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Mainsteam, Vol XLIX, No 12, March 12, 2011

On Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Birth Centenary

Wednesday 16 March 2011

The birth centenary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, one of the most powerful Urdu poets of our subcontinent, was observed last month but even now several functions are being held in both Pakistan and India to commemorate the occasion and offer homage to his abiding memory. He was born in Sialkot on February 13, 1911. His father, Khan Bahadur Sultan Mohammad Khan, an eminent barrister, was a well-read person and enjoyed the company of distinguished literary figures; he also wrote the biography of Amir Abdur Rehman. Thus Faiz grew up in a literary environment and was a promising student with a religious background. In fact he began memorising the Holy Quran at the age of four and started his formal education in the renowned school of Moulvi Ibrahim Sialkoti, and learnt Urdu, Persian and Arabic. He was subsequently admitted to the Scotch Mission High School in 1921 in Class IV, passed his Matriculation examination in the First Division from Murray College, Sialkot, and during this period learnt Persian and Arabic from Allama Iqbal’s teacher, Shamsul Ullama Moulvi Syed Meer Hasan.

Faiz passed his BA (Hons) in Arabic from the Government College, Lahore and then MA in English from the same college in 1932; he also passed his MA in Arabic in the First Division from the Oriental College, Lahore. It is learnt that Prof Lenninghorn, the Head of the English Department, Government College, Lahore, gave him 165 marks out of 150 for his paper in the Third Year examination. When asked how he could give 165 marks to Faiz, the noted Professor replied: “Because I could not give him more.”

He became a Lecturer in English at the M.A.O. College, Amritsar in 1935 and thereafter taught at the Hailey College of Commerce, Lahore. During World War II he joined the Army as a Captain in 1942 and worked in the Department of Public Relations at Delhi. He was promoted to the rank of a Major in 1943 and Lieutenant Colonel in 1944. He resigned from the Army in 1947 and returned to Lahore where he turned to journalism and distinguished himself as the Editor of Pakistan Times as well as the Urdu newspaper Imroze and the weekly Lailo-Nihar brought out by the Progressive Papers Limited.

On March 9, 1951 he was arrested under the Safety Act, charged with complicity in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment—he underwent hardships in the jails of Sargodha, Montgomery (now Sahiwal), Hyderabad and Karachi, before being released in 1955. Two of his books of poems, Dast-e-Saba and Zindan Nama, were the products of the period of his imprisonment.

In 1959 he was appointed Secretary of the Pakistan Arts Council and worked in that capacity till 1962. In 1964 he settled down in Karachi and became the Principal of Abdullah Haroon College, Karachi; he also edited the monthly magazine Adab-e-Latif from 1947 to 1958. During the India-Pakistan war in 1965 he worked in an honorary capacity in the Department of Information. He acted as the Editor of the magazine Lotus in Moscow, London and Beirut.

As a poet Faiz began writing on the conventional themes of love and beauty but soon these got submerged in the larger social and political issues of the day. The traditional grief of love was fused with the travails of the oppressed and exploited humanity. Faiz employed his poetic skills to champion the cause of socialist humanism. A “committed poet”, he declined to accept the maxim “art for art’s sake”. A Marxist and poet of the people, Faiz took up cudgels on behalf of the working class of Pakistan and headed several major trade unions. The Soviet Union honoured him with the prestigious Lenin Peace Prize in 1962. His poems have been translated into English, French, Russian, Arabic, Czech, Hungarian, Japanese, Mongolian, Bengali, Hindi, Nepali and several other languages.
He passed away at Lahore in November 1984.

Remembering him on the occasion of his birth centenary, we reproduce here the tribute to him by S.M. Mehdi that was published in Mainstream (December 1, 1984) and the acceptance speech that Faiz delivered on receiving the Lenin Peace Prie in 1962.

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