Fahmida Riaz on fundamentalism on both sides

The progressive Pakistani poet, Fahmida Riaz, recites a poem to an Indian audience comparing the rise of Hindutva in India with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan. Note the delight of the Indian audience and the “delicious” cultural affinity between Indian and Pakistani political discourse. And forgive my attempt at translation. It’s impossible to catch all the nuance, but I tried.

Turned out you were just like us.

So it turned out you were just like us!
Where were you hiding all this time, buddy?

That stupidity, that ignorance
we wallowed in for a century –
look, it arrived at your shores too!
Many congratulations to you!

Raising the flag of religion,
I guess now you’ll be setting up Hindu Raj?
You too will commence to muddle everything up
You, too, will ravage your beautiful garden.

You, too, will sit and ponder –
I can tell preparations are afoot –
who is [truly] Hindu, who is not.
I guess you’ll be passing fatwas soon!

Here, too, it will become hard to survive.
Here, too, you will sweat and bleed.
You’ll barely make do joylessly.
You will gasp for air like us.

I used to wonder with such deep sorrow.
And now, I laugh at the idea:
it turned out you were just like us!
We weren’t two nations after all! 

To hell with education and learning.
Let’s sing the praises of ignorance.
Don’t look at the potholes in your path:
bring back instead the times of yore!

Practice harder till you master
the skill of always walking backwards.
Let not a single thought of the present
break your focus upon the past! 


Repeat the same thing over and over –
over and over, say only this:
How glorious was India in the past!
How sublime was India in days gone by!


Then, dear friends, you will arrive
and get to heaven after all.
Yep. We’ve been there for a while now.
Once you are there,
once you’re in the same hell-hole,
keep in touch and tell us how it goes!

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22 Replies to “Fahmida Riaz on fundamentalism on both sides”

  1. There is one difference however. There may be a small section of people who have fundamentalist tendencies that have been fanned by some opportunistic politician, but it can never ever get any where close to the level of Islamic fundamentalism. The basic difference is Islam is a monolithic religion and Hinduism is pluralistic. Hinduism is based on the principle that God can be worshiped in any form in any manner and can be called by any name, in fact the more the merrier, there are temples for Mother Mary and infant Jesus all over India and Hindus often visit the Dhargas of many Muslim saints all over the country like the Ajmer Sharif Dharga and Haji Ali in Mumbai. Buddhism and Jainism have co-existed peacefully with Hinduism for centuries. there are Jewish temples that are centuries old, standing intact and still being used, The Parses who fled Iran centuries ago have made this their home and occupy a very prestigious position in society. there is no history of any Hindu king attacking any country or converting anyone. In fact there is no mechanism to “convert” to Hinduism like a baptism ceremony or any such. So Hindus are not and never have been interested in converting anyone or infact never been obsessed with religion. On the other hand it is well documented in history that Islam has been spread by the sword and even today countries like Afghanistan destroy Bhamian Buddhas. Islam has declared that there is only one god and that is Allah and Mohammed is the last prophet. Herein lies the problem. If i insist that what I say is the only truth and you MUST agree with me, then there is bound to be conflict with others who do not think so. Hindus believe that its perfectly fine if God is referred to as Krishna, Rama, Jesus, Allah, God, Buddha, Mahavira and so on. Hinduism being more than 4000 years old has reached a stage where they are presently laid back about how people perceive god in their minds, Hinduism have never claimed it is the best or most perfect religion, if someone thinks their religion is better Hinduism is ok with that, Hinduism it has no prophets and no one to mediate between the worshiper and God, it believes that God may be formless or have any form that of a human, an animal, an idol, a stone or anything else the worshiper is comfortable with, so why would they have any issue with the concept of Islam? If Hindus are left alone they will leave others alone, for Hindu fundamentalism to be be born and flourish it needs sustained provocation and abuse for centuries and even then only a hand full will defend the faith, that too reluctantly. You see most Hindus dont really care.

  2. “Countries like Afghanistan” did not destroy the Bamiyan Buddha and other timeless sculptures. Countries like Afghanistan mourn their destruction by the Taliban. And while a country like India did not destroy the Babri Masjid, Hindu fanatics in India certainly did, and they did it loudly and proudly in the name of Hinduism — under false pretences of course, since Hindutva is not Hinduism. Neither is Taliban ideology and behaviour equal to or even true to Islam. And Fahmida Riaz wrote this poem precisely to rue the growing Hindutva in India and she is in fact comparing it to the fundamentalism under Zia in Pakistan. So there is little point in attacks on Islam in a comment that follows a poem that pretty much acknowledges moronic and problematic things done in the name of Islam and expresses sorrow that the same unexpected nonsense is happening across the border — where the poet did NOT expect it to happen. Surely the point is to agree that fundamentalism and bigotry are stupid everywhere no matter in which country they occur and no matter which religion or philosophy they misuse and distort in the process. “Most Hindus do not really care” — now THAT part is true. Most Hindus today really do not seem to care about what is being done in their name and in te ename o their religion — that is the heart of the problem. And the essence of this gentle and loving and sad and ironic poem. Time we cared.

