Ifti Nasim : A forgotten Pakistani gay poet
And he is no more. Hardly anyone wrote an obituary or a report about Iftikhar Nasim in the land of pure. Because he never came up to their standard of purity. He was not pure but still happy. Yes, the world outside the Islamic republic knew him as a Gay Pakistani Muslim poet.
I first met him in Faisalabad. My parents invited him at home. All we knew was, he is an old friend of my parents and lives in the USA. Later on we got a poetry book “Narman” written by the same Ifti. Narman means harmaphrodite or half women, half man in Persian. The poetry written by him was not supposed to be read openly. It was one of those books that were covered with a newspaper. One of the books I read and passed on to my school friends under the desk. Like some books by Kishwar Naheed, Ismat Chugtai and Amrita Pritam.
He broke many myths me and my siblings had about homosexuals. I remember our mother explained his poems and what homosexuality is. He was tall, dark and manly. How could he be gay? Mom said, this is a prejudice. She named many significant people from history who were of Ifti’s kind and said there is nothing wrong about it.
Knowing Ifti helped me understand other homosexuals who I met later in my life. Even after “Begum Nawazish Ali” still many of them hide their sexual identity. Many end up marrying boys and girls their parents choose for them. Ifti criticized this double life.
“Look around – how many homosexuals are married due to fear of society and family. They make someone’s daughter and sister’s life miserable and eventually their children’s life too. And an unhappy family creates a lot of problems in the society too”. (TFT, 1996)
Ifitkhar Nasim fondly known as Ifti was born in 1946 before the partition in Lyallpur (Faisalabad). He was a young lively boy who liked to read and write. He was born in a family of writers and poets. His father “Ghulam Rasool” (Khalique Qureshi) was founder and editor of the local newspaper “Awam” and his two brothers were poets. His elder sister Aijaz Nasreen’s stories were published in “Shama”, a magazine from Delhi.
It was not a surprise that his poetry was published in the landmark Urdu journal “Fanoon” when he was just a young boy. But a surprise even for himself was that he preferred men to women. Ifti found that out very early and felt a misfit in the society he was born and growing up in. In his poetry one could feel the misery of a young Pakistani gay who also questions his sexual preferences. In the poem “Mere Baba” (My Father) Ifti questions his father about his homosexuality. Ifti could never get closer to his father because he remarried and lived in another house with the new wife. Ifti grew up with six siblings and neighbours whom he called his family.
mere baabaa sab kahte haiN merii shakl aap se miltii-jultii hai
merii aaNkheN merii peshaanii mere hoNT meraa lahjaa baateN karne kaa andaaz uThne-baiThne chalne-phirne ka andaaz mere haathoN kii harkat sab kuch aap hii jaisaa hai
maiNe sunaa hai beTaa baap kii nasl kaa vaaris hotaa hai
mere zehn meN ek savaal ubhartaa hai maiN jo bilkul aap par huuN to phir merii tarjiih-e-jins aapse kyuuN is darja alag hai?
My father, everyone says my appearence resemble yours.
My eyes my forehead my lips my accent the way I talk sit around the way I walk; movement of my hands, everything is like yours only.
I have heard that the son is the heir of his father’s lineage.
A questions comes to my mind. If I am exactly like you then why my sexual preference is so much different from yours?
This poem was included in his second book “Narman” that included explicit descriptions of gay love. Interestingly this book was published in Pakistan in 1985 because the poor publisher hadn’t read the manuscript. When he found out, he threatened to burn all the books. This book is not available in Pakistan. This book was distributed secretly in India and Pakistan and started a movement called narmani, or honest poetry. Ifti was boycotted by the writers and poets of Pak Tea House and got death threats from religious groups.
Ifti Nasim himself had moved to the US twenty years before that in the early 70’s. It was in Chicago that he had his coming out. He worked as a car salesman initially at Loer Motors and later became a full time activist and author. In 1986, he co-founded Sangat, a South Asian Lesbian/Gay/Bi/Transgender organization. He helped South Asian gays and lesbians as he believed they are a minority within a minority in the US. He had a radio show in Urdu in America also called “Sangat” in which he loved playing old Noor Jahan songs.
I’ll remember Ifti as a loud, funny man who wore fur, silk, leather, diamonds and was open about his feelings and critical about the world he belonged to – but that’s only because of my family’s personal connection with him. He wanted to be remembered as Ifti the poet. For most people in this country he never existed and the few who remember him are waiting to see him soon.