Afshan Shafi – Author
By Nudrat Mustafa
Poetry means different things to different people. This week with Social Diary we dive into the realm of poetry with Afshan Shafi.
Tell us about your family, educational background, date of birth, star..
I’m a Cancerian or to put it more aptly I was born on the cusp of Gemini and Cancer on the 22nd of June. The pull between the elements of air and water certainly makes me one confused character! I’ve always lived in Lahore and though I have a complicated relationship with the city, deep down, I revere it. I studied English Literature and International Relations at the University of Buckingham and Webster Graduate School. Literature always won out for me as a calling.
Was becoming a writer a childhood ambition?
From my mother’s side of the family I come from a long line of writers. From my great great grandfather Mian Shahdin, to Mumtaz Shahnawaz who was one of the first female novelists in South Asia, there has always been an intimidating legacy to draw from. My maternal grandmother , Farhat Attiq ur Rahman wrote exquisite poetry and certainly spurred me to pen little pieces of verse from an early age.
What is the significance of the title ‘Quiet Women’? How and why did it come to your mind?
This book is about the danger of silence for women in Pakistan. We are raised with the notion of endurance and compliance without measure. This eats you up from inside. It’s noxious and debilitating. Women need to understand that by enduring the insidiousness of patriarchal structures, they unwittingly propagate its teachings. We need to disrupt this cycle. My poetry aims to do just that.
Tell us the details about your collaboration with international artists who sketched for the book.
Did you explain each and every poem to them to get the sketches or were they later synced?
Each of these collaborators has something unique to them. Samya Arif’s illustrations are defined by their bold and extraordinary detail. She thinks in a lush, opulent manner. Marjan Baniasadi, hails from Iran and has studied at the NCA and her paintings are complex and so wise and beautiful. Ishita Basu who lives in Calcutta is a poet as well as an artist and there is such a longing and elegant sadness to her creations. You will see how their work complements the poetry, when the book is out. Each poem that I was interested in getting illustrated, was sent to the artist I felt would do justice to it. Artists and poets just get each other! There’s a wonderful synchronicity between visual artists and poets who work chiefly with metaphor.
What is the theme of your book? All the poems have different ideas?
This book functions as a tribute to the work of female artists and writers at large. From the work of artist Farideh Lashai to the poet Veronice Forrest, I wanted to explicate how their work moved and inspired me . I hope that people see that women are artists in their own right and far beyond mere ‘muses’.
How long does it take to get to the stage where writing feels more instinctual?
Why is it so? Your thoughts
After some time poets start seeing the world in peculiar ways. The world is at once more fractured and full of melody. When you start seeing the world in a certain kind of rhythm, you know that you are now fundamentally a wordsmith.
What other particular topics are there that you want to write about?
I want to write about imbalance, mental health, and the intersex and gender fluid community. I see beauty in those that experience the world differently from the norm. The least I can do is attempt that kind of artistic empathy!
What are your expectations from your own book?
Though I don’t write in an immediately accessible style, I hope my words communicate a particular kind of yearning to readers.
Tell us about your upcoming project?
I’ve recently started a small workshop for writers with a brilliant young writer Amar Alam, called the Woolf Writers club (after Virginia Woolf) and the response has been exhilarating. We’ve written surrealist verse and other short forms and it makes me so happy to see how creative these 20something poets and writers are! Watch out for a fresh and dynamic publication from us!
Any message that you want to give to aspiring writers?
Read Shakespeare. Read Dante. Read Tupac Shakur. Be insatiably curious. Read translations of indigenous poetry. Keep a notebook with you at all times to record reflections. Be curious and don’t live in a bubble. Make sure to keep up with the work of contemporary poets like Kaveh Akbar, Ocean Vuong, Sharon Olds and Jorie Graham. There is always so much to learn.