SAHMAT CELEBRATES JASHN-E-YAARAN Remembering Faiz Through Safdar’s Memories

Raat yun dil mein teri khoee hui yaad aai

Jaise veerane mein chupke se bahaar aa jaye,

Jaise sehraon mein haule se chale baad-e-naseem,

Jaise beemar ko be-wajh qaraar aa jaye.

 JANUARY 1, 2011: The beginning of the New Year bringing to us the memory of our beloved Safdar --- a poet, theatre worker, an exemplary political activist. Asking us to renew our pledge of creativity. The day of warmth and love again saw a gathering of poetry, music and dance.

 This year, the audience on the occasion also remembered their unparalleled bard of revolution, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, with a new hope and outspokenness --- singing him, feeling proud of his legacy.

 We are now in the birth centenary year of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a great progressive poet of Asia, nay of the world, who was born in Sialkot (now in Pakistan) in the year 1911. A favourite poet of martyr Safdar Hashmi, and of all of us. The New Year this time was thus a very special occasion. The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) has decided to observe the whole Faiz Centenary Year in a special way and began the process on the New Year itself. The day, thus, turned to be a memorable one.  

 People, one and all, were invited this year too, like the years gone by, to this Jashn-e-Yaaran, and much before the scheduled time they began to throng the huge people’s pandal, a covered big tent, put up in the lawns of Vithalbhai Patel House in New Delhi. Full of vigour and enthusiasm, a play by Act One as if came to us as a revolutionary song. Like the earlier years, a street theatre troupe coming from Rohtak was permeated with the same emotions. Manu Kohli regaled the audience with Faiz’s ghazals and nazms. Next, Dr Anju Raina took to the stage and, in her heart-moving voice, presented “Dasht-e-tenhai mein ai jaan-jehan larzan hai,” a moving piece of romantic poetry by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The following stanza of the poem

Is qadar pyaar se ai jaan-e-jehan rakkha hai

Dil ke rukhsar pe is waqt teri yaad ne haath

Yun guman hota hai, garche hai abhi subh-e-firaaq

Dhal gaya hije ka din, aa bhi gayee qasl ki raat

intensely brought to the audience the fond memories of Faiz as well as Safdar, and thus set in motion the caravan of colour and music.

 The audience felt spellbound as soon as Astad Deboo, an Indian dancer of international renown, came to the stage. The music descending down into the souls and the dance presentation by Astad Deboo --- time was moving moment by moment, giving new dimensions to Faiz’s poetry. The atmosphere was getting surcharged with emotions. As soon as Astad concluded the ‘bol’ of his dance, the temperature inside began to rise even though the polythene-made roof of the tent was getting affected by chilly winds. Maybe it was something like what Ghalib had called “raqs-e-sharar”(the dance of sparks). Modern art experiments in the East have received their sheen from the struggle for independence, and revolutionary poets like Faiz have played a notable role in this process. It would not be out of place if we situate the dance experiments by Astad Deboo in this very tradition.

 Sentiments further deepened when the high-pitch voice of Rekha Raj began to call the years gone by, through her rendering of the poetic creations by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Rekha received her training from her maternal grandmother, Khursheed Begum of Sheikhupura (Pakistan), and from Vasant Lal Ji of Rajasthan (India). She presented the well known poem “Mujh se pehli si muhabbat meri mehboob na maang” and some other pieces including“Rabba Sacchya,” a Punjabi poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

 The offspring of a Muslim mother and a Hindu father, Rekha presents an image of the Ganga-Jamni (syncretic) culture of this country. However,

Inder Salim of Kashmir did not lag behind. With his toy-like puppet, he linked our life today with Faiz’s legacy. 

Then came the storytelling pairing of Mehmood Farooqi and Daanish Hussain, Reading out their prepared script for about an hour. Teasing all of us. Telling us something. Making us laugh. The way the pair, with perfect ease, took the audience through Fiaz’s legacy and Faiz’s period, was a novel experiment by itself. With their presentation, Mehmood and Daanish introduced the audience to a new art-form, full of vitality, whose importance will no doubt be recognised in the days to come.

 The evening was progressing. The cold was intensifying outside but the people in the pandal were feeling increasingly warm. Now they were waiting for Vidya Shah, a renowned singer. On her part, by her very first presentation, Vidya took music to new heights. Her rendering was, on the one hand, a dialogue with the world gone by; on the other, it presented a new, intensive understanding of Faiz’s poetry. She again and again appeared to be talking to several of the renowned figures of yore; in particular, the images of Begum Akhtar, Malika Pukhraj and Iqbal Bano came to us several times. Her presentation of “Saath raho” and “Aaiye haath uthayen hum bhi” left a deep impact on all those present.

 The evening was at its height when young Pakistani novelist Ali Sethi, clad in jeans and a jacket, came to the stage. Many of the audience could not even think that he would present something traditional. Ali Sethi highlighted in detail the times in Pakistan’s history which he had himself gone though or which his near and dear ones had experienced. In particular, his narration of the history behind the rendering of “Mujh se pehli si muhabbat” by Nurjehan was not only binding but also highlighted an episode of revolutionary resistance. Ali Sethi’s musical presentations added lustre to his narration.

 In the end, Madan Gopal Singh paid his tributes to this great poet by presenting two Punjabi pieces by Faiz in the Punjabi sufi style.  

 Suhel Hashmi admirably discharged the responsibility of conducting the programme, presenting in between some selected nazms and ghazals by Faiz, which brought to the audience the depths of Faiz’s legacy in a clear-cut manner.

 Another significant event of the evening was the release of a special number of Naya Path, brought out by Janvadi Lekhak Sangh. Renowned Hindi poet Kunwar Narayan Singh released this issue that was dedicated to Fiaz Ahmed Faiz. Kedar Nath Singh, another notable Hindi poet, was present on the dais on the occasion. About 200 copies of this magazine of 450 odd pages were sold out on the spot. Earlier, Qamar Azad Hashmi, martyr Safdar Hashmi’s mother, released the New Year’s calendar brought out by SAHMAT; this too was dedicated to Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The calendar is based on colour and line drawings by M F Hussain to picturise Faiz.

 While going home in this chilled night of Delhi, I recalled my meeting with Safdar 30 years ago. Safdar Hashmi was then the information officer in West Bengal Information Bureau and his office in a small room had got very soon converted into a cultural hub. Poets, fiction writers, playwrights, film-makers, students of art and culture, and saddened lovers --- everyone passed this way. Once Mani Kaul, a leading light of New Wave cinema, and me were having tea with Safdar in his office when he opened a book, as he often did, and began to recite a nazm containing the line “Koi ujra hua benoor purana mandir.” Though we both were fond of Faiz’s poetry, this nazm in Safdar’s voice left upon us a unique impact and we found ourselves dumbfounded for some time. The following lines of the nazm

De koi sankh duhai, koi payal bole

Koi but jaage, koi sanwali ghunghat khole,

remained with us for long after we came out.  

 Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the people’s poet, comes to us in this very manner --- carrying everybody with him, celebrating our common identity, forming a fraternity of revolution!

Madan Gopal Singh