Faiz Ahmad Faiz As A Literary Critic
54, Munirka Village
Near DDA Gurudwara
After Ghalib and Iqbal, it is Faiz who has been the apple of the eye of literary critics in Urdu.As writing on Faiz has been a fashion among the Urdu critics, a number of them have written on him, like many have made Ghalib and Iqbal subject of their study. The state of the literary criticism in Urdu, in general, can be gauged from the body of criticism that exists on Ghalib. That is whyShekh Mohammad Ikram, around half a century ago, had written that
“Having studied books that have been written on Ghalib, a fair idea of various trends of the Urdu literature and especially the evolution of our art of criticism can be had. This literature on Ghalib (Ghalibiyat) itself can be a reference for us to measure the ups and downs of our art of criticism, its depth and superficiality and its rational and emotional tendencies.”
The same can still be said regarding the critical appreciation of Ghalib though Iqbal and Faiz, like Ghalib, have not been fortunate in this regard.The standard of whatever has been written on Faiz, is not very satisfactory.Very less of what has been written on him, really does justice with Faiz. It may also be because it is not long since Faiz has passed away and also because we stand not very far from the movement he was part of, hence, the critical appreciation of Faiz seems to becoloured by the emotions of our critics.Our discussions on Faiz are driven more by our impressions about Faiz and the Progressive Writers Movement, and less by the critical faculties. And it seems to be the reason why PitrasBhokhari had said:
“Let us see who will be hailed as the harbinger of the modern poetry: Raashid or Faiz”.
It is evident by our time that the honour has been awarded/accorded to Raashid. However, it is no less than a miracle that it has not reduced the popularity and stature of Faiz.Pitras has meant the Progressives by the word ‘modern’. If we retain the same connotations of the word ‘modern’, Faiz, in practice, has been established as the representative of the modern poetry in the Urdu literature.Tone of Faiz has become the standard of the Progressive ghazalpoetry while Raashid is regarded as a role model to the modern poets of nazm. To cut a long debate short, I would like to share few of my thoughts on ‘Faiz as a literary critic’ as this aspect of his personality ishardly discussed and hence is yet to be adequately explored.
Meezan(The Criterion), an anthology of Faiz’ papers in literary criticism, had come out from Lahore Akademi of Lahore in September 1965. With the permission from Faiz, MaghribiBangal Urdu Akademi, Kalkatta (now Kolkata) published the same volume in 1982. A compilation of total 31 papers, it has been divided into four sections, namely: ideologies, issues, predecessors and contemporaries.In the preface, Faiz has clearly stated that these papers do “not try to pick up a thread of conversation with the educated ones”, meaning that they have been written for the masses.Besides that, some of the papers deal with finer niceties of literary criticism though in a very simple style. For example, “Terminologies of Our Criticism”, an undated paper, deals with terminologies like similes, metaphors, simplicity, fluency, spontaneity and naturality, humour, jest, melancholy, sufism, creativity,description of the union,diction, rhyme, figures of speech and shed light on the tendency of their liberal usage in the Urdu criticism. The paper points out many startling and striking issues. For example, he writes about similes and metaphors that:
“If we give it aserious thought, it does not demonstrate mastery over the language but is an expression of inability. It means that the writer could not encapsulate all his details into a few words or could not find suitable words to express his ideas. Hence, instead of taking the straight path, he was compelled to use short-cuts or alleys of similes and metaphors.”
It is not proper to describe similes and metaphors as tools or ways because the creative process is not so simple and easy-to-understand that we can always figure out that the poet has used so and so simile or metaphor to express a particular idea. It very often happens that a simile or metaphor itself leads the poet to a concept and to communicateit the poet articulates that particular idea as well. Moreover, as no concept can exist without words, it is not possible to say that the poet was interested only in a particular concept or a word and hence in a particular simile or metaphor. These elements are so entangled and enmeshed in each other in a particular creation/composition that it is not possible to discuss them separately. Such a discussion, to a certain extent, can be had only to meet the needs of class-room teaching. It neither has any organic relation with the literary criticism nor is the compulsion or need of the latter.
It is not possible for any student of the Urdu literary criticism to agree with the way Faiz has described the simile and metaphor as an expression of the poet’s inability, though; there is no harm in trying to see the things from this perspective as well. After all, literary norms are no religious injunctions and debating them will not lead to the annulment of Imaan.Basically an expression of discontentthat a poet has with the standards prevalent in his time in literary criticism,the first paper contains many more startling facts.It terms as misleading and superficial the very distinction between the rationalities of the eastern and the western literature and criticism. However, the way it has described the dependency of the literary criticism on the factors of time and space, is problematic.It has earned criticism from Mazhar Imam.
