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Feminist poet Fahmida Riaz is no more

Updated November 23, 2018


Fahmida Riaz at the Oxford University Press office in Karachi. This photograph was taken on June 16, 2010. —Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
Fahmida Riaz at the Oxford University Press office in Karachi. This photograph was taken on June 16, 2010. —Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: One of the most courageous feminist voices coming out of the literary circles in Pakistan and distinguished Urdu poet, translator and fiction writer Fahmida Riaz passed away on Wednesday and laid to rest in Lahore on Thursday. She was 72.

Ms Riaz was born on July 26, 1946 in Meerut, India. Her father worked in the education sector and was involved in efforts to improve the education system in Sindh. When Pakistan gained independence, her father was transferred to Hyderabad, Sindh, where the family shifted for good.

Ms Riaz acquired her early education from a school in Hyderabad and went on to graduate from Zubeida College.

Her growing up in the city meant that apart from Urdu, she was able to learn Sindhi, and subsequently as her interest in literature grew, she became well-versed in Persian as well.

Her first collection of Urdu poems titled Pathar Ki Zaban was published when she was 22 years old. It was well received. When her second book Badan Dareedah hit the bookstalls, it created a stir in literary and social circles. The conservative section of Pakistani society accused her of employing bold, sexually explicit language. She took all of that in her stride.

But during Gen Ziaul Haq’s rule, Ms Riaz went into exile in India. It is said that poet Amrita Pritam facilitated her stay across the border. She remained in India for seven years, and when Gen Zia’s rule came to an end, she returned to Pakistan to a warm reception.

She authored 15 books. They included her collections of poems, including the critically acclaimed Dhoop and Aadmi Ki Zindagi, novels (the last one being Qila-i-Faramoshi) and translations of works of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai and Sheikh Ayaz. One of her great literary achievements was the translation in verse of Persian Sufi poet Rumi’s works.

She also served as chief editor of the Urdu Dictionary Board, from 2009 to 2012.

Last rites

Ms Riaz’s funeral prayers were held on Thursday after Namaz-i-Asr at 91C, Askari I, Sarfaraz Rafiqi Road, Lahore. She was laid to rest in Bahar Shah Graveyard, Lahore Cantonment.

Prominent among those who attended the funeral were poets Amjad Islam Amjad and Fatima Hassan, painter and educationist Salima Hashmi and journalists I.A. Rehman, Hussain Naqi, Imtiaz Alam and Rashid Rehman.

Her son-in-law Sheikh Muhammad Babar Yahya told Dawn that Ms Riaz had had multiple strokes but the one she suffered on Wednesday left the right side of her body paralysed.

He said the poet and author had three children — two daughters and a son. Her son Kabir died in an accident in the US while her daughter Sara lives in the United Kingdom.

Amjad Islam Amjad said she was a bold poetess who raised a voice for the rights of women through her poetry. She was also a political activist.

Asghar Nadeem Syed said her first collection of poems gave a new trend to poetry in Urdu. Her poetry was all about historical facts and political activism.

Ms Riaz was a great fighter and social and political activist of merit, said human rights activist I.A. Rehman. She raised a strong voice for women’s right.

Veteran journalist Hussain Naqi said she faced great opposition in her life but fought against all the odds with determination.

Educationist and social activist Salima Hashmi said the late poet fought for the rights of the people of Balochistan.

Writer Fatima Hassan said the government did not pay any attention to the circumstances in which Ms Riaz spent her last few years. She was a great writer who inspired generations.

Shoaib Ahmed in Lahore contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2018