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Alys Faiz: An extraordinary life!

Sept. 22, 2021, 2:31 p.m. by Karuwaki Speaks ( 597 views)

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Alys Faiz, nee George - 1915-2003 - was the English wife of the Pakistani poet, writer and leftist, Faiz Ahmad Faiz.

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Alys was born in London, but she later became a naturalized citizen of Pakistan.

Alys George became a member of the Communist Party in Britain, at the age of 16.

Along with her sister Christobel, she became friendly with a group of London-based Indian intellectuals and joined the Free India League.

She worked as the honorary secretary to Krishna Menon,  who became a leading diplomat and politician in Jawaharlal Nehru's government after the Indian independence in 1947.

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Krishna menon with Jawaharlal Nehru

Alys went to India, in 1938  to visit her sister Christobel, who had married a well-known educationist and writer, MD Tasser. There, she met her future husband, the Urdu poet and Lenin peace prizewinner Faiz Ahmed Faiz. They were married in 1941, in Srinagar, with Sheikh Abdullah ceremonially asking her if she would accept Faiz as the groom. The famous poets, Josh and Majaz were the witnesses and Faiz gave Alys the right to divorce the way Taseer had given it to Chris, under the watchful gaze of Allama Iqbal.

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MD Tasser

After the partition of the sub-continent, Alys adopted Pakistan as her homeland, and helped resettle the refugees, fought for the rights of the marginalised, opened schools and libraries for poor children, gradually slipping into the many extraordinary roles she would play in shaping her new country, in many significant ways.

Alys was the muse for Faiz’s poetry.

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Faiz Ahmad Faiz's life and poetry have influenced thousands of people but Alys shaped his life and poetry by her silent & steady presence in his life.

Alys wrote two books, a book of memoirs, ‘Over My Shoulder’, about her life in Pakistan and exile in Beirut.

These dispatches from Beirut to Viewpoint were later collected to be included in her memoirs.

‘Dear Heart,’ the other book, was an assortment of her letters, she wrote to her husband Faiz when he was in Jail during the 1950s.

She managed the monetary and legal aspects of her husband Faiz’s poetry written in prison and brought up their two daughters, Salima & Muneeza, with a lot of hardship.

From 1973, Alys worked with the United Nations children's fund (Unicef).

In the wake of General Zia ul-haq's military coup against Bhutto in 1977, Alys and Faiz remained exiled in Beirut, from where she wrote regular dispatches to the radical weekly Pakistan paper Viewpoint.

After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1983, the couple returned to Pakistan and Alys wrote regularly for Viewpoint, mostly on human rights and social justice issues, as also in the women’s column in the erstwhile Pakistan Times, in which she played the popular role of “Apa Jaan”.

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Following her husband's death in 1984, Alys continued to write for Viewpoint until it folded in 1992, after which she produced a regular column for 'She' magazine.

Moreover, she wrote a poem for her husband that got immense recognition.

Given below is the poem ” words for Faiz” by Alys Faiz

A poem For Faiz:

I will sing of you later,

when the tread of a thousand feet

the unending roll of sorrow,

the breath of roses enfolding

the eulogies, the warranted praise

the drawn-out memories of others

the grief of recalling, the total acceptance of death is over

Then will I sing, not to the tread of a thousand feet,

nor to the roll of sorrow

Nor will I lift the roses

nor echo praise

nor recall, nor accept

My song neither begins nor ends

it is eternity.

Ms. Salima Hashmi said her mother was a rebel who never compromised on principles. She made a tremendous sacrifice for her husband and family and submerged her identity.

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Salima Hashmi

Salima told of the time when the redoubtable Alys was pompously asked, “As an Englishwoman, can you fully understand Faiz Saheb’s poetry?” To which she replied, “Shairi toh saari nahin samajhti, magar shair ko khoob samajhti hoon.”

It was a marriage of true minds.

After her death, Habib R. Sulemani wrote in The Dawn newspaper, "During my decade-long stay in Lahore, as a silent observer of the literary-scene, I was fascinated by her life-story which made me believe that women are stronger than men and have an immense power and talent for reconciliation and bridging the gaps between two families or nations".

Alys inspired many western women who were married to Pakistanis and lived there as citizens. Alys Faiz was a multi-talented Pakistani journalist, poet, teacher, writer and social activist, the fighter in her own right who stood by Faiz in the worst of times showing tremendous resolve.

Quoting Ellen.J.Barrier: "On the left side of a strong woman, stands a strong man; he is strengthened by her character".

Comments (2)

Mini 9 months, 1 week ago
What an extraordinary woman... didn't know about her!
Biswarup95 9 months ago