Faiz’s authentic, comprehensive biography
A LARGE number of books on Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984), one of the greatest Urdu poets of the 20th century, have been written. The number of books that discuss Faiz exceeds the 100 mark and that does not take into account the periodicals that have brought out special issues or sections on him, nor does it include the large number of critical and research articles that discuss Faiz, his life and works. This makes Faiz stand in the ranks of the three Urdu poets on whom the most has been written. The first two are, of course, Ghalib and Iqbal. But still something was missing in the huge body of literature penned on Faiz: an authentic and comprehensive biography of this great poet and gem of a person that Faiz was.
Luckily, Syed Mazhar Jameel, a veteran writer, critic and research scholar, accepted the challenge and has now come up with the book ‘Zikr-i-Faiz’, a voluminous, authentic and comprehensive biography of Faiz. Published by the Sindh culture department, the 1,083-page book covers almost every aspect of Faiz’s life and works. Authentic references and scholarly citations have made the book a reference work, but unlike research papers and dissertations, it makes a good reading.
Divided into 33 chapters, the book begins with Faiz’s birth and his family background and discusses almost every aspect of his life — education, job, his role in progressive literary movement, journalistic engagements, political and ideological leanings, poetry and other literary works, imprisonment, children, awards and rewards, cultural contributions, his days in Delhi, Lahore, Islamabad, Beirut, London and elsewhere and finally, his last days. Mazhar Jameel has hardly missed any important source or piece of information about Faiz. But what is more commendable is the fact that the book is not a drab critical account or dry research work, but its flowing prose and frequently quoted anecdotes at times turn it into an absolute page-turner.
But this work was long overdue as Iftikhar Arif has mentioned in his preface to the book that it was acknowledged in the lifetime of Faiz that he was not merely a person or a poet, he was an era alive with its own ideology, philosophy, sensitivities and feelings. Syed Mazhar Jameel has, adds Iftikhar Arif, done this tremendous job in line with his temperament and tradition. By this he means that it is not only a meticulously written biography but it comes with all the relevant political, social, historical and literary background. This book is indeed a befitting tribute to a poet who had become a legend in his lifetime and had impressed readers beyond the borders.
The book includes blurbs by Dr Ali Madeeh Hashmi, Saqib Ahmed Soomro and Faiz’s daughters, Muneeza Hashmi and Salima Hashmi. Sadeqain’s paintings and Vaiell’s cutting remarks with his cartoons alongside Faiz’s couplets adorn the book. Rare photographs of Faiz’s and an index at the end have made the book all the more valuable. The Sindh culture department had got translated into Sindhi the important publications that appeared in 2011, which was Faiz’s centennial year. Now this book is yet another feather in its cap, though, unfortunately, government departments rarely do so nice a work.
Another book on Faiz that has just appeared is an addition to the tradition of compiling glossaries of great poets. Such glossaries enlist in alphabetical order the vocabulary used by a specific poet and with meanings quote the explanatory portions of text from the works of the poet. In Urdu, we have glossaries of Ghalib, Iqbal, Anees, Mir Taqi Mir, Nazeer Akberabadi and many other great poets.
Now Dr Muhammad Asif Awan has published Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s glossary. Published by Lahore’s Izhar Sons, the book enlists the words, phrases and idioms used by Faiz in his poetry. This kind of book was indeed needed but there are a number of things that are missing. For instance, the compiler has not mentioned the list of authentic dictionaries that have served as repository for determining the meanings of the words listed. Secondly, he has not mentioned even a single work that he must have referred to for this kind of scholarly work. Dr Moinuddin Aqeel had compiled ‘Ishariya-i-Kalam-i-Faiz’, a list of the words and phrases used in Faiz’s poetry. This work was first of its kind and was published by Idara-i-Yadgar-i-Ghalib back in the 1980s.Another commendable work on Faiz published lately is ‘Daybreak: writings on Faiz’. Compiled and edited by Yasmeen Hameed and published by Oxford, the book was initially planned at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) as a tribute to Faiz on his centennial. It is a collection of articles on Faiz by some of the well-known and accomplished critics from the United Kingdom, Russia, India, the United States and Pakistan and they include Victor G. Keirnan, Shamsur Rahman Farooqi, Ralph Russell, Gopi Chand Narang, Carlo Copolla, Safdar Mir, Maryam Salganik, Frances W. Pritchett, Ludmila Vassilyeva, Ayesha Jalal, Karrar Hussain, Alys Faiz and others. Faiz’s two interviews and his poetry’s English translations along with 22 articles written from different perspectives make the book quite a diversified yet absorbing read. Yasmeen Hameed has rightly pointed out in her intro that “such compilations not only bring to light some long forgotten pieces but also put together diverse views on a single subject”. The book is a living testimony that Faiz and his poetry have been appreciated, to borrow the phrase from Ms Hameed, even “beyond the world of Urdu”.