Please allow my to humbly share my intro speech that I delivered at the Faiz
Tribute organized by the KAMA Reading series of World Literacy Canada. It
was written for a learned Canadian Audience of over 350 people.
Canadain author Anne Michaels, Past President of Pen Canada Reza Baraheni,
Faiz’s translator Naomi Lazard, and Writers Forum President Nuzhat Siddiqui
We are getting a video of the event and will be able to send it to those
who wished to receive.
Thanks and best regards. Munir
Friends of Kama Reading Series,
It is a great honour for me to stand before this learned assembly to
introduce one of the major poets of not only Urdu and Pakistan, but a poet
who according to Edward Said was among the great poets of the last century.
Before I do that, I take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank my
fellow Pakistanis who have joined us today from far and wide in this
tribute to one of their best.
Faiz once wrote that, the bonds of our pains are so strong that every one
will come when my name is taken.
To introduce Faiz Ahmad Faiz in a very short time is, as William Blake
said, to put the world in a grain of sand, or as Ghalib said, is like
squeezing the ocean into a drop of water.
But I will try, and I will try to introduce Faiz to you in several
Faiz’s ideals are also the ideals of those who are honouring him
today. Removal of Ignorance and spread of literacy has been a major
mission of Faiz.
He wrote a dedication of his works to all the disadvantaged of the world,
and I share these lines;
To the seekers of knowledge,
who with extended hands,
went to the doors of their lords,
begging for books and pens,
and never returned.
Those naive little souls,
who in their innocence,
with lanterns in their hands
went seeking light,
where only the darkness
of unending night
was their destiny.
Faiz had a special bond of love with Mahatma Gandhi.
At the time of Mahatma’s death, the Indian sub continent was burning in a
fire of religious hatred between the citizens of India and Pakistan.
Defying major objections, Faiz flew over that fire to attend the funeral of
Mahatma Gandhi. And that is why this tribute to Faiz is also important.
He later crossed another river of blood, and went to Bangla Deshis after
their independence to embrace them with love.
And there is a Canadian literary perspective. Great scholar Northrop Frye
has discussed the myths of concerns and myths of freedom in literature.
Faiz’s narrative was the narrative of freedom. Freedom from ignorance, from
tyranny, from religious dogma, from injustice, and freedom from imperialism
were always the underlying currents of his poetry.
His archetypes and metaphors were the archetypes and metaphors of love, and
hope, and peace, and harmony. He wished and hoped for all the humanity.
There is also a relationship of Faiz with the Canadian literary tradition.
Faiz chose the forms of Ghazal, as well as free verse for his expression.
It is interesting to note that Canadian poet John Thompson introduced the
form of Ghazal to the Canadian literary community.
And later Phyllis Webb drew upon the Ghazal tradition of great Persian
poets, Rumi, Saadi, and Hafiz .
The latest poetry collection of renowned Canadian poet, Lorna Crozier
consists of 41 Ghazals. These are inspired by the same traditions and the
tradition of Urdu poet Ghalib. This was also the tradition and inspiration
Students of new forms of poetry in Canada may greatly benefit by choosing
Faiz as the model of modern Ghazal, in their works and discourses.
Lorna Crozier also recognizes the efforts of Agha Shahid Ali for promoting
Ghazal in North America.
Agha Shahid Ali has also published his translation of Faiz under the title
of, Rebel’s Silhouette. He was inspired by Naomi Lazard in translating Faiz.
Faiz came Canada twice. Once in 1978 during a self imposed exile against
the dictatorship of Gen. Zia ul Haq. And later as a guest at the Shastri
He was free to visit Canada but was barred from entering the US on many
Faiz could draw from the finest Sufi traditions of love in Islam and also
joined the company of those who would drink wine and recite Khayyam and Rumi.
In one of his visits to Canada, he left an autograph on a bottle of whisky
that is the prize collection of a restaurant at the Roncessvalles in Toronto.
In the international literary context, Edward Said equates Faiz with Garcia
Marquez, in his ability to evoke appreciation by the literary elite and
popular acceptance by the masses.
Edward Said also finds a synthesis of sensuality of Yeats and power
of Naruda in Faiz’s poetry. I take the liberty of adding Adonis, and
Mahmoud Darwish’s, names for comparison of Faiz’s verse.
Faiz possessed a universal vision. He filtered the thoughts of Socrates and
Mansur Hallaj, and invoked the pain of Karachi as well as Karbala. He stood
for truth and justice for all.
To prove this, he sacrificed his anti imperialist principles by joining the
British Imperial army to fight against the Nazis and the Fascists.
He also had a special closeness with the struggle of the Palestinians and
before his death he spent several months in Beirut with the beleaguered
He wrote songs for Mandela and the elegy for Ethel and Julius Rosenberg at
Faiz was born in Sialkot in the pre partition Punjab in February 1911.
It is the same town where Mohammed Iqbal the Philosopher poet of Pakistan,
who was one of the greatest Urdu and Persian poets, was also born.
Scholar Eqbal Ahmad in his interview with David Barsamian said that,
Mohammed Iqbal brought Urdu to the center of the history and Faiz Ahmad
Faiz took it to even greater heights.
Eqbal Ahmed also finds that Mohammed Iqbal’s inspiration came from
Nietzsche and Rumi. And Faiz found his inspiration in Marx and Ghalib.
After acquiring education in English and Arabic literature, Faiz became the
editor of major literary journals and also taught for a few years.
He was also one of the members and organizers of the Progressive Writers
Association. Some of the finest Pakistani and Indian writers evolved under
the socialist philosophy of this association.
After partition he decided to live in Pakistan and became the editor of
Pakistan Times. He promoted a socialist vision for the newly founded country.
His lyrical and musical poetry inspired the masses without any hint of
He was arrested on the charges of treason in 1951 under the threat of death
sentence, and was jailed for four years.
Faiz spent most of this time in solitary confinement. He wrote some of
his most influential poems during these lonely times.
After his release he became the unofficial poet laureate of Pakistan. Some
of the finest Pakistani singers sang his poetry.
Even the army dictator General Ayub Khan recognized his stature and was
compelled to present his name as a major poet whose work should be
translated by UNESCO.
That was the time when his first English translations were rendered by
Victor Kiernan. His poetry was also translated into Russian, Hindi, and
other languages. He won the Lenin Literary Prize in 1963.
More than 10 collections of English translations of Faiz have been
published. Victor Kiernan, Naomi Lazard, and Agha Shahid Ali are his
Like Northrop Frye, Faiz believed in an Educated Imagination, and founded
several major cultural institutions of Pakistan.
He spent some of the final years of his life as the principal of a college
in Layari-Karachi, one of the poorest sections of the commercial capital of
He died in 1984. After his death Pakistan finally conferred its highest
honour Nishan e Pakistan on him.
Faiz knew that the tyrants have a habit of pulling the sweeter tongues, and
crushing the softer hands of scribes under stones. He conquered them with
his disarming smiles and melodious songs.
In the end allow me to share these lines from one of his finest poems.
Let us also raise our hands,
we who have forgotten the ritual of prayer,
we who do not remember any God, any Idol
Let us pray that our poisonous days
be filled with the sweetness of tomorrow.