Gulon Main Rang
by Ayesha binte Rashid
Dil-e-bufro khatm, jaan-e-khareedum
(I have sold my heart and bought a soul)
- Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi
The precision of Faiz’s pen is like that of a bullet’s — not a word is out of place, each couplet builds upon the next to paint a picture that is rich in detail and captivating in its beauty.
Gulon Main Rang implores the beloved to return so that business may once again thrive in life’s garden — so that colors will return to flowers and spring’s breeze will once again give life to its leaves. Faiz tells us that a deep sorrow has fallen on his cage and implores the breeze to bring him some mention of his beloved. The next moment, as is characteristic of Faiz, he changes course and paints a silver lining around the edges of the ghazal ’s black cloud: one’s tears have not been in vain and have, if nothing else, exalted the beloved by celebrating them in their absence.
This lovelorn poetry takes on new dimensions when placed within the context of when it was written: 1954, Rawalpindi’s Montgomery Prison. Faiz spent the years between 1951 and 1954 in various jails across Pakistan, during his trial and conviction in the controversial Rawalpindi Conspiracy case — a planned coup d’état against the government of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan by a group of Leftist politicians and military generals. In prison, Faiz’s verses took on new dimensions, in quality and quantity and, by the time he was released, he had written two volumes of poetry. Faiz has been known to later state that, “going to prison was like falling in love again”.
A Marxist, Faiz lived at a time when the fragrance of revolution blew in the wind and the song of protest rang fresh in the air. After the carnage of Partition, his poetry began to take on these colors of revolution, an aspect he himself acknowledged by quoting Nizami Ganjavi at the beginning of his renowned poem Mujhse Pehli Si Muhabbat. Prison ignited the protest within his poetry, and he began to write verses that at once bemoaned the absence of justice and heralded hope for a brighter future. The cage he speaks of in Gulon Main Rang quite literally becomes his imprisonment, and his tears become protest against injustices that are brought to light by the very act of protest.
In Faiz’s poetry we find the disposition towards ishq-e-majaazi (human love) and ishq-e-haqiqi (divine love) that is characteristic of classical poetry and can be found in the words of Hafiz, Rumi, Ghalib and all the poets of Farsi and Urdu who have captured the hearts of South Asia. We find two images of the mehboob: the mehboob is a person and the mehboob is also the Divine and the Ultimate Reality. Faiz manages to weave these motifs with themes that speak to our modern needs: the mehboob is also revolution, justice, and a world in which altruism reigns supreme.
In 1978, during a visit to India, Faiz visited Jawaharlal Nehru University where he recited some of his poems. When asked to recite Gulon Main Rang, however, he replied that he had gifted the ghazal to Mehdi Hassan Khan and that people should listen to his rendition of it if they wished to hear it.
“This one is an old request. By your prayers, it’s been some 50 years, this ghazal lives on,” the Shehensha-e-Ghazal can be seen saying in a YouTube recording of a live concert. He starts doing alaap, singing the notes of Raag Jhinjoti before he begins to sing the ghazal. The first word is not out of his mouth, he has barely said, “Gulon,” and the crowd erupts into applause. Khan Sahab sings the first verse and then tells the story of how the ghazal was gifted to him: the ghazal was recorded at Evernew Studios for the film Farangee during the 1960s in the voice of a female vocalist. Around the same time, Faiz Sahab was invited to the studio to listen to Khan Sahab’s renditions of some of his ghazals, amongst which was Gulon Main Rang, composed for Khan Sahab by his uncle Ismail Khan.
“Who is this boy singing my ghazals,” Faiz first asked when he heard Khan Sahab’s voice and then, when he heard Gulon Main Rang, “This is my ghazal? I wrote this?” Impressed by the boy’s impeccable sur, Faiz asked that the previous studio recording be cancelled, and Mehdi Hassan Khan’s voice be used for the film’s version of the ghazal — the film’s director, Khalil Qaiser, obliged. Thereafter, the ghazal was married to Khan Sahab’s voice in people’s imaginations — Faiz often would get requests to recite the “Mehdi Hassan ghazal” at gatherings and poetry recitals when people wanted to hear Gulon Main Rang.
In Mehdi Hassan’s Gulon Main Rang we find the magic that is created when poetry is married to music, the offering becoming more than the sum of its parts — musical notes give words the wings to fly into our minds and deliver their emotions to our hearts. Soaring on Mehdi Hassan’s voice, the words of Gulon Main Rang flew to Ali Sethi’s heart and, through him, into Coke Studio, as relevant today as they were in Pakistan’s adolescence.
Do we choose faith or the world? Do we become Pakistani or western? What part of our traditions do we adopt and what do we learn from Western thought? These are just some of the questions that young Pakistanis grapple with today and “Faiz shows us that this is not a war,” Ali explains, “When you experience Faiz Sahab, the mirage of tribe and country melts away and, freed from it, you enter a world where all differences have been wiped away.” Faiz is a translator who shows us that love and humanism can be found in all societies, traditions, and cultures — in doing so, he erases ideological, cultural and religious differences and sets us free from the boxes within which we put ourselves.
It’s been 75 years since Gulon Main Rang was written in a cell in Montgomery Prison and only a decade less since its words took flight in Mehdi Hassan’s voice on screen. It is set to fly once again, this time in Ali Sethi’s voice on Coke Studio’s set. As he sings, the words bring images to us through the decades: colors returning to flower petals, a spring breeze carrying the Beloved’s name down from the heavens, life returning to a garden that has stood still in the loved one’s absence. There is more, however, in the ghazal’s verses — there is an invitation to dig deeper and find one’s own meanings, to meet the writer in a space where all of us are joined by humanity and vulnerability, so that when we return to our lives, we do so with the sense that we are not strangers to each other.