ISLAMABAD: Gender-based violence, honour killings and sexual abuse — these are only some of the hard-hitting realities of Pakistani women that Sadaf Raza highlights in her poetry.
The 41-year-old poet recently launched her book “Write Me in Red”, which follows her first collection “Like a Sleepwalker” that was published in 2003 and has been acknowledged by acclaimed South Asian writes.
Despite having two collections to her credit and two others in the pipeline, Raza has never had any formal training in poetry.
However, her extensive work as a human rights activist and status as an avid reader has helped her find her voice.
“My life wasn’t smooth sailing and my Master’s [degree] was cut short due to my circumstances. From then the struggle was to put bread on the table and be a partner to my husband,” Raza told The Express Tribune.
Raza’s lack of literary training is quite noticeable to a well-versed reader, as the rhythm and metre don’t follow any pattern. However, the lack of structure can be ignored since her intention is not to produce a book of poetic significance. Instead, she aims to write something that is a visceral reaction to women’s experiences in dire states — women she has met in her career.
Describing her collection at the launching ceremony, noted writer and columnist Haris Khalique said, “The haunting imagery and the use of astounding similes capture the changing season of anguish in a woman’s life. But then the tone of personal suffering blends with hues of universal pain on an ever-expanding canvas.”
Raza’s ability to mesh her personal hurdles with those of others makes her collection authentic and relatable. For instance, in her poem “Let’s reinvent history”, she toys with the idea of how she will narrate the tale of her family history and admits that her account may be laden with inaccuracies.
“I will hang a tall story with loose ends with tainted hands — I will create tainted heroic lives — lives which would have no bearing to the reality,” she writes.
In doing so, she has not only let her own subjective conscious appear in the collection, but also subliminally, and indirectly, undermined history as a testosterone charged and driven phenomena.
Raza says girls’ education is an issue very close to her heart; but she criticises the current curriculum which “turns girls into unquestioning wives and obedient servants.”
“It will take years before education can empower women,” she said. Therefore, questioning history is one way in which Raza has taken to empower women by understanding more holistically how and why history is the way it is.
“Our literacy level stands at 52% when people can sign their names and receive Watan Cards.
“Even the educated fall in various categories; those with the degrees are usually without analytical skills, they are not concerned with literature and they only study what is in their curriculum,” she said.
As an English writer, Raza’s readership is limited. However she is filling a niche to educate and sensitise citizens to the harsh realities of most Pakistani women. Raza hopes she will at least be able to reach the affluent and educated, especially the youth, so they can be inspired to be change makers.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2012.