Fahmida Riaz Ki Farhang-e-Nau

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.

نئی ڈکشنری
بناتے ہیں ہم ایک فرہنگِ نو
جس میں ہر لفظ کے سامنے دَرج ہیں
وہ معانی جوہم کو نہیں ہیں پسند
جرعہٴ تلخ کی مثل پی جائیں گے
اَصل کی اَصل جو بس ہماری نہیں
سنگ سے پھوٹتا آبِ حیواں ہے یہ
جوہمارے اشارے پہ جاری نہیں
ہم فسردہ چراغ، اِک خزاں دیدہ باغ
زخم خوردہ اناؤں کے مارے ہوئے
اپنی توصیف حد سے گزارے ہوئے
اپنے ہر زخم کو ہر گھڑی چاٹتے
دبلیاں زہر کی چار سُو بانٹتے
دوسروں کے لیے صرف نفرت لیے
خشک ہونٹوں پہ حرفِ حقارت لیے
جو خلا ہے جہاں اس کو بھرتے نہیں
چار آنکھیں حقیقت سے کرتے نہیں
کامراں ہوسکے ہیں نہ کل اور نہ آج
مرض پیارا ہو گر کیا کریں گے علاج
کیوں گریزاں رہے، ہم سے روٹھی رہے
آنے والے زمانوں کی صد رنگ ضو
کیوں بنا لیں نہ ہم ایک فرہنگ نو
اس اندھیرے کنویں سے نکل آئیں گر
چند قدموں کا ہے اِک کٹھن راستہ
بے کراں وسعتیں ڈھونڈتی ہیں ہمیں
روشنی ہے جہاں، پو پھٹے کاسماں
سانس تازہ ہواؤں میں لیں گے وہاں
ایک شاداب وادی ہے چاروں طرف
ٓٓآ رہے ہیں ہر اک سمت سے کارواں
اپنے چہرے سے دھو دیں گے گردِ ملال
وقت کا کھیل ہیں سب عروج و زوال
وقت کے آیئنے میں جو تصویر ہے
اِس میں شامل ہیں ہم خوش وضع باکمال
دوستانہ نگاہیں اٹھائیں گے ہم
دلربا خال و خد دیکھ پائیں گے ہم
اس گلستاں کے ہر ایک مہمان کے
روبرو ہوں گے ہم اصل اِمکان کے
جس کے آگے برابر ہیں میں اور تو
جس کی نظروں میں یکساں ہیں ہم اور وہ
بناتے ہیں ہم ایک فرہنگِ نو

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.

20 thoughts on “Fahmida Riaz Ki Farhang-e-Nau

  1. What a wonderful poem and what courage! Both on the part of Fahmida Riaz and Zubeida Mustafa. If there is to be change in obscurantist thinking in Pakistan (and/or Muslim society) it is the courage of women that is going to bring it about. In the words of Maqdoom Mohiuddin of my own beloved hometown …

    Maimar-e-ahd-e-nau ho tera dast-e-pur shabaab

    Baatil ki gardanon pe chamak Zulfiqar ban

    1. Sir,
      Muslim women have never lacked courage. It is a characteristic of ladies
      in all human ( and biological ) societies.
      However, in male-dominated systems, the hormones that make things tick,
      are , to put it mildly, of the MCP variety.


  2. Dear Zubeida

    On behalf of Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi(ITA) Public Trust, the Sanjan Nagar Public Education Trust (SNPET), Institute for Professional Learning (IPL) and the South Asia Forum for Education Development (SAFED) I congratulate you for launching a much needed website with high quality provocative writings.

    The poem is brilliant and appropriate to match our times. We have shared widely with our faculty and students .. pasting in our IPL and Sanjan Nagar libraries and discussions in our learning forums

    We are honored to have the website linked to our programs/websites for providing us food for thought and action.

    1. Good comment.

      Don't forget this " —-food for thought and action. "

      The action part is vital


  3. Great !!

    but—am I wrong in this –the last I read was that Fahmida Riaz was living in "exile"

    in Delhi with her husband and two kids " ( !(1986 perhaps )

    In Delhi, who can be in " exile " Its not Siberia !

    After reading this poem of essentially, " hope ", I had to dust the dirt off some of my old books. One is ( now cleaned with care ) " Pakistan Literature & Society " by

    Fahmida Riaz.

