Parveen Shakir – She Speaks For Me, She Speaks To Me

, Sher o Sukhan

Tooti hai meri neend magar tumko is se kya?
Bajtey rahein hawaon sey darr, tumko is se kya?

(I woke up from sleep, but does it matter to you?
The wind knocking on my doors, but does it matter to you?)

My parents were connoisseurs of fine Urdu poetry and we grew up with verses of the greats, but those were the days when there was no ready access to new literature or poetry as today, and there were fewer forums for discussions.

The internet has done great work in bringing literature and poetry, among other things within reach. Social media has covered the rest of the distance.

I started and moderate a poetry forum on Twitter called #shair. The structure is that for six days a week, we tweet verses as per a schedule prepared by me on suggestions by members.

In the initial stages, one of the members suggested lady poets. I was a little hesitant because I had heard a few ladies in mushairasand hadn’t been very impressed. To me, their poetry was shallow and lacked depth.

I asked them for names and amongst those given one of them was Parveen Shakir. (Thanks Pravesh Bharadwaj, I owe you one for this.)

As is my custom, whenever we have a new poet, I read and tweet a little about them and I did the same for Parveen Shakir. To my joy, it was like entering a candy store.

Parveen Shakir, born on 24 November 1952 in Gaya, Bihar in India, was a Pakistani poet, teacher and civil servant. She started writing at an early age and gained success with publication of her first volume of poetry, Khushbu (Fragrance), in 1976.

As the saying goes, the good die young and Parveen Shakir was no exception. She died in a car accident on her way to work at the young age of 42, on Dec 26th, 1994, when her car collided with a bus in Islamabad.

Mar bhi jaaon to kahan log bhula hi dein ge,

Lafz mere, mere honey ki gawaahi dein ge…

(Even if I die how will people ever forget me?

My words will always give witness of my existence.)

Parveen Shakir wrote about love, feminism, and social stigmas using the style of ghazals and nazms. She spoke of the vulnerability, emotional dependence and exploitation of women, using metaphors, similes and personification.

Vo to Khushbuu hai havaaon men bikhar jaayegaa

masalaa phuul ka hai phuul kidhar jaayegaa

(He is like the perfume which will disperse in the breeze.

Problem is what of the flower? Where will it go?)

Vo havaaoN ki tarah Khanaa’bajaan phirtaa hai

ek jhonkaa hai jo aayegaa guzar jaayegaa

(Like the wind he leads a nomadic life.

As a gust he will pass this way and blow away.)

By Bilquees Khanum:

Main sach kahungi aur phir bhi haar jaaongi

Woh jhooth bolega aur lajawaab kar dega

(I will speak the truth and lose.

He will lie and leave me speechless!)

Kuch to hawa bhi sard thi kuch tha tera khayal bhi

Dil ko Khushi ke sath sath hota raha malal bhi

(Maybe because the wind was cruel, and your memory plentiful,

My heart was throbbing with pleasure and pain.)

Sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan:

For the first time, here was a poet who wrote about love but from a girl’s point of view. It was, as if a sweet voice had been given to a young girl’s longings, anguish, pain and sleepless nights. Ghalib or Faiz had never been able to articulate my feelings in such a manner. Their verses were more metaphysical, more metaphorical and they spoke of another level of love and another level of concern. Not the love felt by young girls all over the world. There was an innocent sensuality to her words which spoke about love which was tender, yet powerful. She talked of the pain of separation, the longing for a faithful lover.

Chalne ka hausla nahi rukna muhaal kar diya

Ishq ke iss safar ne tau mujhko nidhaal kar diya

(No strength left to walk, stopping is impossibility,

The journey of love has left me lifeless.)

Taaza mohabbatoN ka nasha jism o jaaN meiN hai

phir mausam’e bahaar mere gulsitaan meiN hai

(My body and mind is drunk on tender love.

Once again there is spring in my garden.)

Parveen Shakir recites:

Kuchh pal use aur dekh sakte

Ashkon ko magar gawaaraa kab tha

(To have seen him for few more moments

Alas! Tears didn’t allow that pleasure.)

Ab aur ke saath hai tau kya dukh?

Pahle bhi who hamara kab tha!

