It is the centenary of a man who can be described as perhaps the single most important, influential and courageous poet South Asia has ever produced. Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s words have become the life and soul of millions, and given solace and determination to all who have, and continue to, fight for justice and humanity in South Asia.

His influence on me has immeasurable and profound. In fact, so much so, that when asked by the Fulbright Fellowship to write what they described as ‘an intellectual biography’, I found myself beginning the story of the idea of my life with one of Faiz’s poems. It is a poem that I have written about earlier in a post called Unravelling Bitter Threads where I wrote that:

I heard Faiz Ahmed Faiz before I read him.  His poem ‘Don’t Ask Me for That Love Again’ – sung by the likes of Begum Akhtar and Noor Jehan is famous for its bold challenge to the Beloved (whether this is mortal or the Divine is usually left unspecific) to accept that his social commitment, his sense of moral outrage, is more important than even his love for him/her.  Agha Shahid Ali in his book ‘The Rebel’s Silhouette’ called it ‘revolutionary’.

I did not realize its significant when I first heard it. But if I ever have to explain how my life fell off its well structured, conventional, safe, insular and material success oriented track to its current antithesis then I always begin by turning to this poem.

Sometimes we don’t realize the ideas and individuals who change our world view and our lives until far after our encounters with them. Faiz was one such voice in my life. This is a good year to begin to get to know his works.

Himal Magazine has just published a special issue dedicated to Faiz and his influence and it makes for wonderful reading

Himal Magazine January 2011