Since there was no Pakistan, there could not be a Pakistani nation. When Pakistan was created, we only had the raw materials for a Pakistani nation. A nation evolves over centuries; nations are not born fully developed. So our first task was to establish the details of our nationality, its definition, its destiny
Faiz: Regarding religion, I have mentioned that I attended Molvi Ibraheem Mir’s Quranic dars for years. In college my subject was Arabic and there used to be an exam on Quran and Hadith in MA. Then, in prison, initially no book or paper was permitted, but Quran was allowed, and so I read that extensively for four months. I have been more associated with Sufism however, because it is an invaluable component of our literature and secondly I believe that by virtue of their pantheism, the Sufis have been very consistent and scientific in their own manner. Secondly the hypocrisies, exhibitions and materialism that we find in the religion of clerics are not found in their religion. For this reason I have been very closely attached to it. I have been associated with painting and other arts in my adulthood, through the art council and by other ways. For instance, I have many artist friends. This began with Chughtai sahib. He was a part of Sufi sahib’s circle. As a viewer I have relished all arts, have benefitted from them, and have incorporated them in my poetry to some extent.
Intizaar Hussain: Faiz sahib, you must have read fiction as well. What did you read as a child, as an adult and then as a part of the Progressive movement?
Faiz: In childhood, as I mentioned, I read all the novels of (Abdul Haleem) Sharar, Fasana-e-Azaad, Talism Hoshruba. These were very easily available from the nearby shop, but I used to read them secretly. In those days it was not considered a decent activity to read novels. *laughter* By 6th, 7th class I had read the classical literature and by 7th, 8th class I had read all these novels. Then it so happened that my father had a munshi who was also the treasurer. We used to take pocket money and money for books from him. One day we had a disagreement, and he complained to my father about my novel reading. I was called. My father inquired about my novel reading and I confessed. He said that it is also a good habit, but instead of Urdu novels you should read English novels. After that I started reading English fiction. I read Dickens for the first time in 8th or 9th class. In those days Rider Haggard was very popular. I read those and romantic novels, and Conan Doyle and detective stories. When I came to college, there was an exam of fiction. For that I read all the fiction of Europe from Tolstoy to Hardy. So I have been very interested in this and still am. For instance, I have read Tolstoy’s War and Peace about 12 times. So this interest is still maintained.
Qayyum Nazar: Faiz sahib, after 1947 some people often debate about the vision of Pakistani nationalism and how it is derived.
Faiz: I am not an authority on this, politicians know better. I personally think, and I have written this as well, that up till 1947 there was no Pakistani nation. Because there was no country, there was no nation. There were two ideas that existed at the time: First were the Muslims of India who called themselves a nation, but that included the Muslims of both Pakistan and India, and hence it was not a Pakistani nation. Second, people identified with whatever places they lived in, such as Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Pathan etc. Obviously a Pakistani nation had not been created then. Since there was no Pakistan, there could not be a Pakistani nation. When Pakistan was created, we only had the raw materials for a Pakistani nation. A nation evolves over centuries; nations are not born fully developed. So our first task was to establish the details of our nationality, its definition, its destiny, but what happened was that we got tangled up in ministries and presidentships, and in making and breaking governments and this dimension was ignored both by our intellectuals and politicians. The result is that even after 27, 28 years the debate is still going on about what is and is not a Pakistani identity. In my view a Pakistani identity is very clear. The people who live in Pakistan are the Pakistani nation. This includes Punjabi, Balochi, Sindhi, all those who live here. Now the issue is to create a bond and a complete sense of national identity in the various types of people that live here, Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi etc, people who have different languages and slight variations in customs and cultures. This is the work of politicians. It is very clear in my mind that those who live in Pakistan are Pakistanis. How to discipline this nation and which route it should take, there is disagreement of opinion with regards to that.
Qayyum Nazar: When we fought a war with India in 1965 a lot of people talked about this issue on radio and newspapers. However, it is said that you didn’t elaborate your views on it then, or perhaps they never reached us?
Faiz: Well, the first thing is that I didn’t initiate the 1965 war, Ayub Khan did that. Nor am I responsible for the 1970 war, Yahya Khan did that. It is true that in the time of war it is obligatory to defend one’s country, and something has to be done. However, I had a fundamental disagreement with these wars. There were incompetent and myopic people on both sides who created conditions for the wars. The truth is that I was against the wars. What could I have said apart from saying protect your country and that I am with everyone in this.
