Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Zehra Nigah

Zehra Nigah most important Urdu living poets
Zehra Nigah, lovingly called Zehra Aapa,  is a much-loved and highly respected poet in India and Pakistan. Her poetry is about the compulsions and compromises of being a woman and a poet. Among friends and family, she is equally well-known as a raconteur par excellence and a qissa-go. She talks as she writes: with grace and poise and wry humour. 
                                                    Zehra nigah with Faiz and faraz
Zehra Aapa became Pakistan's voice of progressive feminine poetry (not feminist) in the 1950s, at a time when women poets were few and far between and turning a shayra was taboo. Worse, it was unthinkable on the male-dominated poetic horizon that women could have the skill to write poetry.  She has been awarded various awards at home and abroad in recognition of her works such as Pride of Performance.

Always immaculately dressed in impeccable cotton saris, given to no adornments except a smile she chooses to bestow occasionally, she is a woman completely at peace with herself. But as she says in the much-recited, much-quoted nazm 'Samjhauta', the easy calm hides the many compromises that she - like all women - has had to make:

Mulayam garm samjhaute ki chadar
Yeh chadar mein ne barson mein buni hai
Kahin bhi sach ke gul boote nahi hai
Kissi bhi jhooth ka taanka nahin hai
Issi se main bhi tan dhak loongi apna
Issi se tum bhi aasooda rahoge
Na khush hoge, na pashmanda hoge

[Warm and soft, this blanket
Of compromise has taken me years to weave
Not a single flower of truth embellishes it
Not a single false stitch betrays it
It will do to cover my body though
And it will bring comfort too,
If not joy, nor sadness to you]

Family background

Hyderabad-born Zehra went to Pakistan during Partition. Her father was a civil servant with a keen eye for poetry. Her elder sister, Suraiyya Bajiya, is hailed as an exceptionally talented writer in Pakistan's television world. 

One of her brothers, Anwar Maqsood, is a noted satirist and public speaker and another brother, Ahmad Maqsood, a civil servant, was formerly Secretary to the Government of Sindh. He is learnt to have translated William Blake into Urdu. And the poet's late husband, Majid Ali, was a civil servant with a keen interest in Sufi poetry. Javed Akhtar says that he has seen “few individuals who could understand and remember Ghalib's shayri as eloquently as Majid saab did”.

Around 1922, the living room in Zehra's family home used to serve as the centre stage for historic meetings of poets of the stature of Iqbal, Firaq, Makhdoom, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Majaz. “Academics, poetry and music completed my home,” she says, adding, “My mother used to learn music from her ustaad [teacher] from behind a purdah. 
                                              Zehra own writing
My maternal grandfather used to encourage us children to revise tough poets like Haali and Iqbal with correct meanings, pronunciations and reading style. He would tempt us by saying, ‘If you memorise Iqbal's Jawab-e-Shikwa or Musaddas-e-Hali, you will get five rupees.' And we would wield all our energies to memorise them. Such was my training that at four I had learnt the correct recitation style and pronunciation and by the time I was 14, I had learnt the masterpieces of most big poets by heart.”

She recited her poem on the stage for the first time when she was 15. She was in the 10th standard then. Her class teacher asked her to read her poem in a mushaira in Delhi. It was an august gathering with giants such as Makhdoom, Firaq, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Kaifi Azmi and Majrooh Sultanpuri. “It was a women's mushaira where women were at the forefront and men behind a curtain! I read my poem and sat quietly. All these poets were benevolent. They praised me large-heartedly,” she recalls.

Her popularity at times overshadowed that of eminent poets. It is recorded that in a mushaira held in Jacob Lines (Karachi), the poet Jigar Muradabadi made an appearance. The public wanted to hear Zehra Nigah after Jigar had finished. “Despite being so senior, Jigar sahib graciously allowed me to recite my poetry,” she recalls. Majrooh Sultanpuri is known to have often persuaded her parents to allow her to travel beyond the country for more exposure. 

Slowly, she became a regular at prestigious mushairas. Her musharias have been attended by the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Zakir Hussain.

Zehra Nigah writes both the ghazal and the nazm with the same involvement. The spontaneous use of everyday phrases and the colloquial idiom complement her direct and narrative style of writing, giving it a popular appeal that becomes even more pronounced in oral rendition. She has dealt with personal, social and gender themes very effectively in this manner. 

