Updated: May 2
To be used as a complement to the conversation between Salima Hashmi and Kavita Panjabi, on Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
A transcript of the conversation can be downloaded here
Classroom Activity Ideas
I. Topic: The role of art in asserting solidarity despite and beyond borders.
The teacher makes a lottery with chits. Each chit has the name of a region and time period that the teacher wants the students to explore. Alternatively, students decide and pick their own choice of region and time period. Each group then tries to craft a soundly researched response to the topic given above.
II. Research project/presentation: students in groups dig up and creatively present Progressive movements in twentieth century India both in visual art and literature (Progressive Writers' Association; Progressive Artists' Association; Dalit Panthers and its impact on Marathi theatre and literature for instance). Alternatively, students in groups could deal with manifestos of one such movement/group and as a concluding exercise, pick instances of censorship/repression in the arts today and together draft a manifesto they think would address their concerns on such censorship.
III. Divide your students into an even number of groups.
a) Assign half the number of groups one work each by Faiz that has travelled wide and across different particular contexts (for instance, 'Hum Dekhenge', 'Subh e Azadi', etc. ). Each group must now consider the following questionnaire with regard to their assigned Faiz piece:
● What was the language the piece was originally composed in? How many languages has it been translated to? ● What different causes (and where in the world) have adopted this work? ● Do these causes have any factors in common—if yes, what are they? ● What do you think it is about the piece that allowed it to apply to such different scenarios/contexts? b) The remaining number of groups is assigned one region of India/South Asia each . This can be a different map as per the teacher’s priorities. (Make this segment more fun by getting a representative from each group to place their finger on a map of India/South Asia, blindfolded!)
Each group must now find one example of a song/poem (for which an English translation exists) that has featured in any resistance movement in their assigned region, after due research.
The research must address the following questions:
● When was the song/poem composed and by whom? ● In what context was it created? ● If it’s from a contemporary movement - has it been used in previous movements? If it’s from pre-1950, does it continue to be used and where? Are there any changes you notice in its usage? ● What do you think made it popular?
All groups do a presentation to share their findings and discuss the thoughts that occured to them during their research process.
Suggested questions to help the teacher navigate the discussion critically:
Why do poems and songs seem to have such prominence in resistance movements? Can they be replaced by something else - what?
Think about examples of songs or poems that have been censored or banned: Why do you think they met this fate - what can a song/poem threaten?
Sidenote for the teacher:
Ideas for Variations: This could also be a project for students to locate songs of resistance in different vernaculars from the subcontinent—what context was it born in, has it been incorporated into other social movements, etc. Students could collect these songs, including an english translation for them and ideally a recording of a performance of the song, and create a small audio-library of songs of resistance. OR two large groups of students could pick one socio-political movement each from 20th c Indian subcontinent history/the present and compile and critically annotate (through research) some songs that were integral in each movement.
IV. The many facets of Faiz: An exhibition
Divide students into groups as per logistical convenience. Each group picks one of the following themes to dig up:
1)Faiz's writings (prose and poetry)on Partition
2) Faiz’s writings (prose and poetry) on Bangladesh
3) Faiz as an activist and a trade union organizer
4) Faiz’s correspondences with Alys.
Once the research is done, each group internally (and with one another) works out how they would creatively like to display their findings in the form of a mini exhibition on this that other students/ teachers can visit. The exhibition could pay attention to the timeline so the audience is able to view, set parallelly against each other, Faiz's poetry, news pieces and thoughts as expressed in letters from the same time brackets.
Some relevant links for this aside from the talk itself:
CLASSROOM DISCUSSION IDEAS
I. ‘SH: It’s always the women who pay in conflict and it’s always the women who are the first to reach out.’
Drawing upon this poem and the given context where they are talking about the bonds forged between the women’s movement across Pakistan, Bangladesh and India following the mass violence that women in Bangladesh were subjected to during the genocide, in building the South Asian women’s movement, think about instances of women's specific experience of political conflict historically across the subcontinent?
Why do you think their experience of conflict and violence is so distinctive in nature?
Think of any present day instances across the world when women's reaction and resistance to conflict has left its mark on the ongoing political narratives of the conflict? Discuss these accounts in class.
Do you find any resonance between these diverse accounts across time and space, just as Kavita Panjabi mentions about the coming together of Pakistan, Bangladeshi and Indian women’s movement?
II. SH. This is something he wrote about the role of the artist/writer:
We are the offspring, in the direct line of descent of the magicians and the sorcerers and the music-makers of old. In times gone by, these ancient ancestors of ours, could make the rain come down with their incantations and with their songs, they could make the deserts bloom. And they not only implicitly believed that they had these powers, their community believed it too. This is because they found for the hopes and fears of their people, their dreams and longings, words and music that the people could not find for themselves. And by blending their collective will to a desired end, they would sometimes make the dream come true. So that is who we are, the inheritors of this magic, and the power of this magic, in big ways or small, depending on the intensity of the love our hearts possess, on the anguish we share with an anguished world, on the measure of our strength to defy what is evil and to uphold what is good. And thus as a writer or artist, even though I run no state and command no power, I am entitled to feel that I am my brother’s keeper and my brother is the whole of mankind and this is the relevance to me of peace, of freedom and the elimination of the nuclear menace.
What are some of your takeaways from this account by Faiz on the role of the artist/writer?
Why do you think Faiz links the artist with the realization of dreams? What does this signify for lived realities then?
Can you think of specific instances besides Partition from the subcontinent, when art has been a critical entry point towards tapping into the traumatic past?
Draw up an account of the role of the artist/ writer from any specific case of conflict, and present your narrative in the form of a cartoon.
Does art as a medium create the space to personalize larger and more distant experiences?