"Free verse or metre, rhyme or no rhyme, as long as the subject of a poem is something that organically evokes emotions in the poet's mind, it's bound to resonate with the reader."
Poetry, for Iqra Khilji, represents a potent, powerful force: A medium through which one can question power and traditions. "A medium to express the socio-political ambitions that I share with others. It's my personal, minuscule agitation against the expectations that society projects on the classes of people for whom I primarily write: women, minorities, the Indian middle and lower-middle classes."
She thinks of this art form as a sort of inheritance from her grandfather, who played a major role in raising her.
"He writes in Urdu and English. He would read Iqbal and Ghalib, as well as his own works to me when I was very young. Naturally, I developed an ambition to write like him someday. I wrote my first English poem at the age of six, and a rather pretentious poem in Urdu at 11." She wrote through school, but hit a dry spell of two years after. What prompted her to return to poetry was the social and political turbulence she was witness to, and the momentum that the feminist movement had gathered.
Urdu is not her preferred medium of thought, though, and when she sits down to write, the decision to pick a language is impulsive. Before she begins writing a piece, she has usually charted out certain expressions and emotions in her head. "They could be in either Urdu or English, because I don't have a first language. I learnt Urdu at home and English at school simultaneously, so I can emote in either." She prefers Urdu for its sheer linguistic beauty, but acknowledges English's ability to speak to people of different linguistic groups.
Iqra believes that performing poetry allows her to convey emotions with exactitude, eliminating ambiguities other than those which are intended. "Giving the poem a voice leaves a deeper impression in the minds of the audience. Moreover, it can reach those who may not be up to reading poetry."
Though she is an ardent admirer of many poets, it is the works of poets belonging to the Progressive Writer's Movement and their values that inform her own writing. Fehmida Riyaz, Kishwar Naheed, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, and Faiz, Jalib are some of the many writers who urge her to put her pen down to paper.
In January, her poem Khabees gained wide popularity on social media; surprisingly, it was not a poem she ever intended to perform. "Khabees was scribbled in a moment of fury," she says. Recovering from a bout of illness, she was to accompany her cousin to an event and was nudged to send her poem as an entry. "It was picked, but I was doubtful about it having much of an audience in spoken word circles, as it was written in rather literary Urdu. So I was extremely surprised at the way it was received."
Does the reach of her work on social media matter to her? Yes, says Iqra, who makes no bones about social media's ability to ensure that her poetry reaches those who she writes for, and those who she questions.
—Text by Neerja Deodhar
Haq Paraston Ke Naam