Feminine voices
in Sindhi poetry

 

By Attiya Dawood

There is a frequent assertion that there has never been a woman prophet. It is said that a woman has never been a saint in the full sense of the word. In the literary circles of Sindh, there have been debates about why there has never been a woman poet of the calibre of Shah Bhitai or Shaikh Ayaz.

Those who ask these questions devise their own answers to them. "So what if a woman has never been a prophet, a great poet or a saint," it is argued, "women gave birth to all of these men. It is enough that woman performed her reproductive role. It is a man's destiny to reach creative heights in society."

A series of chains have been erected around a woman's neck. These include shame and chastity, family honour and male relatives' pride. The slightest initiative by a woman is strangled by tightening these chains. The following are the main points of this paper.

Ancient women poets
Markhan Shaikhan is regarded as the first Sindhi woman poet. She was born in the twelfth century in the Soomra period. Her poetry reflects devotion and praise for her saint Krehel Pir. Her collection has been published by the Sindhi Literary Board. Jadal Jatni was born during the Arghoon period. The famous battle of Khareri took place during her time but there is no mention of this battle in her work. Next come Shah Shujah and Mai Niamat. Mai Niamat was not a poet herself but she knew Bhitai's works by heart. Bhitai's works were written because of her memorisation.

Mai Ghulam Fatima Lal became a widow at a young age. Her poetry reflects her love as well as her sorrow over the loss of her husband. Sassi, a legendary Sindhi folk heroine, is a powerful image in her poetry. Nemanu Fakir, whose real name was Hasu Bai, wrote under a male pen name. She was a follower of Sachal Sarmast and her work was done in 1888. Her poetry is dominated by concerns of love and passion.

Roshan Mughal was a contemporary of Sheikh Ayaz. She studied at DJ College in Karachi. In 1953 the Sindhi Adabi Sangat was formed. She was among the first members of the Sangat. Her poetry is also focussed on romance and images of flowers and beauty. She died at a young age.

Bhagwan Dasi was also a passionate lover of her husband. her poetry reflects her intense love for him. After that the names of Rama Bai and Kamla Kaiswani are important. Kamla wrote critical articles in English newspapers. She used humour in her poetry. Her poem Shaljam is very well‑known. Other well‑known names in Sindhi poetry are those of Gopi Hangoorani and Sundri Dhanaramani. The latter's work Lehrain was the first collection of philosophical poems.

Post-partition women poets
Noor Shaheen has already published her collection. The poetry of Attiya Begum Junejo is replete with patriotic and nationalistic sentiments. She also uses, religious themes in her poetry and writes hamd and naat, poems in praise of Allah and the prophet. Jamila Parveen, writing around 1965, touched topics of popular romance. Around 1962 we find poets like Ismat Ansari, Marvi Sehra, and A.Q. Shaikh. After 1965, we find the names of Khalida, Sultana Waqasi, Munawar Sultana and Seher Imdad appearing on the horizon of Sindhi poetry.

Women poets between 1969 and the present
The decade of the 1970s was very important for Sindh politically. This period gave tremendous impetus to Sindhi literature. Scores of Sindhi magazine and digests began publication. Several were banned by the People's Party government. During this time Sindhi nationalism was becoming an extremely important political force. Shaikh Ayaz and Munshi Ibrahim were writing passionately about Sindhi nationalist struggles. This period gave rise to many Sindhi nationalist poets who used slogans and emotion in their poetry.

However, this trend soon declined. Only those been poets survived in the literary field whose work showed aesthetics, talent, consciousness and The study. They include Surriya Soz Diplai, Seher Imdad, J.A. Manghai, Munawar SultanQ,

Sultana Waqasi, Shamshad Mirza, Sosan Mirza, Surriya Sindhi, Shabnam Moti, Miran, Mariam Majeedi, Pushpa Walabh, Gori Walabh, Zeb Nizamani, Zubeda Metlo, Malika Peerzadi, Fehimida Hussain, Noor‑ul‑Huda Shah, Seher Rizvi, Iram Mehbub, Pares Hamid, Rukhsana Preet, Bano Mehboob Jokhio, Shabnam Gul, Gulbadan Javed Mirza, Nazeer Naz, Nasreen Noori, Rubeena Abro.

Women and folk poetry
Folk poetry probably began when the first woman became a mother. She must have of poured out her love for her child spontaneously in in the form of a lod (lullaby). Folk songs repre­sent women's collective creativity. At the beat of of the dholak one woman sings one line and another responds with the next line. Famous folk songs like moro, chalaro, ho jamalo and others are women's creations. A woman's sociale status and consciousness can be gleaned from Sindhi folk songs. Popular folk songs sung at weddings represent human relationships, especially with in‑laws. Many songs are about the sorrow of leaving the parental home. Some are about the pain and loss suffered by legendary characters Sohni and Sassi. Women create songs based on these characters of folk tales apart from singing the lyrics of well‑known poets.

When I was a child there was a theft in our village. The thief was caught by the police and taken to the police station. However, he was released on bail. The women of the house celebrated his release by condemning the police and calling the case false in song and poetry. The incident was seen as a form of oppression of the poor.

