On October 30 2019, the Gurmani Centre held the first session of the Ahmed Bilal Awan Bazm-e-Adab “Tīn Shā‘ēr, Tīn Diktētar” series. The guest for the day was Kishwar Naheed—a pre-eminent Urdu poet, feminist activist, and the author of several books including Lab-e-Goya, Warq Warq Aina, Aurat Mard ka Rishta, and Buri Aurat ki Katha.
During the two hour long session, Kishwar Naheed discussed her literary influences, her personal journey as a writer, and stories of writing during a time of heightened censorship. She recounted anecdotes from her youth and talked about the backlash she faced for wanting to pursue an education. While talking about her fondness for debating as a student, she recounted an incident when she spoke up against the discriminatory policy of awarding only a “consolation prize” to female debaters. “The practice of awarding the consolation prize was ended after that day,” she said. Through such anecdotes, she impressed upon the audience the importance of continuing to fight back against injustice in order to change conventions.
Her accounts of writing and protesting during the dictatorial regime of Zia-ul-Haq were imbued with the same spirit of resilience and resistance. She recounted how she and her peers continued to dissent in an era of heightened censorship—by translating revolutionary literature from other languages, using an alias, and using symbolism in their poetry. She showed the audience a scan of a newspaper— included in her autobiography— in which an entire article about her had been completely blacked out. “It is important for you to see and remember these things,” she said, addressing the students in the audience, “because no one tells young people about the extent of state censorship anymore”. She insisted on the importance of remembering.these histories and the responsibility of the younger generation to keep resisting authoritarianism and injustice in its various iterations.
The discussion was punctuated by Kishwar Naheed’s readings of her poetry. She also reminisced about the events and conditions that inspired her to pen some of her most well-remembered poems. Hearing her reciting “yeh hum gunāhgār aurateiñ”, “ghās tou mujh jesī hai”, “māzī ka mausam”, and “subh o sham ho ga’ī” were moving experiences for all present.