Ghazala's Weblog

a poetic thread to string my words and experiences on…

Being a woman — June 20, 2010

Being a woman

Every woman is a whore

Or a potential whore

What does it matter

what the subjective details of this instance were

When the demons of past

raise their ugly head

they ask for blood

if its not people

at least relationships

the kill is not called for by need

and the dead are not eaten

the corpses are abandoned

left to rot

and fill the deepest niches in our beings

with their morbid stench

and then

I can be accused again

of being a woman.

Translating ghazal — May 27, 2010

Translating ghazal

Another translation that I attempted a few days ago was especially interesting because the original is a ghazal, and I  tried to preserve the ghazal metre (beher) and rhyme scheme (which goes AA, BA, CA… and so on) in my translation. Would be interesting to know what you think of the result 🙂

Ghazal By Ishrat Aafreen

(From We Sinful Women)

Bhook ki karvahat se sard kasile honth

Khoon ugalte sookhe chatkhe pile honth

Tooti choori, thandi larki, baghi umr

Sabz badan pathrai ankhen nile honth

Soona angan tanha aurat lambi umr

Khali ankhen bhiga anchal gile honth

Kachche lafzon ka ye nila zehr

Chhoo jae to moorakh too bhi chhile honth

Zehr hi mangen amrat ras ko munh na lagaen

Baghi ziddi vehshi aur hatile honth

Aisi banjar baten aise karve bol

Aise sundar komal surkh rasile honth

Itna bologi to kya samjhenge log

Rasm yahan ki ye hai larki si le honth


My Translation

made cold by bitterness of hunger, taut lips

chapped, dry, spewing blood, yellow lips

Broken bangles, cold girl, rebellious age

raw bodies, stone eyes, blue lips

forlorn courtyard, lonely woman, stretched life

empty eyes, drenched bosom, wet lips

blue vitriol of unformed, accusing words

if they only touch, you fool, they abrase lips

they demand venom, never even tasting the elixir

rebellious, stubborn, obsessive, adamant lips

such parched exchanges, such bitter words

from such pretty, supple, red, juicy lips

what will people think if you talk so much

tradition here is that girls stitch their lips

The Ghazal in Devnagri script…

भूख की कड़वाहट से सर्द कसीले होंठ

खून उगलते, सूखे, चटखे, पीले होंठ

टूटी चूड़ी, ठंडी लड़की, बागी उम्र

सब्ज़ बदन, पथराई आँखें, नीले होंठ

सूना आँगन, तनहा औरत, लंबी उम्र

ख़ाली आँखें, भीगा आँचल, गीले होंठ

कच्चे लफ़्ज़ों का ये नीला ज़हर

छू जाए तो मूरख तो भी छीले होंठ

ज़हर ही मांगें अमृत रस को मुंह न लगाएं

बागी, जिद्दी, वेहशी और हठीले होंठ

ऐसी बंजर बातें ऐसे कड़वे बोल

ऐसे सुन्दर, कोमल, सुर्ख, रसीले होंठ

इतना बोलोगी तो क्या समझेंगे लोग

रसम यहाँ की ये है लड़की सी ले होंठ

Shakespeare’s sister… — August 2, 2009

Shakespeare’s sister…

A big house

with a study and lawn

A little money

to call my own

Would then my poems be more profound?

and new ideas

my essays expound?

Sylvia Plath…?

crazed by her craft?

Virginia Woolf with stones in her pockets

To remain grounded

and let my dreams defer?

With tradition shall my poems concur?

Write haikus

and of love borrowed

Or like Hughes, let it exlode?

Poem without a title — July 29, 2009

Poem without a title

Am I myself?

Or extension to an idea?

You ask

me to draw my limitations

tighter… more clearly

or else I’m asked

to stretch and stretch

I won’t do either

I’d leave my bounds amorphous

and draw out the argument a little further

The poet Vikram Seth — April 21, 2009

The poet Vikram Seth

Another discovery! Vikram Seth– the poet… sensitive, witty, employing new metaphors, weaving poetry in cultures still unknown to me… enchanting! Really! I read his “A Suitable Boy” as a first year undergrad student. I read it through… in one sitting and marveled at how he was equally well versed with the nuances of all the different cultures and backgrounds that his characters dwelt in. Most of Seth’s poetry, though,  still belongs to realm of personal (like initial-formative work of Faiz?). There is another ‘Faiz-resemblance’ in employing traditional rhyme and meter schemes to conjure up novel imagery. So, am I hoping for too much if I am hoping for Vikram Seth to widen his concerns and turn his gaze deeper into matters beyond ‘the personal’? I think not.  Sample this poem from his collection “A Humble Administrator’s Garden“.

Research in Jiangsu Province

From off this plastic strip the noise
Of buzzing stops. A human voice
Asks its set questions, pauses, then
Waits for responses to begin.

The questions bore in. How much is
The cost and area of this house?
I see you have two sons. Would you
Prefer to have had a daughter too?

And do your private plots provide
Substantial income on the side?
Do you rear silkworms? goslings? pigs?
How much per year is spent on eggs?

How much on oil and soya sauce
And salt and vinegar? asks the voice.
The answering phantom states a figure
Then reconsiders, makes it bigger.

Children and contraceptives, soap
And schooling rise like dreams of hope
To rise with radios and bikes
Round pensions, tea and alarm clocks.

‘Forty square metres. Sixteen cents.
To save us from the elements.
Miscarriage. Pickle with rice gruel
Three times a week. Rice-straw for fuel.

Chicken and fruit trees.’ In Jiangning
Green spurts the psychedelic Spring
And blossoming plum confounds the smell
Of pig-shit plastered on the soil.

Life and production, drought and flood
Merge with the fertile river mud
And maids come forth sprig-muslin drest
And mandarin ducks return to nest.

The Yangtse flows on like brown tape.
The research forms take final shape,
Each figure like a laden boat
With white or madder sails afloat.

Float on, float on, O facts and facts,
Distilled compendia of past acts,
Reveal the grand design to me,
Flotilla of my PhD.

On the obnoxious dreary pillage
Of privacy, imperfect knowledge
Will sprout like lodged rice, rank with grain
In whose submerging ears obtain

Statistics where none grew before
And housing estimates galore,
Diet and wealth and income data,
Age structures and a price inflator.

Birth and fertility projections,
Plans based on need and predilections,
O needful numbers, and half true,
Without you what would nations do?

I switch the tape off. This to me
Encapsulates reality,
Although the beckoning plum-trees splayed
Against the sky, the fragrant shade,

Have something tellable, it seems,
Of evanescence, light and dreams,
And the cloud-busy, far-blue air
Forms a continuous questionnaire

And Mrs Gao herself whose voice
Is captive on my tape may choose
Some time when tapes and forms are far
To talk about the Japanese War,

May mention how her family fled,
And starved, and bartered her for bread,
And stroke her grandson’s head and say
Such things could not occur today.

The poem appeals to the researcher in me, grappling to understand social realities that must not be itemized and counted because they simply cannot be.  I also liked Seth’s poems The They and Homeless from the same collection because these poems have concerns that do not draw only from the angst arising out of relationships and love. They also sort of appeal to my sense of what I consider ‘beautiful poetry’. But I also love a deeply personal Unclaimed. Then again, I think it speaks to my feminist concerns of sex, love and the accompanying emotional sticky-gooey mess.

Unclaimed

To make love with a stranger is the best.
There is no riddle and there is no test. —

To lie and love, not aching to make sense
Of this night in the mesh of reference.

To touch, unclaimed by fear of imminent day,
And understand, as only strangers may.

To feel the beat of foreign heart to heart
Preferring neither to prolong nor part.

To rest within the unknown arms and know
That this is all there is; that this is so.

Daughters and Feminist Mothers — March 6, 2009

Daughters and Feminist Mothers

All my unconsciousness knows about being a woman was learnt from my mother.

I am eerily like my mother in so many ways but I don’t want to be “like her” and try to do things, react to things differently. Even though I wasn’t close to her and my father was my teacher of the world, its politics and the large philosophical questions, it is ultimately, who she was that shapes me as a woman.

