While periodic blog-and-print wars erupt among US poets and critics about the possible death of poetry, in other parts of the world women die for writing poems. In Herat, Afghanistan, Nadia Anjuman was one among a group of women who risked their lives to continue writing under Taliban rule, gathering under the guise of the Golden Needle Sewing School. After the Taliban fell, her first book sold 3000 copies. Then she was murdered by her husband who only served a month in prison for his crime. In the Times Online, Christina Lamb relates the reaction of one of Nadia’s former compatriots:
Nadia’s fellow writers from the Golden Needle have no doubt their friend was murdered because of her poems. “I think he killed her on purpose,” says Leila Razeqi. “He didn’t like her writing poetry. He never let her attend meetings. When you look at her poems and writing after her wedding, you can see the sorrow and grief.
“We were very excited at the time of the end of the Taliban,” she continues. “I dreamt of being a professor, of our group becoming a cultural association for the city’s women. But everything went wrong. Nadia was killed… She had great spirit, but we could see she was facing problems. She was trapped.” Nadia’s few poems from that time talk of her as “a bird without wings”.
“I remain, but remain a broken pen”, ends one.
“If I was to say the situation of women is better, that would be untrue,” says Leila. “Women are not given proper rights. Only if she has relatives in power can she get to a higher position, otherwise she’ll just be like me. I’m only a teacher. I didn’t want to be an ordinary teacher.
“Nadia was the most talented of us all. Since then everything is broken. We’re no longer a collective. If the Taliban were here they would have punished her husband, and maybe that would be better.”
Nadia Anjuman has not been the only one from the group to face violence since the end of Taliban, though she was the only one killed for her writing (insofar as we know). Lamb’s article does an outstanding job of considering Anjuman’s death in the context of the continuing struggles of women in Afghanistan for the liberation that was used to justify war there. This wider significance should not be forgotten.
At the same time, it should not be remembered at the expense of the memory of Nadia Anjuman, the brilliant poet, whose life went to her art:
Ghazal by Nadia Anjuman
Translated by Khizra Aslam
It is night and these words come to me
By the call of my voice words come to me
What fire blazes in me, what water do I get?
From my body, the fragrance of my soul comes to me
I do not know from where these great words come
The fresh breeze takes loneliness away from me
That from the clouds of light comes this light
That there is no other wish that comes to me
The cry of my heart sparkles like a star
And the bird of my flight touches the sky
My madness can be found in his book
O do not say no, my master, O look once at me
It is like the day of judgment
Like doomsday my silence comes at me
I am happy that the giver gives me silk
And all night, all along these verses come to me