Fahmida Riaz’s Poetic Tribute To Myanmar’s Imprisoned Suu Kyi
‘San Su Kyi may you smile like this forever’ was Fahmida Riaz’s elegant tribute to the now imprisoned Myanmar Icon following the coup.
There is disturbing news from Myanmar again. On 1 February 2021, Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested by the Myanmar military, along with other leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, after the Myanmar military declared the November 2020 general election results fraudulent.
Thus benighted Myanmar returns to military rule just a decade after the military had given up power. The military was always in charge though. This coup in Myanmar is merely the hidden hand revealing itself. Is the Myanmar military thinking of doing a Pakistan and bringing in a pliant Imran Khan-like figure through ‘elections’? We shall see soon. I hope better sense prevails!
As news of the military coup and the arrest of Suu Kyi and many of her comrades began to filter out last night, I was immediately reminded of a tribute which the great Urdu poetess Fahmida Riaz had paid to Suu Kyi while Riaz was still alive. There was hope for a better future for Myanmar. This tribute titled simply as Aung San Suu Kyi Ke Naam: Burma ki rahnuma ki rihai par (To Aung San Suu Kyi: On the Release of the Burmese Leader) was written on the release of the Myanmar icon after two decades of detention back on 13 November 2010. The poem forms part of her last collection of poetry titled Tum Kabeer… published in 2017. As is evident from the poem, it lacks Riaz’s customary feminist flair, but evokes interest because it is one of the rarest tributes in Urdu to Suu Kyi ever written.
Though I wonder how would Riaz have reacted had she seen Suu Kyi ascend the heights of political power in Myanmar in the subsequent decade and compromise herself in the genocide of the hapless Rohingya population, especially in the Rakhine state.
The military coup in Myanmar and the arrest of Suu Kyi has set back the cause of democracy, though it will mean nothing for the continued tragedy of the Rohingya people. Riaz ends her poem with a prayer for Suu Kyi:
‘San Suu Kyi yunhi muskurao sada
Itni muddat ke baad,
Itni tareek, be-noor subhon ke baad
Aaj laai sehar ik khushi ki khabar
Dil jo az-bas gham-o-dard se choor hain
Yeh tumhari muhabbat se mamoor hain.’
The complete poem is being presented in my original English translation below in the hope that it will reach Suu Kyi’s supporters, admirers and well-wishers everywhere. It aims for a renewed reflection on the hope and tragedy spawned by this enigmatic icon of the 20th century:
(Do see on the wall of the dungeon
The flowers are swaying, the spring is in season
Here you spent 20 years in captivity
Every one of those years
Every breath of those years
Kept absorbing within its wall
Look the springs have accepted them
So see today on the dungeon wall
The flowers giggle as if in thrall.
Success has advanced to touch you
And the morning told the good news
In that we live in the long dark night
In whose wall no crack is in sight
You have given us good news
This low flame of a smile on the lips
And the light glow of tears in the eyes
This is for you, for you
San Suu Kyi may you smile like this for ever
After so long,
After so many dark, lightless mornings
Today the morning brought good news
Hearts which are sufficiently broken with grief and pain
Are full of love for you again.)
The writer, is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic, and an award-winning translator based in Lahore. He is currently the President of the Progressive Writers Association in Lahore. He can be reached at: [email protected]