I firmly believe that it is not so important to ask how much time was a mother able to spend with her daughter (child?) and what she did specifically in that time but what the mother did with her entire life. How did the mother take on the various aspects of life, what kind of treatment she took from people around her, what were her dreams and how did she go about them…all these the child remembers. The girls learn from this how to be a woman and, I suppose, the boys would learn how to treat a woman.

Arundhati Roy once said somewhere that a feminist is a woman who creates choices for herself. Being a feminist daughter to my mother is not easy. I’m always evaluating my choices and trying to create new ones where none exist. Being a feminist mother to a daughter is no joke either… in fact the whole effect is that of a double whammy. I seem to be constantly swimming against the tide. Regardless of whether I make any progress or not on any front, slogging is a must and being tired is a given.

Why do I feel compelled to go on slogging? Because of my daughter… let me clarify lest you get me wrong. As a feminist, my struggle for equality begins with my own family, in my own house. I struggle with feelings of love and concern, with demands of devotion and decency while I strive for respect as an individual and freedom to engage with what I wish to. I struggle with others’ nostalgia for ‘family values’ and I struggle against unreason and coercion masquerading as ‘respect for elders’. I am forever struggling and contesting established notions in relationships to create options for myself that will create a new legacy for my daughter. With each act of negotiation, confrontation, conciliation and even compromise I am writing the text for her unconscious.

As I struggle, I write the script of my daughter’s struggles.

It is not surprising, then, that it was the feminist struggle that gave birth to the slogan “personal is political”. None other could have.

For women’s day my gift to my daughter and all my (feminist) friends who have daughters, a ‘Lullaby‘ by Fehmida Riaz in translation by Amina Yaqin.

Dearest your countenance like the
moon
You who are a piece of my heart
Dearest I keep on looking
Dearest my eyes are filled by your
image
Dearest I rock you in my cradled arms
Holding you next to my heart
Dearest sparkle of my eye listen,
Your mother’s entire life,
A flowing cataract of tears
Passed by
This bowl has been filled with that clear
water
With that dearest let me wash your
flowerlike hands, lotuslike feet
Touch you with my eyes
I endlessly wept away my sorrowful existence,
your sight stopped the tears
They unfurled and blossomed into
laughter
My frightened motherhood has great
faith in you
It seems like yesterday to me
I can recall that night
When you were born
That night was very black
Tormenting the heart with pain
But a kind of oil lamp began to burn
upon hearing your cry
Your beautiful beautiful limbs
Lovely and fresh, healthy and
prospering
Dearest can’t manage a kiss
Dearest I’m shaking and shivering
I know a wolf stands in my doorway
Consuming my youth, drinking my
blood
The wolf who was raised by Mammon
Who rules the world
We who are cursed from age to age
Because of whom in this world
Thinking is considered a crime
To love-a major sin
It has sniffed the blood of a human
body
It tracks your every move
Dearest cannot sleep at night
Dearest I am constantly awake
Dearest borne of my womb listen
This world belongs to injustice
What skills can I teach you
Women who came and went
Embroidering sprigs on net upon net
Placed food on platter upon platter
Which the wolf ate
Today every kitchen is empty
What can I show you
What skills shall I teach you!
When I take you in my arms
I listen to the call of time
I hear great battle cries
I listen to the beckoning of war
Hearing this again and again
Your skill is “bravery”!
Listen my dear little one
This land, this sky
All the grandeur of peace
The markets full of grain
Until that does not belong to us
We cannot exist in harmony
No one to lean on
There is no other option
Do not fear the wolf
Dear heart! Fight with conviction
Do not ever despair
I will teach you bravery
I will make you into a lioness
Fear will not touch you
Listen my dear new little one
You will not be alone
Your friends will be with you arm in
arm
Your friends, your companions
Will be by your side
Many hands will join together
This is my one wish!

