Parveen Shakir (Urdu: پروین شاکر) (24 November 1952 – 26 December 1994) was an Urdu poet, teacher and a civil servant of the Government of Pakistan.
Parveen started writing at an early age and published her first volume of poetry, Khushbu [Fragrance], to great acclaim, in 1976. She published other volumes of poetry – all well-received – Sad-barg [Marsh Marigold] in 1980. Khud Kalami [Talking To Oneself] and Inkaar [Denial] in 1990, Kaf-e-Aina [The Mirror’s Edge]. Collection of her newspaper columns, titled Gosha-e-Chashm [Corner of the Eye] won the prize of Pakistan’s highest honors, the Pride of Performance for her outstanding contribution to literature in 1976. The poetry books are collected in the volume Mah-e-Tamaam [Full Moon] except for Kaf-e-Aina.
Parveen died in 1994 in a car accident while on her way to work.
Parveen Shakir Early career
Parveen started writing at a young age, penning both prose and poetry, and contributing columns in Urdu newspapers. She wrote under the pen-name, “Beena”. Shakir held two master’s degrees, one in English Literature and one in Linguistics. She also held several degrees and another master’s degree in Bank Administration.
She was a teacher for nine years before she joined the Civil Service and worked in the Customs Department. In 1986 she was appointed the second secretary, Federal Bureau of Revenue in Islamabad.
Style of poetry
Shakir employed two forms of poetry in her work, one being the prevalent ghazal [plural: ghazalyaat], and the other being free verse. The most prominent themes in Shakir’s poetry are love, feminism, and social stigmas, though she wrote on other topics as well. Her work was often based on romanticism, exploring the concepts of love, beauty, and their contradictions. The integrated the use of metaphors, similes, and personifications.
Shakir is the first female poet to use the word larki (girl) in her works. She uses masculine syntax when talking about the ‘lover’. She often made use of the Urdu first-person, feminine pronoun in her verses.
Parveen Shakir Ghazalyaat
Shakir’s ghazalyaat is “a combination of classical tradition with modern sensitivity”. It deals with the feminine perspective on love and romance. The associated themes such as beauty, intimacy, separation, break-ups, distances, distrust and infidelity and disloyalty.
Most of Shakir’s ghazalyaat contain five to ten couplets, often – though not always – inter-related. Sometimes, two consecutive couplets may differ in meaning and context [For example, in one of her works, the couplet. ‘That girl, like her home, fell victim to the flood is immediately followed by ‘I see light when of you/ remembrance has become the moon’.
Shakir’s ghazalyaat rely on metaphors and similes, which are and used to bring force and lyricism in her work. A fine example of this is seen in one of her most famous couplets, “Wo tou khushbu hai, hawaon main bikhar jaye ga/ Masla phool ka hai, phool kidher jayega?” [Translation: He is fragrance and would waft in the air/ the trouble lies with the flower – where must the flower go?]. where Shakir relates ‘fragrance’ to an unfaithful lover, ‘air’ to the unfaithful person’s secret loves, and ‘flower’ to the person being cheated. Other metaphors Shakir uses are titli [butterfly] for a Romeo, badal [cloud] for one’s love, baarish [rain] for affection, and andhi [storm] for difficulties.
Some of Shakir’s ghazalyaat or, more, couplets, have gained an iconic status in Urdu literature. One of her most famous couplets if the one has given above. Another famous, Shakir couplet is “Jugnuu ko din kay wakt parakhne ki zid karain/ Bachchay hamaray ehed kay chalaak ho gaye”. [They insist upon catching the firefly in daylight/ The children of our age, have grown wiser], which is often quoted to comment on the often surprising knowledge and awareness of the 21st-century child.
As compared to her ghazalyaat Shakir’s free verse is much bolder, and explores social issues and taboos, including gender inequality, discrimination, patriotism, deceit, prostitution, the human psyche, and current affairs. It is also much more modern and up-to-date.
