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The rebel stylist

One of the most gifted poets of our time, Nasreen Anjum Bhatti stands tall among all the women Punjabi poets of her generation

The rebel stylist

Nasreen Anjum Bhatti belongs to that saintly tradition of poets who are true not only to themselves but to the spirit of their very own people and land. Her first book of Punjabi poetry Neel KaraeaaN NeelkaaN was published in 1979 when dictator General Zia-ul-Haq had taken the whole nation hostage. This book is a fascinating read. It’s organised in sections with thirty-two different poems but it reads as a one long poem composed in a lengthy monologue. It’s a book of intense and stimulating poetry where the poet has let herself completely free.

Overpowered by the muse of poetry, it turns out to be an extremely emotional piece of writing that is full of rage and rebellion. Poems oscillate from one expression to another, making each line a separate poem in itself. It is penetrating poetry that brutally exposes a stinking socio-political order and laments a damned era.

Feminism is at the core of Nasreen’s poetry but her feminism is one that is pure, genuine and rooted in the native soil. It embodies experiences and observations of generations, internalised for centuries by the suffering womenfolk:

MaaN mainu fir jamm tay reejh kar kay jam pachtãva kar kay nahi

DhiyyaN kioN jammiãN ni ma’ay, puttar kioN jammay jehRay Punnu ho ga’ay

Dullia Ladhi nu aakh ik dhee jammay, main kiklee pavNi ay.

Neel KaraeaaN NeelkaaN was reprinted in 2003 by Suchet Kitab Ghar. It also contains her most read and loved poem “Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto di vaar” that was written immediately after Bhutto’s hanging. This eulogy was composed in an unending lyric of longing, liberation and loss. Let’s read few lines of that poem:

MaiN Mirza saagar Sindh da mairi Rawal janj chaRhee

main turya sooli chumm kay, mainu eho reet baRi/[…]

maira chola rang dio ratRa, mairi ajrak ghallo jail

ni sunn SahibaaN Punjabñay asmãneeN hosan mail

main jhootay lay la’ay maut day, main chãRhee peengh svail

main Shah Hussain di aajzi, main Shah Latif di vail

 Nasreen Anjum Bhatti that we know will never ask for anything from anyone but we know she needs immediate assistance and care before it’s too late.  

(I am the Mirza [Punjabi folk legend of epic Qissa SahibãN] of Sindh and my final celebrations were held in Rawalpindi / I walked like a rebel, ready to die, carrying forward the heroic tradition of dissent/ Colour my shirt in red and send my Ajrak to the prison cell/ Punjab, my SahibaaN, my darling, [Dont cry] We will be reunited in the next life/ I was hanged in the darkness of night but a new sun rose from my blood/ I, the humility of Shah Hussain and an ode of Shah Latif [Bhitai]). (Translation by the author)

In the book there are ten consecutive poems starting with the same line “vay kehRa aiN?” (Who is it?) These poems have the power to shake our whole social system and send shivers down our male spines. This is how the poem opens:

Vay kehRa aiN mairiaN aan drãN naal manjji uñda

maira dil dvãñ aalay pãsay rakhiN tay akhãN sirhanay bannay

main sirhanay tay phull KaRhnay nay

Dharti di dhon niveeN hovey tay ohday tay asmaan nahi chukka dai da

Baba dhiyyãN puttar ikko jahay kioN nahi honday?

jay dhee vaddi hovey tãN tussaN tukk tukk kay puttar jiddi kar lainday o

jay puttar vadda hovey tãN dhee fir poñi, fir adhi, fir khanniNeel KaraiaaN NeelkaaN-1979

(Hey, who are you weaving my bed with my insides / Place my heart at the foot and my eyes at the head/ I have to embroider flowers on the pillow / When the earth’s neck is bowed / You don’t load the sky on it /Baba, why are daughters and sons not equal and alike in worth / If the daughter is older, you gnaw at her / Till she is reduced to the size of her brother / If the son is older, then again the daughter, a quarter, half, damaged.) [Translation: Waqas Khwaja].

Athay Pehr Tarah (Sanjh, 2009) is Bhatti’s second collection. Most poems of the book are heavily influenced by Najm Hosain Syed whom she calls her ideal and guru. In all those poems she doesn’t appear to resist Shah Ji’s poetic influence; rather she feels like celebrating that borrowed diction and elegance. She too wrote ghazals and kafis in a non-traditional form challenging the “Uroozi” and conventional pigeon holes.

In a few of the kafis, she comes up as considerably fresh and relieved of the previous burden and baggage of her usual themes: NaviN suna faqeera! sanu pichli hoee purãni / Navvay banae’ay paatri tay naviN kahani hor/NaviN ghaRaee tayg uthaa tay Ishq da naaRo kapp/ faqeera pichli hoee purãni.

One of the most gifted poets of our time, Nasreen Anjum Bhatti stands tall among all the women Punjabi poets of her generation. She is an undisputed stylist. The only limitation I found is the constant repetition and monotony of thought. What a treat it will be if one day she can come out to bless us with her lyrical poetry born out of insouciance. Whatever she can offer her readers in future, she has already cemented her place as a poet of incredible talent with lines likes these [written for the May Day]:

Jang mukk gai ay

AssiN apniãN lãshãN chukk layy’ay

(War has ended / Can we collect our dead bodies now?)Athay Pehr Tarah-2009

She was born in Quetta, Balochistan, grew up in Sindh (Jacobabad) and all her life she loved Punjab and Punjabi. She retired as Controller Programmes from Radio Pakistan in 2007. She got dance trainings, learnt playing sitar, painted landscapes and loved embroidery. Homes of her close friends are blessed with her soulful needlework. Her lifelong selfless association and unparalleled love for her late husband journalist Zubair Rana reminds us of Punjabi folk epics. Her hardwork, political activism and commitment towards social causes as a street fighter distinguish her from all her contemporaries.

