By Bradistan Calling
Ifti Nasim also known as Iftikhar Nasim is a pioneering Pakistani gay poet who now lives in the U.S. He has written many books of poetry in Urdu and English languages. He has also written prose in both languages.
According to the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, “Born in Pakistan, he wrote ‘Narman’, an award winning book of Urdu poetry – said to be the first direct statement of “gay” longings and desires to ever appear in that language. Its courageous publication met with revilement but critical acclaim and inspired other Pakistan poets. He co-founded Sangat/Chicago and has been president of the South Asian Performing Arts Council of America.
“This Chicagoan, born in Pakistan, has written gay-related poetry in Urdu said to be the first direct statement of “gay longings and desires” ever published in that language. The publication of Nasim’s book of poetry, Narman (a Persian word for “hermaphrodite”, or half-man, half-woman), has initiated both wild praise and hateful criticism. Narman has also been distributed in Urdu in India and in the West (in England, Norway, Sweden, and Germany). In December 2000, he published Myrmecophile.
The manner in which Nasim’s verse was published in Pakistan underscores its controversial nature: Because Nasim’s publisher knew that there might be “trouble” having the manuscript typeset, the publisher stood over the printer’s shoulder as the text was entered into the computer. The real nature of the manuscript was not evident to the printer until the books were printed. When the printer realized that the books dealt with gay-related themes, he screamed: “Take these unholy and dirty books away from me, or I’ll set them on fire!” Because of the controversy, the work is being sold underground. It has generated a surreptitious market.
Publication of Narman has produced some positive change in Pakistan. Because of the poetry’s honesty, Nasim has said that a group of young truth-loving poets has begun to refer to other “honest” poetry as “narmani” poetry. Obviously, Narman is educating Pakistanis. A prominent Pakistani in his 60s with many children told Nasim that he broke down and cried when he read Narman, apparently because he did not know about homosexuality. This man has become an ardent sympathizer with gay rights.
Ifti Nasim’s Narman raises issues related to Islam’s tolerance for homosexuals. Nasim, who believes he has a close and personal relationship to his God, believes God “wouldn’t have created me if he didn’t want me to lead a happy and fulfilled life. God doesn’t create trash.” In 1993, he became the first Third World poet to read at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago. For his poetic work, he received the Rabindranath Tagore Award from Chicago’s South Asian Family Services in 1994.
Nasim’s contribution to Chicago’s gay and lesbian community is not only confined to his courage as an international ambassador of tolerance. As co-founder of Sangat/Chicago, he has also displayed a leadership role in the city by launching an organization to provide education and support for gay and lesbian South Asians.
Nasim has served as president of the South Asian Performing Arts Council of America and is also a top salesman at Loeber Motors, his employer for 12 of the 22 years he has lived in Chicago.
* The Author’s views don’t necessarily reflect those of Pak Tea House and its editors.