When life becomes an act of courage, death seems more appealing and beautiful. Sara Shagufta was a young Pakistani poetess and feminist of the 20th century who was born on 31st October 1954 in Gujranwala. She belonged to a lower-class family from Punjab, which later migrated to Karachi. She had a very troublesome and depressing childhood. Her father remarried and abandoned her family financially. Her mother single-handedly supported the family by doing jobs like making flower garlands. She wanted to pursue higher education, but due to the economic crisis that her family had to face, she couldn’t even finish her matriculation.
At the tender age of 17, she was forcibly married. Her child from her first marriage died as a newborn, but she has kept it alive in her poems. She was soon divorced by her first husband after being blamed for the death of their child and being named an outcast by society. This was followed by three more failed marriages. In a letter addressed to Amrita Pritam, she wrote:
“Amrita! These days I hear loud shouts from all sides, calling me a ‘poet’, but so far, I have not been able to earn enough money for the shroud. Even after all this, I continued sleeping on the burnt-out flames, and he used to take me as something tasteless. I never told him that from his room, from my body, a soul had fled forever… I kept more silent than even God… Whenever he slept with me, I felt as if another child of mine was about to die without a shroud…”
She was emotionally and sexually abused by her father in her childhood. Which in a poem, she wrote:
“My father was naked. I took off my clothes and gave them to him The earth too, was naked. I branded it with my house Shame, too, was naked; I gave it eyes...”
She was never appreciated by her family for the nakedness that she showed in her poetry. She was often shamed for openly talking about sexual freedom and female oppression. Motherhood, Sadness, Sorrow, and Love ooze out of her poems like blood from a fresh deep wound.
In her poem ‘Woman and Salt’ she writes:
لہو تھوکتی عورت دھات نہیں چوڑیوں کی چور نہیں میدان میرا حوصلہ ہے انگارہ میری خواہش ہم سر پہ کفن باندھ کر پیدا ہوئے ہیں کوئی انگوٹھی پہن کر نہیں جسے تم چوری کر لو گے
Which can be translated as:
Blood-spitting woman is not metal,
Nor is she the robber of crushed bangles,
The ground is my courage
And embers are my desire,
We were born with shrouds tied to our heads,
Not wearing a ring,
Which you’ll steal.
Suffering from chronic depression, she spent her life going through medical procedures, rushing in and out of asylums and mental institutions after countless attempted suicides. She was shunned away by many of her “respectable female friends” due to her habit of smoking, drinking excessively, and befriending males. After going through shock therapy, she moved in with another Pakistani Poet, “Attiya Dawood”, with whom she lived until her death on 4th June 1984. She threw herself in front of a moving train at about 11 PM at Drigh Colony railway passing, Karachi, at the age of 29. She was just a few months away from turning 30 when she died. By looking at her poetry, we can see that Sara Shagufta was attracted to death from the very start, like a moth towards a flame. In a poem about her infant son titled “Chaand ka qarz”, she wrote:
“I have loaned a moon to the skies, I’m a lantern in the hands of death.”
I’d like to think she went off to meet the moon, her moon, that she had loaned to the skies. She didn’t die; she didn’t commit suicide; she embraced death like a lover.
After her death, many of her letters and unpublished work were discarded by her family. Her friend and a famous Punjabi poet, Amrita Pritam, described her as ‘The Sylvia Plath of Urdu Poetry.’
I hope we save her fading picture from the history of Urdu Literature by remembering her and reading her works. She was a poetic genius whom our country should take pride in. May her soul rest in peace.
This blog has been penned by Miss Rida F. Baloch.