Ammar Aziz has sent this exclusive piece for Pak Tea House on the recent centennial celebrations held for the great poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz. We are posting this without prejudice as debate on such important public concerns is vital. However, the views expressed here are not necessarily those of the PTH team. We would welcome rebuttals on this space. Admn
Lahore’s Mall road was as crowded as always. Behind the modern age vehicles – coming violently from the both sides of the road- and amongst the old silent trees, I saw him, walking very slowly on a footpath. The old man was holding a little red flag. Those ragged dusty clothes, lengthy gray hair, wrinkled mystic face and small piece of scarlet; there was something very dramatic about that old man whose appearance reminded me of the realist Soviet paintings. He was heading towards the building of Alhamra Art Complex which was covered with the life sized posters of the Socialist poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The poet’s centenary celebrations were about to begin and the car parking was almost full.
The old man stood there for a short while and looked at the smiling photograph of the poet. He then entered the main gate and headed towards the hall. One could find a lot of ‘cultured’ men and women, walking with an attitude towards the hall. All of those well-dressed, well-spoken people started entering the hall, but the old man kept standing there. The guards were not letting him enter. He remained there until the gates were closed and the hall echoed with the radical words of Faiz, Hum Dekhaingey – We shall see, We shall see…but the old man never saw anything! He could not afford to buy a ticket for a thousand rupees to celebrate Faiz day!
What an ordinary incident, isn’t it? It did not make any difference at all. It rained heavily that evening. The cars kept passing on the mall. All the people came out of the hall cheerfully. They were excited to see the VIPs from Bollywood. I heard, an aged gentleman saying, ‘We’ll drink tonight till late. Its Faiz’s birthday after all!’ But the old man kept sitting there on stairs. ‘They asked to buy the ticket. I don’t have a thousand rupees’, said the poor working class admirer of the working class poet. He added, ‘I came from Faisalabad to celebrate the 100th birthday of our beloved poet.’ Rahmat was an oppressed power loom worker, who – like thousands of other people – could never afford to enter that high-class intellectual gathering dedicated to the proletarian poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
The centenary celebrations of the man who fought against class-system all his life was clearly divided into classes. The next day was supposed to be an ‘Awami Mela’ known as Faiz Peace Festival. This event is being organized every year by the Progressive Writers Movement with an affiliation of the left-wing organizations at the open air theater of the Lawrence garden. But unlike every year, this time the organizers (Faiz’s family) – who were the organizers of the elitist event mentioned above – decided to organize the Peace Festival as well. It was open to all so it was truly filled with thousands of people, the workers and activists, who are the real family of Faiz. PTV was given the exclusive rights to cover the event.
Hundreds of red flags, Socialist slogans, working women and men – the ambiance was extremely radical. The program began with a couple of folk performances and later on pop singers started performing. They sang everything, the songs of love and breakups, the songs that commodify feminity, the songs that Faiz never wrote and never sang! Faiz’s struggle was not only against the unequal distribution of wealth but also against the limitation of art for the sake of art. His poetry was the poetry of life and his words were the celebration of people’s struggle. There was no one at the Faiz Peace Festival to sing those songs that have been the anthems of resistance since decades. Instead, the whole day was dedicated to lovey dovey songs and cheap attempts of entertaining the ‘poor ignorant masses’. The people kept waiting till late but there was no one to reflect real essence of the poet.
As Faiz said, ‘ab yahan koi nahin koi nahin aay ga..’
Imagine! Different Faiz days for different classes! An intellectually mature event, with performers like Tina Sani, and speakers who reflected the real Faiz, only for a certain class and saucy songs, cheap comedy for the people who understand and can relate to the poet more than the drawing-room intellectuals. Who has a right to underestimate the common people like this? The organisers of Faiz festival killed the centenary celebrations, that are being celebrated around the world with great respect. They valued Faiz Ahmed Faiz for Rs. 1000/person! I wish they could take some time out from the U-fone and Coca-Cola campaigns or they should not have claimed to own the poet.
However, the real family of the poet, the oppressed working class, continue to live and celebrate the poetry of Faiz in their daily lives.