I am not an exceptionally politically over-charged poet. Perhaps the only exception is that I am a woman, excerpt from a magazine interview.
Fehmida Riaz is no more—with her the voice of reason, critical inquiry and profundity. Fehmida is acclaimed as a writer and poet of the progressive movement. All her life she stood up for what she believed in—freedom of expression and social justice.
Fehmida’s life and literature went through tumultuous times but she persevered. Born in a literary family in Meerut, UP, and subsequently moving to Hyderabad, Sindh, she found solace in Urdu, Sindhi and later Persian language. The fact that she lost her father at an early age may have contributed to her sensitivity. Writing and reading became her biggest solace. At 12 Fehmida’s first poem, and later several others, appeared in Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi’s Funoon.
She started news casting at the Radio Pakistan. She first published her anthology of poetry at 22 years of age. Her fiction and translations were published in Ajmal Kamal’s Aaj and Asif Farrukhi’s Dunya Zaad.
When an arranged marriage took her to UK, she had a child, went for a degree in filmmaking and worked for BBC Urdu Service. But the marriage unfortunately didn’t last. Upon return, she worked with an advertising agency in Karachi.
Fehmida is credited with a masterpiece of prose, written as an homage to Muhammad Khalid Akhtar, after his death, appeared in ‘Aaj’ (volume 35). He was an intellectual mentor and motivator for the young writer through his life. Fehmida cherished their correspondence and held it very dearly.
Her second marriage with Zafar Ali Ujan reinvigorated Fehmida. Together, they started a politically charged literary magazine, Awaz. Fehmida, who was a critic of General Ayub, remained no different in Zia era. She dubbed the death of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as the death of democracy in Pakistan. And paid a price for that.
10 cases were lodged against her and husband who was thrown into jail. Akhtar came to her rescue and made arrangements for Fehmida to flee to India with her children. Amrita Pritam came to her friend’s aid and talked to Indira Gandhi to get her asylum in India. She remained in exile for 7 years, as poet-in-residence at Jamia Milia University Delhi—returning only after the death of the dictator. Her husband also joined her upon his release.
During Benazir Bhutto’s first tenure, Fehmida became the managing director of National Book Council of Pakistan and in BB’s second tenure, was attached with the Ministry of Culture. In 2009, Fehmida was appointed the chief editor of the Urdu Dictionary Board in Karachi.
Fehmida’s books gained popularity for her feminist stance. She claimed that while some writers do not involve the socio-political realities of their time in their pieces, her work couldn’t do without them. She also wrote against the culture of censorship that changed Pakistan as she matured. Her second anthology Badan Dareeda met with criticism for her sensual portraiture. This was a blow to Fehmida and had it not been for her feminist friends and writers, who saw the rawness and pain of feminine existential issues through her work, would not have been alleviated.
At least, I will not be dying completely misunderstood. Pakistan’s intellectual life may have been one long, arid desert for the most part but where some of my important works were concerned, there were those like Shah Mohammad Marri or Khalida Hussain who tried to explain to readers what was behind my poems, which a majority of Urdu critics understood as pornography, excerpt from a magazine interview.
Fehmida’s literary repertoire carries gloriously crafted translations of Ismail Kadare from Albania, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, Sheikh Ayyaz, Maulana Rumi, etc. Rumi, gave her, what she called in a televised interview, love for spirituality.
Throughout her life, Fehmida remained a critic of both India and Pakistan’s journey into extremism. Some year back, she recited her poem Tum bilkul hum jaisey nikley comparing the rising Hindutva in India and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan. She died of prolonged illness at her daughter’s home in Lahore. Fehmida is survived by her three children.
Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle
tum bilkul hum jaisey nikley
ab tak kahaN chhupe the bhai
voh moorkhta, voh ghaamarpan
jis mein hum ne sadi ganwai
aakhir pahunchi dwaar tumhaarey
arre badhai bohot badhai
preyt dharam ka naach rahaa hai
qayam Hindu raaj karoge?
saarey ultey kaaj karogay
apna chaman daraaj karogey
tum bhee baithey karogey sochaa
poori hai waisi tayyari
kaun hai Hindu, kaun naheeN hai
tum bhi karogay fatwe jaari
hoga kathin yahaN bhi jeena
raatoN aa jayega paseena
jaisi taisi kata karegi
yahan bhi sabki saans ghutegi
kal dukh se socha karti thi
soch ke bohot hansi aaj aee,
tum bilkul hum jaise nikle
Hum do qaum nahin the bhai!
bhaar mein jaaye shiksha viksha
ab jaahilpan ke gun gaana.
aage gadha hai yeh mat dekho
wapas laao gaya zamana
bhasht karo tum aajayega
ulte paaon chalte jaana
dhyaan na mann mein dooja aaye
bas peeche hi nazar jamana
ek jaap saa kartey jao
vaaram vaar yahi dohrao
kitna veer mahaan tha Bharat
kaisa alishaan tha bharat
phir tum log pohonch jaogay
bas parlok pohonch jaaogay
hum toh hain pehle se wahan par
tum bhi samay nikalte rehna
ab jis nark mein jaao wahan se
chitthi vitthi daalte rehna