    At the epilogue Fahmida Ma'm writes :

    To sing, to sing to sing

    So that the shadow becomes human

    As Sunday blesses this week

    And as hope sweetens truth


    She continues—-

    " Pakistani literature,—-reflects the conflicts and aspirations of the peoples of the country.these are a tortured and betrayed people. Yet,—–faced with repression—-,

    Pakistani literature stands out with remarkable vigour and hope . "

    I had ( have) another book, a collection of Pakistani poets, but either my old eyes cant locate it in the attic, or some one has " borrowed " it.

    Zubeida Ma'm, this blog is, " IT "


    1. I loved the poem. One needs a glimmer of hope in this gloom! Thank you dear Fahmida and Zubeida!

  4. Great job Zubeida setting up this website. I was very excited about listening to Fahmida but it was a little disappointing because the sound was not very clear. I am not sure if it is my computer or the website that has a problem.

    Please keep on posting such wonderful works.

  5. what poignant, and touching poetry!

    fehmida riaz reminds us of the eternal struggle for justice, equality and truth. she also reminds us of josh, faiz and other litrary giants who led the way to humanitarian values and universal bondage of brother hood

    we welcome "Farhang-e-Nau" may it light a torch of knowledge and understanding for a happier world

    A painful and tragic truth for pakistan

    but will we as a nation ever rise from the ashes into a blazing phoenix as the arabs are doing right now – while we go on in our own destructive and regressive ways – back towards the stone age!

  6. Being a professional sailor, I never developed a taste for literature of any language. But now having involved myself with social work in the field of education and healthcare, I find I have started liking it as it promotes literacy and education. Lets hope that I personally develop my commitment to the promotion of education for which I am contributing my effort and time. I also hope that this forum becomes a magnetc force to keep me within its sphere of influence.

  7. Hello Zubeida Mustafa ji,

    When you wrote this article it was winter. I could only locate ” Pakistan Literature & Society ” by Fahmida Riaz, from my attic . When it snows in these parts the attic is a cold, cold place_____even if it full of old books, onc read , and now just a part of ones

    vague memories.

    Spring is here !!! My family ( actually it was a clan ) of crows who demand pieces of roti from me in the season of heavy snow, have ALL migrated to cooler places up

    in the higher reaches of the Himalayas.

    Now some pigeons and light green coloured tits , have taken over. This happens

    every year.

    Come spring and one can clean up the attic .

    Hence, I have located the collection of the works of 7 Pakistani modern women-poets, Fahmeda Riaz, Kishwar Naheed, Sara Shagufta,Zehra Nigha,

    Ishrat Aafereen,Saeeda Gazda and Neelma Sarwar.

    Its called : ” We Sinful Women ” by Ruksana Ahmed

    Publishers : Rupa & C0, Delhi 1994

    Fahmida Riaz does write with a modern idiom. Its not old fashioned romantic ghazals

    or Sufiana-sha^iree. She is different, THANK GOD !

    See her poem :


    In the singing springs of stony mountains

    Echoes the gentle laughter of a woman

    Wealth, power and fame mean nothing

    In her body, hidden, lies her freedom

    Let the new gods of the earth try as they can

    They can not hear the sobs of her ecstacy.

    Everything sells in this market-place save her satisfaction

    the ecstacy she alone knows

    which she herself cannot sell


    There she goes, her hair billowing in the wind

    The daughter of the wind

    There she goes, singing with the wind.

    Next time I shall type out the original URDU version of this poem. BUT, it might just be, sending coal to New Castle !!! ??

    Comments should tell me what is wanted.


  8. THE EFFECT OF ” poetry ” on the mind :

    When asked why he writes poetry, Ivan says, “Poetry has an immediate effect on the mind. The simple act of reading poetry alters thought patterns and the shuttle of the breath. Poetry induces trance. Its words are chant. Its rhythms are drum beats. Its images become the icons of the inner eye. Poetry is more than a description of the sacred experience; it carries the experience itself.”

    He adds, “My poetry is not fixed. When I read my own poems, I say them aloud, I repeat random lines, change the words around. Sometimes I sing them or chant them. I play with these poems until my mind relaxes enough to let the sacred spark shine forth.”

