Faiz Ahmad Faiz was born into a Tataley Jat familyon 13 February 1911, in Kala Qader (present-day Faiz Nagar), District Narowal, Punjab, British India. Faiz hailed from an academic family that was well known in literary circles. His home was often the scene of a gathering of local poets and writers who met to promote the literacy movement in his native province. His father Sultan Muhammad Khan was a barrister who worked for the British Government, and an autodidact who wrote and published the biography of Amir Abdur Rahman, an Emir of Imperial Afghanistan.
Although his family were devoted Muslims, Faiz was brought up in a secular tradition of Islam. Following the Muslim South Asian tradition, his family directed him to study Islamic studies at the local Mosque to be oriented to the basics of religious studies by Maulvi Muhammad Ibrahim Mir Sialkoti. According to Muslim orthodox tradition, he learned Arabic, Persian, Urdu language and the Quran.Faiz was also a Pakistan nationalist, and often said “Purify your hearts, so you can save the country…”.His father later took him out of Islamic school as he wanted his son to follow the footsteps of the great Indian Muslim educationist Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, sending him to attend the Scotch Mission School, which was managed and run by a local British family. After matriculation, he joined the Murray College at Sialkot for intermediate study. In 1926, Faiz enrolled in Department of Languages and Fine Arts of the Government College University (GCU), Lahore. While there, he was greatly influenced by Professor Mir Hassan and Professor Shamsul Allam who taught Arabic language. Professor Hasan had also taught the renowned philosopher, poet, and politician of South Asia, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal. In 1926, Faiz attained his BA with Honors in Arabic language, under the supervision of Professor Mir Hassan. In 1930, Faiz joined the post-graduate programme of the GCU, obtaining MA in English literature in 1932. The same year, Faiz passed his post-graduate exam in the 1st Division from Punjab University’s Oriental College, where he obtained a master’s degree in Arabic in 1932. It was during his college years that he met M. N. Roy and Muzaffar Ahmed who influenced him to become a member of the Communist Party.
In 1941, Faiz became affectionate with Alys Faiz, a British national and a member of Communist Party of the United Kingdom, who was a student at the Government College University where Faiz taught poetry. While Alys opted for Pakistan citizenship, she was a vital member of Communist Party of Pakistan, played a significant role in Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case when she brought together the communist fwa .Together, the couple gave birth to two daughters Salima and Moneeza Hashmi.
In 1935 Faiz joined the faculty of Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Amritsar, serving as a lecturer in English and British literature. Later in 1937, Faiz moved to Lahore to reunite with his family after accepting the professorship at the Hailey College of Commerce, initially teaching introductory courses on economics and commerce.During the midst of World War II, he enrolled in the British Army in 1942.He was commissioned and attained the rank of Captain. Faiz served with the unit led by Akbar Khan, a left-wing general. Although, he was kept out of World War II war operations, Faiz was given a desk assignment when he joined the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in New Delhi. In 1943, Faiz was promoted to Major rank, and then Lieutenant-Colonel in 1944.In 1947, Faiz opted for the newly established State of Pakistan. However, after witnessing the 1947 Kashmir war with India, Faiz decided to leave the army and submitted his resignation in 1947.
Academia and literacy
In 1936, Faiz joined a literary movement, (PWM) and was appointed its first secretary by his fellow Marxist Sajjad Zaheer. In East and West-Pakistan, the movement gained considerable support in civil society.In 1938, he became editor-in-chief of the monthly Urdu magazine “Adab-e-Latif (lit. Belles Letters) until 1946. In 1941, Faiz published his first literary book “Naqsh-e-Faryadi” (lit. Imprints) and joined the Pakistan Arts Council (PAC) in 1947. From 1959–62, Faiz served as the secretary of the Pakistan Arts Council, and later became Rector of Abdullah Haroon College in 1964.The same year, Faiz became the vice-president of Pakistan Arts Council in 1964.
Faiz was a good friend of Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko who once said “In Faiz’s autobiography… is his poetry, the rest is just a footnote”.During his lifetime, Faiz published eight books and received accolades for his works.Faiz was a humanist, a lyrical poet, whose popularity reached neighbouring India and Soviet Union. Indian biographer Amaresh Datta, compared Faiz as “equal esteem in both East and West”.Throughout his life, his revolutionary poetry addressed the tyranny of military dictatorships, tyranny, and oppressions, Faiz himself never compromised on his principles despite being threatened by the right-wing parties in Pakistan. Faiz’s writings are comparatively new verse form in Urdu poetry based on Western models. Faiz was influenced by the works of Allama Iqbal and Mirza Ghalib, assimilating the modern Urdu with the classical. Faiz used more and more demands for the development of socialism in the country, finding socialism the only solution of country’s problems. During his life, Faiz was concerned with more broader socialists ideas, using Urdu poetry for the cause and expansion of socialism in the country.The Urdu poetry and Ghazals influenced Faiz to continue his political themes as non-violent and peaceful, opposing the far right politics in Pakistan.
Internationalism and communism
Faiz believed in Internationalism and emphasised the philosophy on Global village. In 1947, he became editor of the Pakistan Times and in 1948, Faiz became vice-president of the Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF).In 1950, Faiz joined the delegation of Prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, initially leading a business delegation in the United States, attending the meeting at the International Labour Organization (ILO) at San Francisco.During 1948–50, Faiz led the PTUF’s delegation in Geneva, and became an active member of World Peace Council (WPC).
Faiz was a well-known communist in the country and had been long associated with the Communist Party of Pakistan, which he founded in 1947 along with Marxist Sajjad Zaheer and Jalaludin Abdur Rahim. Faiz had his first exposure to socialism and communism before the independence of State of Pakistan which he thought was consistent with his progressive thinking. Faiz had long associated ties with the Soviet Union, a friendship with atheist country that later honoured him with high award. Even after his death, the Russian government honoured him by calling him “our poet” to many Russians. However his popularity was waned in Bangladesh after 1971 when Dhaka did not win much support for him.Faiz and other pro-communists had no political role in the country, despite their academic brilliance.
Although Faiz was a not a hardcore or far-left communist, he spent most of the 1950s and 1960s promoting the cause of communism in Pakistan. During the time when Faiz was editor of the Pakistan Times, one of the leading newspapers of the 1950s, he lent editorial support to the party. He was also involved in the circle lending support to military personnel (e.g. Major General Akbar Khan). His involvement with the party and Major General Akbar Khan’s coup plan led to his imprisonment later.
Later in his life, while giving an interview with the local newspaper, Faiz was asked by the interviewer as if he was a communist. He replied with characteristic nonchalance: “No. I am not, a communist is a person who is a card carrying member of the Communist party ever made. The party is banned in our country. So how can I be a communist?…”.
Rawalpindi plot and exile
The Liaquat Ali Khan’s government failure to capture Indian-administered Kashmir had frustrated the military leaders of the Pakistan Armed Forces in 1948, including Jinnah. A writer had argued that Jinnah had serious doubt of Ali Khan’s ability to ensure the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan. However, there is no concrete proof in this regard. The fact also remains that during the war General Douglas Gracey refused to follow Jinnah’s order. In this light the argument against Liaquat Ali Khan seems irrational and unjustified. After returning from the United States, Ali Khan imposed restrictions on Communist party as well as Pakistan Socialist Party. Although the East Pakistan Communist Party had ultimate success in East-Pakistan after staging the mass protest to recognise Bengali language as national heritage.
After Jinnah founded it, the Muslim League was struggling to survive in West-Pakistan. Therefore, Prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan imposed extreme restrictions and applied tremendous pressure on the communist party that ensured it was not properly allowed to function openly, as a political party. The conspiracy had been planned by left-wing military officer and Chief of General Staff Major-General Akbar Khan. On 23 February 1951, a secret meeting was held at General Akbar’s home, attended by other communist officers and communist party members, including Marxist Sajjad Zaheer and communist Faiz. General Akbar assured Faiz and Zaheer that the communist party would be allowed to function as a legitimate political party like any other party and to take part in the elections. But, according to communist Zafar Poshni who maintained, in 2011, that “no agreement was reached, the plan was disapproved, the communists weren’t ready to accept General’s words and the participants dispersed without meeting again”. However the next morning, the plot was foiled when one of the communist officer defected to the ISI revealing the motives behind the plot. When the news reached the Prime minister, orders for massive arrests were given to the Military Police by the Prime minister. Before the coup could be initiated, General Akbar among other communists were arrested, including Faiz. In a trial led by the Judge Advocate Generalbranch’s officers in a military court, Faiz was announced to have spent four years in Montgomery Central Jail (MCJ), due to his influential personality, Liaquat Ali Khan’s government continued locating him in Central Prison Karachi and the Central Jail Mianwali. The socialist Huseyn Suhravardie was his defence counselor. Finally on 2 April 1955,Faiz’s sentence was commuted by the Prime minister Huseyn Suhrawardy, and he departed to London, Great Britain soon after.In 1958, Faiz returned but was again detained by President Iskander Mirza, allegedly blamed Faiz for publishing pro-communist ideas and for advocating a pro-Moscow government. However, due to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s influence on Ayub Khan, Faiz’s sentence was commuted in 1960 and he departed to Moscow, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; he later settled in London, United Kingdom.
