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Against the Canon: Urdu Feminist Writing

March 2020

Farazeh Syed, Attire (cropped), acrylic on canvas, 4 x 5 ft, 2016. By arrangement with the artist.

Image: Farazeh Syed, “Attire” (cropped), acrylic on canvas, 4 x 5 ft, 2016. By arrangement with the artist.

This month we present six important but underrecognized Urdu feminist writers. These writers—all outside the established canon—explore holiday observances and quotidian exchanges, charged relationships and domestic conflicts, confirming the great variety of faces, tones, concerns, and aesthetics within the genre. Hijab Imtiaz reflects on a new beginning. Miraji investigates Sappho’s life and poetry, while Khalida Hussain’s household members confront a domestic intruder. And in poetry, Sara Shagufta considers the elements, Parveen Shakir deflects a suitor, and Yasmeen Hameed challenges conventions worldly and otherwise. Guest editor Haider Shahbaz and others collaborate on an illuminating introduction. 

Urdu Feminist Writing: New Approaches
By Asad Alvi, Amna Chaudhry, Mehak Faisal Khan, Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb, Geeta Patel & Haider Shahbaz
A dispiriting narrowness has defined canons of Urdu feminist writing from previous decades.
By Khalida Hussain
“It’s an act of virtue to kill her!”
Translated from Urdu by Haider Shahbaz
I Spat Out This Poem
By Yasmeen Hameed
I swallowed fire / And forgot you were an ocean.
Translated from Urdu by Mehr Afshan Farooqi
A yellow rose lying on a stone surface
Photo by Sindy Strife on Unsplash
A New Year for Everyone
By Hijab Imtiaz
So this is what the new year of those who worship this life looks like!
Translated from Urdu by Sascha Akhtar
No, My Veil Is Stained
By Parveen Shakir
Flowers will slip from a torn veil.
Translated from Urdu by Adeeba Shahid Talukder
Sappho’s Ephemera
By Miraji
Her sagacity immortalized even her scattered, sporadic axioms.
Translated from Urdu by Geeta Patel
Red earth has broken apart leaving a cliff-like overhand with exposed tree roots against a forest...
Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash
Color Thief
By Sara Shagufta
When a man cries / he floods himself in salt tears / and colorfast he drowns
Translated from Urdu by Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb