Fahmida Riaz, who was born 72 years ago today, July 28, spent part of her childhood in Hyderabad, India before migrating to Pakistan. Her first book was published when she was twenty-two. Titled Patthar ki Zuban (The Language of Stones), it launched her as a voice to be reckoned with in Urdu poetry. Her second volume Badan Dareeda (The Body, Exposed) led to an outcry from conservatives, but provided a completely new idiom to Urdu poetry. It was her outspoken political views that forced her to go into exile. She lived in India for some time, but has since returned to Pakistan.

Fahmida Riaz is regarded as one of the finest among modern and contemporary Urdu poets. She imagines a post-revolution Pakistani society which frees man from the oppression of man, in economic, mental and moral senses. Riaz’s poetry works with national, political and ideological themes informed by feminism.

Here are three of her poems in translations by Raza Naeem.

The Beauty Contest


So what if my hips gyrate like whirlpools
The head also has the jewel
Of curiosity
The piece of heart was below the breasts
But the price I have put on these
Do not evade me like this in fear
When you stop measuring me
Do also measure an organ of yours!

Condolence Resolutions

(Taaziyati Qaraardaaden)

Friends! Just do me this favour
Do not be unjust to me after death
Do not award me any certificate of religiosity
Do not say in the force of eloquence
Actually this woman was a believer
Do not rise to prove loyalty to country and nation
Do not try that the authorities own my corpse at least
Friends, friends
The invectives of the mean are my honours
Whether they may not come up to the pulpit
My lovers are no less
The beginning of reality is hidden in life
And dust and breeze are my confidantes
Do not go about insulting them
For the goodwill of the censors
Do not make the corpse apologise
My companion
Lest I cannot be shrouded
Do not worry
Leave my corpse in the jungle
So comforting is this thought
The beasts of the jungle will come for me
Without testing my thoughts
My bones and my flesh
And my heart like a glittering ruby
They will be happy to devour everything
They will lick their lips
And in their obedient eyes will shine
What you might not say
That truth
This corpse belongs to a being
Who said whatever she wanted
Was never repentant, lifelong

Karl Marx

Neither a messenger’s avatar, nor the guardian of the world
A human like me, with an agitated beard
He too was alive on Earth, it is an ancient tale
He died since long, long time passed, that aged Christian
The cycle of fate remains, pieces of permanent birth
Are dancing in the circle, their faces changing
Everyone is busy, everyone has a life of their own
Every pauper is thinking in the world in his own way
The seeing eyes see, what is going to happen
The fire is beating from east to west
He too stands at some turn of the path
Perhaps he sees how much dust has time spread
I saw this photo a hundred times, but now I stand still
I tremble after biting my lip, when I think for a moment
What a man was born…
So much have you left behind!
Wherever the sun rose tearing the black earth
Men took your name, restless
Time never stopped for anyone as it is, but this too has happened
The flying century stopped for a brief moment to turn, look at you
A human generation has thought about you often
A century has raised its hand to salute you

Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic, award-winning translator and dramatic reader, currently teaching in Lahore. He is the president of the Progressive Writers Association in Lahore.