Amidst the debate over beef and how religion is seeping into our political discourse, making the rounds of the social media is a poem by Pakistani activist and poet Fahmida Riaz.
The poem titled “Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle” (You turned out to be just like us) draws parallels within the two countries wherein the poet suggests how India is moving towards becoming a bit too much just like Pakistan which has been grappling with the Islamist fundamentalism for years. The poem has been translated by Shabana Mir on her blog.
Speaking to IndianExpress.com over the phone from Pakistan, Riaz says she wrote the poem in 1996 when the BJP first emerged as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha. “I had met a couple of Indian friends in Canada and they told me about the communal atmosphere of the country. The words came flying by,” said Riaz who was born in India. “The condition wasn’t as bad as today,” she adds.
Riaz, who has led a troubled life in Pakistan because of her political ideology and style of writing, sought asylum in India from March 1981 to December 1987 when General Zia-ul-Haq was in power. She returned only when Benazir Bhutto returned to power in 1988.
Though a take on India, the poem is actually about extremism in Pakistan. Through her poem, the poet anticipates “Kaun hai Hindu, kaun nahin hai, tum bhi karogey fatwe jari, wahan bhi hoga mushkil jeena”.
Saddened with the fact that Pakistan is obsessed with religion, she says: “Pakistan has committed a huge mistake by becoming semantic with religion and it is in such a mess. We have been living under a communal sky for a half a century now. It’s sad that India is almost there.”
When she sought asylum in India, she says, the society welcomed her with “open arms”. But she fails to control her emotions while speaking about what has happened in Muzaffarnagar and more recently in Dadri: “Please change the situation, don’t become another Pakistan, don’t live in a hell-hole”.
“I hope my poem can instill some sense into religion-mongers,” she says, adding: “let India become a normal country again.”
Riaz recited the poem in front of an Indian audience on March 8, 2014 at a seminar ‘Hum Gunahgaar Auratein.’
“Tum Bilkul Hum Jaise Nikle” (Translated by Shabana Mir)
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!
Original text of the poem can be read here.