PARVEEN Shakir was born on a rainy day in November 1952, in Karachi. By the age of 25, she had made her mark as a poet of substance through mushairas, radio and television appearances. Her first collection, Khushboo, was published in 1977. Her fourth and last book, Inkaar, was published in 1990. In between, Sadburg and Khudkalami appeared. Another collection, Kafe-Aina, was published posthumously in 1996.
Shakir also contributed newspaper columns. Her poetry powerfully and defiantly voiced the deeply suppressed emotions of women living in a society dominated by men and their rules.
Written in the style of popular Urdu fiction mostly associated with women writers, Parveen Shakir: Jaisa Mein Nay Dekhha by Rafaqat Javed is a friend’s tribute to the poet. In spite of the fictional style, the facts about Shakir’s life and the selection of poems are well-researched and painstakingly presented in an uncluttered manner.
An outstanding student throughout, Shakir taught English literature for nine years at Abdullah College in Karachi before joining the civil services. During her government service, she earned scholarships and pursued studies in the West.
The breakup of Shakir’s marriage left her reeling. Her son Murad, nicknamed Geetu, became the centre of her existence. Moreover, being a single working mother and competing professionally and culturally in an intimidating male environment further inflamed her sensitivity toward gender issues facing women.
Although an old admirer of Shakir’s poetry, Rafaqat Javed got to know her in 1988 in New Delhi. Rafaqat’s husband was posted in the Pakistan embassy and Shakir was attending the International Urdu Conference there. The two friends met several noted personalities in India during the visit. Their meetings during the trip with Khushwant Singh, Qurratulain Hyder, F.M. Hussain, Kamna Parshad and Kathak dancer Pushpa Dogra are recounted with interesting details. One instance is the rumour that Dogra was an Indian spy.
During the trip, Shakir also expressed keen interest in meeting a well-known palmist who, according to Javed, was popular among the showbiz celebrities. He forewarned Shakir that she would not be able to complete her fifth book, which she was working on at the time, and that she would die young. He was proved right on both counts.
Javed has carefully picked and included Shakir’s poems corresponding with various stages and events in her life — her early life, marriage, the birth of her only child Murad; her separation from her husband, the allegations, and later the agony of loneliness. It gives a lot of perspective to the poetry and is meticulously done, enriching the book. Shakir received numerous prestigious awards for her work, including the Adamjee Award in 1978 and Pride of Performance in 1991. The translations of her poetry into English, Japanese and Sanskrit began during her lifetime.
‘Najanay kiyun?’ is a brief chapter in the book in which Javed narrates the events of Shakir’s last 24 hours. Shakir could not make it to Javed’s house for a Sunday lunch. However, she surprised Javed by showing up close to midnight along with her son, and asked Javed to go out for ice-cream. The weather was cold. Javed regrets her inability to fulfill that wish. Meanwhile, Shakir also returned some jewellery she had borrowed from Javed, saying “Zindagi ka kya bharosa, kya khabar, Rafaqat?”
The friendship between Javed and Shakir grew stronger with the passage of time. Shakir, usually along with her son Murad, was a frequent guest at Javed’s home. First in New Delhi and later in Risalpur, Peshawar, Kamra and finally Islamabad, where the families eventually settled. Shakir died in a car accident in December 1994, in Islamabad. It was another rainy day. She was 42.
Parveen Shakir: Jaisa Mein Nay Dekha
By Rafaqat Javed
Parveen Shakir Trust