Heinrich Böll Foundation: Please introduce yourself, Ms. Sharifi.
Basigul Sharifi: Being honest, I am a paradox. My life is full of paradoxes. I regard myself as a little selfish. I’m very analytical. I determine my own path. In our society, there are only a few people who can fully shape their lives the way they want to.
I am far from perfect but I want to develop according to my own beliefs, and with them being in harmony with social, cultural and religious thoughts.
So, that means your thoughts, poems and activities are all about your own aspirations?
Yes. Outwardly I am a typical woman, but I am quite temperamental. Sometimes, I have very dark moods and I can be very pessimistic. At other times, I’m happy looking after flowers, although I might scatter them when my mood changes. These are the kind of paradoxes that fill me.
What kind of work are you involved in?
I don’t have a permanent job. I have days when I’m extremely busy in my personal life. Sometimes I start working and when it peaks I just need to take a break. My work fluctuates. One of my projects was working for the Dur-e Dari House of Culture. My life is full of literature and poetry.
What is the relationship between poetry and politics?
They are nothing alike. A poet can only become a politician if they abandon writing altogether. However, I do think poetry and politics can be good together. You can use poetry to express your political views. At the same time, poetry reminds you of the world of human emotions and values and stops you from losing yourself in the dirty world of politics. Both, poets and politicians are sad people when they are alone. Poetry and politics are nothing alike. Nonetheless, it’s still possible for a poet to write non-political work, romantic poetry about love for example, and still participate in politics.
Please tell us about what you are working on at the moment.
At the moment I’m participating in a lot of social events where I can network with people and find out what kinds of groups I want to work with. Kabul is like a TV to me. I observe people, offices, locations and the activities going on in this city.
You are best known for your poems. What inspired you to become a poet?
At school, I always got good marks in literature-related subjects. Then gradually I started studying collections of literary works, which naturally reinforced my connection with literature and poetry.
How did you feel when you wrote your first poem?
I was proud of me. I read it many times - it seemed so beautiful to me. I never felt the same about any of my later poems though.
Which one of your poems is your favuorite?
It is hard to say. Among the poems I wrote in Iran, I like ‘Pari’. Of the others, I like ‘Quetta’ and ‘Baba’. They are poems from different times in my life.
What do you think are the major problems facing Afghan poets?
Making a living! On the other hand, the lack of proper income is good for a poet since too much comfort makes them uncreative. Nevertheless the majority of Afghan poets don’t have proper work and have a difficult time. It encourages them to take up jobs that don’t allow them enough time for poetry.
What’s a poet’s most important quality?
It depends on what the poet wants to express and what maybe sensitive and important social issue he or she wants to address.
What makes a good poet?
Good poets are those whose poems you are reading with joy and that enable the sharing of emotions and ideas, and those who bring about a new spirit.
What is your main social concern?
My general concern is poverty. Seeing drug addicts under the Pol-e Sokhta bridge, and kids helping drivers to find passengers just to earn five Afghanis makes me really angry. Another issue I am very concerned about is the inequality the Hindu population of Afghanistan suffers from.
What is your opinion on peace?
Peace is only a word but one that has great meaning. I have not experienced peace in my life: neither as a refugee in Iran nor in Quetta, Pakistan. In Afghanistan peace is merely considered a word and its meaning is barely understood. I try to at least have peace in my own personal life, but that’s difficult because that requires a peaceful society and that is dependent on others. I have been looking to find peace but without success.
What role can poets play in promoting peace?
If we take poetry merely as words, nothing can be done. But if it inspires social action and engagement it can trigger a progress towards peace. I spent quite a time with reading poetry written for peace and revolutions and my conclusion was that it is the poets who lead the revolutions. A politician may deliver a two-hour speech but a poet only writes a few stanzas that are capable of bringing about great change. The poets of today, however, can play an effective role in promoting peace by taking the first step and by organizing a movement.
How is feminist poetry related to peace?
While feminist poetry is always accompanied by a struggle, it has also a calm beauty. Women seldomly take up arms for their struggle. They do not talk of violence and death as their poems are all peaceful. They want peace and invite people to become part of humanity. Equality and justice mean peace. Women hardly ever make their demands by taking up arms. There might be exceptions but generally women stand for peace. Like beautiful doves, the beauty and calmness of women bring peace. Also feminist poetry brings peace.
Do you believe in feminism?
Yes, but not to an extreme extend. Many of its points are legitimate but even if you don’t agree with it, you can’t disregard it. Unfortunately our society has unrealistic feminist views: we mostly don’t want equality but superiority. But true feminism demands equality and emphasizes the need of engagement of the people in a society.
What is the most favourable remark you ever heard about your work?
The following remarks stick in my mind: The first is, “Blood-stained words of Quetta have come out of Basigul’s mouth.” And the second was the term “Cherik” (irregular troops) used to refer to me by the poet Jibran Kawa at a gathering of the Qalam association.
What is a recurring phrase with you?
The phrase that forms the basis of my thinking: “Free, free, free me.”
What are three important things for being happy?
Family, money and society.
Are you satisfied with your life?
That depends on whether I have achieved what I have wanted.
What is the best gift you can have from someone?
Respect, love and trust. Many spend a lot of money but never achieve these.
When you see look in the mirror, what do you feel?
I know the value of my beauty. There is beauty in the face, but it doesn’t tell you where you stand in the world you stand and where you want to go.
What would you like to see from your window?
I want to see a city where many people come and go and I can see the way each of these people walk.
What is your definition of youth?
Our society does not allow children and young people to live the way they want. We all have to get old too quickly. Even when we’re young, we want to act like grown-ups. I love to live according to my age. Young people should not think like their elders… then they would enjoy life while they were young.
What do you do to remain young?
I keep the child inside me alive, and I try to keep my thoughts up-to-date.
This interview was first published 18th of August in the magazine Rah-e-Madanayat.
Photo: Basigul Sharifi. By: private, all rights reserved.
Heinrich Böll Foundation: Please introduce yourself, Ms. Sharifi.