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- Feb 15th, 2012, 10:16 AM #1
I know ‘absolutely’ nothing about Parveen Shakir, never met her, never read her poetry, only heard it read out loud or sung by someone else, so I really have no business in writing a tribute to her but even then for some odd reason my fingers are ‘doodling’ on the keyboard as if I were about to compose a Mozart symphony.
I remember when Parveen Shakir died in a car accident; I was only a few cars behind her. I remember the Suzuki-van (Suzuki-Dabba) with a government plate at Faisal Chowk all battered. By the time I reached home the news had spread like wild fire all over the city. Some said a bureaucrat had died, while others said a poet, while it was actually a bit of both.
Next day I had some work with a renowned political butterfly of Islamabad, one of those people whose pictures you see on the second page of an Urdu newspaper or the 9 o’clock PTV Khabarnama, always standing ‘behind’ an important person or late at night sitting in Marriot’s Nadia Cafe with a bunch of men in crumpled up over-starched, white shalwar kameezes. Usually the deal with such people is that in order to get your work done, you have to tolerate their company and political views for at least half the day. As luck would have it this political butterfly’s photo-opportunity-pit-stop for the day was Parveen Shakir’s after funeral prayer service.
I remember the day quite vividly, the funeral was held at a government school, somewhere in or around Lal-Quarter, not to be mistaken for our version of New Orleans, ‘French Quarters’. The weather was gloomy; the sky was completely frosted with stormy clouds. In between the leafless branches of trees the sky appeared as if it was about to crack open any minute. Aitzaz Ahsan and Sartaj Aziz were one of the prominent attendees.
What got my attention was the young cleric employed for the prayer service; he didn’t have a bushy goat like beard but a neatly trimmed one. The young Mullah’s pre-prayer speech was so eloquently sermonized as he interspersed the loss of Parveen Shakir with the tragedies of Islamic history that one felt that one was watching a beautiful rendition of a Greek play. Behind the curtains came the wailing sound of an older woman and people whispered that it was Parveen Shakir’s mother. The melancholia that day: the loss of Parveen Shakir, the young cleric’s sermon, the wailing of women and the grey weather had on overwhelmingly sad, yet redeeming affect on the spirit as I felt tears welling up in me, even though like most of the dignitaries, I was gate-crashing the funeral.
Couple of mobile phone models later I had relocated to America; one night I got a call from a Christian Jordanian friend of mine who needed a ride to Chicago because his Filipino girlfriend was coming from New York. I was reluctant to go because it was late, Chicago was 2 hours away and there was a storm warning and the weather channel had sent out a warning that Counties North of Chicago would be boggy-trapped with tornadoes.
Reluctantly I agreed to drive my friend to Chicago. By the time we got on the expressway, the downpour got heavier. Seeing my handgrip tighten around the wheel, my friend started to sing some Arabic love songs, in order to lighten up the mood, although if he hadn’t told me, I would have probably thought that he was reciting verses from a Holy book.
Our destination was a rundown house in a bad neighbourhood in Chicago; I was made to sit in the living room with a couple of Filipinos watching television, while my Jordanian friend disappeared for a while. Bush was on the television screen saying something, while in the living room, a naked, diaper-less Filipino-toddler was running back and forth in front of the television screen like a moving-pendulum on a grandfather’s clock, ‘yes time was running out for Bush’, I thought.
A Filipino guy sitting next to me asked where I was from, to which I replied Pakistan. The first thing he said to me was, "Have you heard of Parveen Shakir, the poet? We were in Harvard together". I was slightly humbled by the revelation because condescendingly I had taken the guy to be a cook at a Chinese takeaway. Then he started talking about Parveen Shakir’s life at Harvard, how influential and well known she was at Harvard, everyone liked her and that she was dazzlingly brilliant. For the next couple of hours we kept discussing Parveen Shakir till my Jordanian friend came back. It was a weird moment, I wouldn’t say I felt proud to be a Pakistani because giving a feeling a ‘nationality’ kills the universality of it but here I was past midnight in a crime ridden neighbourhood in Chicago where tornadoes were swirling like French wines in the North, with a Filipino I didn’t know from Jack, discussing Parveen Shakir.
Backtracking to present day Pakistan, the other day I was watching PTV, depressed because my cable was down and I could not watch my favourite channel where women are aimlessly exercising on the beach. Suddenly Mehdi Hassan came on air and started singing a Parveen Shakir ghazal. The ghazal was so beautiful and refreshing that at that moment all the associated and unassociated memories of Parveen Shakir came back to me, like in a western Symphony when all the different melodies congregate back to the central theme for a grand finale. At that moment I thought, who cares whether Musharraf doffs his uniform or not or whether Shahbaz Sharif comes back or not; in times to come, like the cardamom in our teas, Parveen Shakir and ‘people like her’ will always be more relevant than all the power hungry Generals and politicians of Pakistan put together.
