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My home, my heart

April 29, 2011

A colleague at the University of Wyoming first told us about Jameela Nishat, the Hyderabad-based activist,  feminist, and poet.

What instrument is this
vibrating the strings
of my eyelashes?
what Picture forms and unforms
on the aural screen?
What shadow is this
that overspreads the clouded heart?
You know
I Love shadows,
but whenever this one
unfurls its wings,
a tide of Thoughts swells in the blood,
and the blood begins to drip
from my pen.

(India, 1958)

This is from A Poem Slumbers in My Heart, a slender volume published by SPARROW, the feminist archival group based in Mumbai and which is translated from the Dakhani, the Telugu-Urdu hybrid that is so characteristic of Hyderabad, the city where she lives, and where she is Executive Director of the Shaheen Women Resource & Welfare Association.

Nishat is a significant presence in contemporary Urdu literature and is known outside this circle by translations of her work, mainly by Hoshang Merchant at the Central University, Hyderabad. A recent poem that she shared with us (in translation)

Yogini’s Lament

What is right,
And what is wrong,
I do not know.

I am crushed
into every darkest shadow
Of every crevice.
I live in every call.

This is the world of fights.
Here is the society of violence.
I am the maker of love.

Where do I go?
Where do I dance?

You leveled the gumbad.
You demolished me.

It weighs so heavy on my memory.

In this mire,
my essence,
my life’s breath bleeds.
Into this masjid,
my lovers came,
singing,
prostrating.

My gungra and my payal
cry to remember their devotions.

The whole of the earth is janumbhomi
Why fight over its pieces?

I am jogan

writhing
shimmying
hopping

You leveled the masjid.
You charred my soul.

No one knows
What is right
And what is wrong.

This open earth is my home.
The sky affirms.

My ghugra’s outcries echo
In this great open
For centuries.
The open earth is my heart.
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