Punjabi poet Nasreen Anjum Bhatti dies at 73

Published Jan 27, 2016 10:10am
Nasreen was awarded Tamgha-i-Imtiaz in 2011
Nasreen was awarded Tamgha-i-Imtiaz in 2011

KARACHI/LAHORE: Nasreen Anjum Bhatti, poet, peace and political activist and broadcaster, lost her fight against cancer in Karachi on Tuesday -- the day she turned 73.

She was the author of four books, two of them still under printing process, and was considered to be one of the last crusaders of “literature of resistance”.

The particular strain of resistance that Nasreen Bhatti belonged to had its origins in the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the Martial Law of Gen Ziaul Haq.

A bilingual poet, Nasreen Bhatti was born in Quetta in 1943 while she spent her childhood in Jacobabad, Sindh.

In one of her interviews with an English language daily in 2008, she had said, “I am a Balochi by birth, Sindhi by domicile and Punjabi by marriage. I belong to the whole Pakistan. I spent my childhood in Quetta and got early education in a school where the Hazara girls would speak Persian.

( From Left to Right) Nosheen Ali, Nasreen Anjum Bhatti, Zehra Nigah and Haris Khalique are discussing about Contemporary Poetic Thought in Pakistan in a session on third day of ILF 2014. – Photo by Irfan Haider
( From Left to Right) Nosheen Ali, Nasreen Anjum Bhatti, Zehra Nigah and Haris Khalique are discussing about Contemporary Poetic Thought in Pakistan in a session on third day of ILF 2014. – Photo by Irfan Haider

“Then we migrated to Jacobabad, Sindh, because my grandparents could not bear the bitter cold of Quetta. Later, I joined Lahore College as the Bachelor of Fine Arts student.”

She did her Master’s in Urdu from the Oriental College in 1970 in Lahore before joining Radio Pakistan in 1971. She studied art in National College of Arts (NCA) for two years but did not get a diploma. She later did MA Punjab while working with the radio.

Nasreen Bhatti became a part of Lahore’s literary milieu during those day. In the same interview, she further says, “I would attend study circles of which Sarmad Sehbai, Fahim Jozi, Shahid Mehmood Nadeem and Kanwal Mushtaq were also a part. Then, Najm Hosain Syed was my ideal. I still attend weekly meetings at his place.”

Nasreen had started writing poetry at an early age. She wrote his first poem at the age of nine and it was printed in ‘Taleem-o-Tarbiat’. Later, she became the editor of her college magazine and contributed poems in Urdu and English. She also wrote in Sindhi and Punjabi then but later on restricted herself to Punjabi and Urdu.

She joined Radio Pakistan in 1971 through a talent-hunt programme and she used to arrange after student activities and read poems and articles in literary programmes on the radio.

Nasreen produced her first book “Neel Karayaan Neelkan” way back in 1979. She took time to author the next one: “Athay Pehr Tarah” was published in 2009. Two of her books of Urdu poetry “Bin Bass” and “Tera Lehja Badalney Tak” are still under printing.

Though Nasreen was a government servant when the Martial Law was imposed, she remained active in literary and political resistant movement, which the city of Lahore became known for.

“Here, I found the august company of literary icons like Dr Anees Nagi, Dr Azizul Haque, Intizar Hussain, Abdullah Hussain and Kishwar Naheed, which helped me groom as a student of literature. What turned me into an artist was working with luminaries like Amanat Ali Khan, Wazeer Afzal, G.A. Chishti, Zaheer Kashmiri, Sufi Tabassum, Nasir Kazmi and Munir Niazi,” she told Dawn in one of her interviews published in 2014.

Talking about her inspirations in another interview, she had said “I have also always got inspired by the various national liberation movements. I look up to people like Ho Chi Min, Che Guevara, Laila Khalid, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto.” A poem in her book, Neel Karayaan Neelkan, titled Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Di Vaar, she wrote in the style of folk song of Mirza Sahibaan after his handing by Gen Zia. The poem was later became a popular song “Mein Bhutto Sagar Sindh Da”.

“Two vivid streaks in her poetry set her apart from many of her contemporaries,” says Amjad Saleem. Her lifelong struggle for women rights in a traditional, now increasingly theocratic, society and advocacy of the downtrodden are what made her leave her imprints both in literature and political arena of the country. “Of late, she had also joined the chorus pleading for peace in South Asia,” he says and it only added to multi-dimensional personality, which she had become before she was diagnosed with cancer.

“The pro-people poets, especially Bulleh Shah, Shah Hussain and Latif Bhittai, became permanent source of inspiration and energy for me and collective pain and pleasure of folks became my romance,” she said.

Nasreen was awarded Tamgha-i-Imtiaz in 2011. Besides serving Radio Pakistan as producer, broadcaster and deputy controller, she remained resident director of Shakir Ali Museum as well.

“It was already late when she was diagnosed with cancer and she was put on chemotherapy to enable her withstand the physical and emotional pressure of final operation, which doctors had suggested,” says Zahid Nabi. She was treated at CMH Lahore. “Two months back, she was on the way to recovery when her brother fell ill. She along with her sister moved to Karachi where she was getting treatment at PNS hospital,” Nabi adds.

However, cancer created complications and she was operated upon once for spleen removal before she finally succumbed to disease on Tuesday at hospital. She is survived by a son who has been abroad.

Funeral prayers for her will be held at All Saints Church, Mehmoodabad, Karachi at 3pm today. She will be laid to rest in Gora Qabristan.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2016

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