It is evening, I open the book “Sari Reams,” take out the audio CD which is well placed in the pocket of the cover and the strong intense voice takes me back in time when in a hall full of people in Alhamara during Lahore Literary Festival, I heard Sadaf Saaz recite her poems for the first time. Cladded in a green Sari, the Bangladeshi poet passionately read a poem that elaborated the plight of 1971 women victim who were shunned away by their own society.

Having seen her sing about the lamented daughters of the soil, many were intrigued to dig what lays rooted in the 71, I was one of them. So I met again with Saaz at the peripheries of Literary Festival. She not only welcomed my queries but also handed me down her book.

The poet, who lives with her husband in Dhaka, was born in America and brought up in England. Saaz went to Bangladesh when she was 16. It was nothing less than a big cultural shock for her. However, now she identifies with the country more than any place else. “I identify with Bangladesh and I am very strongly rooted here.

“When I was growing up I was like any other person in Diaspora. We lived in Cambridge. All of my father’s friends were Nobel Laureates. Stephen Hawking was his very good friend. We didn’t grow up knowing other Bangladeshis. However, I grew up listening to Bangla songs and poetry as my parents were always playing or reading these, but I used to identify myself as a British.

“My father took me to Bangladesh when I was 16. I did not want to go. Though there were many things about Bangladeshi life which I hated, but something extraordinary happened to me when I was there for two three years. Chittagong was quite provincial but there was something magical there. I must say it was Bangladesh years ago. There was no internet, no connection with the outside world. It was very third world like. But I felt there was some kind of energy. So, at that time, I had this dream that I really wanted to come back to my country and I really wanted to do something for my people. I am living in Dhaka for many years now.”

Though Bangladesh is still developing and Saaz spent her life in developed world, she has wondrous reasons to love her land. She is involved in many sectors. Besides being a writer, she is an entrepreneur and a woman rights campaigner. She is now going to start a project of molecular cell biology, “I love Bangladesh. I love the fact that we are creating our destiny here and I am a part of it. I am involved in different sectors. I am involved in arts and business, in education sector and I am also trying to start a biotech company. I love being in Bangladesh. I think it’s the right time. There is so much potential and energy. And I feel like I really need to build on these positive things,” she says.

Saaz has rich experience of being a British and being an alien in the English land, she reminisces about it, “I grew up in Britain where immigrants were seen as foreign persons. I have seen that Britain where people have felt so alienated that they have become radical. Britain is very much multi-cultural today.”

The passionate poet says that both her life in England and transition to Bangladesh were important influences on her. “There has been heavy influence of Bangladesh on my life. I am coming to terms with the amalgamation of various experiences.” These influences are very much evident in her work where she celebrates her identity in ideas as well in language. She uses many words of Bangla in her poetry. I hope the fusion will be more evident in her upcoming work which is a much-anticipated novel.

“I don’t write poetry in Bangla but if you read my poetry then you will see that I use Bangla words in my English poetry because I feel so rooted. I have been back for many years now. Firstly I came with my parents but then I went back to finish the university. After completing my education I returned to Bangladesh with real urge to change the country for better,” she said.

Saaz studied molecular biology in England. She tells that though she used to write in university days but the poet inside her actually came out after she was done with her work.

The poet is very passionate about her work. She wants to convey her expression to the readers as much she wants to communicate her ideas and feelings. Many who heard her recite, would agree that she does justice to the listener, “I really feel that my poetry is needed to be performed by me. People read my book and they say that they loved it but that comes as a surprise to me because I feel that there are many poems where you don’t get 100 percent unless…” I complete the sentence as we both share a laugh, “they hear it from you”

She continues, “Yes, I think you grasp them more fully if you hear me recite those. This whole new form of poetry is performance poetry. When I was getting my collection ready, I was thinking that people will read my poetry and they will not get it fully. So we also have a collection of poems recited by me recorded in CD and packed in a pocket in the book.”

Though Sadaf Saaz emphasizes the need of expression in poetry but she loathes melodramatic work. “Some of our poetry in Bangla is about the topics about which we feel very strongly about. Some poetry, however, does not do anything for me because it is very melodramatic. I got the biggest compliment the other day. Somebody said that they read my poetry and they loved it because it is very emotional and it is still not melodramatic.”

Sadaf Saaz remained very much in news after being at LLF, most importantly because of the poem which she read about 1971 tragedy. She says that the poem is not about politics. “It is about personal experiences and social dilemmas.”

The poem was that how Bangladeshi women were shunned away by their own families after being raped. “It was about somehow you lose your honour when a crime is committed to you. Even in our country the women who were raped were looked down upon by the people of their country. Official line is ‘oh 71, when our mothers and sisters lost their honour. The honour of our mothers and sisters was lost.’ They ignore the fact that women bore the burden of their men and despite this society looked down upon them.”

It was a ripe moment to get an insight into what Bangladeshi intelligentsia thinks about much stressed demand of their government that Pakistan must apologize. So I asked her and she replied, “Let’s say as a nation, majority of Pakistanis did not know what was going on. May be they did not support what was going on. The point is that why should this generation feel for the mistakes which it did not commit.

