Faiz and Our National Identity

Published on pakistaniat.com on November 30th 2010

The Mard-e-Momin as a form of national identity is overrated. So is the concept of the collective morality and the religious honor that gets everyone keyed up, ready to take up arms against an aggressor. The biggest aggressor, after all, remains poverty, bread within. Real tyranny is that which the state practices against its own citizenry, mostly by ignoring them.

Enough with the heroic machismo, I say. It hasn’t bought Pakistan any bread or butter, although it has surely strung us into becoming a state famous world over for its radicalism.

Zard Patto Ka Bann Jo Mera Dess Hai. Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984) brews in his poetry a gentle reminder of a wilting nation, he calls each of the forgotten, by their own name: the weary armed mother who can’t calm her crying child at night, the postmen, the clerk, the railway driver and the factory worker. These form the majority of our nation – they also form a group that we don’t like to talk about. Our ‘national poet’ Allama Mohammad Iqbal for instance has no mention of these no-name people. Neither does he mention shame, which is what a realistic self-introspection deserves. How can we talk of a national poetry without the people who form its working class?

Nisar teri gallion mey aye Watan, Key koi na saar utha key chaley. Faiz has asked for a soul check, a delving into what brings real honor to the country: protection of the rights of its citizens, a level playing field and recourse to justice. As a member of the International Labor Organization he was astute about the rights of the blue collar workers. His concept of patriotism wasn’t a jingoistic one. Evident in his piece mourning the death of the founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah, he said: “Short-sighted fanaticism and heartless greed are preparing to plunge both the dominions into another suicidal devil-dance and the voice of the common man is getting feebler through exhaustion.”

Faiz’s nationalism focused more on the cultural aspects of what it was to be Pakistani, the art, the music, the folk tradition. In his compartmentalized life, between his work as a writer and his jail sentences, he was also the head of the Ministry of Culture in Islamabad where he established the Lok Virsa museum, chronicling the unique regional art embedded in our nationalism.

Umeed-e-Seher ki baat sunoo. Far from being a pessimist, he believed in the message of hope. Listen, he said to the dawn of the new morn.

What is missing today, especially among our youth is a concept to anchor them in. A cultural identity of what it is to be a Pakistani. Childishly we believe that fighting the other fulfills our need to congregate around a cause. Pakistan is in the search of Bulleh Shah, the Khudi of Iqbal, the voice of Reshma, the Horse and Cattle show, the Polo matches, the fashion shows, the billboards and the TV Serials, no matter how variant the spectrum, each contributant to the creativity form a mosaic of multiculturalism forms a piece of the modern Pakistan we have today. Anyone with a green passport can claim it as their own.

In the same eulogy Faiz adds that Pakistanis should, “complete the task that the Quaid-i-Azam began, the task of building a free, progressive and secure Pakistan, to restore our people the dignity and happiness for which the Quaid-i-Azam strove, to equip them with all the virtues that the nobility of freedom demands and to rid them of fear, suffering and want that have dogged their lives through the ages.”

The Pakistani cultural identity is infused with religious sentiment. It is important to divorce those two concepts because we have not one but many religious avenues which describe what it is to be a Pakistani, and these avenues cannot be excluded, because Pakistan was not created out of an exclusionary identity. Pakistan was formed for a minority community, through a democratic and constitutional process; it must therefore amongst all its principles uphold the protection of the underdog as its highest moral principle.

Tum yey Kehtey ho vo Jang ho bhi chuki, Jiss mey rakha nahi hey kissi ney kadaam. Vehemently anti-war, Faiz cautioned against those wars that were fought on the behalf of an unseen force, and lost at the cost of many lives and much blood. His focus instead was on educating the youth. As principal of a local school, he introduced at first education for women, brought enrollment to an all time high and instituted excellence at this school. His versatility as a nation builder was evident in the devotion with which he completed each assigned task, no matter what the field.

Bahar Aaee. Above all else, Faiz brought alive that Pakistan which bloomed endlessly, even after loss.

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