The writer 'Malik Shahnawaz Khar' is a freelance columnist written in 2006.
- Feb 15th, 2012, 12:56 PM #2
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- Oct 8, 2006
- kingdom of heavens
Very nice article, Parveen Shakir was a great treasure of Pakistan."The point is Allah. And everything besides Allah, is besides the point."
- Feb 15th, 2012, 01:52 PM #3
- Join Date
- Jan 1, 1970
- in a dark, dark room, down a dark, dark stair.....
she was one of the figures that influenced me quite early in life.....
- Feb 15th, 2012, 02:02 PM #4
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- Dec 22, 2000
I was in Pindi when she passed away. I remember the news of her passing stung like a bee.
Why do all the good ones have to die early?I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.
- Robert McCloskey
- Feb 15th, 2012, 02:10 PM #5
- Feb 15th, 2012, 02:11 PM #6
- Feb 15th, 2012, 03:42 PM #7----
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- Feb 8, 2002
Love Parveen Shakir. Her writing is very elegant and very relatable. She died when I was pretty young but I remember everyone being shocked about it.
- Feb 17th, 2012, 04:44 AM #8
Another beautifully written article on Parveen Shakir
Parveen Shakir (1952-1994) has defined the sensibilities of several generations and beyond. At the relatively young age of 42 years, Parveen Shakir died on an empty Islamabad boulevard, as if this was an essential part of her romantic persona. But she had lived a full life where poetry and tragedy intersected each other and became inseparable from her being.
As a young student in high school, I was introduced to Shakir’s romantic poetry, which was best represented by her first collection of poetry ‘Khushbu’. I had won an essay writing competition in Urdu and a delightful award came in the form of this tender volume of poetry. Since then I have always returned to bits and pieces of Khushbu. It may not be according to the cannons of literary theory, but it is spontaneous, fresh and almost dreamlike. Shakir was bearly 24 years old when Khushbu was published and since its first edition, this book has been a best seller wherever Urdu poetry is read or appreciated.
Khushbu turned Shakir into a celebrity. Aside from mushairas, newspapers and public fora, she was ever-present on the Pakistan television, perhaps as its only saving grace during the rigid years of Zia-ul-Haq’s Martial Law. Shakir had a natural talent for public speaking, reciting poetry and just being herself. I remember one monsoon evening in Murree when we were hooked to her presentation on Pakistan’s Independence Day. There was a distinct tenderness in her voice that was in sharp contrast to the platitudes being churned out. Above all she was beautiful. I remember she would read verses from her own work and from the great masters of Urdu poetry with complete ease and immense refinement. In the short period of time that she lived as a poet, Parveen did rather well and was quite prolific. Her later collections comprised Sad Barg (marsh merrygold), Khud Kalami (conversing with one’self), Inkaar (refusal), Maah-e-Tamaam (full moon) and Kaf-e-Aaina (edge of the mirror).
Her raw romanticism runs through her poetry. For instance, yay haseen shaam apni is a love poem of rare beauty; and has always been a favourite of mine. It is composite, taut and melodic; and here is my translation.
This melting evening of ours
Where everything dissolves
The scent of your clothes
The blossoming sprouts of my dreams
A deferred vision, this is
In a little while,
A star will emerge on the horizon
To gaze at you meaningfully…!
Your heart shall then reminisce
The echo of a memory
The tale of a separation,
Of an unfinished moment
Of un-blossomed dreams, things unsaid
We ought to have met
In times, considerate
In pursuit of attainable dreams
On a different sky
On a different earth
We ought to have met
The initial voice of a love struck, yearning Shakir turned serious and questioning before her death. This evolution came about in 1980s when she had to deal with the confines of the Pakistani establishment as a Customs officer. In a later poem, Advice from a senior executive, she opens her heart:
The senior executive in my office
Called me rather unusually to his office one day
And after asking after a file or two
Frowning uneasily he mentioned my un’civil’ pastimes
Shedding light upon the standing of the poetess in a society
The gist of what he said
Was that a poet has the same role in a nation
As an appendix in our bodies
Absolutely Useless, But able at times to cause great pain
So there is only one way of getting rid of it – Surgery!
