Kishwar Naheed's latest literary offering graces our midst at a juncture when Urdu poetry finds itself ensnared in a conundrum. The question looms before us: does contemporary Urdu poetry bear any relevance to the issues and the ever-evolving tapestry of our times? Not long ago, the poetic landscape seemed divided along clear lines of thought and purpose. Some poets passionately channelled their verses to articulate thoughts and societal dilemmas; they espoused well-defined ideologies that held steadfast. Within this framework, we discerned two facets: one rooted in literary musings, and the other steeped in academic contemplation. By the latter, I refer to disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, politics, sociology and other sciences, each leaving its imprint on literature. Philosophical ruminations occasionally delved into poetry's depths, sometimes venturing into mysticism, on occasion embracing the social, and at times, plunging headlong into the political.
Conversely, there existed a perspective that revered literature as an autonomous entity, impervious to external influences of politics, society, or civil affairs. In this view, literature operated in splendid isolation, devoid of any tether to political, social, or extraneous forces. It floated aloof from its temporal moorings, indifferent to the challenges of the age. In this realm, meaning derived its essence from the exploration of imagination, ardour, experience and sentiment, and the unravelling of semantic layers.
Yet, a closer scrutiny of the current tide of new poetry reveals an emergent pattern: the entire tapestry of meaning seems interwoven with abstract expressions and narcissistic sentiments. Herein lies a conscious aversion to collective contemplation of problems, as if these issues were personal rather than societal. It is as though there exists no imperative to contemplate them collectively, as if these concerns bear no relevance to the poet's own existence. Amidst this milieu, Kishwar Naheed stares unflinchingly into the eyes of her epoch; her poetry resonates with the zeitgeist, an unyielding voice echoing through yesterday and undiminished today.
Her poetry embodies the intellectual dimension of contemporary issues in myriad forms. Naturally, the problems faced by each era differ markedly. Much has evolved since she first wove her verses and recited her poems half a century ago. The demands have transformed, the battlegrounds shifted, and the methods of strife have undergone a metamorphosis. Hence, perhaps her poetry today articulates itself differently, in response to a shifting world.
A meticulous examination of Kishwar Naheed's poetry, from "Lab-e-goya" (un-muted lips) to "Taar Taar Perahan," (tattered attire) reveals a gradual evolution. Vocabulary shifts, metaphors transform, and styles mutate. Ghazal dominates at certain junctures, while prose poems reign supreme at others. These variations in form and style may well mirror her evolving experiences. It seems an intentional effort—she strives to synchronize her expression with the ever-changing world around her. Perhaps this stands as her literary creed, an ethos she cannot renounce.
Although Kishwar Naheed occupies a literary pedestal where the judgments of critics scarcely ruffle her, I, a devoted admirer of her poetry, feel compelled to counter some critics' assertions. It is a common expectation for many to envision female poets, even one as seasoned as Kishwar Naheed, eternally penning verses dripping with sweet, emotive prose. Yet, she defied this stereotype years ago. Her inaugural collection, "Lab-e-goya," (un-muted lips) marked the emergence of maturity within her poetry, precisely when the world anticipated the emotional and romantic. The maturity I speak of dismantled the conventions imposed upon women writers. Kishwar Naheed was perhaps the first poetess to deliver a resounding blow to the feudal norms enveloping women. She declared that a woman's destiny couldn't be defined by chains, that slavery shouldn't masquerade as sanctity, and that a woman should not be seen as pure simply because she bowed her head. It was an act of audacious expression. Her intent wasn't to provoke or sensationalize, a tactic some employ solely for shock value; instead, hers was a stance of rebellion, and her poetry served as the clarion call for this insurgency.
Another criticism often levelled at her poetry asserts a sense of incompleteness, as though her verses were hastily composed, left incomplete, untouched after the initial writing, bereft of revisions. I contend that understanding Kishwar Naheed's style necessitates considering her prose poems. It wouldn't be far-fetched to claim that her individual poems are part of a grander, ongoing composition. Each poem, it seems, is but a fragment of a larger whole. She may very well be composing a singular, unending poem—one titled "life." For Kishwar Naheed, life and poetry are inseparable; they are one and the same.
The late Asif Farrukhi once opined that Kishwar Naheed's life and poetry perpetually thrived at an intense pitch, marked by perpetual disquiet. Long ago, when she embarked on her poetic journey, she confronted patronizing attitudes from male poets and critics, common toward women poets and their craft. Kishwar Naheed, however, refused to acquiesce to such treatment. If she didn't capitulate then, it's inconceivable to imagine her yielding now. Many may have raised objections to her poetry, yet her loyal readership remains undiminished. The sharpness of her verses impels us to confront the reality she presents. Our response, it seems, has been unduly delayed. It is my conviction that we should not tarry any longer.