Dearest Faiz sahib,
Adaab! It’s been a while since you left us for the streams of milk and honey that flow in the Great Beyond. And yet, not a day goes by when you’re not in our midst. The fragrance of your words is a constant presence. We are a strange, forgetful lot, aren’t we? A real old bunch of procrastinators, if there ever was one! We hauled you over the coals and through the gallows while you were alive. Your poems were the delusions of a frenzied mind, for all we cared. And now that you’ve been gathered to the Eternal Shades, we chant your name and wear your verses on our puffed-out chests for the world to see! Small wonder, since we’re a people who sincerely believe that real life starts after death. If I know you, you’d probably laugh and say ‘Hunuz Dilli Dur Ast’ and I would completely agree with you.
But no, you really were in my thoughts today because I met someone who was part of your story all those years ago. He was one of the patients we examined during rounds in Surgery ward. Chaudhry Ghulam Rasool. Old, weak-looking male in light brown shalwar qameez and waistcoat. 2x2inch stone-hard lump in right upper abdomen. Liver cancer. He told us he’d worked with you in the Railway Workers Union in Lahore. While we were examining his hands, he told us, ‘In haathon ne Faiz se haath milaaya hai.” (These hands have shaken hands with Faiz) He didn’t remember his own date of birth, God bless him, and yet he remembered the exact number of Muslim men, women and children he led to safety in the blood-stained summer nights of 1947. He remembered the warmth of your hand-shakes, too. And he was dying. He had the kindest eyes in the world and not a single tooth in his mouth and he was dying, Faiz sahib! The dawn you both had dreamt of together and probably promised each other had yet to alight, and he was already slipping through the cracks. Such is the way of the gods, perhaps. Everybody dies. Or at least the best ones do.
It’s at moments like these that the fledgling sentimentalist inside me shakes her head and threatens to burst into tears. It’s the nights that are the hardest to bear. They creep through my window, with nothing but the moon and the gaping silence of the universe to keep me company. It seems like one long night that started with your nephew being assassinated in the name of our religion and ended with his murderer being showered with rose-petals. And then like a half-hearted sequel to an insipid narrative, the night stretched to encompass burnt tyres, bombed schools and blind killing machines in the sky, dead soldiers and giant graves of snow and ice. Sold out journalists and the bleeding pen. Or maybe the night started long before that. Maybe it started with the ribbons of blood that coloured the Ganges in those sad, dark hours of 1971. Everybody died that night. We all died. You would know, wouldn’t you? Ap ko guzrey kitnee barsaatein beet gyen, Faiz sahib, lekin na khoon kay dhabbay dhul sakay aur na he subh e azadi k koi jhalak nazar aai! (So many monsoons have passed since you left us, but neither could the bloodstains be washed off nor has freedom’s dawn come in sight)
But then, if you know that, you would also know the whispers of Umeed e Sehar that come from just across the verge of the night’s slow-washing tide. If I know you, you would smile your gentle, knowing smile, shake your head and take my hand and lead me towards them. And I would love you for that even more than I love you now. I have loved Iqbal and H. Jalandhari and S. Ludhianvi. And I’ve tried to love Manto and Chughtai. But it’s you and you alone whom my heart is done for. I love you for all your wise words and your spring sonatas. I love you for Tina Sani’s golden renditions that have a permanent place in my mobile. I love you for letting me discover the love that I had all along for my faith and my country. Because of you and the bonds of earth and blood that bind me to you, I’d rather be here than anywhere else. You are for eternity. In fact, “multiply eternity by infinity and take it to the depth of forever” and the world would still barely have a glimpse of how great a poet, activist and educationist you truly were. (I hope I can quote some lines from Meet Joe Black and still be taken seriously)
And I hope that despite all your love for this land and its people, you’re happy and content where you are now. And that Alys is up there with you, and Menuhin and Bach as well, beneath those tall, sun-kissed cypresses, making wonderful music and producing beautiful poetry. And that you’ve finally reached out and met the dawn of your dreams on the other side of the skyline.
One day, I look forward to meeting it too. We all do.
All my love, gratitude and fondest thoughts,