Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the legendary Pakistani Urdu poet, wrote some of his best poems during the four years he was imprisoned in the early 1950’s. During this period, he maintained close correspondence with his wife, Alys. Some of these letters were published after his death, and are of literary excellence in their own right. I attempted to translate an excerpt from one of his letters to Alys.

You say that our philosophy is flawed in that ill-intentioned people can twist it to suit their agenda, resulting in turmoil. You are quite right. If such people could see reason, they would not behave unreasonably in the first place. In that case, there would also be no point in trying to help them understand either. But if they are not ready to see reason, should we just give up on them? Should we just let them sleepwalk into hell? I agree that this is what a sensible person would do, for his sanity and comfort. But there is a tiny fraction of people who feel obliged to intervene and to help. For the most part, this turns out to be a futile effort.

So the question then is what’s the point in trying to help people who do not want to be helped? I can only speak for myself. I believe that there is hardly anyone who is intrinsically evil. (Remember, we are talking about individuals, not political parties!). We all carry in ourselves different proportions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. This proportion fluctuates in our younger years, but later becomes fixed and stable. I believe, however, that it is possible to alter this proportion, even if temporararily so. This is possible only through love and friendship—not by force and compulsion. But, again, does taking all these pains result in anything meaningful? Mostly not—but sometimes, yes sometimes!

There is a point to ponder,
Let me think for a bit!
In this garden (which is worse than a desert now),
Which branch was the first to get flowers?
Which one lost its colour even before sorrows struck?
And when was the last time this place was hit by the drought of blood,
when the flowers lost all their colour?

There is a point to ponder,
Let me think for a bit,
In this city full of life (which is worse than wilderness now),
When did the fire first break out?
Through which of its shut windows
did the sun rays use to shine?
Where did the candles use to burn?

Let me think,
You ask me about a land,
The history or geography of which I do not remember,
And what is there to remember,
I try to avoid, like an estranged love.
Even if I do indulge in those memories,
It is nothing more than a mindless love affair.

I am at a stage where,
I meet my own heart with such detachment,
Yet, you ask me about my heart,
There is a point to ponder,
Let me think!