To the memory of that defiant rickshaw ride- summer of 1998 — August 28, 2008

To the memory of that defiant rickshaw ride- summer of 1998

 

This ghazal I present today is an all time favourite of mine. I had picked up an audio cassette, during a college trip to Jabalpur, called Meri Pasand by Pakistani popular singer Nahid Akhtar. I liked this ghazal so much because it was the first time that I had heard a love poem in the voice of a woman. And she was being an active lover- passionate, persuasive and hasty. It was such a refreshing gust of air- I was completely blown over. I was an independent girl and I was in love too! And I couldn’t find a poem which expressed quite how I felt. All the love poetry I found till then was full of patriarchal metaphors and imagery and the feminist poetry I had encountered till then was dark, angry, ominous and about women being at the receiving end of unjust treatment.

So when I found it, it kind of validated what I felt being in love. I was the one who wanted to throw all the restraint to air, being afraid of no one. But Nasir was cautious, hesitant… Sighting couples in love together was not rare in Jamia, but shuttling between our departments everyday in attempts to spend as much time together I would be too tired with all the walking for much else! Nasir wouldn’t share a cycle rickshaw ride on campus with me. That would be like publicly defying some unwritten code of on-campus conduct! But one day I made him do it and did we get stares?!! I loved it!!

So I present my friends this ghazal to you, dedicated to the memory of what was probably the first rickshaw ride of a girlfriend-boyfriend together in the Jamia’s history. To love’s abandon and defiance. I can’t remember who had written the ghazal may be some reader can help… ?

Agli hi gali mein rehta hai
Aur milne tak nahin aata hai
Kehta hai takalluf kya karma
Hum tum mein to pyar ka nata hai

Kehta hai ziyada milne se
waadon ki khalish badh jaaegi
kuchh baatein waqt pe bhi chhodo
dekho who kya dikhlata hai

khud usse kaha ghar aaney ko
aur uske bina mar jaaney ko
aur ab jo who kuchh aamada hua
dil reh reh kar ghabrata hai

kehta hai tumhara dosh na tha
kuchh hamko bhi apna hosh na tha
phir hansta hai, phir rota hai
phir chup ho kar reh jata hai

heres my quick translation of the ghazal.

right in the next street he lives
but doesn’t even come to see me
whats the use of being formal, he says
when we share the connection of love

he says, meeting too often
lends promises more insistent
leave a few things to time
and see what it has to show

I asked him myself to come home,
or else I’ll die, I told him.
And now when he’s inclined himself
my heart is anxious over and over.

He says it wasn’t your fault
I ,too, had lost my wits
He then laughs, and then he cries
after that he goes quiet

More Poems About Poetry — July 24, 2008

More Poems About Poetry

Some more meta-poems… the first is by one of my favourites- Alice Walker. She speaks in this poem of her conversation with muse, during which she describes the creation of poetry as a painful, near death experience before poetry arrives in the garb of “wierd light”. She recounts ways in which poetry talks to poets. Once the muse arrives it nags and nags till the poem is done.

The second meta poem of this post is a short and sweet feminist poem by a poet called Tess Gallagher. This is the first time I have read anything by her but the poem really touched my heart. It reminded me of things I learnt from my mother without actually ever being taught and the eerie similarity between her and me even though she died when I was just an adolescent. The poem also spoke to me because so many times I promise myself to get back to the poem while I immerse myself in this or that mindless chore and a little girl stands next to me too watching me do it all.

And the final one by a master- Dylan Thomas. This poem is sort of a pure meta poem but beautiful nevertheless.

I Said to Poetry

I said to Poetry: “I’m finished
with you.”
Having to almost die
before some wierd light
comes creeping through
is no fun.
“No thank you, Creation,
no muse need apply.
I’m out for good times–
at the very least,
some painless convention.”

Poetry laid back
and played dead
until this morning.
I wasn’t sad or anything,
only restless.

Poetry said: “You remember
the desert, and how glad you were
that you have an eye
to see it with? You remember
that, if ever so slightly?”
I said: “I didn’t hear that.
Besides, it’s
five o’clock in the a.m.
I’m not getting up
in the dark
to talk to you.”