She wrote these lines down for the documentary on the 1953 student movement – she mentioned having written it as a high school student, and said it was quite long but was all she remembered.


Aaj unn toofaN badoshoN ka kinara kaun hai

Jin ke piyare mar chukey unn ka piyara kaun hai
Jin pe raateiN chaa gaiyeeN unn ka sitara kaun hai
Jin ki dunya luT gayi unn ka sahara kaun hai
DhoonDneiN ko apni manzil iss khash-o-khashak meiN
Kitne Ghunche mil gaye haiN gulistaN ki Khak meiN

She talks as she writes: with grace and poise and wry humour. But as she says in the much-recited, much-quoted poetry Samjhauta, the easy calm hides the many compromises that she – like all women – has had to make:
Refusing to be categorised by the labels of a writer of feminine poetry or a feminist poet, Ms Nigah has alluded to the bitter fratricidal war that culminated in the creation of Bangladesh as well as the tragic and still unfolding situation in Afghanistan in lyrical, pathos-driven yet politically astute poems such as ‘Bhejo Nabi ji Rehmatein’ and ‘Qissa Gul Badshah’. 

Over 500 pages later, Nigah's confidence is restored. "I have been faithful to the book," she says of her first screenplay.

She has written of the repressive Hudood Ordinances introduced during Pakistani dictator General Zia’s oppressive regime as also about love, friendship and small everyday joys and sorrows. 

Despite early critical and popular acclaim, Ms Nigah has only three slim published volumes of poetry: Shaam ka Pehla Taara, Waraq, and Firaq. She says she has never felt the urge to be prolific, to write when there is nothing to say. Yet every word that emerges from her pen, every syllable that she speaks, carries the spark of a luminous intelligence.

She wrote these lines down when we went to interview her for our documentary on the 1953 student movement – she mentioned having written it as a high school student, and said it was quite long but was all she remembered.


Aaj unn toofaN badoshoN ka kinara kaun hai

Jin ke piyare mar chukey unn ka piyara kaun hai
Jin pe raateiN chaa gaiyeeN unn ka sitara kaun hai
Jin ki dunya luT gayi unn ka sahara kaun hai
DhoonDneiN ko apni manzil iss khash-o-khashak meiN
Kitne Ghunche mil gaye haiN gulistaN ki Khak meiN

Given her command over idiomatic Urdu and her very idiosyncratic sentence constructions - seemingly simple yet syntactically convoluted, she presents many challenges for the translator. What follows are rough drafts from a planned volume of my translations. It is to be hoped the reader will see them for what they are: a work in progress and a pale imitation of the original. 
Someone would fling a morsel before me
That is how I crawled through life for countless mornings and evenings

I would carry those morsels on my frail body
And, creeping and crawling, return to my hole

Till, one day, the sun made me realise:
If you want you can bring strength into these legs

And the winds, too, stopped to whisper:
Come out of your hole, look at the world

I was scared of standing on my own
I tottered and fell, got up and swayed unsteadily

Till, suddenly, someone came to steady me

Earlier, my breast would hug the ground

Now, my head rests against someone's shoulder

Sheherzade in London

I met the Sheherzade of Baghdad
In a teahouse in London
She had changed beyond recognition
Relying upon the commonality of religion
Holding on to tradition
I asked her with affection:
'Do you remember your art -
The art of telling stories
The art that could bring life to lifeless hearts
The art that gave new life to someone every evening?'

Sheherzad was quiet for a while
And then she said:
'Like the rest of the world, you too don't know;
Meetings have been suspended in the city of Baghdad
Like people, words too are dead
And my art
Is dependent upon meetings, upon words
Following my ancestors
Walking the path of hijrat, I came here
The city of London is a benevolent city
Morning and evening, newly-descended caliphs come here
Travelling with the change in the seasons
Like birds
They call me
They listen to new stories from every fibre of my being
And then they go back.'


