FIRST PUBLISHED IN TIMES OF INDIA
‘This silence of the Majority is worrisome’ Salima Hashmi daughter of one of the greatest poets of the subcontinent Faiz Ahmed Faiz , says about the current situation plaguing Pakistan in terms of terrorism. In an exclusive interview to Rashmi Talwar on the way to Pakistan via the Wagah Attari Indo-Pak Joint Check Post after presiding as the Guest of Honor at “Jashan-e-Faiz organized by Jammu Civil Society for Art and Literature (JCSAL), in Jammu” in connection with centenary celebrations of poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, being seen as the biggest-ever poetic congregation cum festival in the trouble-torn Jammu and Kashmir.
Kishwar Naheed, Rashmi Talwar, Salima Hashmi
Q1: What was it like to stay in the shadow of your father- Faiz Ahmed Faiz -one of the finest poets?
Salima: For me, he was more of a father and less of a poet people knew him to be. My father was a soft spoken and gentle human being with not a harsh word to anyone and I too had taken after him as a shy, quiet, soft person. When I used to come to him, about odious comparisons when people asked me of my poetic skills, my father used to brush it aside and say “Ek ghar mein ek he shaiyar kafi hai’. It is only when I started teaching that I went against my natural mettle and learned to express myself in public. My paintings are in a way like a luminous visual translation of my father’s poetry. A new book, ‘A Song for This Day’, by Shoaib Hashmi, that holds 51 translated poems of my father in its covers, carries my painting as a watermark on each page of poetry
Q2: Many believe that Faiz was against the Indo-Pak partition of 1947. His silence with merely one poem on the partition (“Ye dagh dagh ujaala, ye shab-guzeeda sehar/ Who intezaar tha jis ka, ye who sehar to nahi”) authenticated this perception. How did he really feel about it?
Salima: My father was shocked by the catastrophe wrought by the partition. He told me, “It is only the British who may be delighted with this partition”. I asked him why he had not written more poetry, other than only one poem ‘Subh-i-Aazadi’ the first written after independence on August 14, 1947 with these pained but ringing words: “yeh daagh daagh ujaala, ye shab-gazeeda saher/ woh intezaar tha jiska yeh woh saher to nahin”( This dim, stained light, this morning that still bears the imprint of a dark night’s blows: surely this is not the morn that we had waited for all these long years) -He replied, “The monumental loss of life, exodus and bloodshed numbed and overwhelmed me. We wanted independence from the British but what this Radcliff line would denote, look like, what shape it would take, all of us had only a vague idea”. However my father wrote several editorials and essays in those days filled with grief over the pointless massacres, the terrible killings of innocents and appealed for sympathy and aid for the victims and for an end to the mayhem. I still remember when I was a child how my father would talk about his Indian poet friends like Firaq Gaurakhpuri, Hasrat Mohani, Majaz, Ali Sardar Jafri and others.
He never wrote much specifically about Partition. He may have believed that to make statements about such issues was the job of politicians. In the years leading up to 1947, Faiz and most intellectuals considered freedom from colonial rule as the most important matter. He wrote in one: ‘We all knew that. It would be safe to say that no one (including politicians) expected the human catastrophe that Partition eventually brought’.
Q3: What was so compelling about Jammu, other than the fact that your father centurion was being celebrated here, that moved you to tears?
Salima:The whole year devoted to Faiz’s celebrations in both India and Pakistan has overwhelmed me, but coming to Jammu was ever so special. “Ever since my aunt (fuffi) told me about my father and mother’s little known rendezvous in Jammu, I was yearning to visit Jammu. While most know about their Srinagar connection with his ‘nikkah’ with my mother Alys –a British, sanctified by Sheikh Abdullah, few know about my father’s frequent visits to Jammu via the Jammu-Sialkot train when they were in love.
“It was in the year 1938, that on the way to Jammu from Sialkot via train during summers, my aunt spotted them together. My aunt told me, “She was coming with her relatives and noticed Faiz in the train, and Faiz hurriedly changed his wagon on noticing us. On arrival at Jammu railway station, Faiz hastily crossed the station and approached a tonga, in which a beautiful English lady was waiting. Without looking elsewhere, Faiz hopped into the carriage and disappeared. Jammu being a small city, Faiz was noticed with that same beautiful lady.” My aunt confided that she kept “their secret” and “Faiz knew it! That served to bond us siblings as best friends”.
