The Dawn: June 5, 2015

PUNJAB NOTES: Nasreen Anjum Bhatti: an inimitable poetic voice

Mushtaq Soofi 

The cliché that divine madness is what inspires poets may or may not be true. But what is undeniably true is that they are driven by a streak of certain type of madness, making them appear abnormal individuals, most notably in what they articulate. Normality, as R.D. Laing explored in his numerous writings, is in fact euphuism for conformity. Conformity is the norm of the stratified and repressive society we are condemned to live in. Conformity, by definition, implies the unconditional acceptance of the inherited and the given as truth. One who treads the trodden path is considered normal and the one who deviates from it is liable to be declared ‘abnormal’, in extreme case ‘mad’ not in the pathological but socio-cultural sense.

A poet, worth the name, would never acquiesce to accept the world the way it has been painted and is being painted simply because the image, however colourful and seductive it may be, conceals more than what it reveals. What it reveals is what is apparently palatable for the dominant and the dominated. And what it conceals is the ugliness of the world as it existed and still exists in the backdrop of interplay of conflicting forces, politico-economic and socio-cultural.

A poet’s madness stems from his overriding propensity to imaginatively reconstruct the constructed in a sub-conscious urge to decipher the meaninglessness of the meaningful and the meaningfulness of the meaningless. Such an odyssey that discovers the undiscovered and rediscovers the discovered in order to make sense of the world is incessantly prompted by the poet’s intuitive faculty. Intuition, the defining feature of artists, especially of poets, cannot be dismissed as something irrational or merely exotic if you know how Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientific minds of all times, was not only comfortable with it but also relied on it as an invisible tool of discovering scientific reality. He says ‘only real valuable thing is intuition’. At another place he declares ‘the intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it intuition or what you will, and the solution comes to you and you don’t know how or why’.

The road to discovery may imply two different things for a poet and a scientist but the underlying current that makes them tread the unchartered territories comes from the same source, intuition, which being illusive and amorphous is hard to define. But we all have it to a varying degree. Poets are especially gifted with intuitive vision that has the uncanny quality of exposing the hidden. And that is why they are revered and feared. Without undermining the role of consciousness one may claim that intuition coupled with imagination makes poets.

Compared with men, women are more inclined to rely on intuition as they have historically been denied an easy access to the formal intellectual tools available to men in our patriarchy-based social system. Imagine what happens when poet is a woman of substance such as Nasreen Anjum Bhatti.

A whole new world comes into being out of already existing everyday world that is familiar but prosaic, enduring but worn out because seemingly small routine things which inhabit it, cease to have any significance or meanings for men who pride themselves for looking at ‘big things’ women are incapable of. Small things are in reality the base on which all the so-called big things stand erected. Take the small things away, all the big things will come down tumbling. Nasreen’s poetry subverts such a scheme of things showing us how small things are big in sustaining life and big are small when measured in terms of their role in disturbing the ecology of human relationships. Her portrayal of woman as a social and existential being is as much amazing as challenging. Her intuitive sense of grasping the ordinary female experiences in a patriarchal structure enables her at imaginative level to impregnate them with meanings, suggestive and subtle, that have been there but rarely explored and expressed. Realization of female repression, direct and mediated, lends her inimitable voice a defiant tone rarely found in our contemporary poetry.

After the legendry Amrita Pritam, Nasreen is the female voice, lifelike and larger than life, dominating our poetic landscape that on the one hand debunks woman as she is perceived and on the other celebrates what she potentially is, a source of life and protector of what it offers.

Another closely related theme that runs through her poetry is the absolute rejection of political oppression aimed at denying freedom of expression. Her superb mastery over language makes her expression nuanced and highly suggestive. She is neither a feminist nor a political poet in the conventional sense. She is as much defiant of patriarch as she is that of dictator.

A part of her poem ‘who is it?’, translated by Waqas Khwaja, can give us some feel of her poetic vision. “Hey, who are you weaving my bed with my insides / Place my heart at the foot and my eyes at the head / I have to embroider on the pillow / when the earth’s neck is bowed, you don’t load the sky on it / Baba, produce some serpent / and if it is scaly, let it bite me / it is mine after all / you said it, didn’t you, that we give daughters snakes and serpents in dowry / so do it / Baba, why are daughters and sons not equal and alike in worth / if the daughter is older, you gnaw at her till she is reduced to the size of her brother / if son is older, then again the daughter, a quarter, a half, damaged / Baba, a serpent sits on the Cross, there will be a storm / vultures are getting restless / daughters, afflicted ones, are getting nervous in a frock of lace filigree made of tongues / I leapt the wall but I still could not learn to speak…..”.

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