Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s Poetry Of Resistance Gave Voice And Hope To The Oppressed Palestinians
Faiz Ahmad Faiz perhaps the most accomplished Urdu poet of the last century carried his defiance against the tyranny of all kinds. His poetry was his act of resistance and his salvation too, yet, it was so revolutionary that he had to stay in exile for years. The man who sang the songs of the millions suffering, never found a home address. A Marxist brought an immaculate South Asian sensibility and humanness to the Palestinian cause. A friend of Yasser Arafat, Faiz for many years lived in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. He came into close proximity with Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and became the editor of Lotus, a magazine of Afro-Asian writers.
Eqbal Ahmed, a rooted cosmopolitan himself once called Faiz as the first intellectual in the third world to capture the incipient “Mood of Disillusionment”. For Eqbal, Faiz was a “Secular Saint” and one who brought new glory to the gallows. Faiz’s resistance against tyranny can’t be read in the past tense. It still is a potent discourse against inequalities, sufferings, and oppression. His famous We Shall See! (Hum Dekhenge!) remains etched into the hearts and minds of many South Asians; and continues to be the guiding light for a collective voice for social change. His concept of love turns into a force of defiance; a celebration against oppression and a symbol of protest. It is a potent influence in the Indian subcontinent to this day. His poem Subh-e-Azaadi (The day of freedom) has been an anthem that voices the agony of millions who were dispossessed of their homes and identities.
For Faiz, a poet’s temper is to battle against injustice and tyranny, to sing the songs of defiance, revolution, and resistance even if he is made to drink ‘poison;’ endure exile; suffer imprisonment and ‘flogging.’ No obstacle is big enough to stop him from this ‘battle’ of truth which he thinks will triumph eventually. Faiz’s humanity found a perfect chord with the Palestinians.
Faiz became the first non-Arab editor of Lotus magazine in 1978 after the Lotus editor and Egyptian writer Youssef al-Sebai was assassinated in Cyprus. Faiz’s connections with Lotus were due to his proximity with Arafat.
In 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon, the PLO shifted to Tunis and so did Faiz and his close friend and fellow revolutionary Yasser Arafat. Faiz carried his South Asian sensibility and sense of exile into the literary test of Lotus’s intellectual flavour. It was in Beirut that Faiz first met with the most loved Arab poet from Palestine, Mahmood Darwish. The latter was fascinated by Faiz’s work and its expanse. In the book Memory for Forgetfulness—Darwish presents Faiz in darker times, “Beirut itself is the writing,” he insists, its true poets and singers are its people and fighters. And yet, “our great friend from Pakistan … is busy with another question: Where are the artists? ‘Which artists, Fayiz?’ I ask. The artists of Beirut. What do you want from them? To draw this war on the walls of the city. What’s come over you?’ I exclaim. Don’t you see the walls tumbling?”
But the year of exile was a new beautiful chapter in Faiz’s world. When he met the most famous intellectual of his time Edward Said; a Palestinian who echoed the breath of a man living forever in exile. Said was introduced to Faiz through Eqbal Ahmad, a friend of Said and a true friend of Palestinians. Edward Said remembers Faiz fondly in his famous Reflections of Exile and found Faiz’s poetry as an enactment of a homecoming expressed through defiance and loss, as if to say, “Zia, we are here.” In Faiz’s writing, Palestine always finds a warm place; very close to his heart. His words render a rhythmic sense of everyday tragedy fallen upon the innocent Palestinians. Faiz’s meaning of love had found an expression of protest.
His reflections on Palestine, its tragedy, and dispossession was a catharsis for Faiz’s rhythmic brilliance. His poems about Palestine include “Ek Taraana Filastini Mujaahidon Ke Naam” (An Anthem for Palestinian Revolutionaries), “Filastini Shuhada Jo Pardes Mein Kaam Aaye” (Palestinian Martyrs Who Died Abroad), and “Mat Ro Bachche” (Weep Not, Child), a lullaby for a Palestinian child.
