DUBAI: It is in the nature of sensitive minds to suffer more than they ever rest in harmony with their surroundings, writes Aziz Siddiqui in the foreword to Alys Faiz’s Over My Shoulder.
In this collection of anecdotes, personal experiences and poems, one finds Alys to be a strong voice narrating her extraordinary experiences. It becomes obvious that the woman usually remembered as the wife of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, was much more than that.
She was a writer and a poet. And she had a strength that one can truly admire. She writes of her strife in adjusting to a foreign country, about being married to a man hounded by authorities for a majority of his life and her subsequent tumultuous years in self-exile.
The book shuttles between years, swinging from significant episodes in her life, to smaller moments she experienced. It follows her life from her youth in England, to her marriage in Srinagar and her time in Lebanon. However, even though Faiz is not a major part of these writings, his presence is felt throughout the narrative.
Alys was born on September 2, 1915 to a London bookseller. Her sister Cristobel married MD Taseer. That is what brought Alys to the Indian subcontinent and lead to her introduction to Faiz, a teacher at MAO College. As Alys writes, “We talked of all manner of things and I found he was not taciturn, but shy, with a becoming sense of humour. Our friendship turned into something special.”
In a piece titled Srinagar, October 1941, Alys narrates their decision to get married as well as her introduction into his household and the traditions of a South Asian marriage.
Her early years of marriage with Faiz seem to have an idyllic feel to them as she reminisces about her time at the apartment near Simla Hill in pre-partition Punjab. She writes of how they slept under the stars with mosquito nets billowing around their beds.
It is interesting to read her description of partition and how they moved into a home that had been abandoned by a doctor based in Lahore as he fled in a hurry. She talks about the changing scenery as the two countries were divided and how they made their way to what was to be called Pakistan.
Her most vivid piece is when Faiz was taken into custody but ‘bread had to be earned’. This is when she joined Pakistan Times. She writes of the trials her family suffered as Faiz suffered in solitary confinement. They had to deal with the police posted outside their home, with tight budgets and dwindling assets. When she was forced to sell her car, she bought a cycle and travelled to work, finding a way to survive regardless of what life threw at her.
Their time in Lebanon from 1979 has been written about with mixture of nostalgia and sadness. It was a country they considered a second home, but they had their fair share of challenges. Lebanon was going through its own tumultuous time and they experience a bombing which “blew out all our windows, tore our curtains to shreds”.
However, Alys’s fondness is evident as she writes about how she explored the city with a map in her hand and how she met and befriended many people during her time there.
This collection is a glimpse into the mind of a strong woman who lived in interesting and challenging times, frequently at the centre of chaos.
Title: Over My Shoulder
Author: Alys Faiz
Publisher: Sang-e-Meel Publications
The author is a published short story writer and blogger, with a background in advertising. She is a voracious reader and is passionate about travelling. She tweets @sufipanda