Born in 1955, Hyderabad-based feminist and poet Jameela Nishat is a significant presence in contemporary Urdu literature. She started writing poetry at an early age and has published three collections of poetry. She holds a Masters degree in English Literature and a post graduate diploma in theatre arts. She taught English for twenty years and headed a school for disabled children. Deeply committed to the cause of Muslim women, she now runs the ‘Shaheen Resource Centre for Women’ in Sultan Shahi, Hyderabad. She won the Maqdoom Award in 1972.
The daughter of an artist, Jameela Nishat grew up in a relatively liberal and syncretic family in Sultan Shahi, Hyderabad. She took to writing poetry after her early enthusiasm for dance and painting was discouraged by her family as unsuitable pastimes for a respectable Muslim girl. Among the women poets who inspired her were Fehmida Riaz, Kishwar Nahid and Parveen Shakir. Her Masters degree exposed her to other literatures, and she speaks with particular relish of the work of John Donne, Sylvia Plath, Octavio Paz and Emily Dickinson (the last being one of the possible reasons, she says, for her writing poems without titles).
It was only after 1992 (marked by the historic demolition of the 16th century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya) that she found herself consciously negotiating the implications of a Muslim identity. “Wherever you went, people now started asking, “What is your name?” And when I said, “Jameela,” they would reply, “Oh! So you are a Muslim!” . . . I thought that this was really unfair and I must do something about it. So I started working in the old city [of Hyderabad towards] . . . bringing about communal harmony.”
Nishat is committed to promoting the cause of Dakhani, the Telugu-infused Hyderabadi Urdu that is the rich and unique heritage of the Deccan (widely used by poets during the Qutub Shahi rule in the 16th and 17th centuries, and so markedly different from the purist-endorsed ‘Persianised Urdu’, as Nishat puts it).
As the three poems in this edition reveal, Nishat’s style is forthright, hard-hitting and colloquial, blending images that cut across caste and religious divides. She has been translated by poet and professor, Hoshang Merchant, and the late Professor Sirajuddin.
Lava, Published by the poet. Hyderabad, 2000.
Lamhey Ki Ankh, Asmita Resource Centre for Women, Secunderabad, 2002.
Lams Ki Sawghat, Educational Publishing House, New Delhi, 2006.
Inkeshaf, Anthology of Deccan Women Writers, Asmita Resource Centre for Women, Secunderabad, 2000.
Women's World: Jameela writes on “What do Women Write About?”
Her Circle Ezine: “35 years of living” – a poem by Jameela Nishat
Urdu Poets India: some of Jameela’s poetry in Urdu
The Hindu: Directors of Muslim women’s organsations, including Jameela Nishat speak on Muslim women’s rights of marriage and divorce and the law.
The Hindu: Jameela Nishat and other Telugu poets talk about their work and work in translation.