Justice Katju remembers Faiz Ahmed Faiz as Greatest Urdu poet of the 20th century

Justice Katju remembers Faiz Ahmed Faiz as Greatest Urdu poet of the 20th century

Yesterday, 13th February, was the birth anniversary of the great Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, whom I regard as the greatest Urdu poet of the 20th century ( though I have also great regard for other Urdu poets like Firaq Gorakhpuri ).

In 1981, when I was a lawyer in Allahabad High Court, Faiz
Saheb came to Allahabad, my home town.

A function
was organized in his honour in the Allahabad University lawns. The University
lawns are massive, and so was the crowd that evening. There were many poets on
the dias that day, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Mahadevi Verma, etc.and of course, Faiz
Saheb. It was like a galaxy of poetic stars on the firmament. Firaq Saheb was
so old that though mentally alert, he could not walk, and so he had to be
carried by some University boys onto the dias.

Since I am
very fond of Urdu poetry, and since I am particularly fond of the poetry of
Faiz, I went to the function. I took along with me my son Vikram, who was then
only 6 years old, knowing that he would not
be able to understand anything, but yet in later life he could tell his friends
that he had seen Faiz and Firaq.

The function
began with the convenor reciting a sher of Firaq :

Aane waali nuslein tumse
rashk kareingi hum aasron

Jab woh
jaanengi tumne Firaq ko dekha hai “

He then said
that he would like to slightly alter the sher and make it :

Aane waali nuslein tumse
rashk kareingi hum aasron

Jab woh
jaanengi tumne Faiz, Firaq aur Mahadevi ko dekha hai ” :

Thereafter a
well known nazm by Faiz, ‘ Gulon mein rang bhare baad-e-naubahaar chale ‘. was
sung by some Allahabad University girls.

I have heard
that song sung innumerable times, but I have never heard it sung as beautifully
as it was sung that memorable evening 37 years
ago by the Allahabad University girls.

The poets on the dias then recited some of their poems. The last to be called upon, and the one we were really waiting for, was Faiz Saheb himself.

There was
massive cheering when Faiz Saheb rose to speak. Here was the man who had stood
by his principles all his life, who was even jailed for several years in
Pakistan by the martial law regime, falsely implicated in the Rawalpindi
Conspiracy case, who had written ” Bol ki lab azad hain tere, bol zubaan
ab tak teri hai “. He was a hero in our eyes.

Faiz Saheb
first said that he was proud to be in Allahabad, the city of Rishi Bharadwaj,
where Lord Rama had come during his exile from Ayodhya, and of other Rishis and
Munis. He then related to us about his association with the Progressive Writers
Association in the 1930s and the work he had done. He ended
by reciting to us some of his kalaam.

recollection of that memorable evening is indelibly etched into my memory.

As I
mentioned before, Faiz Saheb is my favourite Urdu poet of the 20th century ( though I regard Mirza Ghalib the greatest Urdu
poet of all times ). So I I quoted him in some judgments of mine in the Supreme
Court, beginning the judgment with his sher ( couplet ).

When I
decided to issue an appeal through my judgment to the Pakistan Government to
release an Indian citizen, Gopal Das, who was undergoing a life sentence in
Pakistan for espionage, and had been in Pakistani jails for 27 years I began with a couplet of Faiz :

Qafas udas hai yaaron, saba se kuch
to kaho

Kaheen to
beher-e-khuda aaj zikr-e-yaar chale”

The sher had
such a powerful impact on the Pakistani authorities that they announced that
the Pakistan Government would honour the appeal made by the Indian Supreme
Court. Gopal Das was released a few days thereafter and he came back to India
and has got married.

This was
unprecedented. Never perhaps in world judicial history was such an appeal made
by any Court, and never was it so honoured.Such is the power of Urdu poetry.

In another
judgment in the Supreme Court I again began by quoting a sher by Faiz :

“Bane hain ahal-e-hawas muddai bhi
munsif bhi

Kise vakeel
karein kisse munsifi chaahen ?”


“When selfish people are both
petitioners and judges

Whom should
I make my lawyer ? From whom should I seek justice ? “

I was
informed by a lawyer friend who went to Pakistan soon after I gave the judgment
quoting the above sher that printouts of my judgment were being distributed
like hot cakes in Lahore, Karachi, etc. I was told by another friend that when
one of my judgments was cited in a High Court in Pakistan, the Judge asked the
lawyer ” Is he the same Judge who quotes Faiz ? “

And let me
end this post by mentioning a mischief I did over 40 years ago, but which I have not revealed to anyone till now.

incident happened in the year 1972 or 1973. I was then a very junior lawyer in Allahabad High
Court. When I have so much fire in me even now at the age of 73 you can imagine the fire in me at the age of 26 or so.

It so
happened that a very ‘dismissing judge ‘ ( if I may use the term ) came to the
Allahabad High Court, having been elevated from the subordinate judiciary. He
would dismiss almost all petitions and appeals. Some lawyers came to me and said
” Katju Saheb, bachaiye, yeh to hamein barbaad kar dega ” ( Katju
Saheb, save us , this Judge will ruin us ” ). I told them not to worry.

That evening
I wrote a leaflet with the heading ” High Court ya kasai ghar ? ‘ ( i.e. ‘
High Court or Slaughterhouse ?’ ). . Below that I quoted the sher of Faiz
mentioned above ( Bane hai ahal-e-hawas muddai bhi munsif bhi —). I then
wrote that ever since this Judge has come he has been dismissing almost all
cases, making the High Court like a slaughterhouse, etc, etc.

This leaflet
was secretly printed in some press, and the next morning long before the Court
could assemble was distributed widely in the High Court premises. In each of
the Courtrooms a copy was placed on the Judges’ desk, and in the front row
where mostly the senior lawyers would sit. When the Judges came into their
Courtrooms they saw the leaflet, read it, and there was an uproar. Many Judges
retired to their chambers saying ” Yeh kya badtameezi hai ? ” (
” What is this impertinence ? )

However, the
leaflet had its effect, and the judge became a bit more liberal after that.

The credit
again must go to Faiz !

{Justice Markandey Katju, writer is former justice of Supreme court of India. This article has been published on Justice katju’s FB page (Copied with courtesy)}

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