A faint smile played upon his lips, as he imagined he had rid himself
Of the appendix of my personality
(translated by Rehan Qayoom)
Her poem ‘Working Woman’ also talks of the blurred boundaries and the inevitable double burden. It is well known that Shakir was quite inspired by Fahmida Riaz because Riaz, for the first time in modern Urdu poetry, brought out the powerful feminine voice that was both endearing and challenging to a male dominated society. Fahmida Riaz was not even averse to exploring and expressing her sexuality. Though Shakir never acquired such radicalism, she did manage to establish a niche where the larki (young woman) was pampered. Sometimes this larki would be jealous as to why her lover’s telephone was perpetually engaged and on other occasions this creature laughed with moist eyes. There was however an innate confidence in this young feminine persona: ‘ Iss shart pay khailoon gi piya pyaar ki baazi/Jeetoon to tujhe paoon, haaroon to piya teri ’ (My love, I shall only play the game on one condition/If I win you will be mine and if I lose I shall be yours). Fahmida’s encounter with the poet has been described in these verses:
Parveen, as I watched you read
I remembered my old self
the days when I’d write like you.
But now those poems are faint dreams;
I’ve ‘disowned’ all of them.
(translated by C M Naim)
However, in years to come, Shakir wrote extensively on marital problems, pregnancy, sexuality and much more. One poem, ‘Barafbari ke baad’ is remarkable for its candour.
Notwithstanding her traditional middle class background, Shakir’s espousal of modernity was noticeable. She got married according to the wishes of her parents: an unhappy marriage that culminated in a divorce. This marital choice entailed the greatest of her heartaches when she had to end an intense relationship with a lover who, if I remember correctly, had offered his life just to be with her. This incident was made public after her death when one of her former professors wrote a long piece in an Urdu newspaper stating how the jilted lover was distraught and how Parveen’s romantic ideal had been utterly devastated by a social convention.
Parveen was daring enough to choose a career of her own and bagged a distinguished position in the competitive entry examination for recruitment in the civil services. This became one of the reasons for the divorce, as was related to me by her civil servant friend. Long before single motherhood hit the Pakistani urban landscape, Shakir had become a successful, widely known single mother of her son Murad to whom she addressed a poem ‘Apnay betay kay liye ek nazm ’:
The world expected love from me
As if I had to pay a debt
The coins of my truthfulness
Were trampled in a manner
That if I had not held myself together
We would have been shelter-less
And devoid of social clothing
I have lived in my house
And paid jiziya all my life
(translated by author)
Infinitely brave and individualistic, Parveen was mentored by the legendary Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi. However, with her growing popularity and misunderstandings generated by the people around Qasimi, the two fell out towards the end of her life. 26 December, 1994 was a sad day when Pakistan learnt of her tragic and unexpected death. Never had a Pakistani female poet attained such widespread popularity nor had a death been so untimely. Parveen retained a uniqueness even in death. Fifteen years later she remains intensely popular. If anything, her poetry has been properly reinterpreted and the critics who dismissed her as a poetic lightweight have realized that there was much more to Parveen’s poetic vision than just henna-dyed hands and the broken hearts of adolescent lovers.
Murad must be a confident young man now. I hope he has pondered over this poem “It Has Been Said” translated by CM Naim. I will quote a few moving lines.
… then Zaid cursed Bakar, ‘Your mother
is more well known than your father!’ ”
this curse is your fate too.
In a fathers’ world you too, one day,
must pay a heavy price
for being known by your mother,
though your eyes’ color, your brow’s
and all the curves your lips create
come from the man
who shared with me in your birth,
yet alone gives you significance
in the eyes of the law-givers.
But the tree that nurtured you three
must claim one season as its own,
to comb the stars, turn thoughts into
make poems leapfrog your ancestors’ walls …
Written by: Raza Rumi in 2009
- Feb 17th, 2012, 05:30 AM #9----
- Join Date
- Mar 10, 2011
- Karachi, Pakistan
'But the tree that nurtured you three seasons
must claim one season as its own'
Aah beautiful..amazing thread
- Feb 17th, 2012, 06:30 AM #10
coming up with more about Parveen Shakir
- Feb 17th, 2012, 08:36 AM #11
- Join Date
- Jan 1, 1970
- in a dark, dark room, down a dark, dark stair.....
I still recall meeting her in Toronto....I was very, very young....probably too young at the time to understand most of what she wrote....but enough to be in awe when in her presence.
- Feb 17th, 2012, 09:29 AM #12
- Feb 21st, 2012, 01:34 PM #13
Nice to read.Never explain urself to any1 The person who likes u doesn't need it &The person who dislike u won't believe it
- Feb 21st, 2012, 01:41 PM #14
- Feb 21st, 2012, 01:46 PM #15
Abhi to mein ne joota nama bhi read nahi kiya.Never explain urself to any1 The person who likes u doesn't need it &The person who dislike u won't believe it
- Feb 21st, 2012, 01:47 PM #16
yani ke school se chuti karne per aap ka boht syllabus cover hone se reh gaya hai
- Feb 21st, 2012, 01:51 PM #17
JiNever explain urself to any1 The person who likes u doesn't need it &The person who dislike u won't believe it
- Feb 25th, 2012, 01:42 AM #18
Parveen Shakir Interviewing Muneer Niazi
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