“I have met so many people here who admit that mistakes happened in the past. Actually there are many Bengalis who look at it as a problem between two friends. So they say that there is a need to empathize and only then can we move forward. Recently a Jamat e Islami person was hanged in Bangladesh. Pakistan condemned it officially and yet they have not apologized for what happened 40 years ago. We have a point that lets firstly settle that issue and then you have a right to speak.

“This generation should not bear the guilt, it should not carry the baggage of the mistakes which it did not commit,” she asserted.

The poet however, as is expected, is sensitive to generalities. She does not say that Pakistan is the only culprit. “I don’t think its just Pakistan. It’s everywhere. It’s something which we don’t learn from history. We are very myopic about the way we see things. So when we are fighting for something, we recognize it. However, when we are doing it to other people, we ignore the realities. Even people in Bangladesh do this.”

The poet tells that she is not nationalistic in close terms but 1971 proved to be positive for Bangladesh. “We managed to get a kind of freedom away from India and Pakistan where we could develop our own thinking and ideas and that has been really positive for Bangladesh.

“Culturally and socially we were able to find solutions for our own problems. I think it’s been great for us if we economically look at it. Our garments sector, microcredit, macroeconomic policies, our cultural scene, our music, our theatre all have grown in positive way. In a way we have been able to come out of shadow of others,” she explained.

Saaz agrees that on state level many times it seems that Bangladesh is close to India but there are many people who dislike India as a hegemon and who feel closer to Pakistan. “Politically Bangladesh government doesn’t like the way the Indian Government is interfering with us. We feel very strongly that India is very much like big brother interfering and Pakistan is not.”

She adds that Bangladesh has connections with both India and Pakistan, “On personal level there are few people who have great connections with India and others have such relations with Pakistan. In short, here are so many wonderful things that we can build on. It is sad that sometimes Pakistan is associated either with this 71 tragedy or through this Taliban thing. We need to get beyond this. I think we need to break down these barriers,” she said.

She confessed that she too had negative impression about Pakistan. “I think we are guilty of feeling that Al-Qaeda or Taliban are Pakistan, or this Talibanisation of Pakistan is Pakistan and now I have come here and it so feels like home. I think its different Pakistan than what I imagined. I am meeting young people who are so smart and clued in and have so much energy. I think you have the worst impression in the world. People don’t know that there is this amazing educated group here,” she said.

Talking about her personal relation with India and Pakistan, the poet said that “My father went to study at Cambridge University when he was 18. He went to boarding school in Murree before that. He has very fond memories of friends here. Then he was in Calcutta before he left for Cambridge.”

Saaz has been a woman right activist since her university days. “I was involved in women movement in England too. But it was more about homosexual and transgender rights. It was kind of bizarre and I was like, where is the women movement?”

Unlike many young people, she emphasizes that she is a feminist. “When you have a child and you don’t have day care and when value is not given to apparently non-monetary work of a housewife, then you realize that as a woman you are a feminist. You want something which is fair and is not biased because of your gender.

“I think that we have come a long way and it is because of asserted efforts of many women. Men have not given us this space. For example, women in West demanded a vote. They fought for it.

“I think young women who have not been here to see the patriarchal cultures, don’t realize that how strong these have been.  25 years ago you would not see any woman on the streets of Dhaka day or night. So if you were a single woman or single mother, it was very difficult for you. You had to live at your father’s house. I think there were so many things and struggles which we have internalized and we don’t realize. It’s true that you don’t have to be a man to be successful but for opportunities and for progress there have been many important struggles which women have made. So now in garments industry there are many women in Bangladesh. Women are walking around day and night on streets and it means as a woman I can go out at 11 at night. And it’s safer for me.”

She says that not only old structures took toll on women but new ones are doing that too, “The theory that woman goes, does everything, does the crazy job, does the looking after of the children, and probably is the in charge of it and has to do all is causing problem too. Full burden of looking after the family should be on a man as well.  This is his family too. This idea that you have to do both has put an unnecessary strain on women. I don’t yet know what the solution is but the structures must be changed.”

It is said that this rise of woman is also because of man shying away from his responsibilities, “It’s challenging for the men too. That’s why there is a lot of discourse on redefining masculinity and things like, “Who is the real man?” The real man does not have to be totally like a henpecked husband of 70’s version but definitely there should be more of a balance. Women should claim some things that are typically considered as masculine. For example if you are ambitious as a woman then it must not be seen as bad.”

As a woman activist Saaz was told by many that her ideas were Westernized and the Bangladeshi women did not share the same aspirations and ideals. She met them in a conference by a women rights NGO in 1995 and realized that she had much more in common with them, “Now that I had realized that we were in same battle, then anybody who said to me that you don’t know what they want, I would tell them not to say so because actually they do not know what our women want.”

I talked to Sadaf Saaz on phone about the recent controversy of flag waving in Bangladeshi stadiums during T20 World Cup, the poet opines that “It was an emotional response owing to bitter memories of 71. However, banning flag carrying is not a solution to reconciling wounds that are very deep, and come from a place of deep emotion.”