Eminent progressive poet, writer Fahmida Riaz laid to rest | Pakistan Today

Eminent progressive poet, writer Fahmida Riaz laid to rest

LAHORE: Famed Urdu poet and literary personality Fahmida Riaz was laid to rest here on Thursday.

She had passed away at the age of 72 on Wednesday night in Lahore.

The eminent progressive writer, who was also hailed by many as a pioneer in feminist literature, had been suffering from illness for the past few months.

Fahimda, a seasoned veteran of the Urdu literary scene, was part of the old guard of Urdu literature in the latter half of the 20th century.

Born into one of those families in Meerut with a pretense to letters just before partition, Riaz was a progressive voice throughout her storied career as a writer, delving in a diverse range of mediums from short fiction to poetry and essays.

She was a leading feminist at a time when the concept was not just opposed as it still is today by some people, but when there was little understanding of what it meant to be a feminist.

Her writings being deeply political and entrenched in the wrongs of society was only natural. In fact, her strong, evocative words on women’ issues and the hypocrisy in society were her greatest claims to fame and prominence. That she was a pioneer of the movement in Pakistan is unquestionable, and her services as a human rights activist and progressive political voice are second only to her services as a writer to the Urdu language.

Generally, Urdu literature has mostly been a tool for the writings and often ravings of conservative circles and individuals. Most published Urdu work is by, from and for a certain audience that would balk at the sort of thought provoking pieces of writing that Riaz produced.

But while Urdu has been largely appropriated by conservative writers, with the very significant exception of Allama Iqbal, none have managed to achieve literary greatness. Faiz, Munir Niazi, Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi, Parveen Shakir and the many before them in earlier periods of Urdu were largely secular writers.

This is not to say that Riaz was necessarily at par with any of these on a purely literary or aesthetic sense, but that she was part of a rich tradition of progressive Urdu writers. While the formalised collective of progressive writers has long since ceased to exist, there has always existed an informal collusion among leftist and liberal writers fighting the good fight. Despite its exclusivity, Riaz was most definitely a part of this club.

During Benazir Bhutto’s first term in office, Fahmida Riaz was appointed as the managing director of the National Book Foundation but was later persecuted under Nawaz Sharif’s government, being labelled an Indian agent and becoming virtually unemployable. She had to work three simultaneous jobs to support the needs of her young children.

During Benazir’s second government, she was given a post at the Quaid-e-Azam Academy, which also ended when the government was dismissed.

She left Pakistan for India during the rule of former military ruler General Ziaul Haq and returned only after his death.

She was an accomplished writer no doubt, publishing 15 books on literature and poetry. Her first literary work was published in 1967, titling ‘Pather Ki Zuban’. Her collection of poetry includes ‘Dhoop’, ‘Pura Chand’, ‘Admi Ki Zindagi’ and more. Her novels include ‘Zinda Bahar’, ‘Godaavari’ and ‘Karachi’, and she was famous for her revolutionary and contrary to tradition poetry.

Yet it was her activism and her clear vision of the world that gave such strength and zeal to her writing. She was an aesthetic success, even if she was not unequivocally one of the greats.

But what made Riaz special was that she was a hero and role model for women at a time when there were very few. She wrote with gravitas about a topic that few took seriously but which would eventually become the talk of the town.

Her funeral was attended by a number of important figures, including artist Saleema Hashmi, human rights activist I A Rehman, Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) Chaudhry Manzoor, Amjad Islam Amjad, Fatima Hasan and many others.


Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb expressed sorrow over the demise of Fahmida Riaz and termed it a loss not only for literature but also for democracy. The former information minister praised the progressive writer for her work.

“Fahmida Riaz had worked sincerely throughout her life for the rights of women,” she said.

Famous writer Kamila Shamsie also expressed grief over the death of Famida Riaz and termed her “one of the brightest of lights in the dark days” of dictatorship.

Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari wrote: “Sad to learn of Fahmida Riaz’s passing. Her poetry challenged traditionalism at so many levels as she reflected the voice and emotions of women unchained! Her sensitivity & often sensuality of expression was unique.”

Author Ayesha Siddiqa wrote:

“Sad to lose another very lovely Khala the dynamic @fahmidaRiaz she was brave, daring and a great person – rest in peace Khala you will be missed in a land where people can no longer disagree and still live.”

Abid Qaiyum Suleri, the member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, wrote: “#FahmidaRiaz passed away. The region lost another voice of sanity. What a source of inspiration & courage she was, who stood bravely against General Zia’s dictatorship and transformed the hearts and minds of millions. #RIPFahmidaRiaz”

Actress, producer and director Samina Peerzada said:

Raza Ahmed Rumi paid tribute by sharing a beautiful poem.

Mosharraf Zaidi shared the solidarity of the Pakhtuns and Muhajirs on the poet’s demise.

“What a loss for South Asian feminists! Fahmida Riaz will be missed on both sides of the border,” said Nida Kirmani.

Senator Sherry Rehman also paid her condolences.

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