Ishrat Afreen is one of the five most influential writers of the feminist movement in Urdu literature and is counted amongst the most renowned poets in Pakistan. She has won numerous awards, and her poetry is prescribed as course work in some of the world’s top universities.

Ishrat was born as Ishrat Jehaan in Karachi, Pakistan. She started writing at a very young age and became a published poet by the time she was 14. She did her BA and MA in Urdu from the University of Karachi, post which she started her career as an assistant editor for the monthly magazine Aawaaz, edited by another famous poet, Fahmida Riaz. After her marriage, Ishrat migrated to India for some time and then moved to the USA, where she works with the University of Texas as a Principal Urdu lecturer.

Ishrat is known for her chimerical examination of the tension between patriarchal reality and feminist individuality in the modern world. She identifies her poetry with the defiance of Iqbal and Faiz and uses their refined, conventional style to morph it into progressive messages against regressive social norms. The evocative tone in her words is evident when she writes the following to dedicate her first collection:

Mera qad, mere baap say ooncha nikla
Aur meri maañ jeet gai 

My height surpassed that of my father
And thus, my mother won  

She has till date published three collections of poetry entitled Kunj Peele Phoolon Ka (1985), Dhoop Apne Hisse Ki (2005), and Zard Patton Ka Ban (2017). Her work has been included in prestigious anthologies such as We Sinful Women and Beyond Belief: Contemporary Feminist Urdu Poetry, and has been translated into numerous other languages such as English, Japanese, Sanskrit, and Hindi. She also maintains her own official website where one can learn more about her work.

Keeping Your Inner Flame Alive

Keeping your inner flame alive is so difficult
Placing a mirror amid rocks is so difficult

How easy it is to paint the portrait of others
Keeping yourself behind a mirror is so difficult

From the entrance to the front yard, with the centuries-old relation
O hermit, to make you stay is so difficult

Ask the chains on yellow doors of the afternoon
To keep your memories wandering is so difficult

A handful of water and his lips in my thought
Keeping yourself thirsty like this is so difficult

You would have seen places of worship, but this is a front yard
Keeping a single lamp alight is so difficult

A devotee knows about the charity of broken songs
To keep them in the feet of time is so difficult

I Picked Up My Share of Sunshine

I picked up my share of sunshine
I filled up my share of the plate

In his eyes was a jungle of dreams
I stole my share of sleep

Whenever I saw the darkness covering the village
I started burning my share of fire

His share of life I have donated
I saved my share of lifespan

If this quarrel is about an honourable seat
I have vacated my share of this seat

These ready-made pathways are full of people
I have carved my share of road

To the upcoming days, I have already
Committed my share of the spring season

Excerpted with permission from Humsafar: The World of Urdu Poetry, Hitesh Gupta Aadil, Fingerprint Publishing.