A Poet, a Pakistani and a Person …

Posted on March 21, 2019. Filed under: Pakistan |

An edited write up of Raza Naeem’s review carried in The Wire – ‘

The appetite for seeing you silent
Is even emerging from the graves
But you speak!

For to listen is prohibited here
The passions which had terrified me
Now in their expression
I see others tremble with fear’

Kishwar Naheed is one of the greatest Urdu poets of the 20th century, and perhaps Pakistan’s greatest living poet.

She will turn 80 in 2020 and this year celebrates the 50thanniversary of the publication of her iconic ghazal collection, Lab-e-Goyaa (‘Speaking Lips’).

Over her long journey as a poet and feminist, she has contributed many iconic poems which have entered the feminist history of Pakistan: ‘Pehla Sufaid Baal’ (‘The First White Hair’), ‘Karre Kos’ (‘The Stiff Two Miles’), ‘Clearance Sale’, ‘Hum Gunaahgaar Auratein’ (‘We Sinful Women’) and ‘Men Kon Hoon’ (Who Am I).

Her iconic autobiography, Burri Aurat ki Katha (‘The Story of a Bad Woman’), is not just the autobiography of a poet but the story of a whole generation.

Her latest collection of poetry, Shireen Sukhani se Paray (‘Away from Sweet Talk’) contains many poems which especially relate to the plight of the contemporary Pakistani woman – or any woman for that matter.

Poems about the defiance of Hazrat Zainab in the court of Yazid, Sheema Kirmani’s own defiance at the Sehwan Sharif shrine, on the female victims of Karo Kari, a dirge for the benighted Zainab Ansari of Kasur, an ode to Asma Jahangir, the plight of palace maids and surrogate mothers, her own foster-mother and much else.

Her nearly-forgotten poem, ‘Qibla-Ruu Guftagu’ (‘Conversation facing the Kaaba’) should have been the anthem for the ‘Aurat March on International Women’s Day’ this year:

‘That they who became afraid even of young girls
What a petty existence they possess
Proclaim in every city
Have the spirit, keep this faith
That they who became afraid even of young girls
They indeed are petty themselves’

While this piece cannot do justice to Kishwar Naheed’s true literary stature, it’s really a sad day when Pakistan’s greatest poet and feminist icon and some of her would-be successors in the 21st century are today standing at daggers drawn.

The trigger: Naheed’s critical comments.

I believe some of the more vocal radicals of the Aurat March need to critically engage with the voluminous work produced by Kishwar Naheed over more than 50 years, beyond her iconic poem ‘Hum Gunaahgaar Auratein’; there is apparently also a language disconnect, since Naheed has produced her work almost entirely in Urdu, while most of the Aurat March radicals, operate primarily in English.

As Najiba Arif says in her wonderful poem ‘Kishwar Naheed ko Zinda Rehna Chahiye’ (Kishwar Naheed Must Live):

‘Kishwar Naheed is a dense tree
Which grows on the road on its own, all by itself
And extends its shadow across the way
Exhausted travelers rest under its shade
Birds’ nests hang from its branches
In which their eggs and progeny are protected
Songs echo when the wind passes through its leaves
Its branches rustle in silence
And whisper
Look, we have held the moon
If you want you can go far in the moonlight
Its trunk is sunk in the earth
Its roots have sprouted from the soil
And go within the deep waters

Kishwar Naheed has no daughter
But she knows how to be a  mother to one

Kishwar Naheed is alone
But she knows how to give support

Kishwar Naheed is a woman
And can speak the truth
Can take poison
Can adorn the gallows

Kishwar Naheed is that spirit which must live.’

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