As the celebratory clamour of ‘60 years of Indian Independence’ accompanied by boasts of our strategic partnership with the US and jingoistic roars against Pakistan threaten to deafen us, let’s take a minute to hear Faiz Ahmad Faiz speak to us. His words are as hauntingly familiar, as evocative, as inspiring as they were 60 years ago. Then, his view of “this night-bitten dawn”, stained by the communal bloodshed of Partition, mocked at the triumphalism of Nehru’s Tryst With Destiny speech which announced that “India will awake to life and freedom”.
September 28, 2007 marks Bhagat Singh’s Birth Centenary. Written in August 1947, Subh-e-Azadi resounds with echoes of Bhagat Singh’s own warnings that freedom could hardly be genuine if it just meant replacing white sahibs with brown ones. Both Faiz and Bhagat Singh and their legacy of Communism and anti-imperialism are deeply cherished on both sides of the border. The Indian ruling class does its best to kill the memory of Bhagat Singh the revolutionary; Faiz spent a large part of his latter life in Pakistan’s jails.
Come September, the dark clouds of US imperialism blot out the weak light of democracy and sovereignty in both Pakistan and India – with US threats of military intervention in Pakistan and attempts (eagerly supported by the UPA Government) to take India into an even closer strategic embrace with the Nuke Deal.
As our rulers outlaw all dissent and permit only paeans of praise to the 9% growth rate, let’s remind ourselves, with the help of Faiz and Bhagat Singh, that this dawn – of nuclear deals, farmers’ suicides, fake encounters, corporate land grab, starvation deaths, police firings and jingoistic wars – isn’t the dawn we set out for… That quest for the “promised Dawn” of freedom continues!
These tarnished rays, this night-smudged light
This is not that Dawn for which, ravished with freedom,
we had set out in sheer longing,
so sure that somewhere in its desert the sky harboured
a final haven for the stars, and we would find it.
We had no doubt that night’s vagrant wave would stray towards the shore
that the heart rocked with sorrow would at last reach its port.
Friends, our blood shaped its own mysterious roads.
When hands tugged at our sleeves, enticing us to stay,
and from wondrous chambers Sirens cried out
with their beguiling arms, with their bare bodies,
our eyes remained fixed on that beckoning dawn,
forever vivid in her muslins of transparent light.
Our blood was young, what could hold us back?
Now listen to the terrible rampant lie:
Light has forever been severed from the Dark;
our feet, it is heard, are now one with their goal.
See our leaders polish their manner clean of our suffering:
Indeed, we must confess only to bliss;
we must surrender any utterance for the Beloved, all yearning is outlawed.
But the heart, the eye, the yet deeper heart,
Still ablaze for the Beloved, their turmoil shines.
In the lantern by the road the flame is stalled for news:
Did the morning breeze ever come? Where has it gone?
Night weighs us down; it still weighs us down.
Friends, come away from this false light.
Come, we must search for that promised Dawn.
– Faiz Ahmed Faiz, translated from the Urdu by Agha Shahid Ali