The first paper of Meezanis ‘The Progressive Conception of the Literature’.One of the first writings that were penned down to elaborate the Progressive Writers’ Movement, the paper opens up with these lines:
“Romanticism, rationalism, optimism, pessimism, all these hooks have been employed to catch the literary fishes. Nowadays progressivism and traditionalism are in vogue but these terms are yet to be properly defined, hence, there are a variety of definitions. Different people have their own conceptions of the progressive literature and seem to be hell-bent in defense of or opposition against those conceptions.”
He elaborates about the progressive literature that it consists of those writings “ that (1) help in the social progress, (2) fulfill the artistic criteria of literature.” Then he further explains that “Literature deals mostly with that walk of life that is known as culture. And if we seek any help of literature in the social progress then we should understand that this progress stands for the progress of culture.”
This is such a moderate vision of the progressive literature that one does not see any reason to differ. Moreover, this statement represents the role of Faiz as a poet as well. This paper was written in 1938.In addition to social value and sense of purpose, the ability of a literary creation to meet the high standard of literature is another benchmark that most of the ideologues of the progressive movement of the age consider necessary to qualify as the progressive literature. For example, some statements of SajjadZaheer and Akhtar Ansari that Mazhar Imam has quoted, also contain more or less the same theme. Though this paper of Faiz is important in many ways, its major flaw is that Faiz thinks that “propaganda is the purpose of literature”. He describes as propaganda not only the progressive literature but all the literature as he writes:
“Difference between the progressive literature and other forms of literature does not lie in the fact that the former is propaganda and the latter is not but the difference is that the propaganda of the formerone is true and useful while that of the latter misleading and harmful or useless.”
To begin with, it is not possible to accept the literature as propaganda, andlikewise, the debate on the useful and non-useful is no less controversial in literature. Moreover, to categorize literature as propaganda is not consistent with the poetic nature of Faiz. That is why Mazhar Imam has written that :
“After the passage of this difficult moment when Faiz’ self-discipline had returned to him, he would have realized senselessness of his statement.”
It should be borne in the mind that the most notable feature of the poetic nature of Faiz, according to Kalimuddin Ahmad, is a sort of self-discipline and the same feature runs through papers of this volume as well.A few extremist positions that he took, should be seen as his temporal compulsion, in the sense that the ease with which we sense their limitations today, was not at all possible in an age when every progressive used to go to the bed in the hope that when s/he gets up in the morning, s/he will find before his/her eyes the goddess of the revolutionradiating her blessings and beauty across the world.Mujtaba Husain has brilliantly described this situation in his portrait of Makhdoom.
Second paper “Values of the Poetry” also tries to argue persuasively that “Creation of beauty is not only an act of aestheticism but is also an act of usefulness. So, all those things which bring beauty or finesse or colours to our life, whose beauty adds to our humanism, which purify our inner self, whichenchant our soul and whose light illuminates our mind, are not only beautiful but useful as well.”
What distinguishes Faiz from other ideologues of the progressive movement like Ali SardarJafri is that if Faizon the one hand says that “The verse that qualifies the test ofnot only the art but also of life, is a good one,in all of its senses.”, then on the other hand, his conception of the progressive literature is accommodating and expansive enough to allow him also tosay that:
“All lyrical literature (in fact all good art) is admirable for us. This utility is not the monopoly of only such writings that directly analyze selected political or economic issues of a particular period.”
This expanse and elasticity is simply not there in the SardarJafri’s conception of the progressivism. Although AbulKalamQasmi has written that “SardarJafri initially was convinced of the absurdity of the Sufism but later he had developed a taste for the sufi poetry of Ghalib, Meer and Kabir.”, and has tried to show that SardarJafrirevised his viewsand hence had become accommodating. Suffice it to say here that SardarJafri had declared AsgharGondavi’ssufi poetry incongruous. With an eye on this fact, an appreciation of the sufi poetry of Ghalib, Meer or Kabir does not allow to conclude that SardarJaafri had revised his ideas. SardarJaafri had termed AsgharGondavi’ssufi poetry too incongruous because he was of the opinion that Asghar’s period was that of socialism. He writes in his last book Sarmaya-e Sukhan(The Capital of Poetry):
“Analyses can prove that every beautiful entityis atlast found to be related to thecommoninterests(social and physical or intellectual and moral) of the human beings. What is not beneficial, cannot be beautiful.”
So it is evident that SardarJaafri’s conception of useful literature was so rigid that no change could creep in it till he breathed his last.
Written in 1942, title of Faiz’ another excellent paper reads: “Symbolism in the Modern Urdu Poetry”. He argues in this paper that the first purpose of the poetry is interpretation. This is not true. He has once mentioned Josh Maleehabadi very contemptuously as he writes: “It is only Josh Maleehabadiwho had employed a self-styled religious scholarto be his object of criticism.”
