A World of Her Own
By Ada Jafaray
Translated by Aamir Jafarey with Asra Jafarey
Haripur Sungi Press
ISBN: 1000000097219
430pp.

Ada Jafarey is widely regarded by Urdu literary circles as the ‘first lady of Urdu poetry’. She was the recipient of numerous awards, including the President’s Pride of Performance (for literature), the Adamjee Literary Award and the Kamal-i-Fan accolade. This book, A World of Her Own, is a labour of love by her younger son, Dr Aamir Jafarey, written a few years after his mother’s passing away.

A notable Karachi-based medical doctor, Aamir translates his mother’s original Urdu text (from her autobiography Jo Rahee So Bekhabari Rahi) into eminently readable English. Displaying the modesty for which his mother was well-known, in his preface to the book, Aamir acknowledges that his translation cannot do justice to the depth and complexity of his mother’s voice.

However, I am glad that he was as literal and cautious as possible while making the book available to an English-speaking audience, since he retains the fundamental essence of the writing.

The poetess’s life was far from easy or free of challenges. Born in the 1920s into a highly respected Badayun-based Muslim family, the young Ada lost her father when she was just a child. She notes how much grace under pressure her mother demonstrated while raising three daughters and a son without the help of a husband.

Urdu poetess Ada Jafarey’s son posthumously translates his mother’s autobiography into English along with some of her work

Her mother’s family, who owned a couple of gracious, old-world havelis, were kind and supportive. It was people such as Ada’s mother and her maternal grandmother’s brother who encouraged the young girl to read extensively and eventually start writing.

An anecdote states that the aforementioned grandfatherly figure asked the child to explain a difficult Urdu word. When she did so, he rewarded her by gifting her a dictionary, which she treasured all her life.

She meticulously describes the culture of pre-Partition Badayun at the time, making note of what considerate camaraderie would exist between valued servants and the household, as well as recounting how marriage proposals would be accepted in the charming manner whereby the introduction of a piece of cardamom into a paan would seal the deal.

Around the time of Partition, however, tensions arose between Hindus and Muslims. Ada writes of this harrowing experience, which she later compares to the tensions between East and West Pakistan; the latter experience was especially unpleasant from her perspective.

Ada Jafarey
Ada Jafarey

Speaking of charming marriages, once her family finalised her marriage to Nur Jafarey of Allahbad — a highly respected civil servant who held several major posts such as private secretary to the Minister of Finance, M. Shoaib — they permitted him to write the beautiful young woman a letter. Having led a very cloistered life, with only family members, her poems and books for company, Ada was perturbed by this.

Be that as it may, the marriage proved to be a happy and deeply affectionate one. Nur Jafarey was not simply a decent and ethical professional, he was one of those who was spared Ayub Khan’s purge of 303 civil servants some decades later. He was also a loving father to their children Sabiha, Azmi and Aamir, and valued parenthood deeply, perhaps because he had been left motherless at a very young age, the way that Ada had been rendered fatherless.

The poetess’s life was far from easy or free of challenges. Born in the 1920s into a highly respected Badayun-based Muslim family, the young Ada lost her father when she was just a child. She notes how much grace under pressure her mother demonstrated while raising three daughters and a son without the help of a husband... Her mother’s family, who owned a couple of gracious, old-world havelis, were kind and supportive. It was people such as Ada’s mother and her maternal grandmother’s brother who encouraged the young girl to read extensively and eventually start writing.

Prior to Partition, Ada became aware of literary movements such as those involving the Progressive Writers, and her first book of poems, Main Saaz Dhoondti Rahi was received with genuine acclaim.

Through her editor, the young poetess contacted the renowned artist Abdur Rehman Chughtai and requested that he illustrate the cover of her book. The painter complied. She laments that she never had the good fortune of meeting Chughtai, although she and her husband did become acquainted with the brilliant Sadequain many years later.

At that point, the eccentric artist showed Ada a moving calligraphic painting titled ‘Kun Fayakun’, which moved her to tears. Perhaps her sincerity truly impressed this exacting and tempestuous man, because he gifted her the painting, for which he felt she had paid for with tears.

Over the course of the book, a number of Ada Jafarey’s poems are presented, both in transliteration as well as translation. The language is passionate and elegant. Her growing reputation led her to becoming a major member of respected literary circles such as Silsila and Man O Salva. She rarely attended mushairas, however, though she was often requested to do so, preferring to meet with or engage one on one with poets ranging from Jigar Muradabadi to Zehra Nigah and Kishwar Naheed.

The number of famous Pakistanis mentioned in the book is so vast that it reads like a historical Who’s Who list at times, and a thorough perusal will do more justice to the breadth of Ada sahiba’s extensive acquaintance, as opposed to a brief review.

She did meet the legendary Faiz Ahmed Faiz on one memorable occasion, and laughingly recounts that, although he was present alongside the Shah of Iran, people paid more homage to the emperor of Urdu poetry!

Regardless of whether Ada was stationed in modest governmental housing in Rawalpindi or lodgings at Napier Barracks, she made the most of what life offered her, taking delight in simple pleasures such as gardening. While Aamir and his pleasant wife Maha lived with Nur and Ada in Karachi, Sabiha, Azmi and their respective spouses resided in Washington DC and Massachusetts, respectively.

Very early in the book, Ada comments on how much the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress impressed her (and goes as far as to note that she never cared for nor bothered to visit the White House, even though she could have). Always respectful of other cultures, she once braved through a meal at a 300-year-old Japanese inn using chopsticks!

Later in life, she traveled extensively, often with her children. She recounts how she visited places such as Japan, Russia, France and Italy amongst others. Apparently, the young Aamir wanted her to explain to him why virtually all the statues in Italy were naked, and it is funny moments such as these that counterbalance the mention of some of the tragedies she experienced, such as the loss of her first child before Sabiha was born.

Ada also dwells on memorable events that inspired her poetry, such as an epiphany that she experienced when visiting the mosque of Ayub Ansari in Turkey. The simplicity of Aamir’s translation of her work does not detract from the sense of passion and poise that co-exist in her writing.

In spite of the fact that this is an autobiographical account, one gets the sense that Ada often put the safety and security of her loved ones before her own needs. While casually devoting simply a line to receiving a national award, she quirkily devotes an entire page to how the Almighty saved her young daughter from being bitten by a snake.

The beauty of this book lies in the fact that one gets a sense of what this deep-feeling poetess was like in many spheres of her life. As this book implicitly indicates, she was a gracious lady in the most fundamental sense of the word.

The reviewer is associate professor of social sciences and liberal arts at the Institute of Business Administration. She has also authored a collection of short stories Timeless College Tales

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, March 3rd, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

Elections in India
Updated 21 Apr, 2024

Elections in India

Independent accounts and spot reports are at variance with Modi-friendly TV anchors and they do not see an easy victory for the Indian premier.
IHC letter
21 Apr, 2024

IHC letter

THIS is a historic opportunity for the judiciary to define its institutional boundaries. It must not be squandered....
Olympic preparations
21 Apr, 2024

Olympic preparations

THIS past week marked the beginning of the 100-day countdown to the Paris Olympics, with the symbolic torch-lighting...
Isfahan strikes
Updated 20 Apr, 2024

Isfahan strikes

True de-escalation means Israel must start behaving like a normal state, not a rogue nation that threatens the entire region.
President’s speech
20 Apr, 2024

President’s speech

PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari seems to have managed to hit all the right notes in his address to the joint sitting of...
Karachi terror
20 Apr, 2024

Karachi terror

IS urban terrorism returning to Karachi? Yesterday’s deplorable suicide bombing attack on a van carrying five...