Faiz Ahmad Faiz with Alys and their daughter Salima Hashmi
(Letter dated May 23, 1952, Faiz wrote from Hyderabad Jail to his wife Alys)
I am sorry I was not able to write last week. We were all rather busy as Manzoor Qadir was here and lots of things had to be gone into. It was nice to see him even though we could hardly exchange a word beyond legal discussion of the case. I could not even send my greetings to our friend Asghari and you can do it for me.
I am very much behind in my correspondence with you because I have had three letters from you but that leaves me feeling richer and happier although a trifle ashamed. I shall try to make myself even if I can. One reason for not writing, strange as it may seem, is the intense nostalgia that the present here inspires for things that one holds and has held dear. These nostalgic day dreams are so tender and pleasant and warm that one does not feel like disturbing their flow. You will say that this is my typically mean way of justifying laziness and self-indulgence and I know that you are right. I think I have written before that prison life does accentuate petty selfishness. I have never understood that psychology of purdah women as well as I do now. It is the normal psychology of a prisoner.
I understand the pettiness, the preoccupation with small grievances that seem to occupy the whole universe, the oblivion to larger impersonal issues, the selfishness and the self-pity, the spitefulness and the temper, the silliness and the servility, spells of paralysis and feverish activity – all this is the usual concomitant of suppressed and confined living and not very easy for free people to understand.
Life has its surprises, however, even here. The other evening I switched on the Radio to listen to some Indian music from Delhi (what our own Radio calls music is no more than a collection of amateur screechings because real talent like Rafiq, Pukhraj, and Anwar etc: seems to be banned) and do you know what I got? You can never guess. Yehudi Menuhin, perhaps the greatest violinist of all times, playing Bach and Pagannini in the auditorium of the Indian Film Festival. It made me angry and jealous and sad when I thought about it later. This country is now nearly five years old and in five years we have not given the people one real exhibition of anything of beauty, of culture, of ennobling pleasure. And yet there has been no dearth of ‘tamashas’. But all that we can think of is to collect some silly old grey-beards from all over the world, make them talk a lot of bilge that no one cares a damn farthing about, give a few people an opportunity for lots of eating and lots of shouting and then forget all about it. India may be a bigger country but culture is not a matter of size but of the ways of living and thinking, and why should the people of this country not be given a chance at least to look at culture even if they can’t live in it. Anyway it will all come some day perhaps and perhaps I shouldn’t be talking about it.
I was talking about surprises. Last week one of the youngsters with us whom we have been teasing for eating sweets in secret received ‘gajar ka halwa’ from his village which he had ordered in pique. Do you know how much it was – literally a cartload, 3 big canisters of about 20 seers each. Over a maund of ‘halwa’! Just think of it! And it must have taken many more maunds of carrots and sugar and ghee to make, for it is very condensed. We have been trying to imagine the scene of preparations in the village, wagons of carrots undulating, cauldrons of ghee, mountains of wood and the whole countryside astir! It will probably go down in history as a legend, perhaps songs and stories will be written about it, for never in the history of mankind has 1.5 maunds of ‘gajar ka halwa’ been made in one go and for no more than 15 people! So we eat in morning, noon and night.
It is again cloudy and windswept and cool. I hope it holds until you come because it is really pleasant, but for the regrets. But it is silly to regret what was and might have been. What was and might have been, might have been better or it might have been worse but it can be no different now by wishing. What is and will be can be different and better, depending on ourselves, and we shall make it so. Everything else being the same my astrologer and the old woman (who is she?) should not be far out. So let us wait for a few days more.
I am glad of the friendliness of my geisha girls (your accounts of them were a source of constant amusement here and I swagger about it a lot. The chaps here think you must be a hell of a guy to stand all this nonsense and not mind. I don’t put them wise because that will make both of us go down in their estimation a lot) and it is also good to find that there are at least one or two people like ‘the smile’ – besides one’s wife and children – to whom one’s presence or absence matters a little. It is surprising to find how few friends one really has but even one or two is a great wealth in times like the present. I am talking of purely personal friends, for of friends in general the whole world is full.
Janjua’s child is o.k. now. She had bronchial pneumonia but is quite recovered and the family has gone to Karachi for a few days. He has asked me to thank you for the enquiry which he will convey to his wife.
I have got the missing P.T. The audience here has a criticism of the children’s page in the last two issues: too much of the Commonwealth and too little of the rest of the world. I know the reason, of course – availability of material but I am forwarding the opinion to show you that people are interested in your doings. So you have met Mrs. FDR. I think the remark you quoted is a compliment to her, not to you. She certainly never managed to earn her living in a foreign land and her writing, from what I see of it in the Dawn, does not come within a hundred miles of yours. (I don’t think I intend letting you return to the dish washing now. I propose being ‘Mrs Sheikh Ahmed’s’ husband sort of thing for a change. I felt rather upset by the news of her return, by the way. If I have to see her in Lahore again it will take away half the pleasure of being back home).
So old Hashmi is going to the States. It is a pity I am in the jug or I could have given him some nice introductions. Incidentally Zelma Brandt is the nice old America woman who came to Lahore 3 or 4 years ago and I took her round the town. I think you met her because I brought her home for lunch. Please do write to her returning the ‘love’ and tell her I wouldn’t mind hearing from her if she cares to write. I hope your fears about old Steve are ill-founded. In fact this is precisely why I want to write to him – to see if he is still there. I thought of him because I was very upset to hear of the death, first of old Dickinson and then young Latif – such pleasant, good and loveable persons both of them.
Apart from the books I mentioned, if you can borrow I. A. Richards (any of his three books Principles of Criticism, Practical Criticism or Meaning of Meaning) and any book on Indian history, please being them along too. Otherwise it doesn’t matter. Re table-cloths, I meant ordinary small teapot covers. I don’t think there is anything else that I want except you and the pigeons. And I am now waiting for you happily and content.
I am glad Apa had the goodness not to mention your illness and you did not write about it until after. But my heart tells me now when something is wrong and I have begun to worry as much as you used to. Only I always pin my faith on the light beyond the dark. I know it is there and it will come and so one must wait, however hard the waiting.
My love and kiss and fondest thoughts.
P.S. Regarding the poem asked…Can’t you give them my love poem unless it has been disposed of? I haven’t seen it anywhere yet. I think here is…Ghazal in my manuscript with you which is unpublished. It begins yad ke jab zakhm bharnay lagay. I shall also try to send … something in my next letter. Faiz.
Courtesy : Two Lovers ~ Faiz’s Letters from Jail
(Compiled by Salima Hashmi and Kyla Pasha)
Faiz and Alys