Faiz Ahmad Faiz was one of the greatest poets of Urdu language. He had a rare distinction of being an equally renowned political activist, a revolutionary and an outspoken orator who would portray political themes in his poetry in arduous ways.
He was jailed multiple times for his left wing politics and what was often deemed as his castigation of established politcal system in Pakistan, as he would lament in his poem Subh-e-Azadi, “hame intizar tha jiska ye woh sahar to nahi…”
Faiz was nominated for a Nobel Peace price twice and received International Lenin Peace price in 1962.
From his love for the land, his marriage in Srinagar and his association with Kashmiri leadership, Faiz’s Kashmir connection ran deep and rather close to his heart.
Faiz’s marriage to his beloved Allys George (who would take the name Allys Faiz) was performed in Srinagar in October 1941 and was solemnised by Sheikh Abdullah.
Alys would later recount her marriage day in an interview. She would recollect the memories of “Faiz Sahab” that how she had asked Faiz if he bought her a ring and he said he did. He said that he had borrowed money from Mian Iftikharuddin (editor-in-chief of Pakistan Times) and joked that he would not be paying him back.
In his book ‘The Kashmir Dispute 1947-2012’ the renowned historian A.G Noorani writes that Kashmir’s then “most popular political leader Sheikh Abdullah” performed Faiz’s nikah at Srinagar (Pari Mahal) when the well-known poet married a young English girl, Alys George.
The same is mentioned in Faiz’s biography by his grandson Ali Madhi Hashmi by the name “Love and Revolution”.
Sheikh posed the marriage questions in three different languages: English, Urdu and Kashmiri. “The nikahnama was signed by G.M.Sadiq, Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed [both former Prime Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir] and Dr. Noor Husain as witnesses,” A G Noorani writes.
The nikah cermony was followed by a small gathering and a mushaira. At the time of her marriage, Alys was given a Muslim name – Kulsoom, references to which are found in abundance in Faiz’s poetry.
The ceremony was followed with an informal party which was attended by many prolific poets and writers like Josh and Majaaz. Faiz and Alys’s Nikahnama, the marriage contract, was modelled after that of Christobel (Bilqees) and Dr Taseer, which had been drafted by Allama Iqbal.
It very was progressive for that time, granting the wife the full right of divorce as well as binding the husband to monogamy with all other conditions open to negotiation.
The debate on these conditions later lead to enaction of Muslim Family Ordinance Pakistan which is followed for all marriages in Pakistan.
Kashmir had become a seat of communist activities those days and the famous marxists activists like B.P.L Bedi, Freda Bedi, Rajbhans Krishan Sharma etc would frequently visit Kashmir.
A branch of the Communist Party of India was established in Srinagar in 1942 apparently to strengthen the Allied war effort. In September 1942, Fazal Elahi Qurban, a well-known Communist from Lahore organised an anti-Fascist school in a house boat in Srinagar.
GM Bakshi and Mohd Sadiq of National Conference appear to have visited the school and encouraged the movement. Many historians have mentioned this to be the precise reason of Faiz’s marriage being conducted in Kashmir since because both Faiz and Allys were leading members of Communist party.
Alys’s sister Christobel had married Dr M.D Taseer, a Marxist and the then principal of S.P college in Srinagar. In 1947, the tumultuous year when Partition took place, Alys would write from Srinagar to Faiz who was in Lahore.
In one of the replies Faiz writes about the horrors of partition, “it seemed so unreal and far away as long as I was in Srinagar, but it has all come back and is far, far worse than anything I had feared and imagined. From early morning till late evening one hears nothing but tales of horror and even though one ties shut one’s mind and one’s ears tight against them there is no escape from the horror or tragedy that surrounds one from every side”
Renowned music composer Arshad Mahmud, who was also a student of Faiz, and composed his poems into somgs, performed by Tina Sani and Nayyara Noor, revealed that ‘Bol ke lab azaad hain tere’ Faiz had written for Sheikh Abdullah.
In his book, playwrighter and broadcaster Agha Nasir also mentions the friendship between Faiz and Sheikh Abdullah, corroborating the possible dedication of this poem. In his interview with Kashmiri journalist Shamim Ah. Shamim, Faiz was asked what he thought was the best solution for Kashmir.
Faiz’s answer: “The best solution for Kashmir is that both countries should leave Kashmir alone and, as a self-governing State, Kashmir should establish friendly relations with both countries. Eventually this is what will happen; but after suffering much harm and damage. People like you on both sides should jointly propose such a proposal.”
The said interview was first published in ‘Aina’ and reprinted in the Srinagar based Urdu weekly ‘Chattan’ on 18 April 2011, and can be found in Shameem’s collection of articles called ‘Sheeraza‘.
Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali had sought permission from Faiz to translate his poems which he granted after his return to Lahore from Beirut, which Faiz remember in his ‘Homage to Faiz Ahmad Faiz’.
Ali translated selected poems of his in ‘The Rebel’s Silhouette’. They had met once before, at Ali’s own house when he was still a child. Their mutual love of Begum Akhtar became a fond memory between the two.
Ali delivered multiple lectures on Faiz’s poetry and activism after Faiz passed away.
Ali recalls this exchange in his book The Half-Inch Himalayas:
“Twenty days before your death, you finally wrote, this time from Lahore, that after the sack of Beirut you had no address. I had gone from poem to poem and found you once, terribly alone, speaking to yourself.
‘Bolt your doors, sad heart! Put out the candles, break all cups of wine. No one, now, no one will ever return.”
Khawar Khan Achakzai is a published author, a medical Doctor by profession, and student of history.