An Anthem for Palestinian Revolutionaries (“Ek Taraana Filastini Mujaahidon Ke Naam”)
We will win definitely, we will win in the end, we will win
What fear of the enemy’s attack! Every fighter is in confrontation What is the fear of raid of death Souls of the martyr are lined up Fear of what! We will win,
Definitely, we will win, Truth has come and falsehood has departed. God, the great commanded Heaven is under our foot And the shadow of compassion is over us then, fear what! We will win Definitely, we will win.
In the end, we will win
This poem was quite close to ‘We Shall Witness!’ (Hum Dekhenge) in its rhythm. This was a hard critique of the political class and this became one of the most famous ‘resistance poems’ still dominating the scene of protests both in India and Pakistan. The ‘Anthem for Palestinian Revolutionaries’ was written on 15 June 1983.
His also paid his homage to the martyrdom of Palestinians in “Palestinian Martyrs Who Died Abroad (“Filastini Shuhada Jo Pardes Mein Kaam Aaye”):
“Wherever I go, my beloved land, the pain of your humiliation burns my heart.
But there are compensations: Your dignity enhances mine, your love walks with me, the fragrance of your citrus groves breathes through my mouth. Wherever I unfurl the banner of my blood, there flutters the flag of Palestine. One Palestine has been destroyed by my enemies. But my agony has given birth to innumerable Palestines.”
For Faiz, the imagination of a poet finds a true connection with the souls of Palestinian revolutionaries, the celebration of their martyrdom, and the helplessness of Palestinian families whose kids are denied their mother’s lullaby.
Weep Not, Child (“Mat Ro Bachche”)
“Weep not, Child! Weep not, child Your mother too has stopped mourning and now has just found some sleep.
Weep not, Child You father has already departed from his grief, Weep not, Child Your brother has gone too far to live his butterfly dreams. Weep not, Child Your elder sister is married and has gone to unknown.
Weep not, Child Your courtyard is soaked and left with the dead sun and the moon too now has left from its grave Weep not, Child! Your Mother, Father, Sister and Brother, the Sun and the Moon, they all will make your cry more if you weep But if you smile my child They all will come back, one day In different faces just to play with you!”
Faiz’s poems on Palestine are a mix of his sense of worldliness, with a commitment to the moral question of Palestine. His friendship with Arafat was based on a shared commitment for a new dawn. He dedicated his beautiful poem Mere Dil, Mere Musafir (My Heart, My Traveller) to Arafat; a toast to their shared grief.
For Arafat, Faiz was more than a poet. He showered him with lots of praise; celebrated his courage and found the hope of freedom through his poems. On 19th February 1981, Yasser Arafat expressed his gratitude to Faiz in these words:
“We, the Palestinians have found you as a great progressive and international poet who struggles for liberation, progression and peace in humanity. We are very proud of your friendship and your fight for the due rights of Palestinians. Your sincere verses that are full of references to Palestinian children and fighters present an everlasting example and speak volumes about truth. brotherhood and genuine love. . .”
For Faiz, a poet has two identities: one as a common citizen who is accountable for many duties, and the second related to his political responsibility. The first duty of the poet is to write poems and the second duty is to bring politics on the right track. It is not necessary that he joins the demonstrations but he must protest with his pen. He need not be a politician but he must be a man of politics.
Mahmud Darwish once wrote that, “We (Palestinians) suffer from an incurable malady: Hope”. For Edward Said, “Palestine is a thankless job one in which you truly serve, you get nothing back but opprobrium, abuse and ostracism”. The tormented Palestines and their ethnic cleansing for over a century hasn’t ended yet but the poetic resistance of Faiz is that song of hope for the hopeless Palestinians; and a reminder that liberating Palestine shouldn’t be a thankless job but to achieve freedom, justice and a celebration of hope for everyone.
Faiz used to echo that agony and the ‘wretchedness of being a Palestinian’. In his own words “After all these years that I spent with the Palestinians, I became one of them.”
Palestine issue is a moral question, not just a religious and political one for all who believe in human shared identity and identifying with the suffering.