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Know Your Poets: Zehra Nigah

A poet, whose work I greatly admire is Zehra Nigah, who like me had to cross the border in 1947. Only she crossed into that line drawn in the sand to the other side into Pakistan, while I crossed over to India. She is an Urdu poet and scriptwriter and as you can hear in the video below, she is a marvellous poet. She was one of only two female poets to gain the respect of the country in a time when poetry was completely dominated by men.  A few years ago, Sheraz Khan posted this video of her poem as above on youtube, recited by Anwar Maqsood, who is also a fantastic poet. The lines of the poem are “Suna hai Jnglon ka bhi koi Dastoor hota hai,” where she uses the metaphor of the jungle to talk about larger moral implications. The literal meaning is even in the jungles, there is a social order, something we don’t really think about. That animals, like humans, are rational thinking beings, who are also governed by morality.

Zehra-nigahWhen I decided to pick this poet to write about, the difficulty did not come from what to write, but what not to write. There were so many of her poems that were so beautiful and immersed in variations in tone. Some started off humorous and became poignant, others were poignant from the start and became even more so. One such poem is called, “Mai bach gai, Ma,” told from the point of view of a girl-child, who has escaped abortion. The lines literally translate to “I have survived, mother.” And it is such a moving poem, regardless of whether you have daughters or not. Everyone has sisters and mothers anyway! Watch the video and see what you think!

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