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The Express Tribune

Published Date: Feb 15, 2014

Of a maverick: Kishwar Naheed — an iconoclast

She carved for us a woman of a new age. And we thought such
a woman would not possibly walk the earth. But it did. And the one walking was
none other than the creator herself. She epitomized what she had dared to pen
in her poetry.

The world knows her by the name of Kishwar Naheed.

This is a gist of the talk delivered by the acclaimed writer
Intizar Hussain at “an evening with Kishwar Naheed organised by the Sustainable
Development Policy Institute (SDPI) under its  “Tribute to Living Legend”

Naheed presented a woman who is not separated from the
lover, oppressed but defiant, and not sorrowful, according to Hussain. Her
poetry, which addresses issues of women rights and militancy, has paved the way
for more women writers who are producing wonderful poetry.

Kishwar in her 74th year of life is as much the rebel and
activist now as she was at the start of her formal literary career some four
decades ago when she first began to challenge the male-dominated Pakistani
literary scene and an equally patriarchal Urdu poetic structure through her
gender-sensitive and feminist diction.

It was no surprise then that her peers, friends, relatives
and a veteran writer could not stop praising the non-conformist poet at the
evening dedicated to celebrating her life, works and struggle for human rights.

"Her status among women Urdu poets is like the first drop of
rain," said Hussain, who chaired the ceremony, after he had explained the
nearly complete lack of women poets and gender perspectives in classical Urdu

The mild-mannered Hussain tried to apologize for men, from
the post-classical era, whose seemingly sympathetic Urdu poetry for women
Kishwar disagreed with. But he admitted, jokingly or otherwise, that the
present era is the "age of women."

"Either that or it is the age of mullahs," Hussain quipped. "Most of us
moderates in Pakistan are stuck in between, but if given the choice
we have to choose the side of our women poets."

He said Kishwar’s poetry was groundbreaking in the sense
that it challenged the typical concept of woman-as-the-beloved in classical
poetry and the idea of a sad woman, or birhan, longing for her lover while
suffering the pain of separation in most texts.

“Poetry is the surety of my life,” Kishwar Naheed said, on
her turn to speak. “I once said somewhere that I write poetry because I do not
commit suicide.”

But before reciting her poems, she in her characteristic
courageous tone, pointed out her displeasure of the ongoing peace talks between
the government and Taliban.

“It is a disgrace that a big country such as Pakistan is
trying to have talks with a small group,” she said. “We are always looking for
life and they search death for us.”

She recited poems that were diverse in expression yet
thematically connected.

From the poignant "Bajaur ka Taziyatnama" to the
ever-stirring anthem of defiance “Hum gunahgaar auratein,” Kishwar’s poems
elicited genuine applause from a conference room packed full of Islamabad-based
writers, poets, fans and activists, most of who were familiar with her works
but appeared to be mesmerized anew.

Speakers Ashfaq Saleem Mirza, Ayesha Siddiqa, Naeem Ahmed
Mirza and Shamim Ikramul Haq spoke about different aspects of Kishwar’s life
and works. Among the four of them, they praised her principled and defiant
struggle for women’s rights through words and action.

Their speeches and essays portrayed her as a unique, firebrand
resistance poet in her professional life and a kind, hospitable friend and
mother-figure in her personal life.

During the ceremony, activist Tahira Abdullah read poems
written by Kishwar Naheed whereas, Rebeka Naomi Wigemark, wife of the European
Union Ambassador and Hassan Abbas Rizvi read poems for Naheed.