Standing up for women's rights does not make me a feminist: Azra Abbas

Published: October 7, 2013

For Abbas, some female and feminist poets try to use victimhood in their poetry to win admiration. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: Literary critics call Azra Abbas a leading Pakistani feminist poet. She, however, finds them all at a certain distance to the work she has produced during the last four decades.

“My propensity towards standing up for the rights and injustices against women does not make me a feminist,” clarified Abbas in a session hosted by writer and journalist Mohammed Hanif at The 2nd Floor  on Saturday. For Abbas, some female and feminist poets try to use victimhood in their poetry to win admiration. “But I have not written a single poem against men in my life though I have always been at loggerheads with them [men],” she said.

Some people show bravery by facing and living life – dealing with things connected to daily life. Another kind of bravery is writing – putting on paper something which will have to face people’s opinions and criticism. “Azra is remarkably brave like that,” Hanif opened the session by saying. He read a few verses from her book, “Maiz Par Rakhay Hath”.

The evening proved to be a tasteful mix of Urdu poetry readings and conversation with the poet combined with Hanif’s exuberantly witty remarks and questions.

About 20 years ago, Hanif had asked her what she would have been if not a poet. She had replied she would be a terrorist. “Around 20 years ago being a terrorist wasn’t as ‘fashionable’ as it appears today. Now, after 20 years, if I ask the same question again, would your answer still be the same?” he asked her and the hall echoed with laughter. During the session, Abbas read poems from her books and narrated stories from her life which won applause.

For Hanif, what strikes the reader about Abbas, are the feelings of melancholy coupled with the beautiful imagination she uses in her poetry. “From where do you get such an imagination and diction?” asked Hanif. Abbas returned the question with an innocent look. She was a dreamer and a rebel who had found the use of words to give release to her ‘madness’. Her poetry began at an age when Abbas, a netball player at her college, used to switch on a tape recorder at the premises to dance with her friends.

Her writings reflect her childhood and the memories she has from her formative years. Her first prose book, titled “Mera bachpan”, is a collection of her childhood memories. “Sometimes, when I feel sad and words to form poetry just do not come to me, I prefer to sit back and revel in my childhood memories,” she said.

Abbas has served as a teacher for 27 years. When asked whether she enjoyed teaching, she answered in the affirmative. She added, though, that she was not happy with the syllabus. For students, meanwhile, Azra is more of a friend and mentor than a teacher. Abbas has authored three compilations of poems and another of short stories as well as an autobiographical narrative.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 7th, 2013.

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