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SHEEMA Kermani speaks at the event on Monday.—White Star
SHEEMA Kermani speaks at the event on Monday.—White Star

KARACHI: An initial invite to the programme held by Oxford University Press (OUP) at its Dolmen Mall outlet on Monday to pay tribute to poet Fahmida Riaz, who passed away on Nov 21, had the names of Khalid Ahmed, Anis Haroon and Attiya Dawood as speakers, along with Sheema Kermani and Mujahid Barelvi. On Monday evening the line-up changed because the former three could not make it to the event. As a result, writer Sheen Farrukh, who presided over the programme, was included in their place.

In his introductory comments, managing director OUP Arshad Husain said it was a privilege working with Fahmida. The event was being held not to mourn her, because no mourning was enough for such a national loss. All of us had gathered to honour the great lady and pay tribute to her memory. She was a literary giant who gave voice to her people. She through her poetry tackled challenging themes. She loved humanity and was a crusader for gender rights.

Mujahid Barelvi requested Sheema Kermani to recite one of Fahmida’s poems. Sheema read ‘Aik Larki Se’, and talking about it said she had sought permission from Fahmida to compose the poem and make a video of it.

Then Barelvi asked Khurshid Hasnain, who taught physics at an institution in Islamabad and belongs to the illustrious family of the famous Indian writer and film-maker Khwaja Ahmed Abbas, to come up on stage and share his memories of the poet.

Hasnain, who in his youth had spent some time with Fahmida as an activist, said it was difficult to encapsulate the poet’s towering personality. In 1972, when Z.A. Bhutto was making a new Pakistan, there used to be a Young Writers Forum which had patronage of people such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Fahmida came to Pakistan from England in those days. This was the time when she had published the book Badan Dareeda. Our society wasn’t mature enough to realise that it [poems in the book] was a woman trying to express herself. Although he befriended Fahmida in that phase, she was closer to his sister Shehla Naqvi who was studying medicine. Mr Hasnain especially mentioned Fahmida’s poem ‘Tasveer’ whose gist he claimed came across something like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. After reading the poem he read an essay that his sister had sent from the US written in memory of Fahmida.

Views of writer Rumana Husain, who was sitting among the audience, were also sought. She reminisced about the time when one evening in Islamabad at the Children’s Literature Festival she, Fahmida and a couple of other friends, including writer Hasina Moin, got together for a cup of tea. The evening stretched into the night. She also recalled a get-together at Anis Haroon’s place in Fahmida’s honour.

Ms Kermani said she had known Fahmida since 1973 when the poet had returned to Pakistan from England. She looked up to the poet and could relate to her poetry.

Mr Barelvi also read a piece from an essay that he had written for the late poet, highlighting the days when she wanted to work with Baloch nationalists and then later her struggle against the Ziaul Haq regime.

Sheen Farrukh said after Fahmida’s death, her admirers and well-wishers had begun to emerge. There was a campaign being run on social media to get the late poet’s rights. She asked one such individual who was part of the campaign, “Where were you when she was sick? Now she does not need you.” The person replied, “I’m ashamed of myself.” Ms Farrukh said Fahmida didn’t even have a piece of land for her grave. That too was provided by a Lahore-based writer. There wasn’t enough money to bring her body back [to Karachi].

After that, Ms Farrukh read a column that she wrote for Fahmida.

Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2018