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“I am not that woman” by Kishwar Naheed Essay

Kishwar Naheed, a contemporary Urdu Pakistani poet was born in 1940 in a Syed family of Uttar Pradesh, India. She moved to Pakistan during the partition of sub-continent in 1947. Settling down in the conservative environment of Pakistan, she had to struggle in order to get education. She studied at home and received a high school diploma and went on to receive a Masters degree in Economics from Punjab University. She won many prizes which are a proof of her high literary status. She achieved this high standing in the literary world because of the uncensored voicing of her fight against her society. Being a part of the partition of subcontinent, Naheed witnessed harassment against women and its effect is greatly reflected as we see women subjugation the main focus of Naheed’s poetry. Naheed’s poems “I Am Not That Woman” and “The Grass Is Really Like Me” voice the lack of dignity and respect felt by the females and how they come to terms with it.

Feminism being Naheed’s forte is the main theme of the two poems. Naheed highlights how females are reduced to mere objects of use with their emotions put aside, are used for physical satiation, thus puts forward the theme of Commodification. Though robbed off the right of opinion by men she still hopes for a better life with equal rights to men introducing the theme of Optimism in her poems. Fathers, brothers and husbands being responsible for the suppressed life a female spends as they are her disloyal guardians and killers of her freedom as well, gives way to the theme of Male Chauvinism. Though making an effort of trying to rise and throwing away the shackles that confine their movement some weak women surrender themselves in the hands of the society thus allowing it to control their life, displaying the theme of Reification in one of the two poems.

Naheed very skillfully has made use of poetic devices like Connotation, Symbols, Metaphors and Personification to heighten the impact of her message in the two poems. Discrimination on the part of women was the focus of her attention but apart from being the witness to the violence done to women in the partition of subcontinent, the unjustness on the part of women in the Zia regime was also a reason of her women subjugation being her main focus. General Zia ul Haq’s military dictatorship, Martial Law which lasted from 1977 to 1988 profoundly shaped Naheed’s protest against the undue subjugation that was contrived on the bases of State-regulation of women’s bodies and sexualities under Zia’s application of the Hudud Ordinances beginning in 1979.

Women were deprived of their due rights and even though the ordinance appeared to safeguard women from harassment, the passing of the Law of Evidence in 1983 reduced a woman’s testimony in a court of law to half the value of a man and the implications of such laws on women are worth exploring briefly because in matters of rape and sexual violence (zina) women were profoundly affected. Even if, as Anita Weiss (1985) notes in her study of the women’s movement in Pakistan, the punishment meted out to offenders of zina regardless of sex was constitutionally the same (p. 8), since women’s power of testimony in zina cases was inadmissible in court, the legislation of zina in fact had serious gender biases built into it. Anita Weiss in her article “Women in Pakistan: Implications of the Current Program of Islamization” tells that when women were convicted for zina offences there was little room for appeal; men, by the same token, were by and large acquitted.

While the Hudud Ordinances would have severe repercussions for women’s social standing in Pakistan, this moment in Pakistani political history between the years of 1977-1988 would mark, for the first time, women’s direct participation and protest against the state’s regulation of the hadd (singular of hudud) punishments especially as it concerned women’s bodies and sexualities. Zia ul Haq came up with such laws to cause a step-by-step reduction of women’s power in matters of economic, legal, and educational representation. Confining women to their houses did not stop women like Naheed. She in her own ways through her poetry protested against the authorities and the baseless laws passed out under the Zia regime. Though back then open protest against the authorities was considered illegal, Naheed was unstoppable in voicing her point. Fearless Naheed reached out to all women and not to a particular class and her poetry jolted the complacency in her people as she showed mirror to the men and shook them in their seats as their injustice towards women was captured by Naheed in poetry for public viewing.

