The Other Woman

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The other Woman in Perveen Shakir’s Poetry

By Ambreen Salahuddin

Perveen Shakir (November 24, 1952, Karachi- December 26, 1994, Islamabad) entered the scene of Urdu Poetry and changed it. Her diction is her distinction as she gave Urdu poetry the voice of a girl. Perveen Shakir was not in favour of slogan oriented poetry, but as a woman, no doubt she has talked about the collective sorrows and experiences of the second sex with a truly passionate tone.

The woman that she has portrayed is an individual and a complete human being. The originality and truth of her own self is evident in her poetry. The similes and metaphors she uses are mostly very girlish. The woman portrayed in her first book published in 1976, خوشبو (Fragrance) and second book صد برگ (Hundred leaved) published in 1980 changes significantly in انکار (Refusal) and then in the fourth book خود کلامی (Self-dialogue) which appeared in the year 1990. The woman who has been deceiving herself is now testing and scrutinizing the world with open eyes. A complete collection of her poetry came into view in the year 1994 in her life with the name ماہ تمام (the Full Moon) and after her death it came with the inclusion of her posthumous writings titled کف آئینہ.

The capacity and energies to make poems out of marvel, itself, it seems remains a source of wonder to her. She has explored the relationship between creation, the human consciousness and woman poet better perhaps than any of her contemporaries. Yet again the expression is purely girlish and the similes and metaphors are the ones with which every woman can relate easily.

گڑیا مری سوچ کی چھنی کیا
بچی کی طرح بلک رہی ہوں

I am weeping like a child as my favourite playmate of pondering and imagination has been snatched.

In the following couplets Perveen depicts a most typical behaviour of the eastern woman. The male partner may be cruel, discourteous, abusive and offensive. He may betray or deceive. But the female must show love and affection for him. She must wait for his return and must always accept him along with his shortcomings.

وہ کہیں بھی گیا لوٹا تو مرے پاس آیا
بس یہی بات ہے اچھی مرے ہرجائی کی
کیسے کہہ دوں کہ مجھے چھوڑ دیا ہے اس نے
بات تو سچ ہے مگر بات ہے رسوائی کی

Although my beloved makes friendships with so many others as well
But I must appreciate him as he always returns to me
No matter where so ever he might have been

It is a bitter truth that my beloved has departed
Yet I cannot exclaim this truth as it bears a lot of insult to me.

Perveen Shakir has used some interesting symbols for a man. She has very frequently used the symbols Saanp (Snake), Bherya (Wolf) and Uqaab (Eagle).

میں اتنے سانپوں کو رستے میں دیکھ آئی تھی
کہ تیرے شہر میں پہنچی تو کوئی ڈر ہی نہ تھا

When I reached your city,
I was fairly brave and fearless,
As during the journey I have met so many serpents

عقاب کو تھی غرض فاختہ پکڑنے سے
جو گر گئی تو یونہی نیم جان چھوڑ گیا

The Eagle was interested in just grabbing the Dove.
He left the Dove senseless as it fell down.

When a woman, especially from lower or middle class, steps out of home, she has to face many problems in the working world. Violence against women takes several forms. Perveen has touched many aspects of a woman’s life. She wrote about girls being considered as financial drain, the worthlessness of woman-work as it is not paid work, working women being looked down upon in our society, child labour, the Natak of Women Day and many other themes. Women have several roles to play. Even in her role as a housewife she has to perform many tasks. There is no respite in a woman’s life. Perveen Shakir writes:

ڈھوروں ڈنگروں کو بھی
جیٹھ اساڑھ کی دھوپ میں
پیڑ تلے سستانے کی آزادی ہوتی ہے
تیری بھاگ میں ایسا کوئی سمے نہیں

Even the cattle are allowed to take some rest under the piercing sun of summer.
There is no such moment in her life.
There are no shadowing trees in the path of your life.

When a woman speaks up and gives her own version based of her own experiences, the response is terrible. Woman writers are expected to write for their own sex, about their own sex. The problems and issues taken up by the woman writers are global issues but men generally treat them as womanish. In her poem for Sara Shagufta, Perveen wrote;

ہمارے ہاں
شعر کہنے والی عورت کا شمارعجائبات ہوتا ہے
ہر مرد خود کو اس کا مخاطب سمجھتا ہے
اور چونکہ حقیقت میں ایسا نہیں ہوتا
اس لئےاس کا دشمن بن جاتا ہے !
Our people consider a poetess to be one of the wonders of the world!
Every man deems himself to be her addressee.
But as his wishful thinking does not come true,
He becomes her foe.

Perveen Shakir seems to be much inspired by Saifo and Meera. She has also written a poem for Farogh Farrukh Zaad who was a poetess of Pehlavi Era. As for her writing style and usage of symbols from nature, in English poetry Emily Bronte had such diction and I feel that Elizabeth Jennings also had the same way of expression.

The discriminatory attitude that our society has for women is repeatedly expressed in her poetry. A girl is not even accepted as a member of the parents’ family. Perveen writes in her poem Farzand e Zameen se (to the son of the soil)

۔۔۔ اس مٹی کی خوشبو میں بسنے کے لئے
مجھ کو ہیں درکار
کتنے دن اور کتنے برس اور کتنی صدیاں بھائی!

God knows how many more days, years and centuries are required for me to become one with the fragrance of this soil?

There are many poems that Perveen has written for her son Murad. There is a gay triumph, almost bravado, in all of those and this is because a woman feels glory in the power of creation.

Fairy tales are used to sustain common cultural customs that maintain the role of women as subordinate to men. Good women in stories are to be passive, without ambition, beautiful, and eager to marry! Imbedded in these tales are warnings to little girls of what will befall upon them if they choose to exhibit non-feminine traits. The fairy tales of childhood are one interesting theme of Perveen Shakir’s poetry.

میں بھی کتنی بھولی تھی، ایک لطفِ مبہم پر
رقص گہ میں گرگابی، چھوڑ کر چلی آئی

How innocent was I to have left my sandal in the ballroom,
Just due to a vague intoxication.
If women are self-conscious, have awareness and know how to walk with their heads high and not bowed, then there are a very few people who would accept such an attitude. Perveen says in a poem;

اور اِک میں ہوں۔۔پتھر اور شوریدہ مزاج!
کاسہء خالی میں بے وجہ سما جانے کی بجائے
اس سے اس قوت سے ٹکرانا چاہوں کہ
ظرفِ تہی کی گونج سے اس کا بھرم کھل جائے!

And here I am! Solid like a stone!
I do not fit in the slots I am offered without asking for reasons!
Rather I encounter it with so much force
That the echo of Nothingness speaks out the bitter truth!
Through her poetry Perveen Shakir revealed that she could offer a timeless reminder of the inner potentialities of the creative and sparkling spirit she had.

( Ambreen Salahuddin is a writer, academic and scholar)

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