Poetry said: “But think about the time
you saw the moon
over that small canyon
that you liked so much better
than the grand one–and how surprised you were
that the moonlight was green
and you still had
one good eye
to see it with

Think of that!”

“I’ll join the church!” I said,
huffily, turning my face to the wall.
“I’ll learn how to pray again!”

“Let me ask you,” said Poetry.
“When you pray, what do you think
you’ll see?”

Poetry had me.

“There’s no paper
in this room,” I said.
“And that new pen I bought
makes a funny noise.”

“Bullshit,” said Poetry.
“Bullshit,” said I.

By Alice Walker

——————————————————–

Stop Writing the Poem

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.
I’ll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I’ll get back
to the poem. I’ll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there’s a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it’s done.
by Tess Gallagher

——————————————————————-

 

Notes on the Art of Poetry

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books,
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,
such and so many blinding bright lights,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words,
and each of which were alive forever
in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.

by Dylan Thomas

 

 

 

 

Amrita Pritam — July 9, 2008

Amrita Pritam

 

I’ve lived all my life in Delhi and the stereotype of brash, loud, uncultured ‘panju’ is all too familiar but so untrue, like all good stereotypes,  as my current fling with Punjabi poets has shown me. Why do I feel such affinity with Punjabi poets? Probably it’s the proximity of Punjabi to Urdu- idioms and metaphors.

I recently discovered Amrita Pritam’s poetry… I had read a lot about her especially when she passed away in October 2005. And then her poem Chup Ki Saazish struck a chord. Here goes… with my translation…

Chup Ki Saazish

 

raat oongh rahi hai…

kisi ne insaan ki

chhati mein sendh lagaai hai

har chori se bhayanak

yeh sapnon ki chori hai.

 

choron ke nishaan-

har desh ke har sheher ki

har sadak par baithe hein

par koi aankh dekhti nahin,

na chaunkti hai.

sirf ek kutte ki tarah

ek zanjeer se bandhi

kisi waqt kisi ki

koi nazm bhaunkti hai.

 

Conspiracy Of Silence

 

The night is dozing…

from a human being’s chest

someone is trying to steal

scarier than any theft

is the theft of dreams.

 

Signs of thieves-

sit on each road of

each city of each country

but no eye sees

nor does it get startled.

Like only a dog

tied with a chain

at times, it barks

a poem of someone.

 

I read a poet by completely immersing myself in their poetry for a few days. Reading, re-reading, soaking myself in their idioms, nuances of language, recurrent and hence favourite metaphors of the poet till I think I have deciphered them for myself as well as I have the capacity to. I noticed while reading Amrita that most women poets have a tendency to use the body metaphor all too often. I feel that women poets like other women give a disproportionate space and importance in their lives to men/relationships, so much so that their creative energies also tend to get entangled in them all the time. Sex/ body/ garments imagery in poetry is an expression of the reality of most women- the discontent of not having a say or control in relationships especially over the ‘use’ of one’s body. So even when their poetry is an act of defiance against the societal restraint on women’s voice, its metaphors stem from their overwhelming preoccupation with these images. Is this avoidable? Should a woman poet wish to avoid it, what kind of poetry would she then make? Has it been already done-creation of women’s poetry with new metaphors?

 

 I’ve translated below a series of Amrita Pritam’s poems in which she uses the same metaphor but makes quite powerful poetry with subtle subversive, feminist undertones.

 

Amrita Pritam’s life was full of unconventional and defiant choices.  It takes an exceptional person to tread on the path many dread to. Amrita asked for a divorce after 25 years of marriage, openly declared her love for Sahir Ludhyanvi and stayed in a live-in relationship with Imroz for over 40 years till her death.  She was born in a devout Sikh family and her first poems were paean to Sikh gurus but after partition cut her hair short and took to smoking heavily. 

 

Khushwant Singh, who claims that he was closest to Amrita than anyone else besides her partner Imroz and her children, also claims that, “Amrita was not a highly educated woman, not exposed to good writing in languages other than Punjabi. Nor sophisticated enough to add new dimensions to her own.” He tells us that Amrita was not interested in politics. (Amrita Pritam: Queen of Punjabi Literature by Khushwant Singh in The Tribune, Nov. 12, 2005)

 

Read Amrita and decide for yourself.  

