It’s a joy to see that number of women composing poetry in Punjabi language has been increasing steadily. The female voice has long been absent from the poetic field notwithstanding the fact that women have a big role in creating folk songs.

Men especially mystically inclined have also borrowed/employed female voice for their poetic expressions.

Sarwat Mohiuddin brings onto the cultural stage a voice that is soft yet mature, poised yet provoking that works on you softly. Sarwat, apart from being poet, is also a writer and translator. She is tri-lingual; she writes in Punjabi, Urdu and English. Her latest collection of poems has been published by Sulaikh Publishers, Lahore. Her poems encompasses various social and existential experiences. Her poem on honour killing vividly depicts women’s predicament. “I”, the female in the poem seems to have risen from the dead. She reminisces in the form a soliloquy the life she was forced to live before being short dead on mere suspicion of asserting to be herself. The sound of a bullet followed by deep silence was what her destiny was. The sound symbolises the male born of patriarchy and silence the insignificance of women in patriarchal structure.

An air of urban sophistication marks all her poems even when she talks of experiences produced in conditions of violence. For such an expression she has evolved a diction which is close to everyday language and natural speech and yet it sounds poetically enriched. In another poem a woman talks of her experience of having grown old. When she has grown-up children and grandchildren, she is politely treated as if she points to the last vestiges of a vanished world. She is seen as an anachronism in their seemingly new world. The poem ends with a bang: “…My children born only yesterday say to me that a new era has dawned/Mom, think the way people do these days/Then I look at the growing up children of my children/And I smile inwardly.” It is not that all Sarwat has to offer is specific female experience in a male dominated culture. She is well aware of what is happening around and what has changed. A short poem in the very beginning hints at it with a subtle beauty: “In the desolate streets somewhere can be heard at times a few lost laughs.”

Desolate streets remind us of the old city and the life it had. They are desolate precisely because of the life they supported has vanished. The laughs symbolise the joyful noise of the people the streets were filled with in the days gone by when community instinct was strong and bonding was the order of the day. Lost laughs imply loss of happiness in emerging consumer individual-centric society.

Sarwat’s poetry is rid of rural idiocy which mars the expression of so many poets of our language. It is simple, enjoyable and rewarding.

Bahawalnagar-based Afzal Rajput is a poet and fiction writer. He already has a number of books to his credit. His latest book of verses “Nilofar” has been brought out by Book Home, Lahore. The book carries introduction by poet and fiction writer Saleem Shehzad and blurb by famous poet Zafar Iqbal. The former writes: “Afzal Rajput not only challenges injustice, coercion and oppression in our contemporary society but also tries to strongly urge the people to take a step forward in the process of resistance. This act distinguishes him from other poets and makes him stand out as a rebellious voice.”

The latter says in the blurb: “A number of Afzal’s poems are what, I think, I should have written. But if I could, I wouldn’t have as it is only he who could done it. Apart from love other conundrums reveal themselves when looked at through lens of love.” Both the gentlemen are on the dot; love and cry for justice are two themes which run throughout the book. They overlap in his poems. The existential and the social go together they rather get intertwined to readers’ surprise. It is Afzal’s skill honed by his poetic practice that he can easily weld experiences which apparently look disparate in ordinary life.

A remarkable thing about poetry is that magic intrinsic to it makes it possible to connect the things disconnected and discover their links that lie underneath the surface.

Afzal’s love poems are intense, passionate and uninhibited. The poet seems to be very tactile. Each poem tries to capture the sensual and sensuous in concrete linguistic construct. The expression is softly taut that at times presents nostalgia as current experience. It combines a touch of folklore with modern expression. Another pleasant aspect of his poetry is his celebration of what our homeland offers; birds, crops, rivers, deserts, plants, and flowers which make a landscape with a marbled effect. His is enjoyable poetry that evokes love as well as sense of defiance.

Paying tribute to a legendary defiant poet Ustad Daman he writes: “I am neither unaware of my end nor my understanding is a poor orphan/I am a partridge of the wild whose song’s value is a bullet.”

We have another poet Saghir Tabessum from Bahawalnagar. His fourth collection of poetry titled Ik Khayal Samundron Dungha has been published by Print Media Publications, Lahore. It contains different genres such as hymns, poems, laments, songs, ghazal, tappay (three liners) and haiku.

Variety of genres employed by Saghir does not imply that expression in each genre necessarily carries specific experience intrinsic to it. One finds different expressions of same experience shaped by romance, social consciousness and celebration of love, real and imagined, found and lost. He seems as concerned about the disappearing trees in the Rohi desert as he is about a deadly bomb hurled at a mosque by a religious terrorist. His anguish at the Partition of the Punjab which divided diverse faith communities evokes soulful sadness and a feeling of irretrievable loss. His poetry stands as a kind of bridge between the traditional and the modern. His love for the landscape he lives surrounded by alleviates the pains he otherwise carries: “I emerged from the womb of the Rohi desert/Wedded the thorny trees”. His poetry can be accessible to all. — soofi01@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

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