“He loved to be in the limelight. I recall calling him when I had just reached America and he told me to call him later because he was too busy enjoying a margarita with someone,” said Neelum Ahmed Bashir, a friend of the homosexual activist and Urdu poet Iftikhar Nasim. The poet’s comrades and followers gathered to attend the screening of a biopic made on his life at the one year anniversary event of Boll Mandwa Film Club at the Shirkat Gah — Women’s Resources Centre, Lahore.
Nasim, who passed away in July, is known to be the first Urdu gay poet coming from a Pakistani background. He was the son of Khaleeq Ahmad Khaleeq, who was the editor of local Urdu newspaper Awam. After facing opposition by the Pakistani community, the poet, radio show host and columnist continued to live life according to his own rules in Chicago. He challenged the conservative paradigm of the Pakistani society when he wrote Narman (hermaphrodite) — a compilation of Urdu verses, that many believe is the first Urdu book to openly discuss the desire and emotions of homosexuals. Throughout his life, Nasim was seen advocating gay rights, promoting charitable ventures and reaching out to people through his radio show that was aired from Chicago.
When documentarian Mazhar Zaidi from BBC delved into Nasim’s life and attempted to visually document it, he found a kaleidoscope of flamboyance, charity and goodwill. “For me, the person who felt so passionately about a controversial topic was an enticing and intriguing subject,” said Zaidi. Zaidi finally managed to capture Nasim’s life in Nar Narman. The film, which was released in 2007, is around 20-minutes long and was completed after strenuous two weeks of non-stop filming. Described as a low-budget venture, Nar Narman attempts to document Nasim’s point of view that only challenges help polish the potential in a man. The film shows how his interaction with his friends, family and work choreographed his life events.
“To show the brilliance of his persona, I let some candid scenes be part of the extended documentary,” said Zaidi who used a string of shots captured in a natural environment to highlight the depth of Nasim’s life.
Zaidi also explained that resentment towards Nasim subsided after a certain point, a fact which is shown in the last sequence of the film. “Initially he was ostracised by the Pakistani community but, his social work eventually won over everyone,” said Zaidi.
Also in attendance for the screening were some of Nasim’s childhood friends, including Zaman Khan, who said that during the later part of his life, the poet got accepted by the Pakistani society. He quoted many examples when members of Punjab Assembly invited Nasim to public gatherings. Despite this, threats and fatwas remained a constant fear in his life.
While talking about the poet’s courage, Khan said that Nasim’s motto was, “To be honest and faithful to yourself and not be afraid to show the state of your soul” and Khan believes this is what kept him stable during tough times.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2012.