It is as though someone has said, 'Stop', and halted the river of time
It is only now that I have fully understood the magical properties of this word
Each and every moment, flowing in its own orderly row, seems to have stopped
All my friends and all my enemies gaze at me, as though turned to stone
How strange it seems
Even though, from the day this benighted city was built
I have been scared of such a thing
Main Sada Dilli K Gehney Pehney
Jab Tum Sey Mili Thi, Khoob-Ro Thi
Alfaaz Lehaaz Main Gundhey They
Lehjey Main Bhi Kaisi Aabro Thi

Tum Aq'l KO We'hm Jantey They
Mujh Ko Bhi Junoo.n Ki Justuju Thi
Aqwaal Tumhaarey Mehfiloo.n Main
AUr Meri Sada Bhi Char So Thi

Tum Apni Daleel Pe They Qa'em
Mujh Ko Bhi Majaal_e Guftugu Thi
Tum APney Muqabloo.n Pe Nazaa.n
Mujh Main Bhi Bahaduri Ki Kho Thi

Tum Sey Mujhey Hosla MIla Tha
Jeeney Ki Mujhe Bhi Aarzo Thi
Tum Apni Nazar Main Motabar They
Main Apni Nazar Main Surkh-Ro Thi

Per Waqt K Haathoo.n Saarey Rishtey
Dhagoo.n Ki Tarha Ulajh Gai They
Paimaan_e Wafa K Chaand Tarey
Zaroo.n Ki Tarha Bikhar Gai Thay

Tum Jab Sey Gai Ho APney Ghar Sey
Lagta Tha K Sab Badal Gaya Hay
Soraj Ko Nigal Gaya Hay Dariya
Saya Bhi Kahee.n Pighal Gaya Hay

Main Zeh'n K Jagtey Ufaq Per
Jatey Howe Tum Ko Dekhti Hoon
Main Soch K Behr_e Be-karaa.n Ki
Har Mouj Sey Roz Pochti Hoon

Kiya Hosh K Be-shumaar Dariya
Sehraaoo.n Main Khushk Ho Chukey Hain?
Tadbeer-o Ana K la'al_o Gohar
Kiya Khaak Ka Rizq Ban Sakey Hain?

Phir Khud Mujhe Chain AA Gaya Hay
Aur Khud Hi Jawaab Mil Gaya Hay
Rishtey Ye Haqeeqatoo.n Ki Zad Per
Totey Hain Agar Tu Phir Jurey Hain

Dekho Jo Kahee.n Sey Dekh Paao
Khush Rango_e Zeest Ka Rachaao
Aangan Main Humarey Jaag Uthi Hain
Do Konplain Sar Uthaay Kaisey!
Kirnoo.n Sey Ladhi Hoi Hay Khirki
Khushbo Sey Basey Howe Hain Kamrey

Maathey Pe Likhi Hoi Hay In K
Aaeen_e Yaqeen Ki Ibarat

Chehroo.n Ko Saja Rahi Hay Un K
Aankhoo.n Main Chupi Hoi Shararat

Kiya Janeye Rah_e ZIndagi Main
Ye Hum Sey Zayada Surkh-ro Hoon
In Ko Bhi Miley Sukhn Ki DOlat
Aur In Ki Sadaain Chaar SO hoon
In Ko Bhi Majaal_e Guftugu Ho
In Main Bhi Bahaduri Ki Kho Ho
Is Dast_e Firaaq Hi Sey Suljhey
Rishtey Jo Sabhi Ulajh Gai The

Ashkoo.n Hi Sey Dhul K Jagmagaay
Wo Eh'd Jo Khaak Main Chupey They

Toota Howa Taar ZIndagi Ka
Tadbeer_e Rafo Sikha Gaya Hay
Jhomar Ye Nigaar_e Zindagi Ka
Bikhra Tu Kahan Kahan Saja Hay!


kal raat mera beTa mere ghar
chehray pe manDhay khaakee kapRa
bandooq uThaay aa pohoncha
nau-umri ki surkhi say rachi
us ki aankheN main jaan gaii
aur bachpan kay sandal say manDha
us ka chehra pehchaan gaii
woh aaya tha khud apnay ghar
ghar ki cheezeN le jaanay ko
ankahi kahi manwanay ko
baatoN mein duudh ki khushboo thi
jo kuch bhi said kay rakha tha
main saari cheezen le aai
ik lal-e-badakhsaaN ki chiRya
sonay ka haathi choTa sa
resham ki phool bhari Topi
chandi ki ik nanhi takhti
atlas ka naam likha juzdaan
juzdaan meiN lipTa ik quran
par woh kaisa deewana tha
kuch toR gaya kuchh chhoR gaya
aur le bhi gaya hai woh to kya
lohay ki badsurat gaRi
petrol ki boo bhi aayegi
jis kay pahiye bhi rubber kay hain
jo baat nahiN kar paaygi
bacha phir aakhir bacha hai!

