It’s been a while since I’ve posted “Hum Dekhenge,” the great song that came from a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The first time I did this was in a post on November 20, 2009, For the 25th Death Anniversary of the Great Poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The post included a couple of different clips of Noor Jehan singing “Mujh Se Pehli Si Muhabbat,” and two clips later – after a now-missing clip that I can’t identify – I had posted a performance of “Hum Dekhenge.” That clip disappeared also, but I’m certain it had to be a performance by Iqbal Bano. I am certain not only because Iqbal Bano sang the original, classic version of the poem-turned-song, but also because of the parallel between Noor Jehan’s performance and Iqbal Bano’s: Noor Jehan performed “Mujh Se Pehli Si Muhabbat” in defiance of a ban of Faiz by one military ruler of Pakistan – Muhammad Ayub Khan – and Iqbal Bano performed “Hum Dkehenge” in defiance of a ban by another – the notorious Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (commonly referred to as Zia). But “Hum Dekhenge” is also different in that it was written specifically as a protest against Zia, and this is the song that would live on as an anthem of rebellion and revolution.
While I have never been able to understand “Hum Dekhenge” simply from listening to the song in Urdu (outside of a word here and there), I have always appreciated the lyrics that I have seen in English translation. (By the way, I am going to supply a text of the words translated into English at the end of this post, originally taken from Ghazala’s Weblog. There is another translation in the old post, but I thought it better not to copy that here since the original source has been dropped. There will also be subtitles for all or part of the song in some of the clips that I’m including below.)
I’ve read a few analyses about the meanings of the lyrics, but I don’t think I needed an outside analysis (after reading any English translation) to understand what this poem is about – that is, toppling dictators and freeing the people from tyranny so that they can all have a say in how their own world is run. Faiz, who was a committed revolutionary socialist, could not have written this poem to uphold any particular religion against another.
So, if anyone had said to me that this song was “anti-Hindu,” it would not have made sense to me.
But as many people know, people in the ruling right wing of India have said just that. (Actually, it started with a complaint by a faculty member at the Inidian Institute of Technology in Kanpur – which is still “investigating,” so I understand.) They said this in response to the fact that the song was being sung at protests against actions by the right-wing government. (Specifically, as I think most people reading this would already know, the protests sprung up in response to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, though the causes of these protests and their ultimate purpose extend far beyond that.)
My last post on this blog, Oh, What A World, was a reflection on the rise of authoritarianism and bigotry and a general social regression that was taking place. My thoughts about the rise of right-wing and authoritarian governments could be applied to a few countries, including my home, the U.S.A. But this is a blog about Indian films, music, and dance, and the rise of the right wing in India is also, as I see it, particularly extreme and disturbing. On the other hand, as I mentioned in my last post, I have seen hope in the current resistance, too.
A week or two after I put up that last post, I was pleased to find a post on Bollyviewer’s Masala Punch, Hum leke rahenge azadi – India Awakens, in which she uses protest songs from classic Hindi films to reflect upon and celebrate the protests of the present. I was quite happy to see this post, and if you go there, you’ll find that in comments, I added a few songs, myself (as did a few other people). Of course, I also noticed that right at the beginning of the post, Bollyviewer mentioned “Hum Dekhenge.” I mentioned in my comments that I was contemplating doing a post of different versions of that song, and so, now I am following through. It did take me a little while to follow through, but that might be a good thing, because I can combine that idea with another that I had, to do something in honor of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s 109th birth anniversary, which is coming up on February 13.
So, in honor of Faiz’s birthday as well as in recognition of this great poem turned into a great song that has been used in these much-needed protests during the past couple of months…
1. Let’s start with that version by Iqbal Bano. This is the classic that everyone should see and hear first! In the old post, I am going to replace the old performance clip that I had used, but here, I’m posting a clip that provides a little more: It’s a good chunk of Iqbal Bano’s performance containing some English subtitles as well as an excellent printed summary (also in English) of her battle with Zia, the courageous risks that she took, and the “banishment from public life and public performance” that she subsequently endured.
2. The second time that I posted “Hum Dekhenge” on this blog, it was a clip in my post from April 5, 2011, Three Fine Performances of Faiz by A Beautiful Contemporary Pakistani Singer Named Tina Sani. Tina Sani is known for her performances of songs based on Faiz’s poems, and for good reason. I have been a fan of her singing for close to a decade now (though I know she has been singing for much longer than that). She has a very expressive way of singing, and she always provides a graceful visual presentation, too. (If you look at the comments under that April 2011 post, you’ll notice the observations about her hand movements.) The performance that I posted in the old post was from a Faiz centenary event; the following is from a more recent Faiz festival, in 2016.
