Translated by Rakhshanda Jalil

Kishwar Naheed (b. 1940) moved from her home in Bulundshahr, in western Uttar Pradesh, to Lahore in 1949. Her first poetry collection, Lab-e Goya (published in 1968) marked her as a bold new voice and a welcome addition to the country's fledgling feminist movement.

Naheed’s poem Hum Gunahgaar Auratein (We Sinful Women) became an anthem of protest during the worst excesses of General Zia's dictatorship and has remained an enduring symbol of resistance in the decades since. Each successive collection of poetry has bolstered her reputation as a fearless crusader for human rights and progressive thinking.


Like Manto
I want to write my own epitaph
He had written
He was the greatest storyteller on this earth
And it is true
He was too
He wrote stories on the injustices heaped upon women
At a time when women the world over
Had not woken up to their own rights
Pakistan threw so many spatters of abuse on him that
He got angry
And began to sell his stories for ten rupees each
The spatters of abuse have turned
My dress too into undress
But I can’t call myself
The greatest poet of my age
I want to write my epitaph before my death because
My sons
Busy in other countries
May not have the time, or else
May not even think of writing one
Why am I thinking of
Making myself permanent!
Is an epitaph a sign of timelessness?
In London, seeing the tombstone of Marx
You can’t forget his writings, or Marx himself
There were some great poets
Who never had an epitaph
Zahoor Nazar – a great poet
He lies alone as he lived
Khushwant Singh left a will
His ashes to be strewn in the rivers of Pakistan
My heart too wants to be turned into ashes
But my religion does not allow it
A person turns to dust
After burial too
The epitaph serves to keep alive
Not you
But your age

Tragedy: Karachi, 13 May

Every day nameless people get killed
In the streets of Karachi
To add to the torment of those who have been killed
Government officials put a price on the dead
And peel the scab on the wounds of the orphaned families
So that the bereaved may forget the loss of their dead
And instead run after the promised compensations
God had never promised
Such a sudden and heartless death
It is these defenders of the faith who
After every tragedy
Open their mouth as though
They are distributing the treasure of Croesus
Can there be a greater disrespect of the dead than this
Self-respecting nations don’t do this
They search for the culprits
Surely there must be a limit to helplessness