judge will ruin us”). I told them not to worry.
That evening I wrote a leaflet with the heading “High Court ya kasai ghar?” (i.e. ‘High Court or Slaughterhouse?’) Below that I quoted the sher of Faiz mentioned above (Bane hai ahal-e-hawas muddai bhi munsif bhi —). I then wrote that ever since this Judge has come he has been dismissing almost all cases, making the High Court like a slaughterhouse, etc, etc.
This leaflet was secretly printed in some press, and the next morning long before the Court could assemble was distributed widely in the High Court premises. In each of the Courtrooms a copy was placed on the Judges’ desk, and in the front row where mostly the senior lawyers would sit. When the Judges came into their Courtrooms they saw the leaflet, read it, and there was an uproar. Many Judges retired to their chambers saying “Yeh kya badtameezi hai?” (“What is this impertinence?)
However, the leaflet had its effect, and the judge became a bit more liberal after that.
The credit again must go to Faiz!
Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. He was also the Chairman of the Press Council of India.