Return to Pakistan and government work
In 1964, Faiz finally returned to his country and settled down in Karachi, and was appointed Principal of Abdullah Haroon College. In 1965, Faiz was first brought to government by the charismatic democratic socialist Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was tenuring as Foreign minister in the presidency of Ayub Khan. Bhutto lobbied for Faiz and gave him an honorary capacity at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MoIB) working to rallying the people of West-Pakistan to fight against India to defend their motherland.During the 1971 Winter war, Faiz rallied to mobilise the people, writing patriotic poems and songs that opposed the bloodshed during separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan.
In 1972, Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto brought him back when Bhutto appointed Faiz as Culture adviser at the Ministry of Culture (MoCul) and the Ministry of Education (MoEd). Faiz continued serving in Bhutto’s government until 1974 when he took retirement from the government assignments.
Faiz had strong ties with Bhutto, and was deeply upset upon Bhutto’s removal by Chief of Army Staff General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1977, in a military coup codename Fair Play. Again, Faiz was monitored by Military Police and his every move watched.In 1979, Faiz departed from Pakistan after learning the news that Bhutto’s execution had taken place. Faiz took asylum in Beirut, Lebanon, but returned to Pakistan in poor health after the renewal of the Lebanon War in 1982.In 1984, Faiz died in Lahore, Punjab Province, shortly after hearing that he had received a nomination for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Although living a simple and restless life, Faiz’s work, political ideology, and poetry became immortal, and he has often been called the “greatest poet” of Pakistan. Faiz remained an extremely popular and influential figure in the literary development of Pakistan’s arts, literature, and drama and theatre adaptation.In 1962, Faiz was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize which enhanced the relations of his country with the Soviet Union which at that time had been hostile and antagonistic relations with Pakistan.The Lenin Peace Prize was a Soviet equivalent of Nobel Peace Prize, and helped lift Faiz’s image even higher in the international community. It also brought Soviet Union and Pakistan much closer, offering possibilities for bettering the lives of their people. Most of his work has been translated into the Russian language.
Faiz, whose work is considered the backbone of development of Pakistan’s literature, arts and poetry, was one of the most beloved poets in the country. Along with Allama Iqbal, Faiz is often known as the “Poet of the East”.While commenting on his legacy, classical singer Tina Sani said:
Faiz Ahmad Faiz… (was) like a comrade, his thoughts were soft but effective and inspired the classical singers as it did others in the plays we did… Faiz’s poetry never gets old because the problems and situations in this country have not changed. Today we sing him because of his beautiful poetry, missing out on the reasons behind his poems that had predictions…— Tina Sani, commenting on the legacy of Faiz,
Accolades and international recognition
Faiz was the first Asian poet to receive the Lenin Peace Prize, awarded by the Soviet Union in 1962.In 1976 he was awarded the Lotus Prize for Literature. He was also nominated for the Nobel Prize shortly before his death in 1984.
