HONESTLY, I am not qualified to write about the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Yes, he has been one of the greatest writers of the Urdu language, Pakistan’s most popular poet and someone who’s made a huge mark as a revolutionary, an intellectual and a genius. But an in-depth analysis of his oeuvre would best be left to someone who has followed his work thoroughly and extensively.
Yet, the reason I’m writing this blog is because to me, Faiz has been an obsession. Some of the most beautiful ghazals ever created have been written by him; the only other poet who must have been covered in equal or more detail is Mirza Ghalib. Though the ghazals of many others like Mir Taqi Mir, Momin Khan Momin, Dagh Dehlvi, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Allama Iqbal, Shakeel Badayuni, Ahmed Faraaz, Qateel Shifai, Jigar Moradabadi, Kaifi Azmi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Hasrat Mohani, Sudarshan Faakir, Gulzar and Javed Akhtar have been sung regularly, Ghalib and Faiz perhaps top the list in terms of sheer number.
Besides mentioning some of Faiz’s really wonderful ghazals and nazms, the effort of this piece is to initiate ghazal lovers who haven’t really heard much of Faiz into the beauty of his repertoire. For that, I am ending the blog with my 10 favourite Faiz works.
My first exposure to Faiz was Mehdi Hassan’s ever-so-popular ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’. For years, I loved the song without knowing the poet’s name, and admired it mainly for the singing and tune. Even after realising it was written by Faiz, the meanings of many words escaped me, and it was only much later that I started following the true meaning of the ghazal.
Later too, though I would know the names of Faiz’s songs, it would take me a while to grasp the actual meaning. Very often, the words and metaphors he used were too high-flown for me, but they sounded truly graceful and magnificent. And I loved the songs so much, specially if they were sung by the likes of Iqbal Bano, Farida Khanum, Abida Parveen and Nayyara Noor, that I would make an extra effort to follow them more deeply.
Even today, there are quite a few songs which I don’t understand 100 per cent. But they’re among my favourites, because of the way they’ve been treated by the singer. Keeping that in mind, I thought I’d write about some of my favourite Faiz ghazals and nazms, as rendered by some really extraordinary voices. Let’s take them singer by singer, and also mention some other wonderful versions:
Mehdi Hassan and Faiz: The late Mehdisaab was known to have sung a large cross-section of poets, both well-known and lesser-known. As such, only a limited percentage of his repertoire was written by Faiz, of which ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’ is undoubtedly the most famous — Talat Aziz does a wonderful live version, and Runa Laila’s version is popular too. But there have been other Mehdi Hassan classics too, like ‘Aaye kuch abr kuch sharaab aaye’ (also sung by Begum Akhtar, Ghulam Ali, Runa Laila and Suraiya Khanum), ‘Tum aaye ho na shab-e-intezaar guzari hai’ (versions by Noor Jehan and Amir Ali Khan) and ‘Na ganvaao naavak-e-neemkash’ (whose version by Hyderabad-based Vithal Rao is also mesmerising). In each song, Mehdi-saab’s voice has been enchanting, but then, whose ever verse he sang, he had his own unique style.
Iqbal Bano and Faiz: The late Delhi-born, Lahore-settled Iqbal Bano sang numerous ghazals in her rich, heavenly voice, but she was most identified with Faiz, primarily because of two songs — the revolutionary anthem ‘Hum Dekhenge’ and the solitude-filled ‘Dasht-e-tanhai’, both of which are among the greatest ghazals ever rendered. With its ‘Inquilaab zindabad’ crowd chant, the former is also one of the best rendered and most moving live nazms. But while these two songs remain her most popular, Iqbal has also rendered gems like ‘Mere dil mere musafir’, ‘Kab thehrega dard’, ‘Aaye haath uthayen’ and ‘Rang pairahan ka’. Pure magic all over.
Farida Khanum and Faiz: The lay listener will identify Pakistani ‘Mallika-e-ghazal’ Farida most with ‘Aaj jaane ki zid na karo’, written by poet Faiyaz Hashmi. But her rendition of Faiz is no less astounding, though it’s been followed more by the serious connoisseurs. The masterpieces include ‘Yaad-e-ghazaal-e-chashma’, ‘Sab qatl hoke tere’, ‘Yun saja chand’, ‘Is tarah qissa mera’ and the outstanding ‘Donon jahan teri mohabbat mein haarke’, (which also has a divine version by Begum Akhtar).
Begum Akhtar and Faiz: We’ve already mentioned Begum Akhtar’s ‘Donon jahaan teri’ and ‘Aaye kuch abr’, but some of her other marvellous Faiz numbers include ‘Dil mein ab bhoola hua gham’ and ‘Shaam-e-firaaq ab na pooch’ (also sung by Ghulam Ali). The great Begum was probably known more for her rendition of Ghalib, Mir, Shakeel Badayuni, Momin and Sudarshan Faakir ghazals, but she was brilliant with Faiz too. One of the most enchanting and pathos-filled voices in history.