Shakir is known for having employed the usage of pop culture references and English words and phrases, that have mixed up with Urdu, in her free verse – a practice that is both generally considered inappropriate, and criticized, in Urdu poetry. An example is the poem Departmental Store Mein [In a Departmental Store], which is named thus despite the fact that there the term ‘departmental store’ could have been substituted with its Urdu equal, and where words like ‘natural pink,’ ‘hand lotion,’ ‘shade,’ ‘scent’ and ‘pack’ are brought into use, and references made to cosmetics brands like, Pearl, Revlon, Elizabeth Arden, and Tulip. Other examples are her poems Ecstasy, Nun and Picnic.
Shakir’s free verse also contains a few, credited translated or inspired works i.e. poems that are translations of, or inspired by, other authors. Examples are Wasteland, a poem inspired by Elliot’s poem of the same name, and Benasab Wirsay Ka Bojh [The Burden of Illegitimate Inheritance], a translation of W.B. Yeats’s Leda and the Swan.
Shakir’s poetry was well-received, and after her death, she is now considered one of the best and “most prominent” modern poets Urdu language has ever produced. Hailed as a “great poetess,” her poetry has drawn comparisons to that of Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad, and she is considered among the breed of writers “regarded as pioneers in defying tradition by expressing the “female experience” in Urdu poetry.”
A source states, “Parveen … seems to have captured the best of Urdu verse … Owing to [her] style and range of expressions one will be intrigued and … entertained by some soul-stirring poetry. Another praises “her rhythmic flow and polished wording”.
Literary figure Iftikhar Arif has praised Shakir for impressing “the young lot through her thematic variety and realistic poetry,” for adding “a new dimension to the traditional theme of love by giving expression to her emotions in a simple and pellucid style,” and using a “variety of words to convey different thoughts with varying intensities.”
The Delhi Recorder has stated that Shakir “has given the most beautiful female touch to Urdu poetry.”
Shakir’s first book, Khushboo, was awarded the Adamjee Award in 1976. Later, she was awarded the Pride of Performance, one of Pakistan’s highest honors in 1976.
Upon her death, the Parveen Shakir Trust was established by her close friend, Parveen Qadir Agha. The Parveen Shakir Trust organizes a yearly function and gives out the “Aks-e-Khushbu” award.
The first large selection of Shakir’s work translated into English was made by the poet Rehan Qayoom in 2011.
In 2013, Pakistan Post Office issued a commemorative postage stamp of Rupees 10 denomination on Parveen Shakir’s death anniversary.
Parveen was born on 24 November 1952 in Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan.
Shakir was educated. She received two undergraduate degrees, one in English literature and the other in linguistics, and obtained MA degrees in the same subjects from the University of Karachi. She also held a Ph.D., and another MA degree in Bank Administration.
In 1982, Shakir qualified for the Central Superior Services Examination. In 1991, she obtained an MA degree in Public Administration from Harvard University America
Family and death
Shakir married a Pakistani doctor, Syed Naseer Ali, with whom she had a son, Syed Murad Ali—but the marriage did not last long and ended in divorce.
On 26 December 1994, Shakir’s car collided with a bus while she was on her way to work in Islamabad. The accident resulted in her death, a great loss to the Urdu poetry world. The road on which the accident took place is named after her now (Parveen Shakir Road).
Following is a list of Shakir’s published books. A translation of each book’s title follows in italics.
List Of Books by Parveen Shakir
Khushbu خوشبو (1976) – Fragrance
Aks e Khushbu عکس خوشبو Reflection of Fragrance
Sad barg صد برگ (1980) – Marsh Marigold
Khud Kalami خود کلامی (1990) – Talking to oneself
Inkaar اِنکار (1990) – Refusal
Maah e Tamaam ماہِ تمام (1994) – (Kuliyat) Full Moon
Kaf e Aaina کف آئینہ– The Edge of the Mirror
Gosha e Chashm گوشہ چمن– Corner of the eye