The Chador and the Walled Homestead
My Lord, what shall I do with this black chador?
Why do you (many thanks, though) bestow it upon me?
I am not in mourning that I should wear it
to show my sorrow and grief to the world,
nor am I stricken with disease that I should drown myself in the
darkness of its folds
not a sinner or a felon
that I should be forced to mark my forehead with its black ink—
not meaning to be impudent, my Lord.
If my life be spared,
I would with folded hands point out,
O noble master,
that in your perfumed chamber lies a corpse,
decomposing—who knows, how long it has lain there—
that needs your compassion.
Sit, show it a little kindness.
Don’t give this black chador to me—
cover the shroudless corpse in your chamber with this black sheet,
for the stench that rises from it
pants down every street,
strikes its head against thresholds and doors,
tries to cover its nakedness.
Listen, its heartrending screams
conjure strange illusions.
They, who are naked even in their chadors—
who are they? You must know.
My Lord, surely you recognize them?
These are concubines!
Hostages, who remain lawful for the night,
and at dawn are sent away.
These are bondswomen!
Raised in status by the planting of your Honor’s holy seed.
These are the household ladies
who, to offer the tribute of their wifehood,
stand row after row awaiting their turn.
These are mere girls,
on whose head, when my Lord places his affectionate hand,
their virginal blood flows to bring color to his gray beard.
In my Lord’s perfumed chamber, life has wept its course in blood—where this body lies
the slow murderous centuries have flaunted this bloodcurdling spectacle.
Put an end to the show!
Cover it up, my Lord!
The black chador has come to be not my need but your own,
for on this earth my existence is not simply a sign of lust.
My intellect sparkles on the grand avenues of life,
the sweat on the earth’s face gleams with my labor.
These walled homesteads, this chador, the rotting carcass—they can have these blessings.
In open air, with sails spread wide, my ship will ride the seas.
I am the traveling companion of the new Adam
who has won my trusting fellowship.
Poem Credit: Published in Modern Poetry of Pakistan (Dalkey Archive Press)
Edited by Iftikhar Arif
Translations Edited by Waqas Khwaja
Fahmida Riaz (b. 1946) is a well known Urdu writer, poet, and feminist of Pakistan.
Among her works are Pathar Ki Zaban,Badan darida, Dhoop, and Kya tum poora chand na dekho ge. Riaz also translated selected works of Rumi and Farogh Farrukhzad.
She is head of the Urdu Dictionary Board of Pakistan.