    1. I think if the objective is to misquote me then this discussion will serve no purpose, it will digress into meaningless nonsense. If you read again you will find that I have said average Hindus do not care to defend their religion or propagate it. You have made it appear that I have said Hindus do not “what is being done in their name”. Well on the contrary most Hindus wait for an opportunity to jump to the defense of Islam for real and perceived insults to prove their secular credentials so really there is no danger of indifference on that front. The point I’m making here is that the poem, under the excuse of condemning religious bigot on both sides attempts to equate Hinduism with Islam, its just a subtle way of saying, you have it too. The thing is if one is seriously concerned about the rise in Hindu fundamentalism which at the moment is on a minuscule scale then one MUST try to understand the reasons,behind it, address those and then try to find a solution. if we do lip service by “condemning” everything without understand it then it is just as good as treating the symptoms. Your sentence “where the poet did NOT expect it to happen” says it all. Hindus are expected to shut up and put up. Anything to the contrary is looked upon with shock and is condemned. While the world reserves its sympathy for the way the Blacks were treated and the way Jews were treated, somehow it does not want to extend it to the Kashmiri pandits. they are expected to forget forgive and move on. This is just one example of how we are provoking a situation her.

    2. Smriti to understand what happened during babri destruction, you have to understand why it was done & what was need of that? Foundation of babri was laid down by Babar by destroying temple & BABAR was invader who killed innocents. Now when people realized the loss babar did they reclaimed it forcefully as peace talks were on since many years but in vain. Now simply you imagine the moment an religious extremist throw you out of home coz you dont believe in his faith & after requesting & begging for your home you don’t find any solution then you have to fight them to take it back. So if this situation makes you fundamentalist while you talk proudly about taking back your home from a fanatic then its your choice.. Now another fact that you search the history & bet you will never find any single hindu imposed his ideology on others or hindu rulers invaded any land & did such brutal killings like others i.e. Mongolians, britishers & Muslims. Other religions justify their brutality by quoting verses of their holy books & actions of their prophets. Also author have freedom of speech so the others also have same rights. Here lines are her feelings & shows worry of what she has seen but thats the nature of poet & every poetry must be feel to understand poet state of mind. But poetry dont prove as what is written will happen. Here poet has written what she feels will happen which is not the case coz poet dont understand philosophy of other religious institution. Finally I strongly agree to meeravigraham that such acts are not possible in hinduism & whoever chosen path of extremism were left isolated.

  3. Beautiful; very, very well put. And I am sure the original would be even better. Without getting into the nitty-gritty — the ‘tu tu main main’ — thanks for the thought, and hope neither you nor I live in that heaven or hell-hole for long. Let’s stay put on earth, you and us, what say.

  4. Looks like these words are going to be prescient. Look forward to meeting the likes of her in the Liberal Hell some of us will be consigned to, when “heaven” descends upon India!

  5. She is being naive. RSS and Mahasabha predate Taliban. Fascist supremacism is much worse than Zia’s fundamentalism. India will be much worse.

  6. Dear friends, I’m going to go with Shantanu’s avoidance of tu tu mein mein, because ‘is hammam mein sabhi nangay hain!’

  7. Fahmida Riaz – more power to your ink.. just what our nations need – large doses of humanism. else this could be hell in heaven disguised 🙂

  8. Excellent translation – I have hunted in vain before for a translation of the full poem rather than just a snatch of it that Khushwant Singh quoted once. Thanks! Would be great if you could, maybe, add the entire text in Hindi/Devanagari also, if you have it?

  9. Very well said by Fahmida, we should learn from others mistakes and not use them as a excuse to repeat them ourselves…. Thanks a lot for sharing this Shabana.

  10. Nice Poem Fahmida Riaz with enough food for thought, but let me assure you India will never become like Pakistan. There are fundamentalists on both sides but the voice of good over bad/evil is much louder in India, so the ratio. So be assured and pray for both the countries, but definitely more for Pak….

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