Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Language of Love: Shahrukh Husain on the Life of Pakistan's Most Celebrate Urdu Poet

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Language of Love: Shahrukh Husain on the Life of Pakistan's Most Celebrate Urdu Poet

Article excerpt

Nextyear, Pakistan will celebrate the centenary of its premier Urdu poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-84). The Pakistan Academy of Letters has announced an impressive range of events for 2011 - it plans to hold international conferences in Britain, Sweden and Canada, co-ordinate a huge translation project and project and issue memorial stamps. Faiz's work will be introduced on to the national syllabus in Pakistan and his "public oriented poetry" will be disseminated at central and provincial levels.

Despite being known supporter of the Communist Party, Faiz was both highly respected and popular in his lifetime, so the wider introduction of his work 26 years after his death is long overdue. It is also a relatively safe option as those protesting against the current political order tend to be drawn more to Islamic-style solutions than to communism. The thundering success of the apocalyptic title of Sinai (1971) bears witness to this trend.

From the masses to the classes, Pakistan is a nation that is passionate about poetry. Admittedly, levels of understanding vary, not just as a result of differences in education, but because of Pakistan's many regional languages, each with its own literature.

Faiz's language of choice, urde - Pakistan's linguafranca - is associated not with any specific province, but with the Mughal courts of the 18th century, where it gained royal patronage as a literary language. We know for certain that even the most warlike tribes among the Pathens and the Baluch are devoted to love poetry. Faiz excelled at it; his love poems are immediately expressive and abound in fabulous images, with flashed of forbidden love, particularly poignant in societies where people are killed for romantic liaisons even today.

Even his harshest protest poems are nuanced with a wider kind of love and longing. …

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