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Fahmida Riaz: The Only One Who Understood

Tehmina Ahmed

A short excerpt from an essay published in The Aleph Review, Vol. 4 (2020).

I don’t recall the first time we met, but I do remember the last. She was in a wheelchair and had dark circles under her eyes. “This is the end, isn’t it,” she said, her smile as cheerful as ever. “No,” I said, “Of course not. You are going to get well.” Acha, she said. Agar tum kehti ho. If you say so.

In the good old bad old Zia days, there were pockets of resistance in the feminist networks. I worked with the Women’s Action Forum in the ’80s and that is how I met Fahmida Riaz. There is a hazy memory of a house on Karachi’s Tarik Road, going there to invite her to a WAF meeting. But there’s a copy of Dhoop on my bookshelf, purchased for ten rupees at the Capri Book Shop, Rawalpindi Cantt., in 1972. So, I had come across her before.

There were meetings and mushairas. Much later, a chance encounter at the Oxford University Press office in Korangi. She spoke of my solitary book, a translation of Zeeshan Sahil’s verse and said she would like me to translate her work. “Tum mera kaam kab translate karo gi?” she said. “When will you translate my work?”

For years after that, whenever I passed by her desk at OUP, there would be a hug and a kiss and the same words: “Tehmina, tum mera kaam kab translate karo gi?” Sometimes I would ask her to tell me which work we should translate and there were vague plans to meet, but somehow it never happened.

When The Aleph Review asked me to translate Fahmida’s verse, I could hear the voice: “Tehmina, tum mera kaam kab translate karo gi?”

So, Fahmida. Here it is… a beginning.


Tehmina Ahmed Once an advertising copywriter and psychology teacher, Tehmina became an activist, journalist, writer, editor, photographer and filmmaker, in no particular order. She is now a part-time poet and translator.


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