It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our lives
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

It is we sinful women
while those who sell the harvests of our bodies
become exalted
become distinguished
become the just princes of the material world.

It is we sinful women
who come out raising the banner of truth
up against barricades of lies on the highways
who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold
who find that tongues which could speak have been severed.

It is we sinful women.
Now, even if the night gives chase
these eyes shall not be put out.
For the wall which has been razed
don’t insist now on raising it again.

It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our bodies
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

The grass is really like me

The grass is also like me
it has to unfurl underfoot to fulfil itself
but what does its wetness manifest:
a scorching sense of shame
or the heat of emotion?

The grass is also like me
As soon as it can raise its head
the lawnmower
obsessed with flattening it into velvet,
mows it down again.
How you strive and endeavour
to level woman down too!
But neither the earth’s nor woman’s
desire to manifest life dies.
Take my advice: the idea of making a footpath was a good one.

Those who cannot bear the scorching defeat of their courage
are grafted on to the earth.
That`s how they make way for the mighty
but they are merely straw not grass
-the grass is really like me.

By Kishwar Naheed (Pakistan, 1940) translated from Urdu to English by Rukhsana Ahmed

 

Kishwar Naheed is the first poet I read in whose poetry I saw a reflection of my life experiences as a young woman. Her poetry was my first real introduction to the ideas of feminism as well as the kind of poetry that goes beyond Aestheticism. I can very clearly mark the beginning of my interest in subversive poetry with my reading of the collection of Pakistani feminist poets translated by Rukhsana Ahmed, among whom Kishwar was my clear favourite. The book had the original poems in Urdu script along with the English translation and read it for weeks over and over again.

 

Then years passed and I understood feminism a little better and appreciated poetry a bit more… I happened to hear Kishwar Naheed at an Indo-Pak mushaira organised by the Jamia Millia Islamia on 01.9.2007. She sat just two rows further down the aisle in the auditorium but I couldn’t muster enough courage to go upto her… what would I say? Would she patiently hear out what her poetry means to me? If she was curt or rude it might spoil the whole heady/romantic thing I have got going with mixing her poetry, urdu, feminism and subversive poetry of people around the world… no… it was too huge a risk and in hindsight I feel good about not taking it, though at the time I felt tortured as I’ve never felt before. After all individual artists are not just the art they have created but more (or less?). Engaging with the artist and engaging with her art may not necessarily be similar experiences.

 

Heres a few lines of the original “we sinful women” (hum gunahgaar auratein hein)

 

Ye hum gunahgaar auratein hein

Jo ahl-e jabba ki tamkinat se

Na rob khaayein

Na jaan bechein

Na sar jhukaayein

Na haath jodein

Ye hum gunahgaar auratein hein

Ke jin ke jismon ki fasl bechein jo log

Voh sarfaraaz thahrein

Nayaabat-e imtiyaaz thahrein

Voh daavar-e ahl-e saaz thahrein

Ye hum gunahgaar auratein hein

Ke sach ka parcham utha ke niklein

To jhoot se shaah-raahein ati mile hein

Har ek dahleez pe sazaaon ki daastaanein rakhi mile hein

Jo bol sakti theen voh zubaanein kati mile hein

 

From the same collection I was struck by these lines by Ishrat Afreen (my rough translations)…

 

Mera qad

Mere baap se ooncha nikla

Aur meri ma jeet gayi

 

My height

Surpassed that of my father

And, my mother won

 

 

And …

 

Mere dil ke nihan-khane mein

Ek tasveer hai meri

Khuda jaane use kisne banaayaa

Kab banaayaa tha

wo poshida hai mujh se

Aur mere doston se bhi

Kabhi bhooley se lekin

Mein use gar dekh leti hoon

Usey khud se milaaoon

Toh mera dil kaanp jaata hai

 

In the deepest chamber of my heart

There is a picture of me

Only God knows who made it

and when

it is hidden from me

and my friends

if I ever see it  even by mistake

and compare it with myself

my heart gives a shudder.