by Zubeida Mustafa
Fahmida Riaz is an eminent Urdu poet, author, translator and activist. Currently, she is the Managing Director of the Urdu Dictionary Board, Pakistan. Her first poem was published in Funoon when she was only fifteen.
Fahmida Riaz has written several short stories and novels, the most well known being Pathar ki Zubaan, Khatt-e-Marmuz, Godavari, Zindabahar Lane; and Reflections in a Cracked Mirror. Some of these have been translated into English.
As a poet she has been very popular. She subtly weaves her activism into her poems thus conveying a powerful message.
In her poem on the Urdu dictionary, which she wrote on the occasion of the launch of the 22-volume lexicon, Fahmida Riaz in effect analyses the factors that have led to the decline in the fortunes of the Muslims of South Asia.
I had quoted a few lines from this poem in my column, “Will Pakistan follow Egypt?” (23 Feb 2011). Here is the complete poem for Fahmida Riaz’s fans. And she certainly has many of them.
|Come let us create a new lexicon
Wherein is inserted before each word
Its meaning that we do not like
And let us swallow like bitter potion
The truth of a reality that is not ours.
The water of life bursting forth from this stone
Takes a course not determined by us alone
We who are the dying light of a derelict garden
We who are filled with the wounded pride of self delusion
We who have crossed the limits of self praise
We who lick each of our wounds incessantly
We who spread the poisoned chalice all around
Carrying only hate for the other
On our dry lips only words of disdain for the other
We do not fill the abyss within ourselves
We do not see that which is true before our own eyes.
We have not redeemed ourselves yesterday or today
For the sickness is so dear that we do not seek to be cured
But why should the many hued new horizon
Remain to us distant and unattainable
So why not make a new lexicon
If we emerge from this bleak abyss
Only the first few footsteps are hard
The limitless expanses beckon us
To the dawning of a new day
We will breathe in the fresh air
Of the abundant valley that surrounds us
We will cleanse the grime of self loathing from our faces.
To rise and fall is the game time plays
But the image reflected in the mirror of time
Includes our glory and our accomplishments
So let us raise our sight to friendship.
And thus glimpse the beauty in every face
Of every visitor to this flower filled garden
We will encounter “potentials”
A word in which you and me are equal
Before which we and they are the same
So come let us create a new lexicon.
The poem has been translated into English by Aquila Ismail
who holds a degree in Electrical Engineering and is editor and writer of several books on development issues. She has translated Urdu fiction into English, (including Zindabahar Lane and Godavari by Fahmida Riaz). She has been published in Dawn and Newsline. Her debut novel based on the Bihari experience in East Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1971-72 will be published at the end of 2011.