Kulliyat-e Faiz: Reflections from the Present

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

On February 24, 2020 the Gurmani Centre held a discussion on contemporary Faiz scholarship, to commemorate the launch of the new critical edition of Kulliyāt-e-Faiz by Syed Nomanul Haq. The discussion was led by Dr. Nomanul Haq, the editor of the book and founder dean of liberal arts studies at Habib University, and Dr. Aamir Mufti, Professor of Comparative literature at the University of California, Los Angeles. Both scholars shared their erudite insights—and at times contrasting opinions—on the legacy and works of Faiz.


The discussion was moderated by Bilal Tanweer, co-director of the Gurmani Centre. “This critical edition of Faiz’s poetry,” he began, “is the first ever effort to collate and standardize his work.” He then gave a brief overview of both speakers’ research and scholarly works and invited Nomanul Haq to address the audience.

Dr. Haq began by talking about the obstacles he encountered while attempting to standardize the poetry of Faiz. He explained how the absence of publication dates with many of the poems, as well as the poet's lack of involvement in the publication process, had resulted in inconsistencies of punctuation and spellings in previous editions of Faiz’s published works. He illustrated and highlighted some of these inconsistencies using Faiz’s poem “vībqī vajā rabak''. “The poem arises out of snippets from previous poems of Faiz,” he said, “some appearing in Dast-e-Ṣabā (1952) and yet others in Sar-e-Vādī-e-Sīnā (1967). These lines, however, disappeared in the later editions of these collections.”


After discussing his editorial process, Nomanul Haq talked at length about the aesthetic qualities of Faiz’s work. “ The poetry of Faiz is too complex and beautiful to be pinned down to political events or ideologies of his time” he said. “Poetry emerges from experience, but it must transcend experience too.” He cautioned against reading his poetry as biography or journalism, suggesting instead that it needs to be read outside the formulaic lens of communism in order to fully appreciate its poetic beauty. He also discussed his personal engagement with Faiz’s work and said that he was “a man of the classics” but Faiz “ushered him into modern poetry”.


Bilal Tanweer then invited professor Aamir Mufti to speak. Dr. Mufti began by thanking Nomanul Haq for “undertaking the difficult yet much needed task of collecting and publishing the works of Faiz.” He then went on to express his discomfort at, what he understood to be, Haq’s insistence on taking the revolutionary aspect out of Faiz’s works. He stressed instead on reading revolution as a very powerful and integral part of Faiz’s poetics.
Aamir Mufti also shared his own experience of reading Faiz, recounting his first encounter with Faiz’s poetry during his graduate studies at Columbia University. He explained that, for him, the genius of Faiz’s poetry lies in its harmonious embodiment of paradoxes and contradictions. “Faiz wrote against the orthodox figure of cleric and Mufti but simultaneously employed religious symbolism in his verses,” he elaborated. “Similarly he reconciles his worldly political and social concerns with the subjective symbols of traditional poetry—such as hijr and viṣāl. In other poems, such as ‘Dhaka sē wāpsī par’, he has depicted historical events of his time through lyricism and subjectivity.” Mufti concluded by calling “this strange admixture of subjective and objective, personal and historical” as the core of Faiz’s poetic accomplishment.

This was followed by a discussion between Professor Bilal Tanweer and the two speakers. The audience then had a chance to ask questions from the speakers. At the end of the talk, the Gurmani Centre presented both guests with pieces of calligraphy—composed by the Centre’s resident calligrapher Sher Zaman.