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Noted progressive poet, writer Fahmida Riaz passes away at 72

Updated November 21, 2018

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Fahmida Raiz was hailed by many as the pioneer in feminist literature. —Dawn Archives
Fahmida Raiz was hailed by many as the pioneer in feminist literature. —Dawn Archives

Noted poet and prose writer Fahmida Riaz passed away on Wednesday evening in Lahore. She was 72.

The eminent progressive writer, who was also hailed by many as a pioneer in feminist literature, had been suffering from illness for the past few months.

Apart from authoring more than 15 books on fiction and poetry, she was also a human rights activist. Her first literary work was published in 1967, titling ‘Pather Ki Zuban’. Her collection of poetry includes ‘Dhoop’, ‘Pura Chand’, ‘Admi Ki Zindagi’ and more. Her novels include ‘Zinda Bahar’, ‘Godaavari’ and ‘Karachi’. She was famous for her revolutionary and contrary to tradition poetry.

When Badan Dareeda, her second collection of verse, appeared in 1973, she was accused of using erotic and sensual expressions in her poetry. The themes prevalent in her verse were, until then, considered taboo for women writers.

Fahmida Raiz also contributed to the Urdu literature as a translator. Whether it was Ismail Kadare from Albania or Maulana Rumi, she was knowledgeable about world fiction and classical poetry.

Born into a literary family of Meerut (India) in July 1946, Fahmida Riaz, in addition to her literary pursuits, always played an active role in social and political activities.

She lived in self-exile for over six years in India when former military dictator Gen Zia-ul-Haq ruled over Pakistan.

She was appointed managing director of what was then the National Book Council of Pakistan during the first PPP government (1988-90). In Benazir Bhutto's second tenure as prime minister, she became associated with the ministry of culture.

In 2009, she was appointed the chief editor of the Urdu Dictionary Board in Karachi.

Condolences pour in

PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb expressed sorrow over the demise of Fahmida Riaz and termed it a loss not only for literature but also for democracy. The former information minister praised the progressive writer for her work. “Fahmida Riaz had worked sincerely throughout her life for the rights of women,” she said.

Famous writer Kamila Shamsie also expressed grief over the death of Riaz, calling her "one of the brightest of lights in the dark days" of dictatorship.

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman on Thursday expressed sadness at Riaz's passing. "She was a poet, activist and feminist in times of profound darkness for the free, creative voice. Her challenge to patriarchy was never ambiguous. May she rest in peace," shared Rehman on Twitter.

Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari also paid tribute to Riaz's work, saying: "Her poetry challenged traditionalism at so many levels as she reflected the voice and emotions of women unchained. Her sensitivity and often sensuality of expression was unique."