She is “tanha”. Alone “I try to look for solitude in my tanhai ((loneliness),” murmurs Iffat Zarrin. As patriarchal old Delhi’s only published women poet, her accomplishments were earned hard way. For, “you can be a shayar (poet) only if you are bebaak (out spoken), khwabida (dreamy) and junooni (passionate),” she notes, matter-of-factly.
Iffat Zarrin was just promoted to a professor’s rank at Delhi University’s Mata Sundari College for women, where she started as an assistant professor in Urdu literature in 2006. The new honour hasn’t altered her routine. At night she continues to keep a diary and a pen under the pillow. “Often while sleeping a line flashes through her mind like bijli (lighting).” She then immediately turns on her mobile phone torch to jot down the line in her diary.
Iffat Zarrin is at her beautifully silent home in Gali Hakimji Wali, sitting besides her husband, a dementia patient. “I miss our days of emotional togetherness.” She also misses her friend Dr Nasreen Raees Khan, who taught Urdu at Satyawati College, and who died in the second wave of Covid. “I am somewhat alone.” She, however, feels grateful to the friendship of Sanskrit scholar Dr Asra Rani, her retired colleague..
Since her two daughters live elsewhere, Iffat Jarin’s “tanha” evenings are spent coursing through several groups in on Whatsapp, or in the books her most beloved poets — “Mir from from Purna dour (old era), Faiz and Nasir Kazmi from naya dour (new era)”.
Naturally the Professor has an encyclopaedic grip on the poetry of Mushir Jinjhanvi, her late father. Recalling her childhood days at her parental home in nearly Chitli Qabar Chowk, she talks of the soirees at “papa’s baithak” where “while serving chai, I would hear poets Khumar Barabankvi, Shamim Karhani, Hayat Lakhnawi, Shamim Jaipuri, Muzaffar Razmi, Tamana Jamali recite the ghazalein they composed recently as that day itself.”
As a homage to the poet-father’s defining role in her creative life, Iffat Zarrin took over the exhausting responsibility of publishing his complete work, which came out in 2016. These days she is in the process of self-publishing her fifth story collection. The professor explains that while it is next to impossible for most contemporary Urdu poets to find publishers, she is determined to have all her poems printed in the book form. She gifts most of these copies to scholars and friends. “Long after my death, may be some people somewhere will discover my books, a few might even leaf through pages, reading randomly here and there.” This way her poetry shall survive, she feels.
The poet-professor now abruptly breaks into lines of her own: English rendering is this—I want to wash the wounds of these hearts, I want to shed tears through your eyes, utterly alone in this wilderness of night, I now want to sleep under stars. (IPA Service)