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Cuts, bruises and wounds

January 06, 2010

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It could be a coquetry of style, a sulking mood pervades through Kishwar Naheed's widely read Urdu column. Even her celebratory pieces are not without this sense of whining. There's nothing demure about it; this is how she likes to underline her comment, add emphasis without rhetoric. And isn't she entitled? Having made many machos supine and apologetic and deflated many egos she deserves to be humoured. A choice of these spiked columns she has now published as 'Zakhm bardashta - Pakistan kahani which though should have perished with the day, as all newspaper columns in principle must, make a welcome second curtain for readers who may not have read them on the broad sheet. As comment on the goings-on in the land of the pure they even have a historical importance as Kishwar Naheed is on equal terms with the high and the mighty and

the bold and the beautiful; and on top of that gives the impression that she knows quite a few things but won't tell us. Her columns are therefore both informative and engaging and having read one you may be provoked to read another to know if among her vast connections there's one she doesn't know something interesting about.

Through innuendo and subtle suggestion about evenings she spent with the poets, intellectuals and the literati, Faiz, Sufi, Fraz and the rest of them, the ministers and the others in power, she intrigues you with hints as to the kind of men and women they were. She forgives the ones who have passed away and mourns their loss -- Naushad, Shakeel Badayuni, Kaifi, Sahir and and ... but the living? Oh! How they burden the delicate waist of planet earth! There are accounts of great evenings in Lahore, Bombay and Delhi and closer home of the lawyers struggle for restoring the chief justice, of the PPP under its new head and those sidelined who used to be close to BB. And all of this that could make a dozen columns in another writer's hand she is able to weave into a single piece. The reader is splintered, sliced into strips of information, becomes a bin of persons, places and things and learns who said what, but before he is told why and where, Kishwar moves on to the next scene in China where she was attending a women's conference or to Karachi, the venue of a seven day confab on Urdu, into which somehow a long comment on the poet Jaun Elia's philosophical disdain barges in. It's like a tie -and -dye muslin scarf being spread open.

By not remaining focused on one theme, Kishwar's column opens the window on a wide view of the landscape that is splashed with her concerns about society, politics, the cost of onions and okras, governance, culture, arts and her own last trip to South Korea where widows of writers sell their late husbands' books on wayside kiosks. I remember having described her sparkling essays in an earlier book (probably Shanasayan Ruswayan) as kaleidoscopic -- not just for their varied content but for their shifting themes drifting into off shoot lanes and losing the way. “What should I do” she asks in one column, again hurt and sulking. “I must know the truth, and writing is my compulsion.”

SCHEHERZADE Travellers of the beaten track as we happen to be, we cannot but ignore the newcomers and keep celebrating anniversaries of ancient monuments and mausoleums. This is not going to open any new prospects for us or advance the cause of literature in any way. This eternal drilling of the buried treasures and ignoring the new crop of flowers sprouting in the grass will stunt the spring. This may already have happened. Yet like the dandelions that refuse to be disheartened new poets show up every now and then making their claim to recognition. Talat Farooq has recently published her second book of verse, Scheherzade, and Shabnam Shakeel, whose judgment should be trusted, feels both her thought and craft have evolved. Unlike some better known poets who have used feminism to launch themselves Talat has trekked her own path, ignoring the tight rope that stretches between this pole and the feminine psyche. The two poems in this collection that raise the issue of women's rights, not as an agitator of the cause but as a concerned citizen are Violence against Women and Samia Naz.

Her field of inspiration is indeed wide responding as she does to scientific concepts like parallel universes, to mystic thoughts (yeh jaam mein hai maekada/ya meikaday meinjaam hai) such as expressed in her poem Aurat. The contemporary world of her immediate experience makes its own claim on her poetic response. There are poems on democracy, the visit of President Bush to Pakistan, the lawyers movement, the 2008 elections, the PCO, Benazir's assassination -- territories beyond the domestic threshold that women are not supposed to wander into. Two faces of her encounter with society and her response feature in her poems Zanae Momina which is the female alter ego of the Mardae momin and in Saad ke Naam in which she advises her son against joining the rat race.

But in her own back lawn of tender femininity poems like Compulsion, Invitation and Depression do not fail to register the gender mark Mein Aaenon mein ghir kar rehgaee houn/ Mera chehra toe hai per dil kahan hai?