 

Aadi Rachna

 

mein- ek nirakar mein thi

 

yeh mein ka sankalp tha

jo pani ka roop bana

aur too ka sankalp tha

jo aag ki tarah numaya hua

aur aag ka jalwa

paani par chalne laga

par weh

pura-aitihasik samay ki baat hai

 

yeh mein ki mitti ki pyas thi

ke usne too ka darya pi liya

yeh mein ki mitti ka hara sapna

ke too ka jangal usne khoj liya

yeh mein ki maati ki gandh thi

aur too ke ambar ka ishq tha

ke too ka neela-sa sapna

mitti ki sej par soys

yeh tere aur mere maas ki sugandh thi

aur yahi haqiqat ki aadi rachna thi

 

sansar ki rachna to bahut baad ki baat hai

 

First Creation

I – there was a formless me.

 

This was the pledge of I

which took the form of water

and the pledge of you

which came into existence like fire

and the radiance of fire

started working on water

but that is about prehistoric times…

 

This was the thirst of the soil of I

that drank up the river of you

this was the green dream of the soil of I

that found the jungle of you.

this was the earthen smell of I

and the passion of the sky of you

that the blueish dream of you

slept on the bed of earth.

This was the smell of my flesh and yours

and this was really the first creation.

 

Creation of the world

is much later than that

 

Aadi Pustak

 

mein thi- aur shayad too bhi…

shayad ek saans ke faasle par khada

shayad ek nazar ke andhere pe baitha

shayad ehsaas ke ek mod par chal raha

par weh

pura-aitihasik samay ki baat hai

 

yeh mera aur tera astitva tha

jo dunya ki aadi bhasha bana

mein ki pehchaan ke akshar bane

aur unhone

aadi bhasha ki aadi pustak likhi

 

yeh mera aur tera milan tha

ham patthar ki sej pe soye

aur tere aankein, honth, ungliyan, por

mere aur tere badan ke akshar bane

aur unhone

us aadi pustak ka anuvaad kiya

 

rigved ki rachna

to bahut baad ki baat hai

 

First book

 

I was – and maybe you too…

Maybe standing at a breath’s distance

maybe sitting at the darkness of a look

maybe walking at the turn of feelings.

But that is

about prehistoric times…

 

It was my existence and yours

which became the first language of the world

letters crafted for recognizing I

letters were crafted for recognizing you

and they

wrote the first book in the first language.

 

This was the union of me and you

we slept on the bed of stones

and eyes, lips, fingers, tips

letters were formed from your body and mine

and they translated the first book.

 

Creation of Rig-Veda

is much after that…

 

 

Aadi Chitr

 

mein thi- aur shayad tu bhi…

 

mein ki chaanv ke bhitar thirakti si chhaya

aur too bhi shayad ek khaaki saa saya

andheron ke bhitar andheron ke tukde

par weh

pura-aitihasik samay ki baat hai

 

raaton aur pedon ka andhera tha

jo teri aur meri poshak thi,

ek sooraj ki kiran aai

veh dono ke badan mein se guzri

aur pare patthar par ankit ho gaee

sirf ango ki golai thi

chandni ki nokein

yeh duniya ka aadi chitr tha

patton ne hara rang bhara

baadlon ne doodhiya, ambar ne saleti

aur phoolon ne laal, peela, kasni

 

chitron ki kala to bahut baad ki baat hai…

 

First Picture

I was and maybe you too…

I a flickering shadow inside shade

and maybe you an ashen shadow too

pieces of dark inside darknesses

but that’s about prehistoric times…

 

There was darkness of nights and trees

which was your attire and mine,

a ray of sun came

it passed through both our bodies

and made an imprint on a stone a bit away.

There was only the curve of body parts,

moonlights’ sharp ends

this was the first picture of the world,

leaves filled in green colour

clouds-milky, sky-grey

and flowers- red, yellow, .

