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The Arts

Written Before Suu Kyi's Fall From Grace, Fahmida Riaz’s Rare Urdu Tribute Is Worth a Reread

One wonders how Riaz would have reacted had she seen Suu Kyi ascend the heights of political power and compromise herself in the genocide of the Rohingya, in systematic breakdown of the freedom of expression and sustained Muslim hatred.

There is disturbing news from Myanmar again. On February 1, 2021, Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested by Myanmar’s military, along with other leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, after the military junta 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 pulling a Pakistan and bringing a pliant Imran Khan-like figure in through ‘elections’? We shall soon see.

As news of the military coup and the arrest of Suu Kyi and many of her comrades began to filter out the day before yesterday at 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 and there was hope for a better future for Myanmar.

Also read: Fahmida Riaz, the Poet Who Lost Two Countries in One Lifetime

Fahmida Riaz
Tum Kabeer

This tribute titled simply, 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 November 13, 2010.

It is 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 a rare tribute in Urdu to Suu Kyi.

One wonders how Riaz would have reacted had she seen Suu Kyi ascend the heights of political power and compromise herself in the brutal genocide of the Rohingya people, in the systematic breakdown of the freedom of expression and sustained Muslim hatred.

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.’

Fahmida Riaz (1946-2018). Photo: Facebook.

Below is my translation of the complete poem.

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.

Also read: ‘Shameful Betrayal’: Amnesty Strips Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi of Highest Honour

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.

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].