Wannabe fan Bilal Tanweer makes a determined attempt to crack Faiz Ahmed Faiz. In The Caravan:
THE CORE STEPS: HOW TO DISCOVER FAIZ
STEP 1: Get yourself born into a middle-class family in Karachi where books are considered the least useful of all forms of pulped wood—including pulped wood itself. Ensure that your father, who used to read Jasoosi Digest until a few years ago, now reads only Aurad-o Waza’if (Book of Daily Devotions and Prayers). Ideally, your mother should be an expert on all kinds of waza’if, big and small.
STEP 2: To really get going, however, you need even more discouragement. Pick an inauspicious moment, such as right after your parents’ shouting match over your mother’s shopping habits. Ask your father with great trepidation if he has a book of Faiz’s verse. Hear him tell you flatly: “Beta yeh sha’iri to bhand, mirasiyo’n aur kanjaro’n ka kaam hai; tumhara iss se kya lena dena?” (“Son, poetry is for wags and pimps—what do you have to do with it?”) Please note that while saying this, he will have his gaze fixed on a handsome saas on TV conniving against her sexy bahu.
STEP 3: Now go to the nearest bookstore (which also sells cheap plastic toys and boardgames to keep the business on lubricated tracks) and ask the bookstore owner—a man most accurately described as a talking heap of flab piled on a chair, reeking of paan—if he has Faiz’s book of verse.
“Poetry?” he will ask, scowling (ignore this). He will then wipe the paan dribbling from the corner of his lips, cock up his chin to balance the red saliva floating inside his mouth and say, “Only schoolbooks here. And Islamic books. Oh, and cassettes too. What do you want?” Say uncomfortably, awkwardly: “Err… I’m looking for poetry.”
“This has nice poetry too.” He will try to sell you Junaid Jamshed’s new Naat album.
STEP 4: Go all the way to Urdu Bazaar and locate the book. Now you have it resting calmly in your hands. To be perfectly honest, you don’t feel good about this. The title reads something in difficult Urdu: Nuskha -baa’ye… Bye? Your Urdu is exhausted already. Perhaps it’s some Persian phrase. Or Arabic? Who knows. And how will you ever know? Feel desperate. Think about what made you like Faiz in the first place. And what does faiz even mean? Does it mean anything at all? Why are we all here? When is the next Big Bang? Help.
Feel stupid. Pause. Breathe. Listen to the car stereo outside playing ‘Jhalak Dikhlaja’ at full blast. You understand everything in the song. Your Urdu is not so bad after all. Feel better.
The price of the book is disturbing. You did not realise Urdu books could cost this much. The last you spent on Urdu books was eight annas for a slim and sleek booklet of Amar Ayyar’s adventures. This was over 12 years ago. And 600 rupees seems like too much money for any form of pulped wood.
Pause. Think about how many McChicken deals you are forgoing for this ‘something’ you might not understand anyway. Stare at the cover for clues and answers.
The salesman comes and stands so close that you can smell the odour of his sweat. He thinks you’re a lifter. Feel oppressed. Decide to buy it. While walking out of the bookstore, suppress all thoughts relating to money and value for money.
Repeat staring at the cover.