Poets and Rebels

  • Publish Date: May 28 2017 2:59AM
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  • Updated Date: May 28 2017 2:59AM
Poets and Rebels


Nighat Sahiba and Rumuz: Two budding women poets on the violence, resistance, and the womanhood in Kashmir


Meet Kashmir’s two young rebel women poets and writers who are breaking barriers, challenging stereotypes and busting many a myth by writing about womanhood, violence, resistance, resilience and romance. They also write about bullets and blood, pellets and blindness, militarisation, custodial disappearances, mass graves, rapes, eve teasing, stalking. On most things under the sun. Even the sun itself.

With a pen in hand, they are rewriting Kashmir’s literary history with creativity, courage and conviction.

Nighat Sahiba, a young poetess from south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, is a born rebel. She writes in her mother tongue, Kashmiri, and Urdu.

Her writings are about resistance, conflict, rebellion, romance, feminism and existentialism. Yes, the pain, too.

Her poetry is daring. She is innovative and more often than not does experiments to smash taboos.


Born in December 1983, Sahiba first encountered “male chauvinism at home” and later in “Kashmir’s male-dominated society” and literary ring.

However, the rebel in her did not succumb. She chose to fight.

“Either you will succumb or rise. I chose to rise,” the author Nighat Sahiba tells me in an exclusive interview.

“I collected my scattered parts to rise.”

She says that in conservative societies like Kashmir “nobody fights for us (women). Nobody fought for me. You have to fight your own battle.”

And she did fight. Valiantly!

Sahiba proudly calls herself a “feminist” who writes about “issues that touch my soul and sensibilities”.

“Yes, I am a feminist. But my poetry is not all about feminism,” she says.

“Poets are very sensitive souls,” she adds.

She is right.

And, she is bold.

Read, for instance, the following verses of Sahiba on the burning issue of custodial disappearances of Kashmir’s youth since the eruption of the popular armed struggle in 1989:

Tarakh royei ase’i shaman hawith tim koat gayi

anni gatei shahras dil toamblawith tim koat gayi

poshan hindie anhaar agar tim aangan tschay

yaadan hyeund barood bichawith tim koat gayi

goliv yim niey tim qabran maenz moujoodei

maajan yeim aeis lari tal sawith tim koat gayi


(Revealing their star-faces, to us by the evenings — Where did they go?

Dazzling the hearts of this light-starved city — Where did they go?

Those snatched by the bullets, are safe in their graves

Sleeping those were, by their mother’s side — Where did they go?)


Or, see the following verses of one of Sahiba’s untitled Kashmiri poems:

Daed balnas chu akh zamane lagan

Daagh tschalnas chu akh zamane lagan

Yei zi pahra agar mokul aasakh

Posh pholnas chu akh bahane lagan


(For the pain to heal,

eons it does take

For the scars to fade

eons it does take

Come, for a moment,

If a moment you possess

For the buds to bloom,

a moment it does take)

The above poem is part of Sahiba’s book titled ‘Zard Paniek Dair’ or ‘Piles of Pallid Leaves’, which is her first published work in Kashmiri language. The book is a collection of her Ghazals and Nazms (poems).

It was formally released on the 20th of May at a function held in Srinagar.

Sahiba was just 17 years old, studying in Class XI, when she wrote her first poem in Urdu.

Later, one of her Urdu poems was also published in a college magazine when she was pursuing her graduation.

Mere dard ki ya khuda woah dawa de

Ki hamdard mujh ko jahan ka bana de

(Offer such succour to my agony, O Lord!

that  I am made succourer to this entire world)

One more poem of hers was published in Kashmir Uzma in 2012-13.

As an adolescent, Sahiba was fascinated by the works of eminent poets like Faiz A. Faiz and Bashir Badr.

“I’d read a lot of Urdu poetry. And didn’t know that I will end up writing my poems in the Kashmiri language,” she says.



Sahiba’s struggles began from a very young age. Born in an orthodox religious family, she confesses that she initially had many complexes in her mind.

Her complexes resulted in indecisions. Yes, indecision.

“Perhaps as a woman I was not supposed to write. Such inhibitions and fears would not allow me to show my poems to anyone,” she says, adding that many poems that she wrote as a teenager now “rest in the dustbins”.

But she did not rest.

Instead, she rose to the occasion to challenge and break myths like “women are meant to do something else, not write” or “writing belongs to elites born with a golden spoon”, etcetera.

Initially, she faced many a hardship. Wasn’t that expected in a male-dominated society?

“Even some people in the literary circles cast doubts and aspersions on a woman writer’s ability with insinuations and incendiary remarks, saying there must be someone who writes for you,” she says with a deep sigh!

She was asked strange and insulting questions like “who is writing for you?”

