Biography of Ishrat Afreen
Ishrat Afreen (Urdu: عشرت آفرین; Hindi: इशऱत आफरीन; alternative spelling: Ishrat Aafreen; born December 25, 1956) is an Urdu poet and women's rights activist named one of the five most influential and trend-setting female voices in Urdu Literature. Her works have been translated in many languages including English, Japanese, Sanskrit and Hindi. The renowned ghazal singers Jagjit Singh & Chitra Singh also performed her poetry in their anthology, Beyond Time (1987). Famed actor Zia Mohyeddin also recites her nazms in his 17th and 20th volumes as well as his ongoing concerts.
Early Life and Career
Ishrat Jehan was born into an educated family in Karachi, Pakistan as the oldest of five children. She later took the pen name Ishrat Afreen.
She was first published at the age of 14 in the Daily Jang on April 31, 1971. She continued writing and was published in a multitude of literary magazines across the subcontinent of India and Pakistan. She eventually became assistant editor for the monthly magazine Awaaz, edited by the poet Fahmida Riaz. Parallel to her writing career she participated in several radio shows on Radio Pakistan from 1970-1984 that aired nationally and globally. She later worked under Mirza Jamil on the now universal Noori Nastaliq Urdu script for InPage.
She married Syed Perwaiz Jafri, an Indian lawyer, in 1985 and migrated to India. Five years thereafter, the couple and their two children migrated to America. They now reside in Houston, Texas with their three children.
Ishrat Afreen is currently the Principal Urdu Lecturer for The University of Texas at Austin's Hindu Urdu Flagship Program.
Afreen pursued her undergraduate education at the Allama Iqbal Govt College Karachi and later received her Masters Degree in Urdu Literature from the University of Karachi, Pakistan. She also taught at the Aga Khan School and boardinghouse.
Ishrat Afreen is part of the feminist movement in Urdu Literature. Other women in the movement include Ada Jafri, Zohra Nigah, Fahmida Riaz, Kishwar Naheed and Parveen Shakir.
She assumed the penname "Ishrat Afreen", Ishrat being her given name and Afreen meaning a positive reaction to achievement.
Ishrat Afreen identifies strongly with the poetic Urdu legends Muhammad Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. She uses their polished, traditional style and skillfully redirects it to create defiant progressive messages of individuality and rebellion against patriarchal and oppressive social norms.
Afreen has published two collections of poetry entitled Kunj Peeleh Poolon Ka (1985) and Dhoop Apne Hisse Ki (2005). Amongst others, she has been included in the prestigious anthology We Sinful Women and inspired the well-known anthology Beyond Belief: Contemporary Feminist Urdu Poetry. Ishrat Afreen ki Shairi was a book written solely on Afreen's poetry by respected senior novelist and literary critic Mr. Ikram Barelvi.
From Beyond Belief:
In a society which is heavily male-dominated and devoted to the past, it is not surprising then, that the most popular women poets would be those who conform to both socio-cultural and literary traditions. Yet, the women poets who attracted my interest and whose work I have found the most exciting, represent the brave departures from that literary tradition. I have tried to bring together in this selection the contemporary strain in Urdu poetry by Women; to put across a strength of feminist feeling and conviction that I myself never knew existed until I came across Ishrat Afreen's debut collection: A Grove of Yellow Flowers which prompted a search for more of the same.
Her poetry is also prescribed in courses at several Universities ranging from the University of Lahore in Pakistan to the University of Texas at Austin.
Awards & Honors
Afreen was honored with many prestigious awards including the Sajjad Zaheer Award in 1986. Afreen received this honor on the 50th anniversary celebration of the Progressive Writers' Association of India in New Delhi.
Afreen also received the Ahmed Adaya Award from Urdu Markaz International in Los Angeles, California on December 9, 2006 after her book, Dhoop Apne Hisse Ki was selected by the International Urdu Jury as Best Urdu Poetry Publication of 2004-2005.
Afreen has been invited to attend many International Conferences and Festivals. She was selected to represent Pakistan in the Kavita Asia Asian Poetry Festival of 1988 in Bhopal, India which celebrated the greatest literary minds from across the Asian continent.
In September 1999, she partook in the International Poetry Festival in Stavanger, Norway.
She continues to lecture, hold workshops, attend conferences and read her poetry at Mushairas across America, Europe and Asia.
Ishrat Afreen's Works:
Kunj Peeleh Poolon Ka (1985), Dhoop Apne Hisse Ki (2005), We Sinful Women, Beyond Belief, Ishrat Afreen ki Shairi.
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Ishrat Afreen Poems
Rose & Cotton
Gold bodies, the girls toiling in the fields, turned grey in the summer heat
That silken girl from the tribe of Stones Had imprisoned herself in the towers of tradition In a charmed palace of self-deception she sat, Listening to the flowers sing an epic of loneliness.
I grew Taller than my father And my mother won.
The silence now nags, and loneliness Chirrups on the rooftop
The First Prayer Of My Elders
From the womb of the night A tiny ray of Light was thus born: Night uncurled the lovely pink fists of Dawn read her palm
To An Unfinished Man
This last experience made it clear to me: despite your talents, despite being tall and handsome as a man, you're still a boy
Captives Arise rise and chip the mountains mountains of deed traditions
House Of God
The books said: God lives in tearful eyes sunken graves broken hearts-
Yellow flowers-loving girl, how long will you fear the girl inside you; tell me, how long will you fight yourself?
Hands, picking cotton - how I love those hands A perfect metaphor for the love of the land. They had battled with stormy seas, all night long, When, defeated, those strange folk, reached the land.
Why do girls follow the destinies of their mothers? Why are their bodies deserts, their eyes the ocean deep? Why do women keep their jewels locked in trunks To whom they wil bequeath their legacy of grief?
The Daughter Of Riches
Imprisoned in the haveli the stalwart's darling daughter crushed with fatigue drained by dissatisfaction
Words always appear small but one may pile them up to form a home that would suffice for the two of us Words always look scattered
Who am I Don't scratch old wounds Who am I Not what you think I am.
A Personal Poem
Have you ever given it a thought,
as you tread miles of footpaths,
how tender you are,
that the cruel sun of this city
can scorch you?Pushed and pummeled at the bus stop
or in futile chases,
do you ever think of the lively crowd
you just left
and its several adoring eyes?