Mother, Motherhood and Motherland: Identity and Conflict in the Poetry of Perveen Shakir

  • Abstract:

    Perveen Shakir (1952-1994) a Pakistani female Muslim poet, identifies her motherhood in her motherland (Pakistan) as a site of struggle in her third collection Khud-Kalami(Talking to Oneself/Soliloquy). In this paper, the short autobiographical poem “Misfit” selected from Shakir’s third collection has been chosen for primary analysis.The paper will explore the concept of freedom for a modern Pakistani Muslim woman, looking at how it conflicts with the influence on her of western feminist ideas, and her own Islamic nationalistic identity as a traditional mother. The underlying significance is to emphasise the traditional identity of the Pakistani mother which is always part of who she is. However, she also develops and discovers her other identities or selves at different stages of her life. Jane Bryce-Okunlola’s framework of looking at “Motherhood as a metaphor for creativity and examin[ing] women’s source of creativity in the communal story-telling tradition of their foremothers” will be the primary framework for the analysis of the selected text (1991, p. 201). Partha Chatterjee’s framework presents the role of woman, “as highly nationalist[ic] spiritualism” demonstrated by the “adulation of women as goddess or mother[s] represent[ing] the essence of eastern culture”(Chatterjee is critical of this national ideology)(1999, p. 248; 1993). The feminist concept of motherhood is a “new creative vision” (Ash 1991, p. 153). Ranjana Ash’s modern Asian (Indian, Muslim) feminist perspective on woman frames “the development of women’s self-awareness and identity; women’s search for freedom in the family; the question of women’s relationship to their ‘“motherlands’” and the resolution of problems and conflicts which this relationship generates [and resolves] (1991, p. 158). The “new creative vision” is the unconventional vision of Shakir as an educated self-aware Pakistani Muslim woman who develops and progresses; this development conflicts with her conventional and spiritual identity, because of her unconventionality. These multiple identities are looked at positively by French feminist Julia Kristeva as from a “schizophrenic” “split” she says, emerges a “new”, “refashioned” “infinite” “body”, deconstructing the fixed image of a woman (1980, p. 187). I shall establish that in Pakistani Muslim culture the concept of self or individual identity for a mother is not a simple issue.This paper focuses on various stages of Shakir’s biographical journey employing the theoretical framework of dialogism which reveals the development of feminisms, and how they balance in the end. No critical study on Shakir from a third-world postcolonial Pakistani perspective, analysing her poetry within a theoretical framework, has been written so far, and therefore this study is an invaluable contribution to current scholarly knowledge of the discipline. This study also contributes in another way, as it is the first work in English at this level.