Annual of Urdu Studies, v. 5, 1985 p. 103.


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Naomi Lazard

TRANSLATING FAIZ

Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the distinguished Pakistani poet, the most important contemporary poet of India and the subcontinent, died in Lahore on November 20, 1984 The last time I saw him was in April when we worked together in London, beginning the translation process on fifteen poems He was in excellent spirits, looked very fit and trim I who had always worried about him felt relieved I looked forward to seeing him again in London, perhaps here in New York perhaps in Pakistan We talked of some day going to India

None of this will happen now I alone will carry the events of our meeting, the decision to translate his poetry into English, the numerous and intense conversations on poetry in general and on his own work in particular I am left with all this and also with the work of translation, which I will continue

Death is the eggshell that clarifies the poets work Though Faiz's poetry is almost unknown in this country, the opposite is true on the other side of the world For many years the finest musicians have composed music to his poems When he read at a mushairahVr\e present-day version of the ancient contest or agon\n which poets contended in recitations, fifty thousand people and more gathered to listen, and to participate In our culture poetry is occasionally set to music but is usually a form of high art, not for popular consumption In the Hindu and Moslem world it is different People who barely have an education know Faiz s poetry not only because of the songs using his lyrics but also the poems themselves, without musical accompaniment This is testimony to the oral tradition of their culture but also to the universality of his appeal Faiz, in the years following World War II, in which he served in the British Indian Army, made himself the spokesman of his people He was, by the British act of partition a Pakistani, but his people were the people of all India Pakistan the entire subcontinent Everyone who knows any poetry at all in that vast region knows of Faiz

Faiz became the spokesman for his people by many and continuous acts of courage and conviction When he became editor of the Pakistan T/meshe used that position to speak in prose as well poetry for peace and social justice He made himself known as an opponent of oppression He incurred enmity In 1951 he was arrested faced a sentence of death, and was sentenced to four years in prison This was only one of three sojourns in a cell Part of his time in prison was spent in solitary confinement Some of the poems I have translated were written under those conditions

Faiz became the spokesman for his people in another way too Instead of struggling for a literary career instead of taking high posts as lecturer or professor he dedicated himself to teaching illiterate people He was blase in his disregard for the blandishments of life He identified himself with the masses of the poor One incident illustrates that When we were saying good-bye after our time in Honolulu I asked for his address He told me I really didn't need it A letter would reach him if I simply sent it to Faiz, Pakistan

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