But why would there be a shadow or ghost writer for a woman and not a man?    

Shockingly, she says, even some people in Kashmir’s literary circles do not expect women to write. Does writing have a gender?

Anyway, she found her ways and used social media to good effect. To showcase her writings she effectively used Facebook and Twitter, she says.

“Thanks to social media spaces, my poems got an audience. My writings got exposed to many people,” she says.

And then, as they say, there was no looking back!

Through her powerful poems she challenged male chauvinism, misogyny, bigotry and also began writing on issues that are considered a “forbidden fruit” for women writers.

Now consider Sahiba’s this poem in Kashmiri titled ‘Zard Paniek Dair’ or ‘Piles of Pallid Leaves’ which is translated into English by Mr. Shafi Shauq:



By Nighat Sahiba

Every night, verdant with green dreams,

is followed by day’s piles of pallid leaves.

Body attired in bourgeon of flowers,

mind is replete with piles of pallid leaves.

All oceans turned into mirages,

we took possession of the deserts;

we grew flowers in hinterlands,

but house is filled with piles of pallid leaves.

One tossed flat on the ground

can never be raised again,

The stubble of the felled plane tree

is surrounded by piles of pallid leaves.

A typhoon quivers to see 

the lamps still lit in my house,

at my door the Spring, is stubborn

to inscribe: “Piles of Pallid Leaves”.

(Translated from the Kashmiri by Shafi Shauq)

Or, read this poem which is also originally written in Kashmiri and translated into English by Mr. Shafi Shauq:



By Nighat Sahiba

All the alphabet, words, songs,

tales, the pen, the writing-pad, heaps of books,

flowers, gardens, petals, leaves, smells, hues,

sunshine, shades, walls, doors,

windows, porches,

every evening — morning— afternoon — night— all the time,

the prowlers stealthily clutch at;

the smallest item that I own

I keep under the custody of the sword.


I kill myself

in saving every minute item that I possess.

In my strife in saving

I scream out:

O you, who are dying, take me along!

O you, who are living, keep me held tight.

(Translated from the Kashmiri by Shafi Shauq)


Outspoken Sahiba says that women in Kashmir, especially in rural parts, hardly have a say in most matters, from their dress code, food, education, career, relationship to marriage, etc.

“There is no point in waiting for any divine intervention. Nobody will come as a saviour,” she says with a perennial smile on her face.

“I needed to express myself. Poetry is the best possible way to do that,” she adds.

Yes, poetry!

As poet Faraz  says ‘Lafz ko phool banaana to karishma hai Faraz’ (It takes a miracle to turn words into flowers).

“Women are born creative. Women can do magic with words,” Sahiba concludes.

When it comes to poetry written by women of Kashmir, people usually talk about Lalla Ded or Habba Khatoon. Then, Naseem Shifai’s name crops up among the contemporary women writers.

And that’s that.

Is it?


She does not want to be identified by her real name. For all her writings, she uses nom de guerre Rumuz.

Rumuz, an engineer by profession, hails from Srinagar. She mostly writes poetry in English and Kashmiri. She also loves translating other writers’ works into the English language.

Apart from writing poetry, Rumuz’s forte is translation. She often wonders how to transport sensibilities in translation. But she loves the challenge and conquers it.

In her view, Mehjoor’s poetry is more about moods, singability, lyricism and rhyme.

Rebellious Rumuz says that poetry by women is often bracketed to fight misogyny and patriarchy. “This myth has to be busted,” she says.

She does that often in her poems.

People often refer to Lalla Ded and compartmentalise her poems as “mysticism” or mystic poetry and with Habba Khatoon they generally think of her as a queen, which implies power.

So in order to discredit their poetry some people ascribe their creativity to either mysticism or revelation or power equation. They are not seen as women who wrote beautiful, creative and thoughtful poetry.

Nonetheless, contemporary women poets like Sahiba and Rumuz are constructing a powerful narrative and busting myths with their writings.

Both are of the view that there is no dearth of women writers, poets, short story writers and novelists in Kashmir. But there is the absence of literary environment, particularly at home, in which a woman writer can revel and excel.

Nighat and Rumuz boldly write about romance, resistance and rebellion in their poems.

See, this poem by Rumuz:


By Rumuz

Every day while

going to school

the unknown voices

from the concrete bunker

would tease us with

the bollywood songs

and sordid songs

Today when I,

my eyes, my bosom

my dreams, desires

and my entire being

are porous by their pellets

I spend my time

On lonely hospital bed

Making some sense

of songs and sounds


Or, read this one:


By Rumuz

Paradise or some hoors

I didn’t see any

when the impartial bullet

in a perfect symmetry

found its way through

my weak chest.

