Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Beyond Boundaries

Noted Pakistani poet Zehra Nigah talks of her association with India, and about the influence Amrita Pritam had on her career...

One of the most enduring memories of director Chandra Prakash Dwivedi’s movie Pinjar, based on the Amrita Pritam masterpiece, was the moving clarity with which the lyrics, Sita ko dekhe sara gaon, that plays out as a leitmotif in the second half of the movie, captures the plight of the female protagonist. The woman who wrote the lyrics, Zehra Nigah, the grand dame of feminist poetry in Pakistan, was in the capital for the 46th annual Shankar Shad Mushaira organised by Shankar Lall Murli Dhar Society. “Coming to India, especially Ghalib’s Delhi is always an experience, though it was somewhat more enriching when Amritaji was alive,” says Nigah, 71, settling down for tea at a friend’s house on Sardar Patel Marg.
Born in Hyderabad, India, Nigah moved to Pakistan after the Partition. Poetry came to her at an early age, but it was mostly a private endeavour. “Poetry by women wasn’t appreciated and respected in public. Interestingly, there was a different world of poetry in the zenana mushairas. Women poets had their own small nashists (discussions) in purdah, at which they would recite poetry. But a woman in a mushaira sitting alongside men and reciting poetry was something unheard of,” says Nigah who surfaced on the Pakistani literary scene as a child prodigy in the early 50s.
Meeting Indian poet Amrita Pritam though, changed the tide for Nigah. She was 15 when Pritam came down to Lahore for an All India Radio assignment. “She heard me recite a small piece at a local mushaira. She came up to me and said, “ Bahut achha likhti ho, kabhi us paar bhi aao (You write really well. Come over to India sometime.) I was already her fan and was floored,” reminisces Nigah. When she did come over to India , her mushairas had a host of Indian dignitaries in attendance — from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to Dr S Radhakrishnan, to Lal Bahadur Shastri, everybody dropped in whenever they could. “My poetry was always liked in India as I covered a wide variety of subjects ranging from everyday life to the extremely repressive Hudood Ordinance by Zia-ul-Haque in 1979,” says Nigah.

Full report here The Indian Express

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