Poetry written for a cause reached out to the hearts of many. “I am not that woman” and “The grass is really like me” are such examples. “I am not that woman” is about women addressing the males of the society. She is drawing a line between herself and the degraded women who appear in advertisements and their beauty is used as a tool of selling the products. She says I am a respectable woman who won’t allow her to get insulted by men. She says that even though the men make them stay imprisoned within the four walls of their house, while they enjoy life roaming free as breeze, even then a woman cannot be silenced and she would speak for her rights. She also says that her husband has suppressed her under the constraints of baseless traditions and used her for lovemaking and to bear children who grow up to disrespect their mothers equally but still it won’t stop her from shining and that this oppression cannot mar her hopes of a life that she deserves.

Parents are also accused of marrying off their daughters just to feel free of a burden and to fulfill their duty but she says that the actual need is not only fulfilling duties but to change to conservative mindset of the society which presently do not seem to change. The very first stanza implies the theme of ‘Feminism’ being highlighted as the opening of the poem has a very declarative tone to it and a tone which tells men to keep her separate from the insulted girls in advertisements “selling you shoes and socks”. Further it forms the picture of a woman who is confined within the four walls of her house while her husband is allowed to have all the freedom of the world as it tells that he roamed “free as the breeze”. As Kishwar Naheed is known to give voice to the voiceless women so the theme of this very first paragraph seems very familiar to any Asian reader.

The reason is that it has described the very dilemma that women of the Asian societies have to face that is they are taught and expected the whole of their lives to stay within the boundaries of her house because of the culture that prevails which does not allow women any progress and freewill. The message put forward in the very start of the poem has a feminist approach as feminism talks of the downtrodden males and females in a society but mainly it advocates the idea of inferior position of females. Though the woman is suppressed still she gives out a message that nothing can keep her from getting her rights. Here the theme of ‘Optimism’ is seen as Kishwar Naheed has put forward the picture of a suppressed woman has been stated already but the oppression has not been able to beat down the hope that sooner or later she would be able to enjoy the life of free will that she deserves as she says in the first stanza that “…my voice cannot be smothered by stones” and she says in the second stanza also that “I am the one in whose lap you picked flowers…planted thorns and embers…cannot smother my fragrance”.

It tells that even though her husband stole away all the happiness in her life and all she got in return of the suffering were disrespectful children but even they won’t be able to stop her from rising. It’s the males which prevent females from rising further in the poem the theme of ‘Male Chauvinism’ also surfaces. This is a very common feature of the Asian societies that no matter how uncultured and disloyal the male head of family is it is still his orders that are carried out and all the rules and regulations according to the social conventions are to be followed by the women and none of them apply to a male as it says “I am the one you crushed with the weight if custom and tradition”.

Women completely crushed are merely reduced to objects of use thus giving space to the theme of ‘Commodification’ in the poem. The theme of Commodification is also very clear in the poem. Commodification refers to the concept where an individual’s value is reduced merely to that of an object of use plus its feeling are not taken care of as it says “I am the woman whom you bought and sold in the name of my own chastity”. She considers their marriage as a deal where his husband got hold of her in the form of a loyal object pure from inside without even thinking that she suffered loss in this deal as she did not get a partner she deserved. At another point she says that “I am the commodity you traded in, my chastity, my motherhood, my loyalty.” She says that her husband had been making unjust use of her goodness and that she still kept on being a good wife and a mother disregarding the fact that his husband never made an attempt to please her. Naheed has very skillfully used certain poetic devices in her poem which enhance the impact of her message.

Poetic devices in the poem the main feature is that this poem is written in free verse. Free verse is a form of poetry that does not use consistent meter patterns, rhyme, or any other musical pattern it thus tends to follow the rhythm of natural speech. It does not involve any set meter but still it involves a carefully crafted word picture. The first poetic device she has made use of is connotation. Connotation involves the emotional, psychological or social overtones of a word; its implications and associations apart from its literal meaning. The word ‘smothered’ has been used as a connotation as smothered basically means to cover an object closely or thickly and it also means to stifle or suffocate. This word is used here in connection with smothering the voice of the girl. If taken the dictionary meaning of the word is not usually used in reference to a voice but it being used in this context reinforces the theme of suffocating women within the four walls thus suppressing her right to have her own say in the society.

