Selling Faiz to the rich for Rs1,000

Published: March 5, 2011
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Having different Faiz days for different classes is unimaginable.

Lahore’s mall road was as crowded as always. Beyond the zooming vehicles and amongst the old silent trees, I saw him walking slowly on a footpath.

There was something dramatic about the old man’s appearance. He reminded me of realist Soviet paintings; ragged dusty clothes, long gray hair, wrinkled face and clutching a small piece of scarlet, a little red flag. He was heading towards the Alhamra Art Complex which was covered with life sized posters of the legendary socialist poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

The poet’s centenary celebrations were about to begin and the parking lot was almost full. The old man stood there for a short while and looked at the smiling photograph of the poet. He entered the main gate and headed towards the hall.

It was full of  ‘cultured’-looking men and women who walked in with a superior attitude. But while I saw all of those well-dressed, well-spoken people enter the old man kept standing outside. The guards would not let him enter.

He remained there until the gates were closed and the hall echoed with the familiar words of Faiz’ “Hum dekhaingey (We shall see).”

But the old man never saw anything!

When the audience left the  hall they chattered cheerfully. They sounded excited to have seen VIPs from Bollywood. I heard an elderly gentleman say:

“We’ll drink late into the night. It’s Faiz’s birthday after all!”

I saw the old man was still sitting on the stairs. “They asked me to buy a ticket to enter. I don’t have a thousand rupees,” said the poor working class admirer of the working class poet.

“I  came from Faisalabad to celebrate the 100th birthday of our beloved poet,” he added.

I found out his name was Rahmat, a power loom worker, who, like thousands of others, could not afford to enter that high society gathering dedicated to the proletarian poet Faiz.

A celebration of the man who fought against class distinction all his life was clearly divided into classes.

 

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The next day an awami mela known as Faiz Peace Festival was supposed to be held at an open air theater of the Lawrence garden. This event is organised every year by the Progressive Writers Movement with the affiliation of left-wing organisations.

But this time, the Hashmis (Faiz’s family), who were the organisers of the elitist event mentioned above, decided to organise the Peace Festival as well.

It was open to all so it was attended by thousands of people, workers and activists, who are the true representatives of Faiz’s ideology.

With hundreds of red flags, Socialist slogans, working women and men, the ambiance was electric. The event opened with a couple of folk performances followed by performances by pop singers.

The people waited and waited, but there was no one to reflect the real essence of the poet. The intellectuals who had organised the event for the “poor ignorant masses” had catered it to what they felt they deserved – cheap comedy,  love songs and no mention at all of Faiz. No one at the Faiz Peace Festival could sing the songs that have been the anthems of resistance for decades.

Ironically, Faiz’s struggle was not just against the unequal distribution of wealth but also against the limitation of art. His poetry was the poetry of life and his words were the celebration of people’s struggle.

As Faiz said: “Ab yahan koi nahin, koi nahin aay ga

Faiz was a revolutionary who wrote about breaking down the walls of socio-economic disparity. But today he has been sold for Rs1,000 per person.

ammar.aziz

Ammar Aziz

An independent filmmaker and political activist who teaches film theory at NCA. He blogs at ammar-aziz.blogspot.com and tweets at @ammar_aziz

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Fahad

    That is truly sad.
    On the contrary, here in Karachi we had two major events held to commemorate Faiz and both were free. One at T2F and one at the Karachi Arts Council. Yet, despite being free they were only attended by the elite of Karachi. When it comes to bringing the arts to the common man many factors, besides the cost, come into play. Recommend

  • zunair ali

    I think the writer has a very valid point indeed…
    But we should not forget that Lahore is vast in its culture and many of the greats have been affiliated to Lahore at some point in there life. Faiz who was born in Sialkot, educated in Amritsar and started his career in Lahore is bound to appeal to all social stratas of Punjab.
    My only memory of Faiz is in school. We had a urdu book that had a story by faiz about his first day at school. I think it was called “jalebian.” Recommend

  • http://meer-mehernewspappar.blogspot.com Dr Meher Zaidi

    http://meer-mehernewspappar.blogspot.com/2010/07/data-da-darbaar-poem-in-honour-of-all.html
    I felt that this article reflects the sadness and materialistic divide that has overtaken our country. The Leaders in any field have become demigods. Every thing is for money. Books are so expensive to buy. All such events and occasions are celebrated with tickets. T2F did a good job but then how many know of T2F and how many can afford to go to Defence. But then this world is such a sad place.Recommend

