3 Poems To Celebrate Mother's Day And Zehra Nigah's 87th Birthday - 'A Child Is A Child After All'

3 Poems To Celebrate Mother's Day And Zehra Nigah's 87th Birthday - 'A Child Is A Child After All'
Today, the 14th of May, is a special day for two reasons: firstly it marks the 87th birthday of the iconic and beloved Urdu poet Zehra Nigah, who is respected and eagerly followed equally on both sides of the border; and secondly the day also marks Mother’s Day.
So, what better way to celebrate both these special occasions than to read, reread and share three beautiful poems on mothers and motherhood by Zehra aapa.

The first two poems are from Zehra Aapa’s very first poetic collection Shaam ka Pehla Taara (The First Star of the Evening), which I have reviewed in these pages. The first poem Maan (Mother) expresses the anxiety and then the joy of motherhood of a mother for her two sons. Zehra Aapa, explaining the background of the poem, told this scribe that this poem is a remembrance of the days when she used to live in London and her two sons were young and studying in different schools if different cities of the UK and she could only talk to her sons on the phone for a maximum of ten minutes as allowed by the strict regulations.

The branch which was still trembling placing its head against the bosom of the earth

How it stands in the garden row, how much it laughs

That king of the seasons riding a chariot of wind

Has whispered something in its ears

He had said both your roses are happy

Wherever they are, they are the life of the party

Drunk with their own fragrance, engrossed in their own colour

The second poem in the same collection titled Aik Sacchi Amman ki Kahani (Story of an Honest Mother) explored the family dynamics when a mother’s progeny is all grown up and settled overseas, and mothers visit them off and on. Zehra Aapa told me that both her sons live overseas and so this poem speaks for all mothers whose children are not within permanent reach of the former. The “sach” of the title is brutally given away in the last two lines of the poem: “Mire lahje se voh lipta jhoot sab pehchan jaate hain/Bohat tehzeeb vale log hain sab maan jaate hain.”

Here, then, is the full translation of the poem:

My children say this

“When you arrive, jollities, fragrances arrive in the home

This paradise we have, is the blessing of these very footsteps

For us keeping you is fortunate….”

I get rid of them to return with great difficulty

I remember those tears and sad faces

Do not go yet, stay, all these lines torment

I tell this story to everyone who comes to visit

They all recognise that lie wrapped with my tone

They are too polite, they all accept it

The third poem, part of her third collection of poetry Firaaq (Separation), published in 2009, was specially singled out for mention to me by Zehra Aapa. Titled Daku (Dacoit), it compels one to think, rethink and reminisce about their relationship with their mothers in childhood, playful, thankless and yet, still beautiful. So, who is the dacoit in the title, is it the child who comes to her mother merely to emotionally blackmail her into giving her his favourite toys at the point of a (toy) gun and then makes off with them, or is it the wordless emotions of motherhood which he takes away? The last line of the poem says it all: “bacha phir aḳhir bacha hai…”

Here is the complete poem in translation:

                                             Last night at my home, my son

Covering his face with a dust-coloured cloth

Carrying a gun arrived suddenly

His eyes adorned with the redness of puberty

I understood

And his face covered in the sandalwood of childhood

I recognised

He had himself come to his home

To take away things from there

To have the unspoken and the spoken recognised


There was a fragrance of milk in his talk

Whatever had been kept carefully

I brought all the things

A sparrow made of the ruby of Badakhshan

A little hand made of gold

A tiny slate of silver

A silk cap full of flowers

A name-written cover of satin

A Koran wrapped in the cover

But how crazy was he

Some things he left, some he cleft

And of all things, what has he taken

An ugly iron car   

It too will smell of petrol

Whose wheels are of rubber as well

Which will be unable to talk

A child is a child after all

I dedicate these translations to the kind and loving memory of my friend Yemeen Zahra’s beloved mother Fehmida Mehdi sahiba, who sadly passed away of paralysis on the 17th of April last month, a few days before Eid-ul-Fitr.

Happy Mother's Day and may Zehra Nigah sahiba live long and keep writing!

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