After love the first time,
Our naked bodies and minds
A hall of mirrors,
Wholly unarmed, utterly fragile,
We lie in one another's arms
Breathing with care,
Afraid to break
These crystal figurines.” - Fahmida Riaz
Fahmida Riaz broke social taboos by writing about female desire in her poetry, creating alternative narratives about women’s bodies and sexuality, and setting new standards in Urdu literature.
Her work faced harsh criticism from conservatives, who accused her of using erotic and “pornographic” expressions in her poetic language.
Fahimida was eventually blacklisted and charged with sedition under Section 124A of the Pakistan Penal Code) during the dictatorship of Zia Ul Haq. Forced into exile in 1981, she spent almost seven years in India before returning to Pakistan.
As part of the preface to “Badan Dareeda” ('The Torn-Bodied'), a collection of poetry published in 1974, she wrote:
If, indeed, I am forced to stand before this maqtal today and face the gallows, I should face them with my head held high. My poems are the trace of a mangled head: emanating sounds even as it is suspended from ropes... A Body Torn has taken the form of a razmia, or the sound of rupture. And if such rupture indeed shocks a people, then consider the poet as having achieved her purpose: she has managed to disturb them. (translation from Urdu by Asad Alvi)
The brilliance of Fahmida was in defying any singular logic or categories of gender, nation, religion or culture. She refused to be put in the role of a ‘woman poet’, breaking with traditional definitions of feminine poetry and concepts and themes (ranging from political consciousness, body, culture, desire, religion, home) and knocking down inhibitions put on her gender.
“You have to understand that culture can have no essence. Cultures move, flowing into one another, forming new cultures. Culture is born this way. There is no clash of cultures.”
Fahmida authored more than 15 books on poetry and fiction including her poem ‘Taaziyati Qaraardaaden’ (‘Condolence Resolutions’) that might serve as an appropriate tribute to her life and legacy and a collection of poems (Apna Jurm To Saabit He ‘My Crime Stands Proven’) published in 1988 during her time in exile.
Fahmida Riaz was born in Meerut, India on 28 July 1946 and passed away on 21 November 2018 in Lahore, Pakistan.