At the Lenin Peace Prize ceremony, held in the grand Kremlin hall in Moscow, Faiz thanked the Russian government for conferring the honour, and delivered an acceptance speech, which appears as a brief preface to his collection Dast-i-tah-i-Sang (Hand under the rock):
Human ingenuity, science and industry have made it possible to provide each one of us everything we need to be comfortable provided these boundless treasures of nature and production are not declared the property of a greedy few but are used for the benefit of all of humanity… However, this is only possible if the foundations of human society are based not on greed, exploitation and ownership but on justice, equality, freedom and the welfare of everyone… I believe that humanity which has never been defeated by its enemies will, after all, be successful; at long last, instead of wars, hatred and cruelty, the foundation of humankind will rest on the message of the great Persian poet Hafez Shiraz: ‘Every foundation you see is faulty, except that of Love, which is faultless….— Faiz Ahmad Faiz, 1962,
In 1990, he was belatedly honoured by the Pakistan Government when ruling Pakistan Peoples Party led by Prime minister Benazir Bhutto, accepting the recommendation, and posthumously awarded Faiz, the highest civilian award, Nishan-e-Imtiaz in 1990. In 2011, the Pakistan Peoples Party’s government declared the year of 2011 “as the year of Faiz Ahmed Faiz”.In accordance, the Pakistan Government set up a “Faiz Chair” at the Department of Urdu at the Karachi University and at the Sindh University,followed by the Government College University of Lahore established the Patras, Faiz Chair at the Department of Urdu of the university, also in 2011. The same year, the Government College University (GCU) presented golden shields to the University’s Urdu department. The shields were issued and presented by the GCU vice-chancellor Professor Dr. Khaleequr Rehman, who noted and further wrote: “Faiz was poet of humanity, love and resistance against oppression”. In 2012, at the memorial ceremony was held at the Jinnah Garden to honour the services of Faiz by the left-wing party Avami National Party and Communist Party, by the end of the ceremony, the participants chanted his name: “The Faiz of workers is alive! The Faiz of farmers is alive…! Faiz is alive….!”.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poetry has been translated into many languages, including English and Russian. A Balochi poet, Mir Gul Khan Nasir, who was also a friend of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, translated his book Sar-e-Wadi-e-Seena into Balochi with the title Seenai Keechag aa. Gul Khan’s translation was written while he was in jail during Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s regime for opposing the government’s policies. It was only published in 1980, after Zia-ul-Haq toppled Bhutto’s government and freed all the political prisoners of his (Bhutto’s) regime. Victor Kiernan, British Marxist historian translated Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s works into English, and several other translations of whole or part of his work into English have also been made by others; a transliteration in Punjabi was made by Mohinder Singh.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz, himself, also translated works of notable poets from other languages into Urdu. In his book “Sar-i Waadi-i Seena سرِ وادیِ سینا” there are translations of the famous poet of Dagestan, Rasul Gamzatov. “Deewa”, a Balochi poem by Mir Gul Khan Nasir, was also translated into Urdu by Faiz.
Plays, music, and dramatic productions on Faiz
- “Hum Dekhenge” ھم دیکھیں گے by Iqbal Bano
- Sheeshon ka Maseeha شیشوں کا مسیحا by Omer Khawaja and Shabana Azmi.
- Dard Aayega Dabe Paon درد آئے گا دبے پاؤں by Sheela Bhatiya.
- Kuchh Ishq kiya Kuchh Kaam کچھ عشق کیا کچھ کام written by Danish Iqbal and staged by IPTA Delhi. This multi-media Stage Production was premiered at the Sri Ram centre, New Delhi on 11 November 2011. The Play is a Celebration of Faiz’s Poetry and featured events from the early part of his life, particularly the events and incidents of pre-independence days which shaped his life and ideals. Directed by K K Kohli the musical Production featured Artists like Shamir Abadan, Jaishri Sethi, Dr Naseem, Izhar, Minhaj, Prateek Kapoor, Twinkle Khanna and Amit Bajaj in lead roles. The script was the first part of a Faiz trilogy written by Danish Iqbal on the occasion of the Faiz Centenary Celebrations.
- Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan چند روز اور میری جان – A dramatised reading of Faiz’s letter and letters written by his wife Alys Faiz. This Production was initially done at the start of his birth centenary celebrations at India Habitat Center, New Delhi by Danish Iqbal and Salima Raza. ‘Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan’ was also done at Amritsar Faiz Festival organised by Preet Ladi, at Punjab Natshala, Amritsar, on 6 October 2011. This time it was done by Suchitra Gupta and Danish Iqbal.
- 2011 Drama Festival of Delhi Urdu Academy is basically devoted to Productions about Faiz. Apart from ‘Kuchh Ishq kiya Kuchh Kaam’ by IPTA, Delhi and ‘Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan’ by Wings Cultural Society, this Festival will also feature Plays by Peirreot’s Troupe on Faiz, namely ‘Jo Dil Pe Guzarti Hai’. The festival also presented, for the first time on stage ‘Tera Bayaan Ghalib’, directed by Dr Hadi Sarmadi and performed by Bahroop Arts Group, which was an adaptation of one of Faiz’s few plays for the radio.
- Ye Dagh Dagh Ujala یہ داغ داغ اُجالا A profound piece of poetry, written by Faiz Ahmad Faiz inspires Raj Amit Kumar to make a film Unfreedom which will be releasing on 29 May 2015 in North America. The idea behind Unfreedom came from the desire to express the lack of freedom in the socio-economic structure of our contemporary times.
In popular culture
A collection of some of Faiz’s celebrated poetry was published in 2011, under the name of “Celebrating Faiz” edited by D P Tripathi. The book also included tributes by his family, by contemporaries and by scholars who knew of him through his poetry. The book was released on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary in the Punjab province in Pakistan.
- List of Urdu-language writers