When I met her last month in her secluded home in Lahore, she was so weak and frail that it was impossible for her to utter few simple words. The most charged and free flowing poet of the Punjab was lying wordless on a bed in pain and agony. It was an extremely sad and tearful sight. She led a dignified life and deserves an equally dignified and honourable treatment.

Nasreen Anjum Bhatti that we know will never ask for anything from anyone but we know she needs immediate assistance and care before it’s too late and believe me we have no other like her in our entire modern literary tradition. She herself summed up her entire journey in the following lines of the opening poem of her last book Athay Pehr Tarah:

SãeaaN tayri ardal andar

AssaN chanddal rukh thiyasay

AssaN apna hovan kee dasy’ay

HaaN hulaara lainda, ratta fir hasya, fir runna

Tainu vaykhaN baajh kee keeta! Puch badneeta!

Ik ghutt paani ghutt ghutt kar kay peeta.

Mahmood Awan

Mahmood Awan
The author is a Dublin based Punjabi poet. He may be reached at [email protected]


  • I am thankful to Mahmood Awan for his remarkable piece of writing on a great poet and unique soul Nasreen Anjum Bhatti. Her Punjabi poetry open up so many issues and questions related to Women’s life and suffering. Her voice is my strength and I wish her well with speedy recovery.

  • She is an equally fine poet in Urdu. Badly neglected, of course, by the Thekedars of Urdu and even the Thekedarnis of Feminist poetry in Urdu. Her Urdu poems have greater depth and seriousness of purpose than the surface glitter and posturing of so many.

  • i think “saagar Sindh” is the do-aab between jhelum & indus rivers. rawalpindi lies therein

  • moazzam sheikh

    The last like Mr. Awan quotes is worth gold: Ik ghutt paani ghutt ghutt kar kay peeta.

  • The article’s concluding lines have left me in deep anguish. Ms Bhatti is terribly sick, but is not getting the care or help she needs and deserves. What a shame !

  • No respect for tax payers

    Written by

    The Frontier Post

    Posted in

    Letters to Editor


    Leave a comment

    I Want to draw the kind attention of Prime Minister of Pakistan that this logic is not understood to me that those most honest , Most patriotic, most philanthropists and law-obeying good citizen of Pakistan who have being paid income taxes every year million of Rupees in most honestly ways, No any development works are being carried out in the native villages of such most respected & most excellent income tax payers citizens of Pakistan

    But on others side, all the development funds are being utilized and gulped by the most selfish & most powerful members of local bodies members of District councils, Tehsil councils and Union Councils who have never pay any income tax even of one paisa to the govt of Pakistan and also are not the real and true royalful friends of Nawaz Sharif, the president of PML-N.

    I am saying this because of the following reasons.

    1- That ADOWAL of Tehsil Pind Dadun Khan is the native village of a great surgeon of Pakistan Professor & Dean Dr Raja Ghulam Asghar (late ) who had remained one of the most honest, most patriotic and most experienced surgeon of Pakistan & who had served this Islamic country of Pakistan in the medical field for a long period of 56 years from 1952 upto 2008 .

    2)- He had also served the Pakistan Army during 1965 indo-Pakistan war at the battle field at Lahore, Sialkot, & Kharian Sectors 24 hours to do surgical operations of injured army men and officers in the battle field

    3)- That, Field Marshal Ayub Khan (Late) had appreciated the most excellent service of this great surgeon of Pakistan .

    4)- When ever he used to go abroad for attending medical conferences, seminars etc, he was being offered most attractive jobs on handsome salaries and others fringes by the ambassador of the foreign countries but this great surgeon of Pakistan did not accepted their offers because he was a true Pakistani person.

    5)- He used to pay the income Tax million of Rupees every year to the Govt of Pakistan in most honestly way. He was only the great surgeon of the history of Pakistan who had paid maximum amount of income taxes to the govt of Pakistan than compared to others doctors of Pakistan

    6)- But it is a matter of great pity that no any development work are being done by the chairman District council Jhelum

    7)- Even one ordinary work of constructing a most important Pukka road from Chopal upto Graveyard (on which, the Jinaza of everyone is passing through this uneven damaged path) has not been constructed so far .

    8)- Because all the members of the District Council Jhelum are not feeling any fear of Great Allah and the severe Aazab of the great Allah which will be revealed soon upon these most cruel members of the District Council Jhelum and they will soon be faced the severe AAZAB of the ALLAH in their graves.

    9)- Similarly The members of the District Council Jhelum have no intention to carry out any development work in ADOWAL till Qiamat.

    10)- In the light of the above mentioned facts, I will request to Prime Minister of Pakistan to kindly restore the previous system of administration of Deputy Commissioners in place of DCOs and full power of utilizing of development funds in uniformly ways may kindly be entrusted to Commissioners of the zones

    11)- In this way, the bad activities of dishonest and and most corrupted members of the local bodies of mis-using and gulping of development funds can be crushed .

    12)- Besides this, Most strict rules & regulations are needed to be imposed for the improving of the moral characters of all the members of the District Councils.Tehsil Council and Union


    I hope that the Prime Minister of Pakistan will surely set right the working system of the local bodies institutions.



    MA(Political Science), BA(MASS.COMM), BA(LIB SCIENCE)




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