In 1947, even as India attained independence, the ghost of partition - particularly in Punjab and Bengal - hit the country hard. There are stories written by authors such as Kushwant Singh and Saadat Hasan Manto, not to mention the collected short stories on the partition of India have been an integral part of our reading.
The intellectual class, too, was affected by partition, and even after India and Pakistan were formed, these individuals kept in touch out without letting history affect their friendship.
One such friendship was shared by two firebrand writers - Fahmida Riaz and Amrita Pritam. Today marks the 74th birth anniversary of progressive Urdu writer - Fahmida Riaz and we share the bond she had with Amrita Pritam.
Born on July 28, 1946 in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, Riaz was known for strong feminist and anti-establishment appeal through her books. Her family settled in Hyderabad after her father's transfer to Sindh (Pakistan).
Fahmida wrote several books like Godaavari, Khatt-e Marmuz, Khana e Aab O Gil, Pathar ki Zaban, Dhoop, Badan Darida, Karachi, Adhoora Aadmi, Khule Dareeche Se, Qafle Parindon Ke, Gulabi Kabotar, etc. In addition to this, she also translated the masnavi of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi from Persian to Urdu.
She was accused of using 'erotic and sensual language' in her book Badan Dareeda, in Pakistan. The themes used by Riaz were considered taboo for women writers in the country.
Riaz also had to face the challenges due to her political ideology and more than 10 cases were filed against her during General Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship in Pakistan. She was booked with sedition under Section 124A of the Pakistan Penal Code.
It was then, her friend across the border - Amrita Pritam helped her to get asylum in India. Riaz came to India and Pritam spoke to then prime minister (late) Indira Gandhi, who allowed Riaz to stay in India. Her children went to school in India. She returned to Pakistan when Benazir Bhutto came into the power 1988.
In 1996, she wrote the poem “Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle” (You turned out to be just like us) which spoke about the parallels between India and Pakistan over communalism.
On March 8, 2014 Riaz recited the same poem at a seminar called ‘Hum Gunahgaar Auratein’ held at Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi.
Her poem compares the rising Hindutva in India and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan during Zia-ul-Haq's regime.
The poem was translated by Shabana Mir on her blog as follows:
So it turned out you are just like us!
Where were you hiding all this time, buddy?
That stupidity, that ignorance
we wallowed in for a century -
look, it arrived at your shores too!
Many congratulations to you!
Raising the flag of religion,
I guess now you’ll be setting up Hindu Raj?
You too will commence to muddle everything up
You, too, will ravage your beautiful garden.
You, too, will sit and ponder -
I can tell preparations are afoot -
who is truly Hindu, who is not.
I guess you’ll be passing fatwas soon!
Here, too, it will become hard to survive.
Here, too, you will sweat and bleed.
You’ll barely make do joylessly.
You will gasp for air like us.
I used to wonder with such deep sorrow.
And now, I laugh at the idea:
it turned out you were just like us!
We weren’t two nations after all!
To hell with education and learning.
Let’s sing the praises of ignorance.
Don’t look at the potholes in your path:
bring back instead the times of yore!
Practice harder till you master
the skill of always walking backwards.
Let not a single thought of the present
break your focus upon the past!
Repeat the same thing over and over -
over and over, say only this:
How glorious was India in the past!
How sublime was India in days gone by!
Then, dear friends, you will arrive
and get to heaven after all.
Yep. We’ve been there for a while now.
Once you are there,
once you’re in the same hell-hole,
keep in touch and tell us how it goes!
This pioneer in feminist literature died on November 21, 2018, at the age of 72 in Lahore.
(With inputs from IANS)