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‘Blemished Night’: A Letter To Faiz Ahmad Faiz

The clarion call you gave to keep marching for ‘the salvation of sights and hearts’ and the concepts of dissent and resistance that you so passionately believed in, remain tools of survival against the tyranny of dictators and majoritarianism

Faiz Ahmad Faiz
Faiz Ahmad Faiz Twitter


Dear Faiz sir,

Inspired by your passionate poem, ‘Yeh Dagh Dagh Ujala’, an Indian filmmaker, Raj Amit Kumar, made a movie in English in 2014, ‘Unfreedom’. The movie sank without a trace but it had a very interesting plot, which explores two parallel worlds. A Muslim fundamentalist in New York kidnaps a liberal Muslim scholar with intent to kill; and in New Delhi, a closeted lesbian kidnaps her bisexual lover with the intention to love. The movie unfolds against this background, unravelling the brutal interplay of identities and violence. It captures how the obsession with singular identity to the detriment of other identities plays havoc with human sensitivities and sensibilities. Amartya Sen, in his book 'Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, (2006), echoed similar sentiments.

Faiz sahab, you won’t believe it, but when this movie was sought to be released in India under the title ‘Dagh Ujala’, the Censor Board — what else — censored it. You had said it so prophetically, “What we were waiting for, this is not that morning.” Censorship eventually deadens imagination. The subcontinent continues to wrestle with the obsessive fixation with singular religious identity and the death of imagination. So, there is Islamism and it is Hindutva or, lest I be accused of partisanship by zealots and fanatics, let me change the order to Hindutva and Islamism — political Hinduism and political Islam. Sir, they claim to be diametrically opposed to each other, but they could not be more similar. Steeped in uncertainties and paranoia, nurtured by hatred, sustained by exclusion and seeking redemption in erasure and elimination of the other, they only prove that the clarion call that you gave to keep marching for the new dawn, the concepts of dissent, resistance and solidarity that you so passionately believed in remain tools of survival against the tyranny of dictators and majoritarianism.

Faiz sir, how ironic that the right-wing on either side of the Wagah border find your poetry distasteful and even more, sinister and pernicious to their religious beliefs. So mullahs in Pakistan derided you and your poetry as “anti-Sharia” and the “temples of modern India” have set up a committee to assess whether your poems are anti- Hindu. There must be something eternal and universal about your poetry that it gets the goats of fanatics.

Dear sir, it calls into question the role of writers and artists in drawing maps and developing roadmaps for the world we live in. These are too monumental and too important tasks to be left to the manipulative devices of myopic politicians. Artists and writers cannot and must not abandon this responsibility. Politicians want us to forget everything to believe only in their idea of the world. Writers and artists, on the other hand, paint the world in diverse hues and remind people that it is not the truth. If they abandon this task, it would be one of the most tragic abdications of history. “The struggle for power,” as Kundera says, “is the struggle between memory and forgetting.” Faiz saab, your unqualified belief in humanity taught us that humanity must triumph over commodity and continuity must triumph over adversity.

Nineteenth-century French writer Stendhal in ‘The Charterhouse of Parma’ wrote these prophetic lines: “Politics in a literal work are a pistol-shot in the middle of a concert, a crude affair though one impossible to ignore. We are about to speak of very ugly matters.” Faiz sir, you taught us the world we live in is a political world and there is no getting away from disturbing political questions — questions of power and resistance. So, in life, there is no Orwellian retreat, there is no going back to ‘inside the whale’. We live in a world without hiding places. So, we must take on the world as it is while seeking to make it less cruel and more humane.

Faiz sahab, who, in your reckoning, was more dangerous of the two — Bhutto, who sought to befriend you, or Zia, who sought to banish you?  In my reckoning, it must be people like Bhutto who, through their slippery incarnations, mean different things to different people. So, he was a socialist, a socialist democrat, an Islamist socialist, an Islamist democrat, or a plain Islamist, who gave momentum to the Islamisation of Pakistan which Zia-ul-Haq only intensified. Zias are predictable and people have always devised ways to deal with the likes of Caligulas. Bhuttos are slippery customers. How do you take on friends who are actually your enemies?

Faiz sahab, both democracy and Communism promise Utopias but while democratic utopias could be realised step by step with vision and imagination, the one promised by Communism creates impossible monsters in its wake. Democracy in India, as it is in your country, is a work-in-progress. One only hopes that the belief in the Constitution should not be a matter of convenience but one of conviction.

“नजात-ए-दीद-ओ-दिल की घङी नहीं आई
चले चलो कि वो मंजिल अभी नहीं आई”

(The moment of salvation for our sights and hearts has not yet arrived
keep marching, for that destination has not yet arrived.)

(Sanjay Kumar is an employee of the Bihar government)

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