Remembering A Poem By Kishwar Naheed On The International Day For Tolerance
November 16th marks the International Day for Tolerance, which is an annual observance day declared by UNESCO in 1995 to generate public awareness on the dangers of intolerance. To mark this occasion, I translated a poem by iconic Pakistani poetess Kishwar Naheed entitled Sargoshiyaan (Whispers). This poem is included in her latest collection of poetry, Shirin Sukhani se Paray (Away from Sweet Talk, Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore, 2018).
The poem is not only a beautiful tribute to the diversity of multi-religious Pakistan but also a dirge for the spread of violent forms of religiosity and in intolerance here, against freedom of religion and thought. It begins with the interrogatory couplet,
‘Kisi ne poocha tumhare mulk mein
Konse mazhab ke log rehte hein.
Proceeding to sketch the creeping intolerance against believers of various religions, even different ways of being like the transgender community and homosexuality, Naheed ends with a chilling rejoinder, an answer to the interrogator at the poem’s beginning:
‘Pakistan mein kufr phailaane ki ijaazat nahin hai
Bas khamosh ho jao.
Progressives in India must also read this pithy poem as a warning against rapidly-rising rabid communalism in their own ranks.
‘Someone asked in your country
The people of which religion live verily.
I said Muslim, Hindu, Sikh
Christian and sometimes Parsis additionally
Are seen occasionally.
But they are the followers of Moses
Yes they were once, but now our aged men
Have refused to accept them as a country or nation
But you refused
To accept Ahmadis as well
Sometimeseven Shias too you kill
For your faith your chests swell.
Well leave it, do tell
Women and men are each other’s garment
Yes but only in the sleeping apartment
Well so the eunuchs belong to which row
Since the dancing girls have been killed in tow.
They too are shot
Still they perform on the trot.
Ok so tell then
Here two men, two women
Announce their mutual union
In Pakistan to spread infidelity is disallowed
Just do not speak aloud.’
The writer, is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic, and an award-winning translator based in Lahore. He is currently the President of the Progressive Writers Association in Lahore. He can be reached at: [email protected]