After three years, in a remarkable paper on Josh, Faiz has not only refused to accept Josh as a revolutionary poet but dubbed the latter as “conservative” as well. He writes:
“The view that a single person can encapsulate the revolution within his/her self and that social factors and reasons do not matter in this struggle for revolution, is quite non-socialist and is , according to the socialists, conservative.”
Before Faiz, it was only Kaleemuddin Ahmad who had called into question “the poetic grandeur” of Josh. Though NeyazFatahpuri has also been writing against Josh, the former’s objections should be seen more as a matter of personal rivalry and less of literary nature. But Faiz was the first person who followed Kaleemuddin Ahmad in interrogating the importance of Josh’ poetry. In his paper “Symbolism in the Modern Urdu Poetry”, Faiz has surveyed the changes that had occurred in the Urdu poetry in different phases, with reference to the poetic devices, especially the changes in the usage of symbols. Though he has used the term ‘symbols’ in an awkwardly wider sense, the paper overall makes an excellent read. He is all praise to Meeraji for inventing a symbol that is more “personal and inner”. He declares Raashid“the most successful” among his contemporaries and presents as a representative of the new poetry of his age a poem of Noon.Meem. Raashid“in which minaret of the mosque is described as the symbol of extra-ordinary courage and intellectual heights”.Mentioning Iqbal as the predecessor of the progressives, Faiz writes:
“The sweep of Iqbal was very wide and a good chunk of the same was non-familiar to the eastern poetry as well. But he, instead of introducing new symbols, deemed it more appropriate to instill a new life into the old ones….Iqbal cannot be confined within the boundaries of any movement. He straddles the universes of old nationalists and our contemporary progressives.The period of nationalist literature paved the way for the period of the progressive and revolutionary literature that found its very first expression in his poetry.”
Apart from this, Faiz has written two more papers on Iqbal. Fatah Mohammad Malik, while commenting on the Faiz’ paper on Josh, has complains that Faiz has not engaged Iqbal and termed this non-engagement as his bias against Iqbal and his cultural outlook.That is why the admiration that characterizes Faiz’ account of Iqbal, renders objections of Fatah Mohammad Malik irrelevant. The latter has not gone through Faiz’ writings on Iqbal and concluded that Faiz used to harbour biases against Iqbal. On contrary, among the early ideologues of the progressive literature, it is Faiz who has been the most generous in whole-heartedly embracing Iqbal.Another paper of Faiz is “Nazeer and Haali”. Though its year of publication is given 1914 but it is next to impossible. So, it may be 1941 that was erroneously printed 1914.While pointing out the difference in the nature of Nazeer and Haali in many respects, Faiz in this paper has also explored the similarities between the two poets. Also a brilliant paper, its importance liesin the fact that Urdu critics, till that time, had not considered poetry of NazeerAkbarabadi a theme of serious literary exploration. Before this paper of Faiz, Kaleemuddin Ahmad and Abdul GhafoorShahbaz were the only celebrated critics of the Urdu literature who had accepted the poetic distinction of Nazeer. Faiz, like Haali, rates Nazeer higher than Anees. He writes:
“At the first glimpse, variety and command over expression emerge as the first noteworthy characteristic of Nazeer’s poetry.Nazeer has written on almost everything, ranging from flies and mosquitoes to the God Almighty.He has tried his luck in almost every genre of poetry and has been successful except in ghazal….Nazeer’s nature is not suitable for fine and melancholic states of ghazal…Nazeer’s verses are devoid of melancholy of Meer, depth of Ghalib, refinement of Dagh but there is movement in his words, a sort of velocity and richness, which is the reason that his verses fulfill the criteria of good poetry.”
And he writes about Haali:
“Haali was not a sermon-delivering poet by his nature. His soul was filled with melancholy…..When he sought to digress from it to the composition of moralistic and reformative poetry, he had to compel his nature………Apart from his ghazals,the Haali’smosaddasmade a great contribution towards maintaining his eminence because it is in the mosaddaswhere his natural faculties have found superb expression….When we compare many of his ghazalslike “O Love! You have consumed most of the communities” with his moralistic ghazals of the later period, we feel how much sacrifice Haali had made for the sake of his principles. Had he not written the mosaddas, Haali would probably have been declared the martyr of modernism.”
