Words of pain

Taja was mesmerized by poetry since childhood, but it were tragedies at a ripe age that brought out the poetess in her. Shazia Yousuf interacts with the poetess grandmother.
Surrounded by her children and grandchildren, 75-year-old Taja lifts her book in an attempt to read. But her age doesn’t allow her. She gasps for breath, sips hot water from a steel glass and covers her mouth with her trembling hands to hush up the sounds that her breath produces. But every word from her mouth is preceded by a hum. Finally she gives up and says, “Tragedies turned me into a poetess.”
For her 1995 was the year of tragedies and transformation. That year, her brother Amanullah died. Then her husband, Ghulam Ahmad Shah, was killed by unknown gunmen and finally her mentally challenged son Nazir Ahmad succumbed to bullets in an incident of cross firing. All this happened within a span of two months. When tears failed to convey her sorrow, verses of pain made their way out.
“Of my four children, Nazir was dearest to me,” says Taja. “His death was a hailstorm.”
Nazir was an agriculture sciences graduate. At 30, the family noticed that Nazir was changing. “He would sit alone in his room for hours. Strange letters from anonymous people started reaching him. We thought he is becoming one of those people whom we know as mystics,” says Taja. “He kept composing poetry till his death.”
Taja’s first couplet “arrived to her” at Nazir’s grave. “When I looked at his grave, I spoke out – paare koruth naar lalwun thowuth, damie damie ghum mye lalwun thowuth (you tore me apart, left me burning, Every moment I am immersed in sorrow),” she says.
After writing a few poems, Taja showed them to Mohammad Rajab Hamid, a famous poet. “When I read my poetry to him, he shook my hand and uttered two names – Tajun Nisa and Arni Maal that later became my pen names,” the poetess recalls.
Dressed in a typical Kashmiri outfit, head covered in a traditional way exposing some strands of her henna dyed hair, her aged earlobes fragmented into multiple lobes by the weight of gold jewelry. She looks like any other Kashmiri grandmother, but ask her how poetry has changed her persona, she responds philosophically, “Flames lift up from my heart now. And I sleep less, it doesn’t let me sleep.”
Born in 1934, Taja was brought up in a religious family. Quitting studies after completing her primary education, she would sit with her father who read her poetry. “My father Khwaja Mohammad Jaukaar had high regard for poets. He used to visit their houses and sometimes invite them to our home as well. I used to snoop around to listen to their verses,” she recollects.
Later, Taja was married to Ghulam Ahmad Shah, a landlord in Meedora village of Tral. Noticing Taja’s inclination towards poetry, Shah would buy her volumes of Kashmiri poetry. “His gifted books on poetry of Nyaam Seab and Shamas Faqir are still with me,” she says.
Begum Tajun Nisa’s poetry has been compiled in two volumes – both edited by Aziz Hajni. Her first book, Wilizaar, was published in July 2008 while the second one, Khooni Jigar, is yet to be released.
“In my first book I have written elegies and poems that convey misery. It was for my son, my mentor, and for him (her husband). My second book is about Ishq-e-Nabi (in love of Prophet SAW),” she says.
Taja says when a strange feeling engulfs the surroundings, her breathing becomes slow and her heart beats fast, she realizes it is the time to pen down a few verses and a poem is borne. She craves for isolation to put them on paper. “That time I feel like somebody putting me on fire,” she says while flapping her hands in air.
Taja’s little schooling helps her a lot. She manages to write her verses on her own. Anytime a couplet comes to her, she has to leave everyone and write in seclusion. “I have become old and my health is deteriorating. Sometimes I find it hard to get up in the middle of night for writing. But this poetry is a strange ocean, you can dive from any side but there is no exit. Even if I wish, it will never leave me now,” says the poetess.
Taja believes that besides misery, her poetry comes with blessings from blessed people. “Abdul Ahad Zargar was the mentor of my husband. He would come to our house, listen Sufiana music with my husband for nights together. I would remain awake to serve them food and tea. I have been paid for the service I rendered to that noble soul,” says a nostalgic Taja.
Taja’s son Bashir Ahmad is overwhelmed by the fame his mother has brought to the family. “I retired as chief prosecution officer, my younger brother is IG traffic but the recognition our mother has given is something to be proud of.”
Taja’s daughter-in-law Dil Afroz has a complaint though.  “Cultural Academy has hardly done anything to encourage our mother. When Wilizaar was released, they had invited media for their own benefits. After that they never approached her,” she says.
Life stands like a wall between living Taja and her dead son. Her poetry appears a small window into that world.  “This poetry is my son (Nazir) now. I am giving it the love a mother would give to her insane son. We commune through words. He too was a poet,” Taja says while tapping the cover of her book with a sigh.

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