Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984), was one of the most celebrated modern Urdu poets. He is known to elite and common, lettered and unlettered, alike. Faiz is a house hold name. With the magic of his poetry, he had won the hearts of millions of people across the world. A poet—who changed the traditional Urdu metaphors, and images by clothing them into new garments of resistance and revolution. With him Urdu poetry opened up new horizons and avenues, bringing new dawn into the established genres of Ghazal.
Urdu Ghazal is one of the most beloved genres of literature. And Faiz is one such poet who deserves to be remembered in the caravan of eminent Urdu poets. In the hands of Faiz, the ghazal changed its traditional metaphors. For example, mahboob (beloved), raqeeb (rival), wasl (Union), gaisoo (hair locks) got new connotations. He was not unfaithful to the old tradition of ghazal, but made it clear there are other things in the world to be looked at, as he writes in one of his most beloved ghazal “Muj say pehli say muhabbat meray mahboob na mañg’:
There are sorrows in this world other than love
There are pleasures than that of beloved’s union
As is the case with famous world literary personalities, the prison had indeed made many prisoners writers, poets, philosophers, revolutionaries, rebels etc. For Faiz prison worked as a laboratory, nourishing his poetic sensibility. He superbly acclaimed in one of the interviews that, “going to jail was like falling in love again.”
Faiz was arrested and imprisoned on 09 March 1951 in a failed coup attempt famously known Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. He spent the next four years in different jails of Pakistan. His incarceration gave him first-hand experience of the harsh realities of life and provided him much needed solitude to think deeply and write profoundly. He was released on, 20th of April 1955. He was again imprisoned in December 1958, however, was released after few months in February 1959.
Indeed, Faiz had gained his name in the caravan of Urdu poets before incarceration, but it was in prison—which heightened his creativity. His life before the prison was busy, where he could hardly get time to write and if write then nourish his poetry. I hope, my argument is not that, “to became a great poet, it is necessary to lend him/her in prison’ but the canon of prison literature shows it was in prison/jail or house arrest that, an incarcerated writer gains the freedom which he would have not imagined outside prison. It can be carried out, that like many writers, Faiz incarceration worked as a blessing in disguise.
At another place, Faiz had acclaimed, that being in prison is like another adolescence. Although, before his arrest, he had published his first poetry collection ‘Naqsh Faryde’, it was in prison that he could write and publish his large volume of poems. The reason could be that he might have got ample time to write his poetry, which before he does not have due to his hectic life schedules as Editor-In-Chief of Pakistan Times. He lit the dark walls of the prison cell, by writing, composing and reciting poetry. During his four years of prison, he could write two-volume of poetry Dast-e-Saba and Zindnan Nama. His first prison collection Dast-e-Saba was published when he was inside the prison bars. The later collection soon after his release.
Faiz had written a larger number of poems during the four years in prison, before his imprisonment, he was able to write less/shorter number of poems. His first collection composed before incarceration over a period of fourteen years between 1928-1942 contains fifty poems. Dast-e-Saba and Zindnan Nama, on the other hands, contains forty and thirty-two respectively, making seventy-three poems in just four years (1951-1955). Argues Carlo Coppola, an eminent scholar on Faiz, taking only the number Faiz’s poetic output had dramatically increased during incarceration. No doubt his fours were a state of trauma and suffering on one hand, but on the other, it was a literary productive period.
The first three months of his time in jail were very tough when he was placed in solitary confinement for three months, where all reading and writing were strictly prohibited. During this time he wrote some of the famous qitas (quatrain) ‘what if my pen and tablet have been snatched’, with the charcoal on walls. His rest stay in prison was a little easy where could breathe somehow freely, but still, prison is a prison. To prison, a poet—is not only to physically cage him but to control his mind, imagination thought-process. While as to write is resist this design and to subvert it.
The suffering, trauma, pain, ordeal, and separation from loved ones had made the poet a Rebel, composing against the oppressive regimes. Faiz’s prison term is occupied by two sentiments—one the separation from home and another his love for his country and his people, as he writes elsewhere. But nothing could make him surrender/ compromise on his principles and ideologies. As he nicely puts in one of prison lyrics:
Ghar aj auj pai hai talai-e-raqeeb to kya baat
Ye chaar din ki khudai koi baat nahie.
For many prison writers, the prison seemed a feeble entity to surpass their voice above the high prison wall. For literary giants like Nehru—who described ‘his visits to prison as pilgrims’, for Thearou, ‘I did not even for a moment felt confined’, for Lovelace, ‘stone walls do not a prison make’. For Faiz ‘life is so sweet at this moment’. Nonetheless physically imprisoned they could easily escape—an escape of imagination and mind. And they have protested through the written record in the form of poetry and prose called Prison Literature.
Those who imprisoned Faiz are forgotten long ago. However, Faiz is still celebrated and sung across the world, and there lies the triumph of a great poet.
Author is a researcher.