The only fear however

that gripped me was

that the tomatoes I had bought

from the market for home

were all smashed, when I fell

with a thud on the ground,

Tomatoes and the blood

it was all red,

mixed syncretically!

Now who would tell the mom

not to wait for tomatoes

and learn to eat without me



“In our conservative society, the men love to patronise women. They love their inflated egos and want that ego to be massaged all the time,” Rumuz says.

She is of the view that women are not seen as poets who can write on various subjects but are seen as females first and poets later. She calls this apparent prejudice and bias in literature fraternity as “intellectual terrorism”.

“It is easy to attack women. If any woman wants to create a separate niche for herself she is seen as a threat to the fraternity. That is what I describe as ‘intellectual terrorism’,” she says.

For Rumuz, poetry is an act of rebellion. It is a language of rebellion.

Unlike Sahiba, Rumuz did not face any problems at home or at her in-laws’ place. She says that besides her parents, her mother-in-law, father-in-law and husband have been a “great support”.

“In my case, the family support has worked wonders,” she says.

Among the contemporaries, Rumuz rates Sahiba very highly in these strong words: “If anyone will be remembered after Lalla Ded in Kashmir, it will be her (Nighat Sahiba).”

She says that Sahiba is highly gifted, has a particular technique and performs experiments in form (Ilm-e-Urooz).

Ilm-e-Urooz is used to determine if a couplet follows a particular metric pattern or not.

Here is another poem by Rumuz in English:


By Rumuz

Your violence shall become

My poem some day..

My world knows only of love

there are many worlds to welcome soot

the bruises you gifted me scatter fragrance

the chains you tied me in are grape wines now

the loneliness you left me to, is the doorsill to Kaaba

the tears you made me shed suffice for a nightlong ablution

the graveyard where you buried my dreams

has jasmines and irises and hyacinths blossomed all over


Your violence shall only become

my poem some day

Strange is my world, the world of mad-men

where the roses bloom in barren lands

sunflower crave for a moonlight bath

peacocks dance in snowstorms and

nightingales sing the songs of redemption


Your violence shall only become

my poem some day


we are all but Parts of that Whole

equal parts, powerless parts, ephemeral parts

no part can exert violence on any other part

violence is only forgetfulness of being a part

love is being mindful of that supreme Whole


Your violence shall become

my poem some day

don’t fret me my dear

come, let’s swirl

here none shall make fun of

our worn out selves.


And here is another Rumuz poem:


We all become

each other some day

as if some established mafia

of wandering spirits

rent our bodies


and then leave

to make way for another.

a lover’s spirit

a beloved’s spirit

a victim’s, a tormentor’s spirit


I was, what he is today

I am, what someone had been

No spirits allow

the remembrance

or the request

of other that had been

or the one that is to come

in the helpless body

the body is blindly in love


with the resident spirit

which was yesterday

my enemy’s tenant.

We all become

each other some day

All claims be cremated!


Well, it is a matter of collective introspection why Kashmir does not have any significant names after Lalla Arifa and Habba Khatoon as far as the poetry and short stories by women in Kashmiri and Urdu languages is concerned.

Though much later, Kashmir’s literary world produced names like Naseem Shifai, Rukshana Jabeen, Deeba Nazir, Nighat Sahiba, Rumuz, Rafia Wali besides others.

Other Kashmiri women poets who write in the English language include the London-based acclaimed novelist, poet and academic Dr. Nitasha Kaul, the US-based academic and researcher Ather Zia and the Srinagar-based lecturer Syeda Afshana.

That said, a vacuum exists in Kashmiri short story writing.

The fact that in general terms a narrative vacuum exists in Kashmir should surprise us. Sadly, it does not.

When it comes to Kashmiri women writers, people often live and revel in the past.

But why is it so?

“The concept of a romantic woman poet still remains a taboo in our society,” Rumuz opines.

In the West, the timeline of literary movements and periods has been rather smooth from Folktale, Romanticism, Realism, Naturalism, Symbolism, Modernism to Post-modernism while it has seen many a jump in case of the Kashmiri literary timeline.

Unlike the very visible trends in the West, many themes still lack social sanctity in Kashmir due to orthodoxy, stereotype and insecurity.

Thankfully, Sahiba and Rumuz are powerfully challenging the pigeonhole approach by constructing an intrepid narrative.

But will things change for better?

Whatever future holds for women writers and poets in Kashmiri literature, the two Kashmiri rebel poets are quietly inspiring hundreds of up-and-coming women writers in a style that makes a statement. Their words are knocking on the doors to produce more knowledge and fine pieces of literature!

After all, words are important. Narratives are important. Words are weapons. Words are powerful. What is not written is not remembered.

Words, like justice, must flow like a mighty stream.