Poetess of ‘No’

Raza Naeem reflects on 50 years of Kishwar Naheed’s ‘Lab-e-Goya’

Poetess of ‘No’
The theme of a great part of the world’s poetry is the woman’s self. Ishtar of the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates, Naheed and Shireen of Iran, Leila of Arabia, Isis and Cleopatra of Egypt, Sita and Draupadi of the valley of the Ganges and Yamuna, Helen of Greece, Beatrice of Italy, Heer of Punjab and Sohni and Sassi of Sindh – it seems there are countless fictional and historical women whose songs have been sung by poets. But perhaps when the woman whom we know as a verse personified from head to foot herself emerges in the form of a poet, the “traditional harmony” of our emotions gets disturbed. This would be applicable even in the present day:  the name of a female poet is called out in a mushaira (poetic gathering) and lenses of spectacles are wiped and the knots of ties are arranged.

Female poets are less often to be found in earlier Urdu literature; because poetry was considered an occupation of men – indeed up to just a century ago. That is why the poet had said,

A girl indeed among other girls who plays

And not one who joins boys to shove sticks and sways

But old values have changed now. Now despite the jests of an Akbar Allahabadi, women are studying English and are engaged shoulder to shoulder with men in various fields of life. And in the field of literature now, they are indeed found in abundance. It is another matter as to the attitude of the world of poetry towards them.

Lab-e-Goya (Speaking Lips), published 50 years ago this year by Kishwar Naheed, who turned 79 on the 18th of June last month, contains great material for those literary detectives who are fond of the assimilation of the self or who seek out the creation of the artist in pursuit of compiling an autobiography. But the reality is that Lab-e-Goya is not the autobiography of a single poet but that of a whole generation – more precisely, the generation which has gained consciousness in the last seventy-odd years. Lab-e-Goya is just a light reflection of the sensory experiences of this very generation. But what is the nature of these sensory experiences and what is the relationship of the understanding of the new generation with these experiences?

The yeast of the perceptions of the new generation has been fermented in industrial civilization. What impious wretch can deny the rewards and blessings of that civilization? But this civilization is intentionally abstaining from fulfilling the needs of the spirit of the age in the West. This avoidance is further increasing the internal contradictions. The actions of the new generations are a reaction to this very contradiction.

The same civilization is now also flourishing in our country and affecting our character, disposition, way of thinking and the experiences of feeling. But the trouble is that the industrial civilization of the West has entered our country through the back door. The result has been that to date we have been unable to connect our traditional philosophy of life, values, emotions and perceptions with industrial civilization. We are forced to to adopt it but we keep grieving within our hearts over it – for, thanks to this civilization, even our personal relations have transformed into impersonal relations. Everything is being bought and sold and all values are weighed in the scales of the rupee. If friends are made, it is done with a view to personal benefit; marital relations are established for the sake of personal gain; if relationships are sought, it is with the thought of personal profit; if guests are treated with hospitality, it is for a personal motive. Even welfare and reformist works are done for personal aggrandizement. In short, everywhere there is a state of selfishness. No one is a companion and sympathizer to anybody. People are friendly from without but becoming alienated from each other from within.

The bigger a city, the deeper the stamp of alienation on it. The inhabitant of cities like Karachi and Lahore feels solitary even in a crowd of millions. This solitude is becoming our fate. The tea-houses and restaurants are full but those who patronize them have no personal relation even with the waiters and cooks there, what to talk about those actually growing the tea! There is an abundance of articles for sale and shoulders rub against shoulders; but for customers, the salesmen who work there are just salesmen, not humans. We travel in taxis, cars, rickshaws and airplanes day and night but are even unaware of the nation, race, region of the person who takes us to the desired destination. We now buy ready-made clothes from shops and have them washed in laundries. Therefore our familiarity with the tailor and the dhobi is also coming to an end. When we go to the cinema, we consider it to be against etiquette to even talk to the person sitting by our side. In short, our relations with other humans are decreasing at the same rate with which the speed of the convenience of manufactures is increasing.
Lab-e-Goya is not the autobiography of a single poet but that of a whole generation

“However much the glass and jug maybe filled, the tavern is empty”

The sensory experiences of this era, be they of the new generations or of Kishwar Naheed, are shaped by these very lost paths of industrial civilization. They are not revealed from the heavens. The most deadly and fatal of these sensory experiences is the experience of solitude,

“My solitude within, the duality of my self

Is licking me like termites, these unicoloured selves”

This air of the perception of solitude is prevalent over the whole of Lab-e-Goya. Kishwar Naheed works in an office; meets friends and relatives; spends time with her husband and children. Apparently she should not at all be feeling the perception of loneliness, but what is the cure for her solitary spirit?

