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The Voice of a Bygone Century

Sabyn Javeri-Jillani

Edited by Khalid Hasan
Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2006, pp. 291, Rs. 495.00


Of the many voices to come out of the subcontinent in the last century, Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s (1911-1984) is perhaps the strongest. He has been described as many things—the misunderstood Marxist, the compassionate humanist, an irresistible charmer and of course the revolutionary poet. Faiz’s poetry lives on, as powerful today, many years after his death, as it was in his heyday. Like his life, his poetry has been through many phases. His earlier work during pre-partition times is light, romantic and lyrical. Later the bitterness of partition, the crushed hopes that accompanied the failings of the new country, wars with India and the harshness of exile gave his poetry a new redolence. Though never didactic, Faiz touched on political and ethical topics, some of them illusions to the homeland while others simple accounts of heartbreak, love and humanity. O City of Lights is the latest in translation of Faiz’s works. The book celebrates Faiz’s life and works. It contains essays and memoirs along with original poetry and translations as parallel text.   Translating poetry is never an easy feat, especially when the mediums are as different as Urdu, a language interlaced with cultural nuances and English which is laborious and edifying in speech. Though no translation can carry over the mesmerizing effect of Faiz’s poetry completely, this latest effort does not disappoint either. Perhaps, because it is a labour of love. The poetry has been translated by Khalid Hasan, a close associate of Faiz, and by the late Daud Kamal. But what makes the book unusual is that it also carries a collection of essays and memoirs about Faiz, including one by Faiz himself. The book, set in a simple format and divided into sections is a useful tool in introducing the ordinary reader, new to Faiz, to the accessibility of his work. Dates and brief backgrounds to most of the poems add to the appeal and make it easier for the reader to get involved in the work.   Although as Edward Said put it, ‘The poetry of Faiz is mercury. It flows any which way the reader’s thoughts do. He can raise you to national and patriotic fervour and at the same time a broken-hearted lover will succumb to tears reading the very same verse’.   Khalid Hasan’s association with Faiz goes a long way back. Born in Kashmir, Hasan now lives and ...

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