It sniffs of mint-fresh cultural imperialism! The exclusion of two poems of the renowned Pakistani Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984) from the Class 10 Social Science textbook in the 2022-23 curriculum of the Central Board of Secondary Education(CBSE) undermines the pluralistic ethic of education. This erasure of the historical contexts of the poems is an outrageous act of blatant denial. The representation of truth and the value of cultural memory, blotted out with a dismissive shrug, is a counterfactual historical move and a deliberate mutation of the past. It would not be out of place to recall the telling words of caveat by the acclaimed thinker and public intellectual Gopalkrishna Gandhi on the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi: “Like the icecaps that are melting and sliding off the Poles, certain time-honoured values are flaking off the globe… Gandhi’s legacy seems pulseless as the world moves from Universal Declaration of Human Rights to a Global Proclamation of Human Intolerance.”
It is a howling shame as some are hell bent on worshipping the false gods at their own peril. To remove Faiz Ahmed Faiz is a breach of trust — trust we have in egalitarian democracy, trust we have in human dignity, trust we have in the republic of imagination. I am reminded of the cyclonic monk, the symbol of radical saffron, Swami Vivekananda, his glorious dream of a “renascent India” and his resounding clarion call: aatmavat sarvabhooteshu [Looking upon all beings as your own self].
The whole episode of dropping Faiz from the syllabus and the criminal neglect of his humane poetry recalls Swamiji’s prophetic phrase identifying the curse of “dire irrigation of Don’t-touchism”. Moreover, Swamiji uses the metaphor of a “cooking pot” to castigate the malady of parochialism that breeds distortion, discord and disharmony. Needless to say, the invincible Faiz cannot be silenced. Remember the days of solitary confinement in Sargodha and Lyallpur during the Rawalpindi Conspiracy case and his composition betraying unflagging resilience resonating through the corridors of repressive power:
My pen and table, all that I had
Taken away from me
But what’s there to grieve for?
For I have dipped my fingers in my heart’s blood
So what if my lips have been sealed shut?
I have now put a tongue in
Each and every link of the chain.
As a teacher I am appalled, embittered and numbed. As the crisis of credibility takes deep roots in the Indian educational system, I feel a deep sense of unease. As the enigma of a Beckettian world “All that matters is the laugh and the tear” unfolds, the least I can do in response to this tangled issue is to help my students doing the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme learn the act of close reading by distinguishing between fact and fiction, propaganda and logic, bondage and freedom, indoctrination and holism, representation and meaning. Committed to the ideals of pluralistic education, how can I not adopt a crucial interpretive posture to winnow the wheat from the chaff? Yes, I taught and discussed Faiz with my students. Pedagogically, Faiz echoes the inevitability of utopian visions for rebuilding global citizenship underlined by educationist like Tagore, Sri Aurobindo, Jean Vanier in Becoming Human and Jiddu Krishnamurti in Can Humanity Change?, to name a few.
Committed to the ideals of pluralistic education, how can I not adopt a crucial interpretive posture to winnow the wheat from the chaff? Yes, I taught and discussed Faiz with my students.
As a lover of poetry, I wonder what and how would Faiz Saab respond to this gross aberration of truth! How would he tweak the ear of those given to historical negations? What I discern as a reader of Faiz is the subject of my deliberation. You can call this personal discourse, in the fashion of the illustrious Azar Nafisi, “Reading Faiz in India”. To read Faiz is to gall what is obscenely inappropriate, what speaks the lingo of homophobia and what slides into crass trivialisation appeasing cultural majoritarianism that cares not a damn for inter-cultural diversity and the integrity of minority community. Though exiled in India, who can deny the indefatigable spirit of Faiz in Subh-e-Azadi (The Morning of Freedom)? Aren’t his mighty words a stark reminder of the shift from the pluralistic India to the paradoxical India: “…this is not the morning we’d fought for, / in whose eager quest, all comrades/ had set out, hoping that somewhere/ in the wilderness of the sky/ would emerge the ultimate destination of stars…”?
Good sense bumps to a stop but Faiz is unstoppable. His words are the rattling chains banging the closed doors of conscience. Yes, he is out to trigger an avalanche. No wonder, if you find the brokers of powers screaming down the corridor of change in fear of losing their “faces” and, of course, the kursi they breathe in and out. The beneficiaries of bland fanaticism are foxed by the gem-like brilliance of Faiz’s diction. Beware! If you prefer to be a silent onlooker winking slyly at your cheeky ways of saving your skin, you cannot go unscathed, lynched by Faiz’s lacerating wit.
