Erasing Faiz Only Adds to his Significance

Social Commentary

Erasing Faiz Only Adds to his Significance

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

In a constantly changing world, poetry holds a sense of permanence. A society, I believe, cannot exist without poetry and poets, because they come from a realm of emotions, the intangible and therefore unquantifiable. They help us fathom the world around us, allow us to understand ourselves in a different light, and put into words all those things that cannot even be touched. ‘No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world,’ Robin Williams says in The Dead Poets’ Society. Poetry moves you in ways that reason and logic can’t. It implores you to seek beyond the ordinary, to challenge the status quo and maybe that’s why the recent exclusion of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s verses from CBSE’s 2022-23 academic curriculum should alarm us all. Not for what this step wants to say, but for what it wants to hold back.

The recent exclusion of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s verses from CBSE’s 2022-23 academic curriculum should alarm us all.

For more than a decade, CBSE students have read the translated excerpts of two of Faiz’s poems. The excerpts were part of two images turned posters created by ANHAD (Act Now For Harmony And Democracy), an NGO and the Voluntary Health Association Of India. Both these images were removed from the NCERT Class 10, Democratic Politics II, textbook, from the section on Religion, Communalism, and Politics – Communalism, Secular State. The first poster had the verse, “Not enough to shed tears, to suffer anguish, not enough to nurse love in secret…Today, walk in the public square fettered in chains.” which is an excerpt from the poem, Aaj Bazaar Me Pa Ba Jola Chalo, written by Faiz when he was being taken to the dentist’s office from the jail in Lahore and was in shackles himself.

The other poster read, “We remain strangers even after so many meetings, bloodstains remain even after so many rains.” lines from Dhaka Se Wapsi Par, a poem that Faiz wrote after his return from Bangladesh in 1974. Along with these poems several other topical entries like the Cold War, Mughal Courts, and Food Security have also been removed. The explanation offered for these changes is that it is a ‘part of the syllabus rationalization process and were in line with NCERT recommendations’ which is hardly any explanation at all. Poetry, if nothing else, helps rationalise through fiction, fantasy and often unsaid truths. In a sea of floating riddles and bureaucratic lies, it is perhaps the only beacon of honesty.

Faiz, in the Indian context, symbolizes protest in a country that has both seen some happen and some others suppressed at great personal and collective costs.

Wikipedia classifies Faiz as a Pakistani Poet, but when have poets ever belonged to one land? They’ve always transcended borders and barriers, and for that reason alone, he is loved equally on both sides of the border.  Faiz and his poetry symbolize defiance and dissent while having the power and reach to become a collective manifesto for mankind in their fight for fundamental rights. Since time immemorial, his work has acted as a song of protest and rebellion. In 1986, when Iqbal Bano sung Hum Dekhenge to a crowd of over 50,000 people, clad in a black saree, she did so as a clarion call against the Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq – a moment that remains iconic to date. Songs such as Bol Ke Lab Azad Hain Tere, or Gulon Mein Rang Bhare can invoke the spirit of democracy and freedom even the hardest of places, the rockiest of chests.

Faiz, in the Indian context, symbolizes protest in a country that has both seen some happen and some others suppressed at great personal and collective costs. For that matter any curriculum in the world can only be enriched and blessed by Faiz’s poetry, and if criticism or the shredding of the curriculum is required, it can be done via constructive, literary criticism rather than a salient purge. Poetry, irrespective of tenor and politics, is essential to education, for it is what drives imagination and curiosity, the ability to drive beyond the obvious.

Faiz’s words can be erased, but their importance and endless beauty will find its way to everyone.

Not everyone is born with a poetic tongue, or the sensibility to comprehensively articulate what they feel. It is where poets become universal, vehicles for both our love and anger. Or as Faiz wrote “Bol ke lab azaad hain tere, bol zubaan ab tak teri, tera sutvan, jism hai tera, bol ke jaan ab tak teri hain”. It’s impossible for generations in this country to imagine a world without poetry and song. Yes we may not read and speak through verses every day, but they are there, dissolving into our lives and picking up from them, new energy and forever more lives. It’s why humans though transient, live through art and poetry. Be it in the application of a protest or more intimate in nature, poetry touches everyone, even those who think they can and are living without it. For Faiz’s words can be erased, but their importance, their truth and endless beauty will find its way to everyone, those who read, and those who won’t.

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