While politicians do their best to divide and isolate us along the lines of caste and religion, artists often look for common threads that bind us in our shared humanity. Poet Fahmida Riaz turns this aspect on its head and through a loving admonishment, compares the prejudices of both the countries she loved and lived in.

Fahmida Riaz (July, 1946 – November, 2018) was Progressive Urdu writer and human rights activist. She frequently found herself in the midst of controversy over her erotic and sensual themes which were taboo for women writers. After a stint at an advertising agency, Riaz started her own Urdu publication called Awaz. Its liberal and progressive content landed her in trouble with Zia-ul Haq’s orthodox regime and she ultimately had to flee the country and seek asylum in India with the help of her friend and renowned Punjabi poet, Amrita Pritam.

Her courage can be summarised in her own words thus: “one should be totally sincere in one’s art, and uncompromising. There is something sacred about art that cannot take violation.”

Riaz spent seven years in India before returning to Pakistan after Zia-ul-Haq’s death. While in India, against a hostile environment of religious intolerance, Riaz recited her poem ‘Tum Bilkul Hum Jaise Nikle’ at a seminar. It compares the rise of Hindutva in India and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan during Zia-ul-Haq’s regime.

 

 

Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle
Ab tak kahan chhupe the bhai
Vo murakhta vo ghaamadpan
Jisme humne sadi ganvaai
Aakhir pahunchi dvaar tumhare
Arey badhaai bohot badhaai

pret dharam ka naach rahaa hai
qayam Hindu raaj karoge
saarey ultey kaaj karogay
apna chaman daraaj karogey
tum bhee baithey karogey sochaa
poori hai waisi tayyari
kaun hai Hindu, kaun nahi hai
tum bhi karogay fatwe jaari
hoga kathin yahan bhi jeena
raaton aa jayega paseena
jaisi taisi kata karegi
yahan bhi sabki saans ghutegi
kal dukh se socha karti thi
soch ke bohot hansi aaj aaee,
tum bilkul hum jaise nikle
Hum do qaum nahin the bhai!

bhaad mein jaaye shiksha viksha
ab jaahilpan ke gun gaana
aage gadha hai yeh mat dekho
wapas laao gaya zamana
bhasht karo tum aajayega
ulte paaon chalte jaana
dhyaan na mann mein dooja aaye
bas peeche hi nazar jamana
ek jaap sa kartey jao
vaaram vaar yahi dohrao
kitna veer mahaan tha Bharat
kaisa aalishaan tha Bharat
phir tum log pohonch jaaogay
bas parlok pohonch jaaogay
hum toh hain pehle se wahan par
tum bhi samay nikalte rehna
ab jis nark mein jaao wahan se
chitthi vitthi daalte rehna

//

So, it turned out you were just like us
Where were you hiding all this time
The stupidity, the ignorance
In which we wallowed for ages
Has finally arrived at your doorstep too
Many congratulations to you

Raising the flag of religion,
Now you will set up a Hindu Raj
You, too, will muddle everything up
You, too, will ravage your beautiful garden
You, too, will sit and ponder –
I can tell preparations are underway –
who is Hindu and who is not
You, too, will be issuing fatwas soon
Here, too, it will be difficult to live
Here, too, you will sweat
You will barely survive
And gasp for air, just 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 separate nations, after all

To hell with education and learning
Let’s sing the praise of ignorance
Don’t look at the potholes ahead
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 on the past
Repeat the same thing over and over –
over and over, say only this
How great and brave was India’s past
How glorious, in the days gone by
Then, dear friends, you too will arrive
At the gates of heaven after all
We have been here for a while now
Once you are there,
Once you’re in the same hell,
keep in touch and tell us how it goes

You can watch a video of Fahmida Riaz reciting the poem at a gathering here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *