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Fahmida Riaz remembered with teary eyes

November 28, 2018

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Friends gather at T2F to pay homage to Fahmida Riaz.—Faysal Mujeeb / White Star
Friends gather at T2F to pay homage to Fahmida Riaz.—Faysal Mujeeb / White Star

KARACHI: It was an evening that exuded pure emotion and love. The cultural space T2F had a panel of some of the known writers and social figures of the city that went down memory lane to pay tribute to poet Fahmida Riaz who passed away on Nov 21 in Lahore. A few speakers even choked up during their speeches as they recalled the life and work of the poet on Monday.

Artist Sheema Kermani said she had known Fahmida since 1974-75 when she was working on a film script and theatre play. Fahmida had the ability to translate poems in no time. She was a literary giant. She didn’t get acknowledged the way she deserved. Instead, her art was dubbed obscene and she was called an Indian agent. She wasn’t just a poet, but a fine fiction writer and translator. Sheema also performed one of her poems.

Journalist Mujahid Barelvi said he had a chat with Fahmida over the phone during her stay in Lahore and asked her why she wasn’t invited to Faiz Festival. The poet had responded by reading a verse. Then hours later a mutual friend called to tell him that Fahmida had passed on. Hearing that, Barelvi’s mobile phone fell from his hands.

Anis Haroon said she and Fahmida were friends from their childhood days in Hyderabad. The poet was a year junior to her. Both of them saw the world with the same eyes. At the time they got hold of the book Notes from the Gallows which they used to read in a hush-hush manner. Later, they worked together as social activists and distributed pamphlets against the Ayub Khan regime. Although Fahmida was known as a poet, “I consider her a committed Marxist.”

Fahmida looked terribly dispirited after the death of her son Kabir, who was 27 years of age, in the US. Then she suffered another shock when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.

Asif Farrukhi said he was once, when Fahmida was alive and had been unwell, contacted by a newspaper to write her obituary because the newspaper used to prepare obituaries of renowned individuals who were in their sunset years. He didn’t like it. He went to Fahmida and told her about it. She, using her trademark sense of humour, asked him how well he knew her to write her obituary.

Farrukhi said he first saw Fahmida when she had returned from England and an event was organised in her honour where she read her poetry. At the time he couldn’t grasp her poetry and asked his father what some of her lines meant. His father told him that he’d understand them as he grew up.

Farrukhi said Fahmida was a straightforward, simple kind of a woman. One day a member of a political party that she supported in the past came to her and inquired whether she needed anything. She replied that she needed a kettle because she often got up in the middle of the night, craving tea.

Ameena Saiyid said she met Fahmida after she came back from India and asked her to join Oxford University Press. She agreed on the condition that she would come and go as she pleased. She did valuable work for OUP, wrote many books, including translations of children’s books. “She will live on in our hearts and minds.”

‘A new voice had emerged’

Ghazi Salahuddin talked about Fahmida’s first book of poems Pathar Ki Zaban. He argued that the book marked a significant moment in the history of Urdu literature because a new voice had emerged. Not only that, the book reflected our social history. He added that Fahmida was an avid reader of world literatures.

Poet Attiya Dawood said she (Attiya) did not belong to a literary family. But when she heard the people of her village talk about a female poet getting married to a man belonging to their village, Zafar Ujan, it instilled interest in her to know the poet. Subsequently when Attiya became a member of the Sindhi Adabi Sangat, and the Sangat wanted to invite Fahmida as a guest in one of their programmes, it was she who went to Fahmida’s house on Tariq Road and invited her.

In those days the Sangat didn’t have a proper office, so she invited Fahmida to her home in FB Area and gave her directions, telling her which public transport bus she could catch to reach there. Fahmida said yes but told her that they’d together catch a cab for that. Subsequently, Fahmida and Attiya became friends and she translated many of Attiya’s Sindhi poems into Urdu. In one such translation, she could not properly translate the Sindhi word for a firefly, but the word she used made the poem even more beautiful.

Khalid Ahmed read a couple of Fahmida’s poems.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2018

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