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Memorialising the partition of 1947 through Faiz

“Dhal gaya hijr ka din, aa bhi gai wasl ki rat”

 As a political poet who witnessed the partition of India and Pakistan, Faiz explains ‘hijr’ meaning separation, and ‘wasl’ meaning union from his homeland by using ‘beloved’ as a metaphor. His writings evoke a longing for one's homeland and identity. The use of the words 'hijr' and 'wasl' in 'Yad' (memory) reminds the reader of the essence of the partition and reflects a yearning for what has been lost.

Among the numerous poems written by Faiz, one common thread found in most of them was the metaphor of the beloved for one's nation. In the poem 'Yad,' he tries to use the idea of solitude as a vast expanse of desert to represent the distance between him and his beloved, this distance is both metaphorical and physical hence, expressing his dissent for the partition. He uses the analogy of remembrance of a lover, as also seen in ‘Marsia’ (Elegy) to represent remembrance of 'the undivided self,' who is the one at home, as opposed to the divided self who has been separated from its home and with it its identity (this division of the self has been well explained in my article Who Am I? The victim of forced displacement). The identity here refers to the psychological self which is lost alongside the material possession as one was driven out of their home. This divided self for Faiz is devoid of its true identity and is now just a mere shadow as the true self has been left behind in their ‘Watan’ and the individual’s relationship with the dichotomous self (the foreigner) changes with time. 

The reference to separation and union with the beloved at the end of the poem ‘Yad’ accentuates the desire for union with an individual's true identity, and with the homeland. Similarly, the distinction between this dubious identity, a result of forced displacement, and the true identity is made evident in his poem Blackout. The verse for me represented how the new foreign identity makes a person feel lost in the search for their true identity that gets lost with the possessions and people left behind, this emotion finds expression in the line “Since the lamps have been without light, I am seeking, moving about, in the dust: I do not know where.”

This new identity that is a foreigner for the displaced carries memories of the homeland, the partition, and its horrors. Blackout bears reference to the first India-Pakistan war fought in 1965, and hence, Faiz uses the metaphor of darkness for forgetting the motherland thus voicing his dissent against the partition of the two nations. Further, the use of the terms ‘ghat’, which has a Hindu annotation related to the rituals of purification and cremation, and ‘fana’, which has a Sufi reference related to salvation hint towards the secularisation of his work, which also becomes a sign of his disapproval of the partition. And by using the term 'uss par' for across the horizon which is now vaguely remembered (here, he has made a subtle reference to the two nations), he voiced his disagreement against the formation of the divided identity of a person, which was formed as a result of territorial partition.

Besides Yad, Marsia, and Blackout, the other poem which made Faiz’s dissent clear was ‘At times’, reading the poem I noticed Faiz’s desire for union and memories of the pre-partition era. Similarly, in the dawn of Freedom (August 1947) Faiz talks of how the dawn of freedom is a false one as depicted through the line “Yeh woh seher toh nahi”, through it he has tried to preach peace and has shown us how the dawn of independence was not supposed to be a dawn of carnage and communal violence.

Aside from using the metaphor of beloved for the nation, in the poem ‘Sipahi ka marsia’ (soldier’s elegy) dated 1975, 10 years after the 1965 war, he writes from a parent’s point of view asking its wounded son (a soldier) to get up, here the poet has not specified if this soldier is Indian or Pakistani, thus making it impossible for it to be consecrated that the soldier belongs to India only or Pakistan only. Hence, showing how both sides suffer loss through violence. 

Another common element in some of Faiz’s work is the use of both ‘hijr’ (separation) and ‘wasl’ (union) together, thus expressing his yearning, hence his reference to how separation and union are now the same in ‘Marsia’ through the line “Wasl o hijran baham hue kitne” becomes symbolic of his desire of union of the two nations and his disappointment at the partition. 

Faiz’s work carried with it the memories of partition and the desire to be reunited with his home which was far yet near. He never mentioned if this ‘home’ was in India or Pakistan, thus becoming the voice of the numerous displaced and lost individuals on either side of the border. With India and Pakistan celebrating their 77th Independence Day, it is important to remember the horrors that innocent people faced on both sides of the border due to the partition. Hence, while we celebrate our freedom we must remember to mourn the innocent lives lost on both sides during the partition.

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