This analysis still stands very relevant and today it is not easy to grasp how relevant it would have been when Faiz had written this paper. In addition to it, the volume is comprised of many papers that allude to the highly cultivated critical/literary consciousness of Faiz and despite some disagreements, I concede to say that such refined critical consciousness was very rare even among the literary critics of his age.That Faiz was deeply interested in the fiction, is evident from the fact that he has written a paper on the Urdu novels, two on RatannathSarshar and a paper on Premchand as well.The volume also contains the prefaces that Faiz had written to Woh Log (Those People), a collection of HajraMasroor’s dramas and Chand Roz Aur (Some More Days), an anthology of Khadija Mastoor’s short-stories and these prefaces reflect his deep interest in the Urdu fiction.About these papers Mazhar Imam writes:
“Faiz’ paper on the novels is one of the early critical writings available on the theme in Urdu. He was aware of the dearth and inferior quality of the Urdu novels. He offers brief comments on the novels, starting from Nazeer Ahmad andPremchand, etc. to Krishnachander, UpendranathAshk and Rajindra Singh Bedi.These comments, despite their brevity, manifestFaiz’ critical thoughts. Although he at one place has mentioned Qafas(The Cage) as a novel by Ashk but it is not true.Qafas in reality is a collection of Ashk’s short stories that Krishnachander had put together. It seems what Faiz had in his mind wasSitaronKeKhel (Playgrounds of the Planet) which was an unsuccessful novel of Ashk.”
Likewise, Meezan has many more papers that suggest a long process of Faiz’ serious engagement with the literary issues. To mention some of them: Old Traditions in the Urdu Poetry and New Experiments, Demands of Modern Thoughts and the Ghazal,Literary Creation and Imagination, Poetry of Ideas and the Subject and the Style of Expression, etc.It is not possible to ignore importance of the issues that have been discussed in these papers and despite some minor disagreements, it has to be recognized that Faiz’ critical consciousness has guided him in most of the cases in right direction, and his literary and critical consciousness is more cultivated than that of other progressive critics. It is a matter of amazement that our literary critics have so far not noticed these papers; otherwise Faiz would have been celebrated as one of the prominent ideologues of the Urdu literature.The volume has an excellent paper on Pitras that encapsulates his multi-faceted personality, with such remarkable success that this interesting paper of Faiz should be regarded as one of the finest portraitsin Urdu.
(This paper has been translated by Arshad Amanullah, a Delhi-based documentary filmmaker and researcher. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The postal address is: 5th Floor, 25, Masihgarh, SukhdevVihar, New Delhi-110025).
Shekh Mohammad Ikram, Hakeem-e Farzana, 1957, Lahore: Firoz Sons, p 13.
PitrasBokhari, quoted in Mumtaz Husain, Faiz Ki Shayeri, in ShahidMahali (ed.), Faiz Ahmad Faiz: AksAurJahaten, 1987, Dehli, Meyar Publications, p 36.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz, HamariTanqidiIstelahaat, in, Meezan, 1982, Kalkatta, MaghribiBangal Urdu Akademi, pp. 41-42.
Mazhar Imam, Faiz Ki Tanqeeden:Ek Lahar AatiHui, 1997, Dehli, Meyar Publications, pp.126-27.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz, AdabKaTaraqqi-pasandNazariya, in, Meezan, 1982, Kalkatta, MaghribiBangal Urdu Akademi, p 17.
Ibid, p. 18.
Mazhar Imam, Faiz Ki Tanqeeden:Ek Lahar AatiHui, 1997, Dehli, Meyar Publications, p.126.
Faiz, Shayer Ki Qadren, in, Meezan,1982, Kalkatta: MaghribiBangal Urdu Akademi, p.32.
Ibid, p. 33.
Ibid, p. 32.
SardarJafri, Sarmaya-e Sukhan, July 2001, Dehli: Maktaba Jamia Limited, p. 53.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Jadeed Urdu Shayeri Me Eshariyat,in,Meezan, 1982, Kalkatta: MaghribiBangal Urdu Akademi, p.118.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Josh Shayer-e Inqilab Ki Haisiyat Se, in, Meezan, 1982, Kalkatta: MaghribiBangal Urdu Akademi, p.213.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Jadeed Urdu Shayeri Me Eshariyat, in, Meezan, 1982, Kalkatta: MaghribiBangal Urdu Akademi, p.121.
Ibid, p. 121.
Ibid, p. 119.
Faiz Ahmad Faiz, NazeerAurHaali, in, Meezan, 1982, Kalkatta: MaghribiBangal Urdu Akademi, pp.139-40.
Ibid, pp. 142-43.
Mazhar Imam, Faiz Ki Tanqeeden, Ek Lahar AatiHui, 1997, Dehli, Meyar Publications, p.132.
( Published in "Poetry of Protest Internalizing Faiz Ahmad Faiz" ,Edited by Prof. Ali Refad Fatihi, LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing: Germany, ISBN:978-3-8454-1724-0 )
( Published in "Poetry of Protest Internalizing Faiz Ahmad Faiz" ,Edited by Prof. Ali Refad Fatihi, LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing: Germany, ISBN:978-3-8454-1724-0 )