  • Khalid

    Unfortunately this is the real face of Urban Fake Civil Society. To them Faiz, liberalism and progressivism is all about elite gatherings and getting drunk. As a matter of fact the Fake Civil Society is as much responsible for Pakistan’s problems as Taliban. These educated with ‘attitude’ has caused more damage to Pakistan than uneducated.Recommend

  • Srinath

    I hope Faiz, like Che Guevera , is not reduced to fashion icon.Recommend

  • http://habloid.wordpress.com Habiba Younis

    sad indeed!Recommend

  • ibzz

    its indeed a melancholy. But the real fact is that the working and lower classes of the society have been brought down to the rock bottom in terms their economic and social standing. They have nothing else to think about except earning daily bread… Having to enjoy arts is just an unimaginable thought.Recommend

  • sarim

    excellent article. It is very ironic that our liberals are afraid of the existence of any revolutionary when he is alive but once he is dead and risen to prominence, they become the champion of his ideology.
    i can bet that no liberal would allow a refuge to Faiz if he had tried to get the one owing to the feat of police raid at his home but today the same liberals champion the cause of faiz’s mission.Recommend

  • Hina

    bitter reality..such a huge personality n how badly we behave on his cleleberations…Recommend

  • http://www.worldtowinpk.net Asim Jaan

    @Khalid:

    I attended Centennial Celebration of Faiz Ahmed Faiz held at Karachi Press club on 19th Feb, 2011, organized by Progressive Writers Movement.

    I saw the two classes, poor workers and well heeled liberals attending the meeting. None of them w…ere mixing with the other, sitting in separate groups. Liberals in Pakistan, instead of being involved in real, popular, working class struggles, just organize and attend such such seminars, workshops, to have gup-shup with each other and show that they are indeed ‘progressive’.

    I, along with several fellow members of International Socialists (Pakistan) had set up a books, magazines stall at the venue.

    A young MBA student from IBA-Karachi recited a poem by Faiz from the stage. Afterwards, he came near out stall. I literally engaged him in a converation and invited him to see books in our stall. The mere mention of the word ‘socialism’ and ‘capitalism’ brought a look of disbelief in his face. He wrapped up the discussion rather quickly and kept his distance from our stall.

    Those coming to our stall showing clear class basis in their reactions. Most educated, well dressed people either didn’t come or when they did chance to come near, just passed thru with a look of ‘boredom’ or ‘cynicism’. Only some Baluch, Sindhi or Pashtoon students or lower middle class persons showed interest when i attempted to start a conversation on ways to bring collective change in Pakistan.See MoreRecommend

  • Ed

    “Art, Culture and Literature” for the “Masses” ? :)
    I guess we did observe that notion’s burial at the recent “Karachi Literature Festival”. T2F is in Defence which literally “Pull kay us paar” (across the bridge – a phrase used for the Kala-Pull Bridge which one has to cross to get to Defence area). The bridge has come to represent the cultural and social difference that is evident between Defence area and the rest of the city.
    Interestingly, the Literature festival took place is such a remote location in Defence that it is literally devoid of any form of public transport.
    The biggest literature festival that used to take place in Karachi was not an annual showpiece event but a weekly one, all the year round, in the grounds of Frere Hall. One came across so many inexpensive used books in good condition, still willing to enlighten minds with the wisdom absorbed by their paling pages. One also came across writers, publishers, book-shop owners and other avid readers. The terrorist threat to foreign ambassies put an end to that literary activity. Our elites and “civil society” pushed literature further beyond the common man’s reach.
    regards,
    EdRecommend

  • Amina

    This is so true….Its sad but even the Faiz family is now using his name ot earn bucks, eben if it is in the name of Faiz Trust. Also the essence of all his poetry is lost when ppl for whom he wrote are not a part of the audience.Recommend

  • Jaun Ali

    An excellent analysis. Socialism is the only way!Recommend

  • Ahmad

    In every society the ruling material class controls the intellect as well, as explained by Karl Marx.Recommend

  • Hussam

    Commendable article.Recommend

  • Yamna

    it is so sad that we have cheap melas but expensive bookstores, weird that its a Rs. 10 ticket to an amusement park but a membership needed for a library (if u manage to find any), art is a status symbol, those who go are a class apart fronm thre masses, comedy theatre that you get to see for free or for less than days wage and a classical play that pulls on the strings of thought? please pay Rs. 1000 for it. please make sure you have transport to travel to the poshest localities. and then we ask why people are not enlightened. why they are frustrated.

    Ed i wholeheartedly agree with you.Recommend