About Faiz Ahmed Faiz (by Simon Korner)
Just as the poetry of Pablo Neruda is massively popular with ordinary Chileans – who regard him as their national poet – so Faiz Ahmed Faiz is loved by millions of Pakistanis, who know his poems by heart. His funeral in 1984 was a day of mourning for the whole country. Many Faiz poems have been set to music and are still widely sung.
Faiz, a Communist like Neruda, was born in British India in 1911, the son of a lawyer. He joined the newly formed Progressive Writers’ Movement in the 1930s, served in the Indian Army during the Second World War and became a Lieutenant Colonel. After Partition he moved to Pakistan, where he became editor of the Pakistan Times, an English-language daily. He also worked as managing editor of the Urdu daily Imroz, and was actively involved in organising trade unions.
In 1951 Faiz was accused of plotting a coup with a group of Pakistani army officers and, after four years on death row, was released in 1955 after worldwide pressure from such stars as Paul Robeson. In 1962 he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union. He went into exile in Moscow, London and Beirut, eventually returning to Pakistan.
Much of his poetry follows the conventions of ghazal, the classical form of traditional Urdu poetry, which has been influenced by Persian literature. But Faiz’s work revolutionises the conventions, extending the meanings of many traditional terms. For instance, Faiz often addresses poems to his “beloved”, a central word in the ghazal vocabulary. In his hands, it refers to both a person and also to the people as a whole, even to revolution. He sees the individual as existing within a wider context: “The self of a human being, despite all its loves, troubles, joys and pains, is a tiny, limited and humble thing.”
His most famous poem Don’t Ask Me for That Love Again, which is not in the strict ghazal form, explains why he can no longer cocoon himself inside romantic love.
DON’T ASK ME FOR THAT LOVE AGAIN
That which then was ours, my love,
don’t ask me for that love again.
The world then was gold, burnished with light –
and only because of you. That’s what I had believed.
How could one weep for sorrows other than yours?
How could one have any sorrow but the one you gave?
So what were these protests, these rumours of injustice?
A glimpse of your face was evidence of springtime.
The sky, whenever I looked, was nothing but your eyes.
If you’d fall into my arms, Fate would be helpless.
All this I’d thought, all this I’d believed.
But there were other sorrows, comforts other than love.
The rich had cast their spell on history:
dark centuries had been embroidered on brocades and silks.
Bitter threads began to unravel before me
as I went into alleys and in open markets
saw bodies plastered with ash, bathed in blood.
I saw them sold and bought, again and again.
This too deserves attention. I can’t help but look back
when I return from those alleys – what should one do?
And you are still so ravishing – what should I do?
There are other sorrows in this world,
comforts other than love.
Don’t ask me, my love, for that love again.
(Translated from Urdu by Agha Shahid Ali)
If I met you face to face, I
would retrace—erase!—my heartbreak,
pain by pain,
ache by ache,
word by word,
point by point.
In search of you—just your face!—I
roam through the streets lost in disgrace,
house to house,
lane to lane,
place to place,
door to door.
My heart hopeless—broken, crushed!—I
heard it pound, till blood gushed from me,
fountain by fountain,
stream by stream,
river by river,
sea by sea.
The garden of your lips—your cheeks!—
your perfumed hair, I wander there,
bloom to bloom,
rose to rose,
petal to petal,
scent to scent.
Your eyebrow—your eye!—and the mole
on your face, somehow they tie me,
trait to trait,
kindness to kindness,
passion to passion,
love to love.
While I grieve, with love—your love!—I
will reweave the fabric of my soul,
stitch by stitch,
thread by thread,
warp by warp,
woof by woof.
Last, I—Táhirih—searched my heart, I
looked line by line. What did I find?
You and you,
you and you,
you and you.
another cildo meireles installation at the museu d’art contemporani de barcelona was called “red shift”. in physics the term describes the stretching of light as it travels through expanding space on its way to the earth. but meireles is referring to a shift in perception.
the installation occupies a u-shaped space, starting with what looks like a studio apartment done up exclusively in red. there is a normalcy to this environment. the monochromatic color scheme is soothing although the abundance of red objects could also point to a hoarder’s obsession with collecting/acquiring/consuming. to me it was a capitalist’s sanctuary. this first part is called “impregnation”.
the second part of the installation connects this first room to a second room. it is a winding path along which a tiny bottle lies sideways, spilling a disproportionately large amount of red paint. already the installation starts to feel a bit odd and unsettling. as we move along this pathway the paint spill seems interminable. the lights dim. it gets progressively darker. this part is called “entorno”, which means both spill and environment in portuguese.
we finally reach the second room, the most dramatically staged yet. it is pitch black now. we cannot see the contours of the room. a spotlight is mounted on top of a large white sink, floating in space at a crooked angle. there is blood-like fluid gushing forth from the faucet, making a loud splashing sound. like the spill, this spurt seems never-ending. the effect is that of a crime scene, something cinematically staged in a horror movie. it is ominous, terrifying. this part is called “shift”.
our perception has effectively shifted from familiar and comforting, to odd and surprising to downright frightening. the work is said to have been inspired by the murder of a journalist by brazilian police, when the country was struggling under a military dictator in the 1960s. the message seems clear. unbridled capitalism or accumulation of private wealth, which for many countries goes hand in hand with dictatorships, can only be achieved through exploitation and violence.
saw this stunning installation in barcelona. a group of 2,000 bones hang from the ceiling. lit beautifully, they look like an opulent, heavy chandelier that looms over a sandbox filled with glistening pennies. the money is connected to the bones by a tall stack of communion wafers. brazilian artist cildo meireles is talking about the jesuit exploitation of the tupi-guarani people – how the church used religious conversion to further economic gain. the installation is enclosed within sheer black curtains – the “mission” being hardly veiled.
Cildo Meireles. Mission/Missions (How to Build Cathedrals), 1987. Approximately 600,000 coins, 800 communion wafers, 2,000 bones, 80 paving stones and black fabric, 235 x 600 x 600 cm. Daros-Latinamerica © Cildo Meireles
Shahzia Sikander combines elements from Hindu mythology, Persian tales, and personal experience in paintings such as Pleasure Pillars, 2001.
pakistani american artist shahzia sikander – using miniature art as a language that subverts the colonial paradigm.