More on Fahmida Riaz

Thanks to Isa Daudpota  who sent me the text and the translated poems after he had heard Kamila Shamsie talk about her..

Fahmida Raiz, who graduated from Sindh University and married in 1965, has published several volumes of poetry. During the Martial Law regime she was editor and publisher of the magazine, Awaaz. In all, fourteen court cases of sedition were filed against the magazine, one of which (under section 114A) carried a death penalty. She escaped to India whilst on bail, with her husband and two children, where she lived for seven years. She worked as Poet-in-Residence at Jamia Millia, an Indian university, during this period.

She has translated Erich Fromme’s Fear of Freedom and Sheikh Ayaz’s poetry, from Sindhi into Urdu. Since the restoration of democracy she has returned to live in Pakistan and served as Director General of Pakistan’s National Book Council in Islamabad when Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party was in power.

Her book, The Body Lacerated, caused tremendous controversy because of its uninhibited and vigorous exploration of female sexuality. A woman in traditional Urdu poetry is a concept, not a person … an ideal with rosy cheeks, shining black eyes concealed shyly under long, dark eyelashes and a shapely swaying body. Fahmida rejects that passive virginal model in favour of a living, throbbing, vocal and passionate reality.

Her greatest contribution to literature is her recognition of the role of language in society. She has some interesting insights to offer, particularly with regard to the history of the Urdu language. She brings to her poetry her conviction that literary Urdu, too closely associated with the Persianised Imperial Court, had lost its nutritive sources as a living language of the people, by losing touch with its roots. Since the sustenance, relevance and contemporaneity of a language must derive from its living usage, not from books and papers, her argument is valid. Languages which cut off links with their grass-roots communities have been known to become emaciated, and do, invariably, die. She herself struggles in her language to restore its links with the usage of peasants and workers.

Riaz has moved away from the ghazal form but her poems resonate with music and her success as a lyricist is widely acknowledged.


Chadur and Char-diwari

What use is this black chadur to me?

A thousand mercies, why do you reward me with this?


I am not in mourning that I should wear this

To flag my grief to the world

I am not a disease that needs to be drowned in secret darkness


I am not a sinner nor a criminal

That I should stamp my forehead with its darkness

If you will not consider me too impudent

If you promise that you will spare my life

I beg to submit in all humility

O Master of men!

In your highness’ fragrant chambers

lies a dead body

Who knows how long it has been rotting?

It seeks pity from you


Sire, do be so kind

Do not give me this black chadur

With this black chadur cover the shroudless body

lying in your chamber


For the stench that emanates from this body

Walks buffed and breathless in every alleyway

Bangs her head on every doorframe

Covering her nakedness


Listen to her heart rending screams

Which raise strange spectre

That remain naked in spite of their chadur.

Who are they ? You must know them ,Sire.


Your highness must recognise them

These are the hand – maidens

The hostages who are halal for the night

With the breath of morning they become homeless

They are the slaves who are above

The half-share of inheritance for your

Highness’s off-spring.


These are the Bibis

Who wait to fulfill their vows of marriage

In turn, as they stand , row upon row

They are the maidens,

On whose heads , when your highness laid a hand

of paternal affection,

The blood of their innocent youth stained the

whiteness of your beard with red

In your fragrant chamber , tears of blood,

life itself has shed

Where this carcass has lain

For long centuries, this body spectacle of the murder

of humanity.


Bring this show to an end now

Sire, cover it up now

Not I, but you need this chadur now.


For my person is not merely a symbol of your lust:

Across the highways of life , sparkles my intelligence

If a bead of sweat sparkles on the earth’s brow it is

my diligence.


These four walls , this chadur I wish upon the

rotting carcass.

In the open air, her sails flapping , races ahead

my ship.

I am the companion of the New Adam

Who has earned my self-assured love.

[translated from urdu by Rukhsana Ahmed]


She Is a Woman Impure 

She is a woman impure

Imprisoned by her flowing blood

In a cycle of months and years.

Consumed by her fiery lust,


In search of her own desire,

This mistress of the devil

Followed his footsteps


Into a destination obscure

Unmarked, unmapped before

That union of light and fire

Impossible to find


In the heat of her simmering passion

Her breasts have ripped.


By each thorn on the wayside


Every membrane of her body ripped

No veil of shame conceals her body

No trace it bears of sanctity.


But, O Ruler of lands and oceans

Who has seen this before?

Everywhere your command is supreme

Except over this woman impure


No prayer crosses her lips


No humility touches her brow

Leave a Reply