Kishwar Naheed; poet, advocate of women’s rights, popular newspaper columnist, noted editor, active social worker and courageous bureaucrat never ceases to amaze and provoke. Recipient of the Adamjee Prize for Literature for her poetry collection “Lab-e-Goya”, as well as a Sitara-e-Imtiaz for her literary achievements, the woman is synonymous with resistance against bigotry and social injustice. Recently she has come up with a no-holds-barred account of her days in government service in a slim book titled “Kishwar Naheed Ki Diary”. It is an immensely readable and entertaining account encompassing the many lives of the poetess. In a patriarchal society it is a feat of enviable courage for a woman to bring to the fore such an audacious collection of admittance and expose. When she started writing the book she had planned to focus on her years in public service, yet her creative impulse to capture the ancillary details compelled her to venture beyond the preconceived.
She starts out with a commentary on the travails of a working girl who has to put up with a boss who invitingly caresses a nude mini statue while discussing official matters.
After a short commentary she comes straight to her nuptial night. She had hardly crossed her teens when she married a philandering poet Yousaf Kamran. Both knew financial hardship but belonged to diametrically opposite cultural backgrounds. Poet Ihsan Danish quipped “A Punjabi has snatched away a poetess from U.P.” The husband and wife had to work hard to earn a decent living. She was assigned the task of establishing a small business-holding for rural women. “In those days intolerance had not permeated the very fiber of our society. Men and women would sit together to discuss their problems. Unfortunately these days I meet women at homes and men at the offices of the Union Council. Such segregation was never perceived”.
[quote]Bhutto politely refused saying, “I am ready to pay the embezzled amount but won’t talk to the Americans on this issue”[/quote]
Gradually, the couple gathered enough resources to take on life with the comfort afforded to economically well-off people. Their house was visited by the likes of Jamil-ud-din Aali, Ahmad Faraz, Intizar Hussain and Amjad Islam Amjad, among other literati.
Kishwar Naheed’s husband Yousaf maintained accounts of an American Company. He was a handsome man with a fondness for women. “American women would grab him and take him to their houses” she writes matter-of-factly. On an unfortunate night he was arrested for embezzlement. Charges were established and he was imprisoned. Meanwhile she met Mr. Bhutto to intervene in favour of her husband. Bhutto politely refused saying, “I am ready to pay the embezzled amount but won’t talk to the Americans on this issue.”
Kishwar Naheed has a coterie of anecdotes about Bhutto. Maulana Kausar Niazi was the Minister of Information during Bhutto’s regime. Kishwar worked under his administrative control. Once he called her to discuss the proofs of a compilation of his works. She had written “reduce distance” for the calligraphist on margins of the draft. When Maulana read these words he extended his arm towards her and said “How can the distance be reduced unless you consent”. She stormed out of the office and was subsequently suspended from service. She again approached Bhutto for reprieve, who said, “You Pakistanis are fools. It would have been wiser on your part if you had flirted a bit with the Maulana”, but reinstated her immediately anyway.
Bhutto’s many foibles are documented in detail through several anecdotes that reveal the legendary politician in a new light. After 1971, he sent a delegation of POW’s wives on a world tour to allow them to share their grief with the world and gain sympathies. He categorically instructed them, “You can cry as much as you want but no lady can go for shopping or wear make-up during the tour.” Consequently, the tour worked out pretty well in bringing back war prisoners.
One of the most interesting anecdotes in the book involves Zaheer Kashmiri who made a movie “Teen Phool”. When the film was released he went to watch it in the cinema where the gatekeeper stopped him from entering the hall. “I am the film maker of this movie”, protested an indignant Kashmiri. The gate keeper retorted, “I have locked the only three unlucky viewers who had come to watch the movie inside the hall. Do you want me to unlock the door so that they too can slip away”?
Kishwar got abundant opportunities to travel around the globe and interact with people from various cultures; from petty cotton pickers to Nobel Laureates; street hookers to wives of Generals, bureaucrats to women who slept with Heads of States. She saw the world as it revealed itself to her in all its gory detail and also its full glory. She lived life to the full.
“Ever since I have retired, I am required to go to the bank and confirm in writing that I am still alive and was also alive in the previous intervening period,” she laments on absurd official procedures.
This 92-page slim volume contains enough material for entertainment and information. It keeps a reader craving for more. Its literary quality can be debated upon but its importance as a chronicle of the socio-cultural history of Pakistan is indisputable.
“I am a poetess. We are people of few words. That’s why I have compressed the content of 500 pages into this slim volume” She confides in me.
Irfan Javed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org