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The New Decision by Fahmida Riaz

Fahmida Riaz was one of the champions of women’s liberation in Pakistan and on International Women’s Day we are posting a translation of her longer poem ‘Naya Faisla’. This poem was included in her last collection of poetry ‘Tum Kabeer’ which was published in 2017, just a year before she passed away.

Translator’s note: The first part of the poem is a social history of what Pakistani women face on a daily basis from the forces of misogyny and patriarchy buttressed by feudalism and obscurantist religion, before the defiant tone struck by the victim in the second part, which is vintage Riaz. Perhaps we do need a Naya Faisla for Naya Pakistan! 

The Voice

The earth is revolving

So is the sky

The paths to my home

Turning their back to me

The sky and earth leaping at me

Is it night or day

The wind is screaming

The horror-filled laughter roars far

Male Voices

We won’t spare her today

Great that she’s alone

Though we had our eye on her since long

Don’t you remember his brother who fights with us daily

How he swaggers daily

We will avenge him!

Trample on her

Crush her so that she never rises again

Ravage her skin

Tear her shirt

She screams a lot, just grip her feet and arms

She is screaming still, slap her

Her mouth full of blood

She won’t say anything now

Let’s take our fill

Take your turn after me

Morning turned to evening

But we didn’t tire

Some day she will remember how manly we were

One after the other, and she fainted

Throw her near the bush

Let’s run away somewhere

The Voice

Who is this who crawls over the earth

Who covers her body with some tatters

Whose semi-naked body is this

Which comes within the sharp gaze of passers-by

That this face drenched in blood and tears

Is telling a tale

Almighty God You know everything

There must be that home in some street which is hers


The Father

In this condition, why did you even return home?

Tossing our good name onto the square, our honour is lost

Why did your mother bear you, why did that wretch antagonize us so

Should I break her bones and limbs, she will pay for this

You lowered our mustache, who are you to us?

Don’t enter the door, go where you came from

Don’t call me baba, shouldn’t I rather pull your tongue?

Why did you reach this doorstep, there was a well too on the way

Laughing Voices

Come, come to us, we will give you a fair price

Your skin is fair, it can still provide some spice

Neighbours and Residents

Did you hear, did you see?

What happened with that girl?

We are honourable families

Protectors of daughters

She must have gone there on her own

Such were her activities

She looked so carefree

Wore a bangle in her arms

An earring flashing in her ears

The path she takes

You beware of its high stakes

Lest you bring dishonor on yourselves

Do not speak to her

The Resident Chaudhary

She has committed a crime, now this is plain justice

This is the heart’s order, a pristine tradition

Why should women blame the men for free

They provoke them, what even poor men can do

Look at these lips of hers, such a breast, this waist

Uff man is powerless, before this sinful invitation to taste

I have read carefully in Arabic books

If there are ten parts of desire, men have a mere two

A woman has eight

Engraved on hellfire, beyond count or estimate

Now the quarter has space for her no longer

Yes, should she clean my house, that is her choice

The Voice

There is neither an earth nor a sky now

Just your life, and this blind bottomless well

Only the blood-red dust flies far and wide

Speak O well, will you indeed accept her?

The Well Laughs

Come, fit into my arms, together we will flirt and pray

In my darkness are hidden society’s secrets astray

Who is who’s son, whose wealth accumulated by whom

Sunk in my black water is every account of birth and rebirth

My snakes and scorpions will together eat your skin in mirth

A gang of vultures will descend upon the mouth to pick your bones

The light of life will go out in your young eyes

Their beaks will take away the pearls of your pupils


The Girl Screams


No, I will not give my life to your dark water

I will breathe and live until (the time) I can live

I will live on broken stones until I’m able

I can walk on these legs and my arms have strength

These poisonous snakes and scorpions cannot find me anywhere

For too long have you digested silence, listen to me, not today

I will not become bad news, will write my own (news)

In every street and quarter, I have to tell

I have not sinned, but have been wronged

The pundit, mullah, qazi, jirga, all are to blame

I am the daughter of this soil, will ride on the water-swing

I will wave like the hem of a mantle on the shore of the great lakes

If I fall, I will form into every particle of dust

Well of silence, you fixed the price of my life

Your words enter my ears like molten lead

Your weight was a lie, so was your word

The tears breaking off from my eyes will boil like a blaze

The tears breaking off from my eyes will boil like a blaze

The tears breaking off from my eyes will boil like a blaze

About the Translator: Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader currently based in Lahore, where he is also the President of the Progressive Writers Association. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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