 

The art of pictures

is much after that…

 

 

Aadi Sangeet

 

mein thi- aur shayad too bhi…

 

ek aseem khamoshi thi

jo sookhe patton ki tarah jharti

ya yoon hi kinaron ki ret ki tarah ghulti

par weh

pura-aitihasik samay ki baat hai…

 

mein ne tujhe ek mod par aawaaz di

aur jab toone palat kar aawaz di

to hawaon ke gale mein kuchh thartharaya

mitti ke kan kuchh sarsaraye

aur nadi ka paani kuchh gungunaya

ped ki tehniyaan kuchh kas si gaeen

patton mein se ek jhankar uthi

phoolon ki konpal ne aankh jhapkai

aur ek chidiya ke pankh hile

yeh pehla naad tha

jo kaanon ne suna tha

 

sapt suron ki sngya

to bahut baad ki baat hai…

 

First Music

I was- and maybe you too…

There was unlimited silence

which would shed like dry leaves

or just slip away like sand on banks

but that’s

about the prehistoric times…

 

I called out to you at a bend

and when you called out back

something shivered in the winds’ throats

specks of dirt rustled a bit

and the river water hummed something,

branches of the tree tightened a little

a tinkle rose from the leaves

shoots of flowers blinked their eyes

and the wings of birds flapped

this was the first sound

that was heard by ears.

 

The name of the octave

was much later than that…

 

 

Aadi Dharm

 

meine jab too ko pehna

to dono ke badan antardhyan the

ang phoolon ki tarah goonthe gaye

aur rooh ki dargaah par

arpit ho gaye…

 

too aur mein havan ki agni

too aur mein sugandhit saamagri

ek doosre ka naam hotontho se nikla

to wahi naam pooja ke mantra the,

yeh tere aur mere

astitva ka ek yagya tha

dharm karm ki katha

to bahut baad ki baat hai…

 

First Religion

 

When I wore you

the bodies of both were in a trance

body parts got woven together like flowers in a garland

and on the grave of spirit

were offered…

 

You and I fire of sacred service

You and I scented offerings

lips uttered each other’s name

so those names were the chants of a prayer,

this was the sacrament of

existence of you and me

stories of religion and karma

is much after that…

 

 

Aadi Qabila

 

mein ki jab rut gadraai thi

maans ke paudhe par baur aaya tha

pawan ke aanchal mein mehek bandh gayee

too ka akshar lehlahaya tha

mein aur too ki chhanv mein

jan ‘veh’ aa kar nishchint so gaya

yeh ‘veh’ ka ek moh tha

genhu ka dana ham ne baant liya

‘veh’ sehej tha, swabhaavik tha,

mein ki aur too ki tripti

 

qabilon ki katha

to bahut baad ki baat hai…

 

First Tribe

 

When the season of I matured

the plant of flesh started flowering

fragrance tied on the flowing scarf of breeze

the letter of you danced

 

In the shade of ‘I’ and you

when ‘He’ came and slept without any worries

it was the love of ‘He’

both of us divided the grain of wheat

‘He’ was easy, natural,

satiation of I and of you

 

The story of tribes

is much later than that…

 

 

Aaadi Smriti

 

kaya ki haqeeqat se lekar-

kaya ki aabroo tak mein thi,

kaya ke husn se lekar-

kaya ke isq tak too tha

 

ueh mein akshar ka ilm tha

jisne mein ko ikhlaq diya

yeh tu akshar ka jashn tha

jishne ‘veh’ ko pehchaan liya,

bheymukt mein ki hasti

aur bheymukt too ki, ‘veh’ ki

manu ki smriti

to bahut baad ki baat hai…

 

First Memoirs (smriti)

 

From the reality of body-

to the honour of body was I,

from the beauty of body-

to the love of the body was you.

 

It was the knowledge of the letter I

Which gave etiquettes to I.

It was the celebration of You

which recognized He,

fear-free existence of I

and of fear-free you, he.

 

Manu Smriti (memoirs)

was much later than that…

 

 

 

 

We Sinful Women — April 8, 2008

We Sinful Women

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.