The word ‘crushed’ is also used a connotation as the dictionary meaning of crushed is to squeeze and deform an object but crushed used with reference to traditions and customs helps to enhance the misery that a female suffers through the baseless customs and traditions. Another poetic device used is the use of symbols. The symbols thorns and chains in the second stanza assert the message of the discomforts that his husband had been treating her with. These symbols tell describe their severity. It’s a short poem with a very few poetic devices. She has made use of a simile in the first stanza. A simile is a direct comparison of two unlike things using “like” or “as. She says “free as the breeze”. It tells that her husband was allowed to enjoy the freedom of going out and had nobody to stop him. In the third stanza she makes use of a metaphor.

A metaphor is A direct comparison between two unlike things, stating that one is the other or does the action of the other. She says in the third stanza “walk on water”. No human possibly walk on water but the meaning that this metaphor is trying to convey is that this woman is a strong willed person. She never loses hope despite the adverse conditions of her life and it tells that one day she will overcome all obstacles that come in the way of her freedom. “The grass is really like me” is another poem by Kiswar Naheed. This poem is also about the suppression of women. The writer is comparing the grass with women and says that the only way that the straw of grass can survive is by spreading itself under people’s feet and it implies the fact that the only way a woman can survive in this world is also through spreading herself in front of all, meaning that she has no individual standing of her own. The poem also puts forward the idea that the ones who lack courage are in fact the ones who are never able to rise from the ground.

The poet voices the grass and women by saying that they would not let anyone step over them and that the idea of creating a footpath instead of stepping over them is better but the poem ends with a sad note saying “the grass is really like me”. Here we see that the poet is being a realist and accepting the stereotypical image of a woman as an underfoot. This poem has a similar tone to that of “I Am Not That Woman”. Feminism here again is an prominent theme as it talks of the low status given to the women as it gives a degrading image of the grass that has to “unfurl underfoot to fulfill; itself” . The poet is giving the idea that women have to lay themselves in obedience in front of men and the society in order to survive. This image clearly gives the idea of the unequal status given to the males and females of a society and that how insultingly the females are treated.

Although the women are treated unjustly but the poet by saying “Take my advice: the idea of making a footpath was appropriate” gives out the message that the females do feel bad and they do not want men to step over them in order to walk instead they should change their brutal ways rather than crushing the females down thus bringing forward the theme of Individuality. The poem in its flow gives out a complete message termed as Reification. Reification is a silent acceptance of the treatment provided by the superstructure that is the tyrants to the ones forming the base that is the victims. The poem starts by giving out the general situation of a suppressed woman in a society but then as she moves forward she gives the idea of using a footpath instead of crushing the grass she is giving the idea of having an individuality stating that women must try to rise but then as the poem ends with a sad tone saying that “The grass is really like me” tells that though asking the other women to be brave the poet is being a realist and she has surrendered in the hands of the society and accepting the ill treatment given to her by the males.

A similar theme is found in the novel “Surfacing” by Margaret Atwood in which the unnamed protagonist of the novel tried to create her mark in the world but tired of doing so she surrenders to the puppeteers namely the authorities of religion, politics and the patriarchs of the society thus making them control her life. This poem does not have any fixed meter as it is written in free verse and does not follow any fixed meter. Personification is used as a technique by the poet. Personification is attributing human characteristics to an inanimate object, animal, or abstract idea. The poet has compared women to the straws of grass. It defines the low status that the women have in this male dominated society and are reduced to objects to be kept at ground level. This poem has very less poetic devices. The symbol of “lawn owner” is a prominent one. It symbolizes the males of our society and how they are obsessed with leveling women back to the ground level if they try to rise. Kishwar Naheed in both her poems has made women her main focus and how she fights to gain individuality and males making a constant attempt to make her fall to the ground.

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