Poetry: Inspired by Faiz

By Muneeza Shamsie in Dawn, Books and Authors, Sunday, February 1, 2020.

Urdu poetry is celebrated for its multi-layered resonances which transcend time and age. Whether written in the 18th century or the 21st, it can be quoted in political meetings, debates and daily conversations to make an apt comment on current events, public or personal.

In recent weeks, Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s famous poem Hum Dekhein Gey [We Too Will See] — which was written as a critique of the Zia regime and rings out with its universal message of protest against tyranny, repression and injustice — has been chanted by huge crowds in India against the brutal attacks at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi.

The power of Faiz’s poetry and its ability to reach out across languages, cultures and nations is central to Anjum Altaf’s unusual collection of English-language verses, titled Transgressions: Poems Inspired by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Each poem in the collection provides an intertextual engagement with, and adaptation of, a specific Faiz poem. Altaf supplements each with a brief note, giving the context in which it spoke to him personally and led him to capture its essence in his own verse.

Interestingly, the collection includes two poems, ‘Resist’ and ‘Speak’, which draw on Faiz’s ‘Dar-i-Umeed Ke Daryuza Gar [Supplicants at Hope’s Door] and ‘Bol’ [Speak] respectively. They were penned by Altaf in response to the Modi government’s 2016 attacks on JNU’s faculty and students protesting over issues of sedition.

… More here.

Transgressions: Poems Inspired by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
By Anjum Altaf
Aakar Books, Delhi, India
ISBN: 978-9383723362
80 pp, Price INR 325

The reviewer is the author of Hybrid Tapestries: The Development of Pakistani Literature in English.

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One Response to “Poetry: Inspired by Faiz”

  1. Shahid Mehmood Says:

    The first thing that I want to state after reading the review is that Dr. Anjum Altaf continues to amaze me. Our interaction goes to 2013, when he invited me to LUMS for a lecture in Economic history. I found him a gracious host and an inspiring person with a sea of knowledge embedded within him. My interaction with him over the years have only sought to enhance respect and admiration for him even more.

    But it came as a total surprise to me that he is a poet too. Last July, when I met him at his residence, we did briefly discuss the book. But I never got any whiff of him penning poetry! I just thought its an interpretation of Faiz’s poems. Now, its apparent that there was another aspect to Dr Altaf’s personality that I wasn’t even aware of.

    Aside from this surprising discovery, the review took me down the memory lane, to a time when I had the zest to read a lot and read different subjects. A minor portion of that zest was reserved for Urdu poetry. I can’t categorize any poet as ‘favorite’, with various poems appealing for various reasons. One of my all time favorites was Faiz’s ‘Bahar Aai’, to which I took a liking after listening to Tina Sani singing it in her beautiful voice. Listening to it, the original version, still has a soothing feeling that is hard to describe in words, perhaps because the past appeals to me greatly. And of course, there is Faiz’s ‘hum dekhe ge’, which really came to fore after Iqbal Bano captivated her audience by singing this timeless ghazal.

    Now I’ll take the liberty of scribbling a few thoughts, which hopefully Dr Altaf won’t mind. To me, just as Faiz was treated abysmally and shabbily by his country, Dr. Altaf continues on in the long line of persons whose tremendous potential, promise and the want to impart something positive upon the society has been neglected and wasted by this country and its society. Its just embarrassing what this country does to its most promising individuals. The last many years have been very disappointing for him. My own gut feeling, though I haven’t read the book, is that a significant portion of what he has scribbled is direct from the heart, reflecting his disappointments and disenchantment with how things have gone about in this country. And he is not alone. Millions of Pakistani’s see their dreams vanish, buried under the dust of oppressive, unrepentant, immature and uncivilized culture that has little or no inkling about how to honor those who contribute to society positively. I know for a fact that many of the dreams I had for my country and my life have bitten the dust, never to return!

    Its difficult to stay put in such an atmosphere. But kudos to Dr. Altaf for still garnering the courage and spirit to pen the book. I hope I can somehow muster that much courage and knowledge.

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