Being the oldest genre of literature, poetry has a wide spectrum that can accommodate many other forms of literature, including memoirs, and it depends on the poets how much they can stretch and explore this form.

Ayesha Manzoor Wattoo has tried to do that in her book, Petals in My Diary. In the preface to the book, she writes that “all the poems have a story behind them”. She gave her book the subtitle of “a memoir book of poems”.

“I wanted to do journalism but then I joined Pemra (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) in 2009. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it was work from home and there were no other activities while social engagements were very few. Under these circumstances, I started writing poetry.”

Ayesha has had a knack for writing since her childhood and she says that she used to write her diary when she was nine or ten years old and it became her daily routine.

“In 2020, I started jotting down notes in my diaries, my childhood memories in small notes of poetry. When I wrote the first ones, I showed them to some people in my family and friends who encouraged me to write more. I started getting small chapbooks published. I met Daniyal of Ferozsons who encouraged me to publish my book.”

About the poems in her book Ayesha said; “Most of the poems are about my childhood memories, the places where I lived my life, where I grew up and the people who surrounded my life then.”

Besides memories, another strain in the poems of Ayesha is of mysticism, which is manifested quite strongly and blends with her memories. There is a poem titled Pakpattan which describes a small girl, perhaps the poet herself, in the city of Punjabi classic poet and mystic Baba Farid. The poet’s childhood appears in these lines, “In this city of saints and shrine / a little girl was lost / walking up and down the streets of the shrine”.

Ayesha says that when she was in the village, she used to go to the shrine frequently with her family. “I must have been seven or eight years old then but the memories of that time, both pleasant and unpleasant, got printed on my mind.”

Another poem, To My Village Friends, describes her friends who were somewhere left behind as life took Ayesha to new avenues. With the passage of time, a lot in the nature of friendship.

“After years I saw some of you today/ how life has treated you / I have changed / and you are still the same,” she writes in the poem.

“During my childhood, it was common that children were given in care of maternal or paternal family members who needed them. When I was two or three years old, my maternal grandmother passed away and my mother sent me to my khala near Arifwala as she was all alone. My poems, Pakpattan and To My Village Friends, are about that time.”

There is a poem about the poet’s stepmother in the first person describing her relationship with her stepchildren.

“The young lilies sometimes look sad/ as they are new to my garden / they look for their gardener but they find me.”

“My Husband’s Children is about my stepmother, the first wife of my father, an unforgettable person of my life. People liked it very much. When my father (former Punjab chief minister Mian Manzoor Wattoo) read it for the first time he could not get it. However, it moved him to tears on the second reading a lot.”

She says she wanted to write about my late stepmother or make a film on her. The film could not be made but her feelings and views came out in poetry.

There is another poem Dead Silence which Ayesha had written on the first Eid after the death of her brother-in-law. “After him, the house was never the same.”

Though Ayesha is more into reading biographies and fiction, yet she surprisingly found her voice in poetry. She says she has not been influenced by any writer.

Ayesha still writes diaries and some of them are in poetic form. “There are things that I can’t openly talk about and in such cases, I take help from poetry and write such things in poetic form,” she says about the triggers behind her poetry.

“Our upbringing was in such a way that we could not talk to our father openly. Whenever we had to say anything to our father, we would write him a letter as we could not face him. Perhaps the same thing triggered me to write poems as in poetry where one can say things indirectly in metaphors.”

She was the first girl in her family who completed her Master’s. “People think that it’s easier for the children of politicians to grow in careers. But it’s the opposite of that in real life. They can’t fail if they adopt a career. My journey was long and my book is about that journey.”

Ayesha is unsure about her future in poetry. She says the book just happened but she does not know what the future holds in store for her. However, she is still writing poetry.

Born in Okara and raised in Lahore, Ayesha Manzoor Wattoo got early education in her village before moving to the provincial capital. She did her Matric from the Esena Foundation School and studied literature during her graduation. She completed her Master’s in Development Journalism from the Punjab University in 2002. She is currently working as the regional director of Pemra in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2022

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