Building worlds from images
Jamila Nishat's nonconformist poetry has quite often, been denied a place in Urdu mainstream literary circles. She however, looks forward to the release of her latest collection - `Lamhe ki Aankh' in Hyderabad.
EVER SINCE Jamila Nishat decided to bring her feelings into the open through verse, the world of Urdu literature got up to take notice - sometimes welcoming her and at times reluctant to assign her the status due, more so out of the discomfort with her outright feminist, and questioning pen. But Jamila has become a name to reckon with in Urdu poetry, with her compositions journeying places via several internationally acclaimed anthologies of women writers and translations.
In pursuance of a lifetime passion, Jamila released her latest book of poems, Lamhe ki Aankh (The Eye of the Moment) at one of the sessions of the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre. Another acclaimed Urdu writer, Shafeeq Fatima Shera, will soon release the book formally in Hyderabad.
"Lamhe ki Aankh is dedicated to Gujarat," said Jamila while speaking about her poetry and feelings.
The book starts with the powerful, satirical lines, - raat ki kokh se tapke lahu ne kar diya zindagi ko raushan (the blood from the womb of the night has enlightened life). This book is a collection of old and new poems with subtle comments on the life around; on the drab existence of life and stifled voices of women in the Old City; her comment on the demolition of Babri Masjid; a poem on her mother; on a rape victim; on her dream images and flashes that caught her mind's eye which she recorded for posterity, among other things.
Jamila - for whom, poetry has always been a part and parcel of her existence, says, - "At times I get dreams about something - images, perhaps, not comprehensible - and I just need to put these images down on paper as soon as I am awake. If I don't, I go mad!" As Jamila herself, puts it in one of her old verses - Ek nazm so rahi hai tahe rooh ki gahrayi mein... ek maddham aaina ise shakl dena chahta hai (A poem slumbers in my heart, at the centre of my being,... and a dim mirror tries to shape it).
Her poems are untitled as she feels they are self-explanatory. The daughter of the famous artist Sayyid Bin Mohammad (who was professor and later HOD at JNTU) Jamila says her father was an inspiring figure. "My father was different to the outside world - but with us women he was rather conservative on views of women's freedom," she adds. It was her mother's persuasion that helped Jamila and her sisters getting good education.
Jamila did her MA in English and also a PG Diploma in Theatre Arts. About her initiation into poetry, she says, "I started writing poems at a very young age. I loved paintings too. I used to sit for hours in my father's room reading his collections on books of art. Initially, I used my brother's name for my poetry but found it too trying when people praised him for my work! So I began to write in my own name. Jeelani Bano saw my first verse. It was to decide whether I was good enough to be called a poet!"
Jamila has been publishing consistently, and with each anthology, has established herself as a poet who has captured truly the sensibilities of her time. Says Shafiq Fatima Shera of her oeuvre - "At a time when science has overtaken human sensibilities, Jamila's verses have relocated these; hers is one of the finest examples of the free verse genre in Urdu."
Despite Jamila's herculean contribution to Urdu literature there have been moments of dealing with censorship. She believes that at times, she has not been given space in the Urdu mainstream media and literary circles whenever she has raised difficult questions - about burkha, talaq, and cases of bride burning, which she encounters in her work with Shaheen Asmita resource centre in the Old City.
Jamila feels her early poetry - some of which focused on her ideas of intimacy among other things - were accepted quite well when compared to the later, more political and commentative poetry. But the latter did also bring her recognition as a feminist poet and her poem on burkha is still widely talked about.
Jamila looks forward to the release of Lamhe ki Aankh, in Hyderabad, and wonders aloud at what would be the reception like, although for her it is the act of giving vent to her innermost feelings that is most important.
In her own family, none other than herself has taken to poetry. Her sons and her partner are more tuned to music. "Western classical music flows through each room of our house every morning. But my sons have this acceptance (with pride) that their mother is a poet. And I don't feel bad that they have not taken to poetry," she says.
R. UMA MAHESHWARI
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