New Delhi, April 7 (IANS) Leading Urdu poet, progressive writer and women’s activist from Pakistan Fahmida Riaz has said that all three major political parties in her country seek friendly ties with India.
The Pakistan Peoples Party, the Muttahida Quami Movement and the Pakistan Muslim League (Q) — all want amicable ties, she said in conversation with journalists at the Press Club of India here.
The Karachi-based writer, known to lean Leftward, and active on issues pertaining to women’s empowerment and human rights, said that if India spurned Pakistan’s friendly overtures, it would have unpleasant consequences for people-to-people contacts between the two neighbours.
Riaz said political parties and people in Pakistan wanted friendly ties because her country was grappling with internal terrorism, growing religious fundamentalism and high unemployment, and did not want to jeopardise relations with India.
“Rajiv Gandhi went to Pakistan and met Benazir Bhutto and Atal Bihari Vajpeyee went to Pakistan… They wanted friendship. General Parvez Musharraf came to Agra. I have lived in Sindh and I have been in touch with the people of Balochistan. They have always wanted friendship with India,” Riaz said.
Regretting the setback for former Pakistan president Parvez Musharraf in the run-up to the elections in her country, Riaz said: “Pakistan’s returning officers were arbitrary in rejecting his nomination forms.”
“This is ‘anyay’, ‘jurm’ (wrong, a crime),” Riaz said.
India has a special place in Riaz’s heart: She spent seven years in the 1980s in the Indian capital with her two children after she fled the Zia-ul-Haq regime, which charged her and her husband Zafar with treason for their liberal views in “Awaz”, a publication that the writer had founded along with her second husband, a political activist.
Her fans bailed her out, though Zafar spent time in jail before joining her and the children in Delhi.
Recalling her years of asylum in India, the 66-year-old writer said: “I was charged under Section 124A of the Pakistan Penal Code (sedition). I came here and my friend (poet) Amrita Pritam spoke to then prime minister (late) Indira Gandhi, who allowed me to stay in India.”
Her children went to school in India.
“I was born in Meerut (Uttar Pradesh). My parents lived there. We were brought up according to Hindustani ethos. Whenever I come here, I feel that the memories are frozen in time,” she said.
From childhood in India, Riaz moved to Hyderabad in Sindh in Pakistan, where she stayed till her arranged marriage in 1967, that saw her passage to Britain, where she worked for BBC (Urdu). It was in London that she met Amrita Pritam, “one of her closest allies”.
“I had read her ‘nazm’ before. Poetry brought us together, and we were also politically-minded and secular women,” Riaz told IANS.
When her first marriage fell apart, she returned to Pakistan.
The writer, who is one of the foremost Urdu women poets in Pakistan along with Zehra Nigah, Parveen Shakir and Kishwar Naheed, has authored “Godavari”, a novel and translated the “masnavi (spiritual poetry) of Mohammed Jalaluddin Rumi from Persian to Urdu.
She translated the works of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai and Sheikh Ayaz from Sindhi to Urdu as well. She has authored more than a dozen books, among them novels and anthologies of poetry. Among her best known works is the radical feminist poetry anthology, “Badan Dareeda” that took conservative Pakistani society of the 1970s by storm.
The writer held senior posts in the education department when Benazir Bhutto was prime minister of Pakistan.
“I began studying Sufism because of Rumi. I find it fascinating. There is space for everyone. I think it is the only alternative to organised religion. You cannot politicise the ‘mazhab’ (Islamic jurisprudence) and take spirituality out of it,” the writer said.
Riaz is now writing a historical novel, a chronicle of Hindu-Muslim confluence.
“As a free thinker, I am interested in all religions,” she says.