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Through the looking glass

ANJANA RAJAN catches up with Sindhi writer-activist Attiya Dawood, whose autobiography has recently been released.

Pakistani author Attiya Dawood in New Delhi. Photo: Anu Pushkarna.

ATTIYA DAWOOD, celebrated Sindhi poetess from Pakistan, whose autobiography has just been brought out by Rajkamal Prakashan of Delhi, epitomises the strengths that can be wrested out of the perceived weakness of a woman. "More than a writer, I feel as a mother," she says. "When I hear of a child killed in Kashmir, or anywhere, I feel as if my child has died, whereas men see it as politics. Till now people felt this difference was because women were ignorant, but it is our shakti."

Her autobiography, "Aine ke Saamne" written in Urdu and printed in Devnagari script, represents her life just as it has been so far, she says. "I felt as if I were talking to myself in front of a mirror."

The autobiography is yet to be published in Pakistan. Before publishing it there in Urdu, she would perhaps like to have it translated into English, she reflects, but remarks, "For me, there is no difference between India or Pakistan, or Bangladesh or South Asia for that matter. The whole region is my land. Our feelings are the same, our condition is one."

Co-founder of Aurataazad along with Sindhi writer Amar Sindhu, she says it was started because, "Very few books by women writers in Sindhi manage to get published. The publishers make it very difficult for them. So we decided to start research and publication of women's books on women's issues. We have already published a book of research articles by Tanvir Junijo. We are also working on a book about Sindhi women singers. We will publish in all the languages of Pakistan but our priority will remain issues concerning Sindhi women."

Attiya is also a member of the working committee of the Women's Action Forum, founded in 1981 to counter laws unjust to women, like the one requiring a rape victim to provide at least two witnesses to the assault or be sentenced as a party to the crime. WAF now has four chapters working for women's rights.

Her articles on peace and women's issues appear in international journals, but reality bites when despite being a delegate at prestigious writers' conferences, she has to spend free time in Delhi because India has not issued her a visa to visit any other city. Reflecting on the strife-torn history of the sub-continent, especially the creation of Bangladesh, she recalls, "I have cried a lot in mehfils. But we have cried enough, we have apologised enough. Will my 10-year-old daughter too have to be apologising? Today's generation is on the Internet. Our generation was blocked by borders. But my daughter does not know that Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit are Indian. She thinks they are Pakistani. But then, she has never stood in a visa queue." With the thaw in India-Pakistan relations, maybe we can hope for better times, more accommodating visas. As for the condition of women, though, it is still a rocky path.

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