‘Barat ke dulha tou Faiz Sahab hi hain.’
This was said by Zehra Nigah on a Sunday evening in a session of poetry at Faiz International Festival, held at Alhamra Arts Council. This she said while sitting beside Dr Arifa Syeda, who introduced Zehra Nigah by saying that telling people about this fine Urdu poetess is like telling them that it is a sunny day outside, which people had already witnessed on the 19th of November, 2017. Zehra Nigah holds a significant place in the field of Urdu Literature not only owing to her highly popular poem Jangal Ka Qanoon, but becomes all the more dear when her siblings, the satirist Anwar Maqsood and the playwright Fatima Surraya Bajiya are mentioned along. In the ring made out of Urdu Literature’s gold by this literary family, when the diamond of Zehra Nigah’s name fits, a piece of valuable jewellery is formed for Pakistanis.
Among the many sessions held at the festival, this particular session found a place in my heart because Zehra Nigah did not forget for a single moment that the festival had been organised in Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s honour, and that the tribute was to be paid to him. Although being a popular poetess herself, she did not exhibit her own pieces of work, save the ones she was requested to recite. Her focus remained on acquainting the audience with the personality of Faiz Ahmad Faiz. It was not his famous poems she talked about, neither did she dwell upon his revolutionary mindset, two things about which everyone already knows, but presented his image of a humble man and a positive thinker, in whose life negativity had no place.
She commenced by making people feel the presence of Faiz, for in her view, it is entirely on our own to consider a person dead or alive. The audience was told that Faiz Ahmad Faiz had a predilection for Sauda, and preferred his poetry over that of Meer Taqi Meer. He was the one to urge Zehra Nigah to start reading Sauda. However, she made it clear that there was no such thing as a lack of disrespect for Meer, a poet of high calibre, but Faiz’s inclination towards another poet arose from his ideas of optimism and positivity, causing him to avert his eyes from works having a tinge of sadness and disappointment in them.
This discussion gradually turned towards the practical implementation of positivity in Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s life, and Zehra Nigah mentioned some incidents from his life which have made him even more admirable. One of them was Faiz’s idea of ‘switching off’ of the button of negative and degrading comments. A certain contemporary of his wrote a long article fraught with harsh, bold words entirely against Faiz Ahmad Faiz. When Zehra Nigah told him that he had been spoken about in such a manner, he replied that one is not to turn his ears towards destructive criticism. The only way to respond to negative remarks is to ‘switch off’ the button of hearing comments full of hatred. And this ‘switching off’, according to Faiz Saheb, required a lot of hard work and patience. Not only this, but when he was asked to respond to the article in some way, he said that such an act would make him a backbiter, and he had no right to talk behind a person’s back.
Another incident Zehra Nigah mentioned was about a person who one day kept sitting for hours and hours before Faiz, constantly talking and reciting his poetry without even being requested to. Faiz, although bored and fed up, did not have the courage to ask him to stop speaking in fear of hurting him. Asking for a break, he walked out of the room and requested Zehra Nigah to form a plan, mild in its execution, in order to bring the meeting to an end. However, truthfulness, sincerity and honesty had seeped into his soul to such an extent that even when Zehra Nigah entered to make up a story of a phone call asking Faiz to reach a such-and-such place, he could not synchronise with her, and replied: "Really? I didn’t hear the phone bell ringing."
A person when was sympathising with Faiz Sahab on his years spent in the prison, Faiz did not respond in the same disappointed tone, but treated the bygone incident in an offhand manner. Alys, his wife, expressed anger at treating such a painful part of his life in a casual way and tried to make him feel that he and his family had suffered a lot, which he had no right to be indifferent to. He replied by telling that every time they were given food in jail, the giver would hand him a card paper torn from the back of a cigarette cover, and along with it, a pencil. Faiz would write verses on that small piece with the help of the pencil. The next time the giver would come, he would take the writings with him and keep them safe with him. This would happen daily. When Faiz was freed from the jail, he was handed over all his writings by that person. To sum it up, Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s idea was to keep in mind the good memories associated with something, and not to recall the bad times.
Through these incidents from the poet’s personal life, Zehra Nigah introduced a new and rarely known side of his, that of a person who did have the courage to speak against brutalities, but did not have the courage to lie, to backbite, or to say ‘no’ to someone. Even in the most painful times, he looked for something positive to hold on to. It is no wonder that memories, which rip people’s hearts apart, came as the season of spring to Faiz Ahmad Faiz. A sanguine approach towards life was always there in him.
Raat youn dil mein teri khoyi hui yaad aayi
Jaise veeranay mein chupke se bahaar ajaye
Jaise sehraaon mein haule se chale baad-e-naseem
Jaise beemar ko be-wajah qaraar ajaye