Noor Jehan and Faiz: The legendary singer probably sang the most popular of all Faiz songs — ‘Mujhse pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na maang’. But old-timers will also recall her rendition of ‘Tum aaye no ha shab-e-intezaar guzari hai’ and ‘Aaj ki raat saaz-e-dil-e-par-dard’.
Nayyara Noor and Faiz: Assam-born, Lahore-bred Nayyara Noor has one of the sweetest voices in the ghazal genre. She recorded 12 Faiz songs in her album ‘Nayyara Sings Faiz’, of which the most charming were ‘Tum mere paas raho’ (of which we’ve heard different versions by Mallika Pukhraj and Vidya Shah), ‘Hum ke thehre ajnabi’ (which Shubha Mudgal has often sung live), ‘Aaj bazaar mein’, ‘Chalo phir se muskurayen’ and ‘Utho ab maati se’. Like Iqbal Bano, Nayyara has been identified most with Faiz, though her semi-classical, easy listening style is a nice contrast to Iqbal’s deep and rich classicism.
Abida Parveen and Faiz: Though she’s known more as a Sufiana singer, Abida Parveen has also shown supreme adeptness at the ghazal. Her rendition of Faiz’s poetry is captured on the Times Music album ‘Abida Sings Faiz’, which includes gems like ‘Shaam-e-firaaq ab na pooch’, ‘Gul hui jaati hai’, ‘Yeh jafa-e-gham ka chaara’ and ‘Tere gham ko jaan ki talaash thi’.
Zehra Nigah and Faiz: Herself a poet, Zehra Nigah has specialised in reciting Faiz’s nazms in a semi-sung, semi-spoken manner. She chose some of Faiz’s best poems and dazzled audiences with her presentation. Pieces worth checking out are ‘Heart attack’, ‘Ghazal’, ‘Intesab’, ‘Dua’, ‘Daricha’ and ‘Khursheed-e-mehshar’.
(This paragraph was added after I originally wrote the blog as the album was released later) Pankaj Udhas and Faiz: Recently, Pankaj Udhas released the album ‘Dastkhat’, consisting of his renditions of Faiz poetry. Included are gems like ‘Kab tak dil ki khair manaayein’, ‘Yun sajaa chaand’, ‘Shaam-e-firaaq ab na pooch’ and ‘Tere gham ko jaan ki talaash thi’. He says he used the title ‘Dastkhat’ as the choice of poetry reflected Faiz’s signature style of singing.
Other singers and Faiz: Though we’ve covered most of the popular versions of Faiz songs above, and have included singers like Ghulam Ali, Amir Ali Khan and Runa Laila too, a few other singers have sung exceptional versions of Faiz. Commendable among them are Mallika Pukhraj’s ‘Kab tak dil ki khair manaayein’ and ‘Yeh kaun sakhi hain’. Pakistani singers Tina Sani and Tahira Sayed have also recorded a fair amount of Faiz. Among the male singers, Shaukat Ali’s ‘Garmi-e-shauq-e-nazara’ and ‘Tere gham ko jaan ki talaash thi’ and Amaanat Ali Khan’s ‘Teri umeed tera intezaar jab se hai’ are recommended.
(To keep readers updated, Talat Aziz also did a show featuring the poetry of Ghalib and Faiz in July 2013.)
Finally, my top 10 Faiz: For a basic initiation into the poet, one can try out the three-CD set ‘Great Works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’, released in India by EMI Music. But if you’re looking for 10 songs to begin with, my favourites are: 1. Gulon mein rang bhare — Mehdi Hassan 2. Hum dekhenge — Iqbal Bano 3 Tum mere paas raho — Nayyara Noor 4. Dasht-e-tanhai — Iqbal Bano 5. Mujhse pehli si mohabbat – Noor Jehan 6. Donon jahaan teri – Begum Akhtar 7 Yaad-e-ghazaal-e-chashma – Farida Khanum 8. Hum ke thehre ajnabee – Nayyara Noor 9.Tum aaye ho shab-e-intezaar guzari hai – Amir Ali Khan, and 10 Aaye kuch abr kuch sharaab aaye – Mehdi Hassan. And yes, Ghulam Ali, Pankaj Udhas and Abida Parveen fans could check out their versions of ‘Shaam-e-firaaq ab na pooch’.
It may take a while for some of you to get a hang of each and every word. But the truth is that these are some of the most beautiful songs ever written and ever sung. And in all cases, a combination of the Faiz charisma and great singing worked wonders.