Zehra Nigah

Aik ghar tha, aik maidan tha
Kuch khait thay, khalyan tha
Woh ghar main tanha toh na thee
Handi thee choolhay par charhi
Aata gundha tayyar thaa

Jhoolay main aik bacha bhee tha
Pinjray main aik tota bhee tha
Aur taaq main Quran tha
Jis par usay iman tha
Bachay ko behlati thee woh
Choolhay ko sulgati thee woh
Totay ko sikhlati thee woh
'achay mian mithoo kaho:

Bhaijo nabi ji barkatain
Bhaijo nabi ji barkatain
Aal-e-nabi ka wasta
Aal-e-nabi ka wasta'

Aik din achanak kia hua
Thokar se darwaza khula
Aik janwar insan numa
Panjon ko lehrata hua
Kamray main aata hi gaya
Har shay pe chhata hi gaya
Chadar jo sar se khich gai
Quran ka chehra dhak gai
Roti taway par jal gai
Handi ubal kar reh gai
Bachay ka jhoola gir para
Tota pharrak kar cheekh utha

Bhaijo nabi ji barkatain
Bhaijo nabi ji barkatain
Aal-e-nabi ka wasta
Aal-e-nabi ka wasta'

Par koi aaya hi nahi....................
(for the blind girl who was sentenced under ‘Hudood’)
(اُس اندھی لڑکی کے نام جسے حدود میں سزا سنائ گئ تھی)
I am also free
in this little room;
the sun moves across
a window in the ceiling
before it sets;
rays of light,
sparingly enter;
on the path they make,
I walk home;
my father, even now,
from the city,
brings along for me,
a shawl, a comb, bangles and kohl,
and so much more;
both my brothers,
study in the mosque,
as they did;
God’s edicts
they read, memorise;
my sister puts away in a basket,
my share of bread;
feeds it to the sparrows
at dawn;
my mother is kind of crazy,
gathering stones
or talking to sparrows
as they pick the grain;
she says:
when the sparrows will fathom the truth,
in their beaks and claws
they would clutch the stones;
then would rage a storm
to ravage law-givers,
tear down the pulpits;
justice He would deliver Himself,
the Supreme Lord,
the same for one and all,
the revered, the exalted.
How should I tell my mother,
am I the Kaaba,
the House of the Lord?

مَیں اِس چھوٹے سے کمرے میں
آزاد بھی ہوں، اور قید بھی ہوں
اِس کمرے میں اک کھڑکی ہے
جو چھت کے برابر اونچی ہے
جب سورج ڈوبنے لگتاہے
کمرے کی چھت سے گزرتا ہے
مٹٌھی بھر کرنوں کے زرٌے
کھڑکی سے اندر آتے ہیں
میں اس رستے پر چلتی ہوں
اوراپنے گھرہوآتی ہوں
مِرا باپ ابھی تک میرے لیے
جب شھر سے واپس آتا ہے
چادر، کنگھی، کاجل، چُوڑی
جانے کیا کیا لے آتا ہے
میرے دونوں بھائ اب بھی
مسجد میں پڑھنے جاتے ہیں
احکام خُداوندی سارے
پڑھتے هیں اور دُهراتے هیں
آپا مِرے حصٌے کی روٹی
چنگیر میں ڈھک کر رکھتی ہے
اور صبح سویرے اُٹھ کر وه
روٹی چڑیوں کو دیتی ہے
ماں میری کچھ پاگل سی ہے
یا پتٌھر چُنتی رہتی ہے
یا دانه چگُتی چڑیوں سے
کچھ باتیں کرتی رہتی ہے
وه کہتی ہے جب یه چڑیاں
سب اس کی باتیں سمجھ لیں گی
چونچوں میں پتھر بھر لیں گی
پنجوں میں سنگ سمولیں گی
پھر وه طوفاں آجاٴے گا
جس سے ھر منبر، ھر منصف
پاره پاره ہو جاےٴ گا
میرا انصاف کرے گا وه
جو سب کا حاکم اعلٰی ہے
سب جس کی نظر میں یکساں ہیں
جو مُنصف عزٌت والا ہے
میں ماں کو کیسے سمجھاوٴں
کیا میں کوئ خانهٴ کعبه ہوں؟

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