    That’s the opinion of Ivan___who writes poetry

  9. Ms Rukhsana Ahmad’s translation of Fahmida Riaz’ poem :


    should be followed by a reading of the original :

    ایک عورت کی ہنسی

    پتھریلے کوسار کے گاتے چشموں میں

    گونج رهی هے اک عورت کی نرم هنسی

    دولت طاقت اور شهرت سب، کچھ بھی نهیں

    اس کے بدن میں چھپی ھے اس کی آزادی

    دنیا کے معبد کے نۓ بت کچھ کرلیں

    سن نھیں سکتے اس کی لذّت کی سسکی

    اس بازار میں گؤ هر مال بکاؤ هے

    کوئ خرید کے لاۓ ذرا تسکین اس کی

    اک سرشاری جس سے وه هی واقف نهیں

    چاهے بھی تو اس کو بیچ نهین سکتی

    وادی کی آواره هواؤٰ، آجاؤ

    آؤ اور اس کے چهرے پر بوسے دو

    اپنے لمبے لمبے بال اڈاتی خاۓ

    ( some more to follow,slowly )

  10. ” 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. ”

    WOW !! Aquila is talented in many fields !!!!

    Its not easy to translate poetry. Why so ?

    This is what author RUKHSANA AHMAD has to say in ” We Sinful Women”

    { Ref. Page 19, Rupa & Co; 1994 }

    ” —-the Soviet poet Rasul Gamzatov,———described—-poetry in translation as an experience comparable to looking at the wrong side of a carpet. It is a harsh judgment but it contains an element of truth. There is no doubt a serious loss of some of the qualities essential to poetry in the best of translations, for which there is no easy substitute. Yet——-translations are an in valuable tool for deepening understanding, appreciation and tolerance for cultures that may be at variance with each other.

    The greater the difference in the cultural mores of two societies, the harder it is for the translator to do justice to the original. Again, the finer the poem, the richer it is in terms of suggestions, references, emotional innuendos and subtleties, the harder it becomes to translate it well. ”

    So, Ms Aquila Ismail has done a job worth appreciating as well !!

    I see that our blog-commenters are like butterflies who just visit a flower once,

    then they are off to taste the nectar of the next blog in fashion.

    Even the blog-master has forgotten to moderate our comments !!!!

  11. آڈن کے نام

    یہ سچ ہے میرے فلسفی

    میرے شاعر

    وہ وقت آگیا ہے

    کہ دنیا کے بوڑھے فریبی معّلم کا جبّہ پکڑ کر

    نۓ لوگ کھہ دیں

    کتابیں بدل دو!

    یہ جھوٹی کتابیں

    جو ہم کو پڈھاتے چلے آرہے ہیں

    حقیقت کے رخ سے

    یہ بے معنے فرسودہ لفظوں کے پردے ہٹا دو

    جلا دو

    کتابیں جو ہم نے پڈھی ہیں

    جلا دو

    کتابیں جو کہتی ہیں دنیا میں حق جیتتا ہے

    یہ سب کذب و بیہودہ گوئ مٹا دو

    یہ سب کچھہ غلط ہے

    کہ ہم جانتے ہیں

    کہ جھوٹ اور سچ میں ہمیشہ ہوئ جنگ


    جھوٹ جیتا ہے

    کہ نفرت امر ہے

    کہ طاقت ہے بر حق

    ( by Fehmida Riaz )

    Here is the translation by Rukhsana Ahmad

    ( We Sinful Women; Rupa & Co. 1994; page 77)


    Tis true, my philosopher

    My poet

    Those times are here

    When pulling at the gown of

    The old deceitful scholar of the world

    The young would demand :

    Change our texts

    These lying books

    That have been taught for so long

    Remove them from the visage of truth

    The veils of worn and meaningless words

    Burn them

    The books that we have read

    Burn them

    The books that claim that in this world truth always wins

    Erase these lies, these vulgarisms

    They are all wrong

    We know that Truth and Falsehood have always been at war


    Falsehood wins

    That hatred wins for ever

    That might is right

    That Truth is defeated


    and after these lying books are burnt, one can indeed

    change to a new text_____a Farhang-e Nau !!

    See the link !!!

  12. Kuldip Salil in his preface to ” A Treasury of Urdu Poetry ___from Mir to Faiz ” writes :

    *Translation of poetry from one language to another is extremely difficult, some would say, impossible. The challenge here is to be faithful to the original at the same time retaining at least some of its charm and beauty.It is not just the idea of the original that is to be conveyed but its soul, its poignancy and sweetness, and if possible , its rhythm and resonance should also reach the reader.——-the translation also must read like good poetry .”

    { Publisher : Rajpal & Sons. Delhi }

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