What is forbidden in this climate of chronic intolerance is the legacy of truthfulness. Faiz invokes the “sleeping dog”, the metaphorical inertia that has grown malignant. Drenching dissent, Faiz is invincible. Alive with hope, his words throb with Shelleyan optimism ringing far and wide. Unlike Agha Shahid Ali whose “each word in the fog awaits a sentence” from the floating Post Office, exuding a pensive longing to belong against the regime of exclusion and the megalomania of majoritarianism, Faiz’s mental province does not lament over the greyness of remembrance and its unrequited love: aur bhī dukh haiñ zamāne meñ mohabbat ke sivā / rāhateñ aur bhī haiñ vasl kī rāhat ke sivā. [There are sorrows other than heartache, joys other than love’s rapture/ So ask me not for that old fervour, my love.] A revolutionary to the core, Faiz is innately romantic to usher in a new dawn of love and humanity. Be it Sahir Ludhianvi’s much-awaited “subh” or Faiz’s “pock-marked morning”, here is Faiz the rebel poet, unleashed and unfazed in the face of the torment of existential angst and the absurdity of human condition–
Stay away from me. My body is a parched log in the desert.
If you burn it, you won’t see the cypress or the jasmine, but my bones blossoming
like thorns in the cactus.
If you throw it in the forests, instead of morning perfumes, you’ll scatter the dust of
my seared soul.
So stay away from me. Because I’m thirsting for blood.
This blood will redeem the ugliness of human acrimony, the virus of holier-than-thou. Faiz’s verse, fighting out the menace of ideological blinkers, is an instrument of demystification and transformation. What Faiz leaves behind is the legacy of imaginative activism and the human heritage of unconditional camaraderie. Will this deletion hurt the ever-defiant Faiz? On the flip side, I cannot help visualising Faiz with a rueful smile tinged with a rude awakening. Faiz would perhaps feel the same, to quote José Carlos Somoza in The Athenian Murders: “But I sometimes picture my poor soul/ As a translator locked up by a madman,/ Forced to decipher an absurd text, /Struggling to find meaning.” Tragic, Faiz is lost in the translation of seeking meaning of what is touted as “radical” in education.
What is forbidden in this climate of chronic intolerance is the legacy of truthfulness. Faiz invokes the ‘sleeping dog’, the metaphorical inertia that has grown malignant.
Both non-specialists and cognoscenti cannot ignore what is impeccably “political” in Faiz and the semantic range his poetry encompasses. He rips off the mask of hypocrisy; Swiftian sarcasm in full cry! It is a pity that the debunking critics fail to appreciate the quality of goodness in Faiz, the subtlety of his rhapsodies of the eternal values of nationalism and the veracity of his hard-hitting rationality to salvage the suffering humanity. These (non)critics, fallaciously flabby, feed on the empty rhetoric of ethnocentric arrogance. Faiz will find scant favour in the eyes of these proto-fascists who have terrible blind spots. At a time when the political version of Indian citizenship croaks horribly, Faiz’s words confer solemnity to the time-honoured truth of Indianism “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The World Is One Family). As a dispenser of this lofty Vedantic truth, the quintessence of Faiz’s experience is multi-cultural and his poetry is an ode to cultural pluralism, the soul-force of his creative muse paving the way for social equality and justice by dismantling tyrannical structures of hierarchy and stratification. His blistering pen that transgresses against the decadence of human action necessitates a radical attitude in readers. Surely, what is radical in Faiz is invariably a multi-cultural awareness. Not just intrinsically transformative, Faiz is semantically incantatory. To read Faiz is to move toward expansion and transcendence. Sadly, this inner experience is now rendered inaccessible to young learners of CBSE. What is denied to impressionable minds is Faiz’s personal testimony suggestive of the promise of libertarian socialism; they are denied the vibrant space to nurture their independence of thoughts, multiplicity of ideas and intellectual humility.
However, against the infringement of human rights, individual freedom and democratic dissent, welcome Faiz the heretic! The pungency of his ironic verses, which runs parallel to philosophical ponderings besides its experimental vigour, triggers into flight the albatross of democracy, its wings singed by divisive politics. Faiz, unruffled by the anarchy of ideologies, knows like Pablo Neruda in Revolution that those who gamble on the dice of power “fell/ wrapped in their togas/ of worm-eaten mud.”
What is denied to impressionable minds is the vibrant space to nurture their independence of thoughts, multiplicity of ideas and intellectual humility.
Discovering the essence of “what it means to be the other?” that often eludes us, Faiz Ahmed Faiz is an intriguing revelation. He opens the clogged minds to a radical view of humanity. To educationists, radical thinkers and poets, Faiz, though deleted from CBSE syllabus, cannot be forgotten or estranged. Remember the fuss over Faiz’s song ‘Hum Dekhenge’ (We shall see) by those who are wedded to a cosmetic pretence of democracy? Nonetheless, the pulse of life that gushes through his poetry will perennially inspire us. Faiz will never be a fugitive memory as the powers that be would wish with apparent impunity. We would continue to be famished lovers of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, wouldn’t we?