Atal-Faiz Bonhomie & New India

“We remain strangers even after so many meetings, blood stains remain even after so many rains.”

“Not enough to shed tears, to suffer anguish, not enough to nurse love in secret… Today, walk in the public square fettered in chains.”

These two Faiz Ahmad Faiz verses have been excluded from CBSE’s 2022-23 academic curriculum of Class 10, reported The Indian Express.

For over a decade, these translated verses have been studied by the CBSE students. These verses are from two poems in Urdu by Faiz Ahmed Faiz in the “Religion, Communalism and Politics — Communalism, Secular State” section of NCERT’s Class 10 textbook “Democratic Politics II”.

The document of portion curriculum, which lists the Social Science course content for Class 10, states that the segment on religion, communalism and politics will continue to be part of the course content — “excluding image on page 46, 48, 49”.

Those image refer to two posters and a political cartoon.

One poster is depicting Faiz’s verses, issued by NGO ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy), which has social activists Shabnam Hashmi and Harsh Mander among its co-founders.

The two posters and the cartoon image are excluded from the course content.

As per the leading literary web portal Rekhta, the verses excluded from the poem were composed by Faiz. He had composed these verses when he was being taken from a jail in Lahore, in chains, to a dentist’s office in a tonga through lanes that were familiar to him.

The second poster is with the excerpts of the other Faiz poem, which was issued by Voluntary Health Association of India. It describes itself as a federation of 27 state associations. Rekhta says Faiz had written this poem after his visit to Dhaka in 1974.


The decision to omit Faiz’s verses has invited public outcry. 

Senior Journalist Saba Naqvi, reacting to the decision, wrote on Twitter: There were phases when Pakistan banned Faiz and he sought exile in world including India where I met him as a child. He would not like the India of today. Faiz verses excluded from Class 10 textbook in latest CBSE tweak.”

Maharashtra minister Nitin Raut also took to Twitter to write: “CBSE excluded Faiz’s verses from 10th textbook. Faiz’s ghazals are capable enough to boost the morale of the people. That’s why they are afraid of him.”

Journalist Man Aman Singh Chhina wrote: “Ironic that CBSE removes Faiz’s “Aaj bazaar mein pa-ba-jaulan chalo” from Class 10 curriculum. Faiz wrote these lines against the despotic regime of Gen Zia Ul Haq in Pakistan. As we hurtle towards becoming another Pakistan, Faiz would have the last laugh.”

When Atal met Faiz…

Amid the outcry over the CBSE’s decision, many on the social media have been sharing instances of friendship and mutual respect between former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The Bharatiya Janata Party has been criticised by its opponent over the alleged saffronisation of the education system. However, Mr Vajpayeer, contrary to the current BJP’s beliefs, shared a very cordial relationship with the Pakistani poet. 

The story is from 1977-78. The country was seeing a non-Congress government for the first time. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was handling the Ministry of External Affairs. He went on an official visit to Pakistan. External Affairs Minister has a protocol. The arrival, departure and meetings during the visit are all decided in advance. Vajpayee, however, broke the protocol. 

The reason for breaking the protocol was that the former PM wanted to meet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. 

Faiz Ahmed Faiz was then the publishing president of the Asian-African Writers Association, employed in Beirut (Lebanon). He had come to Pakistan during days.

People were surprised seeing Atal and Faiz meet. The reason was obvious. Faiz and Atal came from two opposite schools of ideologies. While Faiz considered himself a communist, Vajpayee was a right-wing politician. 

As soon as Vajpayee met Faiz, he told him that he just wanted to meet the poet for one of the Shers he had written. 

Faiz asked Vajpayee to read the Sher. Atal Bihari Vajpayee recited the Sher from a famous ghazal of Faiz,

मकाम ‘फैज़’ कोई राह में जंचा ही नहीं,

जो कू-ए-यार से निकले तो सू-ए-दार चले.

(No place attracted Faiz, en-route

After leaving the Beloved’s lane he headed for the gallows)

On hearing this, Faiz became emotional. After this, the poet recited his ghazals. The meeting between the two lasted for a long time. And then Atal Bihari Vajpayee returned, inviting him to come to India.

Faiz then came to India in 1981 and met Atal in Delhi.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee greeting Poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz at a reception in honour of the Poet in Delhi ,1981.

Changing India

The journey for India, from a point when the BJP’s own Vajpayee broke protocol to meet Faiz, to the poet’s verses being omitted and the move being celebrated by the BJP and its supporters, has been long. Nationality or ideology did not act as barriers in old India from appreciating art and noble thoughts. No one was labelled ‘anti-anything’ for listening or appreciating poets or singers from the neighboring country. It was so much so that the right wing politician from India would break a protocol to meet communist Pakistani poet. 

As Faiz verses get dropped from the CBSE’s syllabus, it’s time to sit back and ponder where are we heading as a country? Are we going to restrict ourselves to only reading or studying people who align with the ruling party’s ideology or our nationality? How would this affect the worldview of our next generations? Had Vajpayee been alive, would he approve of such move? 

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