3. Speaking of graceful visual presentations… “Hum Dekhenge” has been presented not only in song but also in dance. I was quite pleased to stumble upon this Kathak dance by Nighat Chaodhry. I particularly like the footwork and the spins! Her expressions and hand gestures are good, too, especially in the latter part.
By the way, one day in the near future, I hope to put together a list consisting of Kathak dances done to Faiz. I know right now that the list will include a clip that I found almost eight years ago by Pallabi Chakravorty and the Courtyard Dancers, and one from last spring’s New York Kathak Festival by Farah Yasmeen Shaikh. But there are actually quite a few Faiz Kathak dances posted on YouTube, so it might take me a while to sort out my other favorites to complete the list.
4. Now, I’d like to get to a few clips of “Hum Dekhenge” as performed at the current protests. Below is a touching version from a protest at Jawaharial Nehru University. It is sung mostly in a capella (with a little knee-slapping done for percussion in the background) by an unidentified student, so it is completely no-frills. But I found it quite moving. Additionally, it has good English subtitles.
5. It is nice to know that “Hum Dekhenge” has also been translated into different Indian languages. (You can find out about several of these other-language versions from Scroll.in, which has been publishing clips of them regularly.) I particularly like the clip below of the Tamil version. In addition to containing a fine rendition, the clip includes a bunch of good protest shots, as well as a good number of signs with messages actually printed in English (possibly to help gain the sympathies of those of us from elsewhere – which they have successfully done). By the way, the singer in this video is Anjana and the translation is by Ponni and Mangai.
6. Of course, I was happy to see a version in Malayalam, too. I like this version, and I wish I knew who the singer is. But I particularly like this video because it shows a link in the incredible 400-mile human chain!
7. I understand that “Hum Dekhenge” has been sung in many other parts of the world, too. I recall that it was used in different scenes of the Arab Spring close to a decade ago. As we know, though, that hopeful movement soon became a disaster in quite a few places, which is probably why I can’t even find the versions of “Hum Dekhenge” matched with the Arab Spring that I used to see all the time. Maybe we don’t want to open that can of worms anyway.
I would bet that “Hum Dekhenge” has also been performed plenty of times in the U.S.A. One such performance that I thought would be nice to include here was done in Philadelphia by Shahram, who was once the lead singer for Laal, a Pakistani rock band that I’ve posted about more than a few times on this blog before. It is sung in the original Urdu, though. I haven’t seen “Hum Dekhenge” actually performed in English, but there must be some English versions being done somewhere! (I’ll add one to this post later on if I find it.)
And I will leave the list there (at my usual/favorite number, seven), though there are many, many more versions available on YouTube, for those who care to explore.
I hope that this song keeps getting sung at the protests in India as well as in other places where authority needs to be toppled. (Actually, though, as I see it, that could be just about anywhere – but in some places, rebellion and/or revolution do seem to be needed more urgently than in others.)
Solidarity to the protesters in India. Inquilab zindabad!
P.S. For an easy text reference, here is the translation that I mentioned above, from Ghazala’s Weblog.
We shall Witness
It is certain that we too, shall witness
the day that has been promised
of which has been written on the slate of eternity
When the enormous mountains of tyranny
blow away like cotton.
Under our feet – the feet of the oppressed –
when the earth will pulsate deafeningly
and on the heads of our rulers
when lightning will strike.
From the abode of God
When icons of falsehood will be taken out,
When we- the faithful – who have been barred out of sacred places
will be seated on high cushions
When the crowns will be tossed,
When the thrones will be brought down.
Only The name will survive
Who cannot be seen but is also present
Who is the spectacle and the beholder, both
I am the Truth- the cry will rise,
Which is I, as well as you
And then God’s creation will rule
Which is I, as well as you
This translation might be better than the English subtitles in some of the videos above, or it might not be as good. I will leave it up to the readers here to decide. Thankfully, there are many translations floating around, so feel free to pick the one that you like! From what I have seen, they all convey the same basic meanings – making it clear how absurd the “anti-Hindu” accusation really is.
There are a lot of good articles floating around that give more details about the new “controversy” surrounding this poem, explaining why it’s so absurd for anyone to label “Hum Dekhenge” as “anti-Hindu.” For a start, you might want to see the article in The Wire, Calling Faiz’s Hum Dekhenge ‘Anti-Hindu’ Is Both Laughable and Insulting. In addition to covering the points that I mentioned, this article discusses how the poem uses some imagery and ideas from Sufism. (This is not something that was unknown to me, either, but the writer, Raza Naeem, explains it much more thoroughly than I could. He also provides his own translation of the poem, which is probably more skilled than most.)