Faiz sahab had come to stay with me in Canada in 1982, two years before he died. I had arranged for him and Alys a bedroom on the main floor of a spacious house I was living in at the time.

My house became for those 4 days the centre of the universe. Everyone wanted to see him. Invitations for dinner, lunches, were unstoppable. Today 37 years later I am in the same city reliving Faiz in a world which has changed beyond recognition.

That was the evening of his life, this is the evening of mine.

At the time when he came, he had seen it all. Prison terms, privation, adulation, exile, protest, resistance. I could not discern any mark on his face left by life’s harsh dealing. He was gentle, soft, full of humour and love.

In my copy of Zindan Nama (Missive from Prison) he wrote the lines:

Dil na Umeed to nahin naakaam hee to hai
Lambi hai gham ki shaam magar shaam hee to hai
Heart has lost out but hope has not
Long is sorrow’s evening but its only evening
Today these lines rescue me when I sense the onset of defeat in many facets of my life.

What shall I say about the relevance of Faiz in the world we are living in specially for the youth who are now treading the path we have carved for them and who will make their choices- compliance or protest.

Faiz lived in times of military dictatorship where for him and his Indian associates across the border, Ali Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azmi, Majaz Lakhnawi there was only one choice. In the words of Dylan Thomas theirs was this fervent belief ‘Do not go gentle into the good night/ Rage rage against the dying of the light’. So they wrote fiery verses exemplified by these lines of Faiz:

Phool masley gaye farsh e gulzar par
Rung chidhka gaya takhta e daar par
Bazm barpa karey jisko manzoor ho
Da’wat e raqs talwar ki dhaar pe

Flowers were crushed on garden floors
Colour sprinkled on the scaffold plank
Whoever wants can start celebrating
Invitation to dance on edge of the sword.

So much of Faiz’s prison poetry resonates. Faiz served long prison terms. The first and longest spell lasted four and a half years from 1951 to 1955. He was first locked up in Hyderabad (Sind) Jail for two years and the rest in Montgomery (Sahiwal) Jail. During this period he spent a brief time in Karachi Jail for medical treatment and two solitary spells in Lahore and Lyallpur (now Faisalabad). His second prison term was for 6 months from 1958 to 59 mainly in the notorious Lahore Fort.

In Canada I was happy to find an anthology of his collected works called Waraq Waraq Page by Page. (I belong to a generation that finds it difficult to read and enjoy poetry downloaded from the net). In it there was a short article by Faiz, used as Preface to the anthology. This collection includes the best known five of his books; Naqsh e Faryadi, Dast e Saba, Zindan Nama, Dast e Teh e Sang and Sar e Vadi e Sina.

Faiz begins by his stating his dislike for speaking about himself. And yet he bows to his interlocutor’s demand. He writes that the first period of his life1920’s to 1930’s was inevitably about love and romantic poetry. It was a period of Beauty for Beauty and Art for Art’s sake.

Lines like ‘Khuda woh waqt na laye ke sogwaar ho tu’ May the time never come when you are sorrowful’ or ‘Meri Jaan ab bhi apna husn wapis pher de mujhko’. My love return to me even now your beauty. ‘Then romance gave way to despair when the evil of global capital cast its shadow over the country.’ All the doors were closed.

As if ‘Ab yahan koi nahin koi nahin aayega’ No one, no one will ever come this way. He writes that this feeling is captured in his relatively less known poem ‘Yaas’ (Longing):

Ho chukka bund rahmaton ka nuzool
Bund hai muddaton se baab e qubool
Be niyaz e dua hai Rabb e Karim
The chapter of benediction is closed
The segment of concession has ended
God is indifferent to prayers

In 1934 he had completed studies and started teaching at MAO College Amritsar. His meeting with Sahibzada Mahmood Uz Zafar and his litterateur wife Rashid Jahan began the phase of Progressive Literature. The biggest lesson he imbibed was universalism of human suffering.

This is first reflected in his best known poem ‘Mujhse pehli is mohabbat mere mahboob na mang’ My beloved don't ask me for the love of former days. Individual pain becomes one with global pain.

Then for 14 years it was military commission, journalism, trade unionism followed by an intensely reflective period in prison. He writes that the prison sentence itself was like falling in love when suddenly a new window opens. He writes that behind the prison wall all subliminal sensations were sharpened. Nature’s manifestations like blue of sky, break of dawn and caress of breeze became intensified. The world outside and sense of time became ‘batil’ untruths. There was a lot of time to hone poetic skills. Poetic gems like,

Shaam ke pech o kham sitaron se
Zeena zeena utar rahi hai raat
From the winding stars in sky
Stair by stair descends the night.

On Election Day I spent the morning at the adda organised by Citizen. As the results flashed before our astonished eyes, in my mind flashed lines of Faiz. They were about a time when joy became a distant dream. I returned home to a bed of despair and these lines kept echoing in my mind. I offer a few lines of my translation as lessons from Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Aaj ke din na poochho mere doston
Dur kitney hain khushiyan manane ke din
Khul ke hansne ke din geet gaane ke din
Pyar karne ke din dil lagane ke din

Aaj ke din na poochho mere doston
Kab tumhare lahu ke darida alam
Farq e khurshid e mahshar pe honge raqam
Az karaan ta karaan kab tumhare qadam
Leke uthega voh bahr e khoon yam ba yam
Jis mein dhul jaega aaj ke din ka gham
Saare dard o alam saare jaur o sitam

Duur kitni hai khursheed e mahshar ki lau
Aaj ke din na poochho mere doston

Dont ask don't ask today O friend
How far are those happy days
Full throated laughter, trilling songs
Days of love and passion of heart

Dont ask, don't ask today O friend
When ragged insignias of your blood
Will be hoisted on blazing sun of Judgment Day
From end to end, horizon to horizon
When with your stamping feet
The ocean of blood, wave upon wave
Will wash away torture, torment, abuse.
Of this black day.
How far is that awesome Judgment Day
Don't ask, don't ask today O friend.