Why is there no women poet of
caliber of Ayaz or Bhitai?
 
This is not a question of comparison with two great poets. If we examine the lives of ancient and modern great poets, we find that they sacrificed a great deal at the alter of their art. They suffered as they roamed the world searching for experience and revelation. Shah Bhitai visited the areas that appear in his poetry. He studied every flower, petal, tree or bush described by him. Similarly, Shaikh Ayaz got the opportunity to travel far and wide to observe, experience and reflect. At Nangarpar, the keeper of the Resthouse told me that whenever Shaikh Ayaz was there he hardly slept, ate or worried about other physical needs. He would leave early in the morning and didn't care about the heat or sun. He would touch each leaf or flower himself. He would talk to the people and late into the night he wrote in the light of a lantern.

His wife says that she spent her entire life waiting for him. Whenever he asked her to pack his clothes, she asked how many to pack. His writer friends would come and suddenly in the middle of the night they would all leave. Even during illness and old age, he studied sixteen to seventeen hours a day. He slept little. The famous poet, Shamshir‑ul‑Haidri's wife, once told me affectionately, "marry a thief, dacoit or scoundrel if you will. But please remember, never marry a poet."

Poets and intellectuals actively participate in literary activities. Their drawing rooms echo with literary debates and arguments. The intellectual or poet's wife brings is in the tea and then closes the door, puts the children to sleep and recreates into the kitchen. The debate on women's emancipation in the drawing room does not reach her ears.

I interviewed several women poets and asked why they stopped writing. The answers I got were, 'I don't feel like it'. 'I don't feel inspired' or 'I can't think of what to write.' They wonder what is the purpose of achieving fame. What did they get from writing? They claim that in the past they used to have time. After marriage they have responsibilities. 'Now I have to cook. How can I write poetry when I have housework to do?' They ask. 'The children have driven me mad. My husband doesn't really stop me but I know he won't like it if he finds out that I write poetry.' These poets cannot even imagine writing new poetry. They seem apologetic, surprised about and ashamed of the work already done.

There are many poets who dreamed of living a life of independence. They dreamed of intellectual and open minded husbands who would enable them to break the shackles of tradition and constraints. They dreamed of writing in an atmosphere of love and freedom with such a man. But as soon as they got married, the man of their dreams himself became a wall of tradition and constraint in which they were buried forever.

I asked one poet friend why she didn't write anymore. She said that her poet brother appealed to her not to do so on the basis of his honour. He told her that if she attended literary gatherings and read her poetry, he would not be able to show his face to the world. He told her that she was too innocent, that writers and poets are hypocrites and immoral and think of women as sex objects. Even though she was an educated and intelligent woman, the brother did not trust her. Now that all her inspiration and desire to write has been stifled, he offers to have her collection published. It no longer matters to her. As she puts it, 'You cannot wake up a dead person by placing flowers on her grave.'

Mariam Majeedi was not able to attain fame despite being a better poet than her contemporary male poets. The formation of Sindhi Adabi Sangat as a progressive platform for expression has not helped women poets in expressing their art. Women hardly participate in its activities. The male poets make fun of women poets who come from a background of suffocation. Yet, they are quick to compare them with Bhitai or Ayaz as a way of undermining the idea of a women poet.

Feminist reflections in Sindhi
   It is difficult to provide specific' examples of feminist consciousness in the work of Sindhi women poets. The experiences, observations and feelings of women enter into their work even when it is not consciously feminist However, one can provide some examples of poems written about women themselves or on the subject of woman and her life conditions.

Jawal jatni was a beautiful women and praised her own self in her poetry as a form of self‑celebration of her womanhood. Gopi Hangoorani wrote about the confinement of woman and her desire to breathe the air of freedom. Ismat Ansari wrote inspiring poems exhorting women to be strong and to arm themselves with the power of knowledge. Naeema Shaikh also dealt with issues of freedom and captivity. Surriya Soz Diplai wrote about male superiority declaring it to be false and a myth. Munawar Sultana wrote about the completeness of the self in a world which considers a woman only half a person. Sultana Waqasi celebrated women's strength and courage. Mariam Majeedi wrote about the eternally young passion that seethes inside a woman. Malika Peerzadi writes about the importance of the self of a woman who cannot be discarded like an old song one no longer wants to hear.

Noor‑un‑Nisa Ghagro has written a poem depicting the pain of a woman's name and identity changing with each successive marriage. The poem depicts a woman, Azra, looking at her paintings in a room. The first is signed, Azra Ahmed. Ahmed, her father, lives in some remote house far away. The second painting is signed, Azra Memon. Memon, her first husband, is dead. The third and recent painting is signed, Azra Kabir. She looks at it and begins to cry. Sindhi women poets are thus grappling with the issue of identity so central to woman's lives.

These are excerpts from Unveiling the Issues: Pakistani Women's Perspectives on Social, Political and Ideological Issues edited by Nighat Said Khan and Afiya Sheherbano Zia. 194 pp. Rs 300. Publishid by ASR Publications, Flats 5 & 6, Third Floor, Sheraz Plaza, Main Gulberg Market, Lahore. Telephone (042) 877613.

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