The year of Faiz, his birth centennial being celebrated officially and by academic and literary institutions and associations across Pakistan and by Pakistanis abroad in 2011, began with a fresh rise of obscurantism and religious intolerance. Besides, destitution and unemployment are seeing new heights when we begin to celebrate the year. On the first day of the year, the newspapers told us that the international money-lenders ask the rich running the country of the poor for immediate fiscal belt-tightening measures warning that the state of economy is far worse than envisaged. Meaning thereby that in the plutocracy of Pakistan, the poor this year have to be squeezed further in the name of the survival of their country.
The first personal tribute we as a nation offered Faiz Ahmed Faiz, our most beloved poet, valiant trade unionist, enlightened journalist who edited Pakistan Times, Lahore, and Lotus, Beirut, ardent campaigner for the rights of the poor and the disadvantaged, peasants and labourers, an educationist who would choose to teach in the working-class neighbourhood of Lyari, Karachi, and cultural icon who established institutions like Lok Virsa, Islamabad, was the dead body of his nephew, Salmaan Taseer, riddled with scores of bullet holes.
This was not enough of a tribute perhaps. Therefore, those who had decided to celebrate the Faiz year at the official level hurriedly disowned the martyr who happened to be their political associate and gave in fully to the desires of ones who want to take this country back into the Palaeolithic age. They are the ones who know well that they will disappear into oblivion if people of this country become knowledgeable, critical and wise.
And the current rulers of Faiz’s country have bowed down in front of these obscurantist forces that use religion to whip up emotions of innocent people in order to grab more political power. In the process, they continue to commit a great disservice to the faith of Islam.
Let me turn back a few leaves of history. Alys, the wife of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, was the younger sister of Bilquis (formerly Christobel) and the sister-in-law of Muhammed Din Taseer, more commonly known as M D Taseer. Taseer was someone Allama Iqbal adored and recommended to Cambridge for a PhD in English literature. He is remembered as a towering personality in both Urdu and English literatures. As a poet, essayist and critic, he made a mark for himself at a very young age. Faiz was a few years younger to Taseer and it was Taseer and Bilquis who introduced Faiz to his future wife Alys.
Another claim to fame for Taseer is his role in organising the funeral of Ghazi Ilam Din Shaheed, who had killed Rajpal in Lahore for publishing a blasphemous book. The parallel drawn between Ilam Din and the assassin of M D Taseer’s son, Mumtaz Qadri, is terribly wrong, unfortunate and ironic. Salmaan, who was born to Bilquis and M D Taseer, stood up for the rights of a poor peasant woman and her likes, both Muslim and non-Muslim, who are victimised by the presence of article 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code. This was introduced in 1986 under Zia’s martial rule. Bilquis and M D Taseer’s son and Alys’s and Faiz’s nephew neither committed nor encouraged any blasphemy. He was to fall prey to the whims of blood-thirsty bigots.
Faiz will be offered more tributes this year it seems in the shape of rising poverty and inequality for those he lived, worked and wrote for. Happy Faiz Centennial!