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The bold voice of humanism: Abeda Iqbal Azad

She was not a Sorojini, not Emily Dickson. Not even Perween Shakir or Meera Bai but Abeda Iqbal Azad was an activist of her own genre—a reason that has made the society of Urdu literature mourn five years after her death on April 20, 2012.

If you haven’t heard that name, or are unsure of who she is – Google her. You’ll learn that she’s a social activist and a columnist, that she’s the author of Aasman and short stories and articles, many of those with trilingual translation of English, Urdu and Bengali.

If you question who was Abeda Iqbal Azad? Why her death is a loss for Urdu readers? Then you’ll learn that she dedicated her work to writing for the rights of those most downtrodden and oppressed in our society including the repatriated, stranded and displaced. Part of no one’s agenda, they became her cause and focus. She documented and reported, organised and authenticated and, above all haunting, powerful tales filled with unforgettable characters.

Over the years, legions of readers and poetry lovers have kept her work alive while the journalist community commit to the memory of the late columnist through poured off tribute.

An activist writer, Abeda used the might of her pen to voice against authority of the society and government over the cause of humanity. She wrote against evil traditions, and combined women’s causes with socio-political movements. She stood apart from the crowd with her brusque and more honest style of story-telling. Her characters would never seek pity, but demand attention.

Late Abeda was a delicate voice with her own style of activism and touched the hearts and quickly shaped her distinguished identity as columnist. She supported reasonable political change and socio-economic development to be brought about in Pakistan.

She advocated optimism and dreamt of a drastic change in the socio-political affairs. “I cherish my dreams. I will hold on the vision of my dreams high and will not let them die.” (Poem Khwab).She lived with her dreams drafted and crafted.

Abeda’s book of poems ‘Aasman’ and two popular columns, ‘Aaina’ and ‘Chehre’ took her to fame. She worked with many leading newspapers of Pakistan. Her features and short stories appeared in both English and Urdu magazines, newspapers and health journals.

She also wrote ‘Dateline Dhaka”, her ‘feature series was a historical record of ‘1971 Dhaka fall’, which caught the attention of academics, scholars and writers. Her works include translation of Saadat Hasan Manto and Khalil Gibran.

Abeda Iqbal was born to a prominent businessman-cum-educationist father in Bangladesh in a literary environment. At a very early age, she started her career with ‘Bangladesh Observer’ and ‘Bangladesh Times as a feature writer bylining as Abeda Yasmeen, her given name. She did her MBBS from Dhaka and moved to Karachi after her marriage to advertising executive, Iqbal Azad Syed.

Abeda abandoned her career in medicine and preferred subjects of culture, socio-politico-economy. Her capacity to understand and analyze established her as a columnist.  She worked with all leading newspapers and contributed enormous write-ups, features and short stories to different English and Urdu magazines, newspapers and health journals.

Abeda was frustrated over the political situation in the country and believed in political progressivism. She was in favor of new ideas, advance methods, change in the age-old social system and overall in people’s mindset.

She acted like a pressure group and trended exclusively with the words to experiment a renaissance and presented an artistry of prose and poetry cocktail so that the readers could gulp easily.

Abeda loved her home city Karachi and lifestyle.  It is interesting to note that despite being tremendously competent for in-depth analysis of concurrent social, civic, economic, political and governmental affairs, Abeda’s works are equally powered by the humming of rain, colors, flowers and fragrance.  She knew the art of word arrangement. Not for an instance she fixed her style, rather let it loose free to cope with the diction.

Her poetry received broad appreciation from the media and critics. Abeda lived in her poetry, her thoughts kept whirling around subjects close to life, and society. Similarly, her short stories and poems convey her intricate workmanship of literature.

The late activist played her part in shaping the landscape of Urdu literature and mainstream writing and touched various topics such as feminism, civil rights, family issues and overall gender equality. She focused on larger regionalism and raised a strong voice in favor of women and went on unconventionally to continue pressing concerns over current issues.

Abeda was a life member of Arts Council of Pakistan. She was a social activist and was associated with many charity organizations and women’s organization.  Her untimely death has cropped the career of a blooming talent early at its best.

Abeda Iqbal will not die. She will live in her creative pursuits. Her last column ‘Band gali’ was published on February 28, 2012 in Daily Express. Her death marked the end of a life and a radiated talent and achievements. She will always remain in the hearts of readers and poetry lovers.

Tasneem, Shazia. The bold voice of humanism: Abeda Iqbal Azad. Samaa, April 19, 2017.

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