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Remembering A Poem By Kishwar Naheed On The International Day For Tolerance

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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.

And Jews

Astaghfirullah

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

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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.’

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