Ijaz Batalwi: Faiz sahib, I have heard that your famous poem ‘Tanhai’ is the remembrance of the pleasant times which you referred to previously as the period of your teaching at Amritsar. It is said, based on your own reportage that you intuited the first verse of this poem while you were in a third class railroad car, which was stuffed and when another passenger was to enter, the passengers inside used to become nauseous at the prospect. In that condition this verse came to you by intuition:
Phir koi aya dil-e zaar
Nahi, koi nahi.
If this tradition is correct, then it would appear that the manner in which a poem is born in a poet’s mind, it has its own mechanics, and its own dynamic process, and it is not necessary as to where it’ll start, where it’ll end and what direction it will take. My question to you is that many of your political poems, the ones in which there is little mention of love and lovers, and more social consciousness, how do these poems develop and grow in your mind?
Faiz: There is no one form it takes. However, take the example of the poems I wrote in prison. Obviously the topic that weighed on my mind the most at that time was the jail cell, and it started with:
Nisar mae teri galiyon pe ay watan k jahan
This came first. After this I thought about what pattern would come next. I believe that a vague restlessness is created in the mind. A hemistich or tune or idea comes to mind and then one starts weaving around it. The whole form never materializes at once. What happens is that after a while the pattern begins to crystallize. In a way it is a conscious process. Then one writes it in a number of ways. Ghazal is a more confined format. This doesn’t apply to that, I am talking about Nazams. There is no such thing in ghazal, it has more to do with rhyme. In a nazam however it does happen that you write many half-verses, you make one skeleton, then make another, and so on, in a continuity. After this the extent of the subject is determined in its own manner and sometimes it happens that the topic which you have set changes not once but twice or thrice during writing. This is because you planned to write in a particular way and then realized later that it doesn’t match with the rest or that the focus of a hemistich is not correct. The subject changes as you proceed. There is a topic in mind but the final form it takes keeps changing with words, because words are autonomous to an extent. At times they are not under our control, and they determine what form of expression the subject will take.
Anees Nagi: And what about the so-called spontaneity, that a verse comes to you instantly and you write it down?
Faiz: That happens in ghazal. Even in ghazal, however, you have to polish what you have written spontaneously.
Ijaz Batalwi: Faiz sahib, in your early poetry you have stressed a lot on human freedom, freedom of thought and freedom of expression. However, in the past thirty forty years the systems that took over and reigned in the world, even those who call themselves democracies and those we identify as economic democracies, in both of these an individual has become constrained more and more, and the concept of individual freedom has weakened in both these systems. One does not find in your poetry that this has been painful for you. You had a dream of freedom, the freedom of all people, but what happened in the past forty years is that nations got political independence, but no such society emerged which would approximate your poetic ideals. In fact, the individual has become more and more constrained but there is no expression of this in your poetry?
Faiz: I do not agree that individual liberties have been more constrained in the last forty years. In fact, I believe that limitations have decreased. Take your own country. The issue of limitations arises when a person is so educated that he is aware of limitations. The societies that are in front of us, especially our sort of societies in which majority people have no elementary education, no consciousness, they will obviously have no awareness of limitations. To be aware of limitations, you must first be educated. In this regard I believe that in the past forty years human consciousness has evolved, and because of that, in the societies to which you referred, at least what has happened is that the people who were unenlightened, and resultantly their material conditions weren’t so well either, have now become very insightful because of education and other facilities compared to how they were previously. This itself is a form of independence. These people have been freed of ignorance, superstition and other such chains. When we think of limitations, we think of class. We have a small class of prosperous and educated people and obviously in our case your thought is probably correct, that limitations have increased. As different societies have decided according to their purpose and goals as to whether the independence of a few humans is more precious or the freedom of the majority from fundamental slavery. When we talk of limitations, we talk of people like ourselves, which I don’t think is correct. We should also consider that the people who have political freedom or people who have economic facilities, how many bonds have been broken and how much slavery they have freed themselves from. I do agree that an ideal society is yet to exist in which there is intellectual freedom as much as there are worldly and material facilities. That may never be possible. As Iqbal said:
Who cheez hay naam jis ka jahaN mae azaadi
Suni zaroor hay dekhi kahi nahi mae nay
(To be continued)
[Courtesy: The Friday Times, Lahore]