Kishwar Naheed sometimes expresses this solitude as follows:

“Make the eye a companion of all-nighters

Fill your lap with blood-licking solitude”

“Is it age or the red-flowered ivy vine

It will tip if it does not find a protector fine”

Sometimes she symbolizes the scene of night as solitude to say,

“All night moonlight burnt on the summits

All night one could not find an all-nighter at home

The noise of the storms continued all night but

One could not find open the door of any window”

“The evening moon is sad

Somewhere some lass is without a lad”

“Why are all the city doors closed

The blood of the zephyr is calling out”

And sometimes she mentions the relations of love, which have increased the intensity of solitude even further:

“He rakes the hot embers of relation

Give me not the body-clinging dress’s inflammation”

“The soul too will remain parched like sand on the shore

The body too will be ruined in the desire for more”

But solitude is still possible despite proximity. If two personalities fail to harmonize or begin to imagine dominance over each other as love, indeed then, too, their proximity can become distance and solitude” The site has a lot of sex chats with beauties who will be happy to chat with You and fulfill any desire! Russian Russian free Porn online for communication girls masturbating on camera Russian sex roulette look sexy chat enjoy watching the cameras of couples and transsexuals for free. Page sex chat girls for those who like to watch the games girls, watch girls caress themselves in front of the cameras for free chat for free!

“If hearts are distant, to meet becomes useless

Wind often becomes a wall in-between, breachless”

“This heart could not ever accompany the flying wind

This heart longs for deeper relations”

But the poet is not heartbroken. Her solitary evenings are lit up by the lamps of memories and fragrant flowers of love:

“A light moonlight spreads over the surface of the moon

We cling to your memory after ages”

“That man is colour, fragrance, light for me

After whom nothing seems good for me”

“When I remembered it was indeed in the ruined path

That I found flowers, red wine, silver”

“From the light of his memories

Learn to embellish the arch of sorrow”

“The flower of a body began to burn like flames

The heart thought your memory to be provisions for the union”

“The redness of fidelity on the night-dried cheeks

The candle of sorrow is to be amused again with your memories”

Kishwar Naheed repeatedly mentions the duality of the self. Though the hypocrisy, deceit and pretence of the whole society is absent from her circle of thought; she has very skillfully presents the various ways in which a woman has to put the curtain of the overt over the covert in her social and private life in this society. In such a society, where all the moral values are devised by men, a woman is forced to proceed according to the wishes of men. She has to tolerate every pleasure and displeasure of a man – in fact, to drink this chalice of poison with laughter.

Kishwar Naheed with husband Yusuf Kamran and a number of literary figures, including Ashfaq Ahmad and Bano Qudsia

In fact, Kishwar Naheed has studied this duality as a woman:

“That I am bold Naheed let me say

So many storms within me stay”

“See that person before whom you laugh a lot

Do cover your head before him a lot

Live like snow life long

Lest fragility become a crime strong

If nothing else but keep this secret a lot”

And this is the limit,

“In the eyes of laughing faces bloodshot with memories

All faces are a canopy of longing, the wedding’s monochrome vagaries”

“However much there be a disgust with self-cognition

Fill colours indeed in your own ruination”

“Do not make much of my laughter, you all hurt by affliction

Look up my face before you fill in my complexion”

“Feel the heat of my peeling passion

See too in the cold moonlight the body’s inflammation”

L-R Jamila Hashmi, Intizar Hussain, Masood Ashar and Kishwar Naheed

Kishwar Naheed and Jillani Bano

Kishwar Naheed’s inner passion is not about some reform of Sufism and neither is it some mental condition. It is rather an honest attraction which acknowledges wholesome and affectionate love. In its code of conduct, surrender is the very essence of faith. The state of her absorption is such that she cannot see anything else in the world except her love:

“I am seen from wherever I want in every direction

From every mirror-maker I want this deposition

From every horizon of the door I want this colour

From every pathway, for your shadow I clamour

For the sake of the joyfulness of sorrow, companies are great

Is there someone whose heart and soul I can sate

I will change the frenzy of fidelities

But I want to love him with my own incredulities” 

Note: All the translations from the Urdu are the writer’s own.

Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader currently based in Lahore, where he is also the President of the Progressive Writers Association. He has written on, and translated the selected work of Ismat Chughtai, Fahmida Riaz, Zehra Nigah and Razia Sajjad Zaheer. He can be reached at: razanaeem@hotmail.com

Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He can be reached via email: razanaeem@hotmail.com and on Twitter: @raza_naeem1979