Q4: Any memories about the time when Faiz was incarcerated in Pakistan jails?
Salima : My father used to make light of his prison term in Sahiwal jail, it was known as Montgomery jail, then. He used to gloss over that period with a simple ease. Despite his inner turmoil, he used to amuse us by saying that “it was the same cell where Moti Lal Nehru and Badshah Khan were imprisoned during the freedom movement.” He invited my sister Munissa and me to the prison cell once and showed us the flowers he had planted. The ward has now been named as ‘Faiz Ward’ and the cell as ‘Kamra-e-Faiz’. Even the place in prison where he turned a wilderness into a garden is still there, bountiful with flowers, as if time has stood still, I was so moved with the sight of flowers when I visited it, and thought ‘even the flowers had held fast and not left my father, even after he left’. However, he had long spells of silence when he just observed the life pass by, doing nothing. Looking at a squirrel, tree, clouds, the moonlight… for hours, weeks passed by and he would not write a single poem. His long letters written to my mother Alys are very revealing of this state.
Whenever criticism came his way which was ‘huge’ he was known to never respond to critics, he just took a puff of cigarette and smiled ! There was a time when he was in Hyderabad jail and I wrote him a letter before my birthday and asked him for a silk dress. And was thrilled to receive a shalwar, kameez, duppata in silk with exquisite embroidery on my B’Day.
During his spell in the jail he wrote Dast-e-Saba and we held a book release function where people cried while reading the book. I was overwhelmed with the feelings that indeed my father had magical powers to move people with his words. Whenever a new poem emerged from his cell in the jail, it became the hottest news and spread like wild fire.
Q 5. What is your personal assessment of his work and poetry?
Salima: The fact that many who were condemned to the gallows in Zia-Ul-Haq’s regime went reciting his poems is the true assessment of his work that millions kissed in prayer. His rebellion was a passion, an internal matter, it was never used for swinging speeches; it was internalized and reserved for poetry; which was potent and constant.
His poetry incorporated both the values of beauty and social responsibilities. His message was couched in beautiful words with an almost wistful quality. That is why his poetry was unlike the writings of his contemporaries, with a style more mellifluous, his tone soft, his poems smooth and flowing, while other poets had a stronger tone.
Poets and artists converged on Zorawar Singh Auditorium of Jammu University for ‘Jashan-e-Faiz’ Festival to mark the 100th Birth Anniversary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. A galaxy of Indian and Pakistani artists and poets churned out the best of original poetry covering aspects as banal as corruption and as soft as hands folded in prayer.
Q 6. What do you think of the current situation in an environment of growing terrorism with specific reference to Pakistan and how can it be tackled?
Salima: The ‘silence’ of the majority who is against terrorism is worrisome. But they must remember that silence is not and will not be the solution. The scourge of terrorism is not confined to Pakistan alone; it is spreading its tentacles everywhere. It needs to be nipped by having all South Asian countries including Bangladesh to cooperate and coordinate with each other for a common cause to undermine and eradicate it. Remember those who stay silent today may not have a tomorrow for themselves or their near and dear ones… And recited Faiz’s poem –‘Lekin ab zulm ki miyaad ke din thode hain/ Ik zaraa sabr ki fariyaad ke din thode hain/ Arsaa-e-dahar ki jhulsi hui veeraani mein/ Hum ko rehana hai pa yoon hi to nahi rehana hai/ Ajnabi haathon ka benaam garaanbaar sitam/ Aaj sehana hai hamesha to nahi sehana hai..
Salima Hashmi, is Dean, School of Visual Arts, Beacon House National University, Lahore, has taught for 31-years at the National College of Arts (NCA), Lahore and remained its Principal for 4-years. Standing tall as an accomplished painter and an intense writer on arts, she curates exhibitions of contemporary art and traditional textiles, with her work exhibited in Pakistan and abroad. Her book ‘Unveiling the Visible-Lives and Works of Women Artists of Pakistan’ and publication ‘Memories, Myths, Mutations – Contemporary Art of India and Pakistan’ co-authored with Yashodhara Dalmia for Oxford University Press, India and her express devotion to art, mentoring and promoting young artists has won her Pakistan’s ‘Pride of Performance award’.
Salima is the co-founder of the Rohtas Gallery in Islamabad, established in 1981, and established Rohtas-2 in Lahore in 2001.