(So what if he is with someone else now.

He was never mine to start with!)

Another gem questions double standards regarding women and their freedoms.

Tum mauj mauj misle saba ghoomtay raho

Kat jayen meri soch ke par, tumko is se kya?

(You roam wherever you fancy, unhampered like the breeze.

If the wings of my imagination are cut, does it matter to you?)

As a successful career woman herself, in her poem “Working Women“, she talks of the need for economic independence of women.

Mera saaraa roop, meri apni daryaaft hai

MaiN ab har mausam say sar ooNcha kar kay milti sakti hooN

Aik tanaawar pair hooN ab main

(All my beauty is now because of me.

I can meet every season with head held high.

A strong tree I am now.)

She was also one of the first to employ the feminine gender when talking about her feelings. Before this, the male dominated poetry scene had spoken from their point of view to the female ‘beloved’. Here was a feminine voice speaking out to the male aashiq (lover). She was no longer the passive mashooq (beloved).

Larkiyon ke dukh ajab hote hain sukh us se ajeeb

Hans rahi hain aur kaajal bheegta hai saath saath

(Strange are the sorrows of girls, stranger still their joys,

They laugh, yet kohl-filled tears mingle with their smiles.)

The complete abandonment and submission to a lover’s will finds words in this verse:

Iss Shert pe khelon gi piya pyar ki baazi

Jeeto’n tu tujhe pao’n, haar’on tu piya teri

(Beloved, I will play the game of love, only on this condition.

If I win, I win you, if I lose, my Beloved I am yours.)

In spite of all these explanations, I am unable to understand her grip over me. There is something about the rawness, yet simplicity in her words which never ceases to touch my heart. Maybe, it is because as a woman I can relate to her more or maybe because she speaks for women and their needs.

Raat wo dard mere dil me utha

Subha tak chain na aya logon

(Such an ache as rose in my heart at night

Till morning I was restless, oh friends!)

Kese kehdooN ke mujhey chorr diya hai usnay

Baat tau sach hai, magar baat hai ruswai ki

(How can I say he has left me?

Though it’s true it’s enough to stigmatize me.)

Kuu ba kuu phhel gai baat shanasaai ki

Uss ney khushbu ki tarah meri pazeeraai ki

(He welcomed me like a fragrance.

The tale of our love was heard here and there.)

(Sung by Mehdi Hasan:

The simplicity and pathos of a union, promise and separation is so beautifully expressed in these lines:

Milna — dobara milnay ko wada — judaiyaan

itnay bohat say kaam achanak nimat gaye

(Union—promise of reunion – separation

So many things accomplished in a flash.)

No male poet could have expressed a woman’s feelings so simply! The common lament of lovers in this busy, busy world:

Humain khabar hai, Hawaa ka mizaaj rakhte ho,

Magar yeh kya, ke zara dair ko rukey bhi nahin

(I know you keep one eye on the winds.

But what’s this, that you didn’t even tarry a while?)

Or the pathos and longing in this simple verse:

Chaand meri tarah pighalta raha

Neend mein saari raat chalta raha

(Like me the moon kept melting

Kept sleep walking, all night)


Bari muddat se tanha thay mere dukh

Khudaayaa! Mere aansu ro gaya kaun?

(For ages my sorrow has been alone.

Lord! My tears have been cried by whom?)

Or the sensual imagery and loneliness evoked by this verse.

Subah mere jooray ki har kali salamat nikli

gonjta tha khushboo main raat bhar ka sannata

(Come morn and every bud in my hair emerged safe and uncrushed.

Echoing in its fragrance was the night’s loneliness.)

And which woman doesn’t find that she is playing wife, lover, friend and mother all in one at some time or other?

Sab ziddain uski main poori karoun, har baat sunun

aik bachay ki tarah say usay hansta dekhun

(Every wish of his I want to fulfil, listen to everything.

I want to see him laughing like a child.)

I could go on and on, but I will leave the readers to discover some of her gems for themselves. There are other far better poets in today’s world of poetry but for me, Parveen Shakir holds a fascination which their technical brilliance, or wordplay can’t match.

She speaks for me and she speaks to me!
(All translations done by me)

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