[Reader-list] Habba Khatoon & Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

inder salim indersalim at gmail.com
Mon Aug 6 23:18:03 IST 2007

Habba Khatoon &  Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

This is about  16th and 17 century. After the full moon of Habba
Khatoon  alias Zooni, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz shone on the South
American horizon nearly one century later. We don't have detailed
account of Habba Khatoon unlike Sor Juna whom we know how she died and
even at what time of which month and of what disease. That is that,
but what fascinates me here, is their similarity in many areas.  Both
Habba and Juana come from a humble background, and both ended
tragically.  Both were gifted poets with a deep love for music, though
Sor Juana was well read and knew science as well from the beginning,
but both had no regular schooling. Both were in love, and both were
radical in thought and profoundly protesting against  the social
decadence and other forms of human suffering. To say the least, both
were women, and beautiful.

Sor  Juana was not only a poet but a philosopher, playwright, and
prose writer. She was an illegitimate and a lesbian, unlike Habba
Khatoon who was simply the daughter of a peasant; and in love with
nature from the beginning. I said this because we don't have an
intensive record of her upbringing, adolescence and marriage. But I am
sure, the medieval rural of Maxico and Kashmir must have been quite
lyrical, because of which it was possible for daughters of humble
backgrounds to pick up the nuances of song making intrinsically.  The
credit goes to the inherent strength in the folk music it self; and
since folk is non-translatable into any other form of expression, and
here, any attempt to compare the two great poets is almost
insignificant.  While Octavio Paz won Nobel prize in 1990 for his
monumental work on Sor Juana, our Kashmiri Nightingale, for some
Kashmiri brothers, is still not impressive enough to qualify as a
poet, even.

 Sor Juana was Catholic and a Nun in an autocratic, theocratic, male
dominated society, and when she pressed for the proper education of
girls she was forced to stop writing, which finally resulted in the
sale of her collection of 4000 books, musical instruments and
everything she identified with. That was the beginning of her quick
end, hastened by the Plauge in the city. On the contrary, Habba
Khatoon was beaten by her first husband and forced to abandon  poetry,
which dramatically caused her to discover new love, a new lease of
life as a creative poet in the court of King Yousuf Shah Check. But
she was soon out of favour when the Kashmiri Sultan was killed by
Mughal Emperor, Akbar the Great. That was the beginning of her tragic
end, too.

A Habba Khatoon poem is the effortless song of a woman poet, quite
like Sor Juana's, but in a different context, perhaps.  When  I hear,
' bei tschsai Zameen tai, tchi chook Asman, seers chook sar posh' the
blue earth flashes in front of my eyes. I see, the zameen ( the earth
) surrounded by invisible air, being kissed by the very transparency
it is surrounded with. A deep kiss in its entirety, writing all the
far and beyond, in 'a blue', we all are familiar with.  A great secret
which we can see from a distant planet, but can visualize and
experience only from below, and hence a secret. This woman poet was
able to appropriate the whole of earth in a bid to proclaim 'love' so
overwhelmingly that even the sky looks smaller. The echo of such a
thought comes to us from an ancient Shiva Shakti thought but since
that has turned merely into a popular worship  form of main stream
Hindu religion, unlike the word ' zameen' ( earth ) which gives us
back our empirical pride and a grass root belonging at the same time.

I approach, and I withdraw:
who but I could find
absence in the eyes,
presence in what's far?

This is  sor Junana, experiencing the meaning of visual so
spontaneously. Here,  I am a little interested to see how the poet's
quantum of thought weaves all the possibility, with such a precision,
and yet declares nothing, and hence so secretive, so personal and so
close to  ones life, particularly a woman's…

The most famous song in Kashmir by Haba Khatoon is her protest against
in-laws, who were perhaps pressing her for dowry. During one of  those
days when she happened to break her water pitcher she gives a call to
her parents to come to her rescue and provide her with a new pitcher.

"The mother-in law grabbed me by my hair, which stung me more than the
pangs of death. I fell asleep on the supporting plank of the spinning
wheel, and in this way, the circular wheel got damaged. I cannot
reconcile myself with the atrocities of the inlaws, O! my parents,
please come to my rescue."  ( translation by KN Dhar )

The song goes on and on. Poets are perhaps tailor made to take the
matters of dignity too seriously.  Needless to say that woman have
suffered more than anybody else in the whole process of civilization
making. Children have suffered too, and here is how Haba Khatoon
expresses so lucidly in verses

"My parents sent me to a distant school for receiving tuition. The
teacher there beat me with a tender stick mercilessly and ignited a
fire within me; No body's youth with child- like innocence should go
unrewarded like that of mine." ( translation by KN Dhar)

The manner in which Haba Khatoon spoke against the Child-abuse is
without a parallel in the whole of literature. Unpredictability, the
essential element of poetry pours out just a bud comes out a bough,
with a universal human heart of a mother. The popularity of the songs
has given it a status in the cultural history of Kashmir that no one
can erase it from the memory of people who are celebrating the songs
of Haba Khatoon in the present, even.

Unfortunately, her creative being was cut short, more for her being a
woman than by the death of King Yousuf Shah Check. This is how she
expresses, perhaps in her last song.

Tschi kaho watiyo mani marnay "  what will you gain by my death, O God.'
One finds a similar echo in  Sor Juana's last inscription, title of a
film also,  la peor de todas ("I, The Worst of All")

Here, a Sor Juana  poem translated in English:

Silly, you men-so very adept
at wrongly faulting womankind,
not seeing you're alone to blame
for faults you plant in woman's mind.

After you've won by urgent plea
the right to tarnish her good name,
you still expect her to behave--
you, that coaxed her into shame.

You batter her resistance down
and then, all righteousness, proclaim
that feminine frivolity,
not your persistence, is to blame.

When it comes to bravely posturing,
your witlessness must take the prize:
you're the child that makes a bogeyman,
and then recoils in fear and cries.

Presumptuous beyond belief,
you'd have the woman you pursue
be Thais when you're courting her,
Lucretia once she falls to you.

For plain default of common sense,
could any action be so queer
as oneself to cloud the mirror,
then complain that it's not clear?

Whether you're favored or disdained,
nothing can leave you satisfied.
You whimper if you're turned away,
you sneer if you've been gratified.

With you, no woman can hope to score;
whichever way, she's bound to lose;
spurning you, she's ungrateful--
succumbing, you call her lewd.

Your folly is always the same:
you apply a single rule
to the one you accuse of looseness
and the one you brand as cruel.

What happy mean could there be
for the woman who catches your eye,
if, unresponsive, she offends,
yet whose complaisance you decry?

Still, whether it's torment or anger--
and both ways you've yourselves to blame--
God bless the woman who won't have you,
no matter how loud you complain.

It's your persistent entreaties
that change her from timid to bold.
Having made her thereby naughty,
you would have her good as gold.

So where does the greater guilt lie
for a passion that should not be:
with the man who pleads out of baseness
or the woman debased by his plea?

Or which is more to be blamed--
though both will have cause for chagrin:
the woman who sins for money
or the man who pays money to sin?

So why are you men all so stunned
at the thought you're all guilty alike?
Either like them for what you've made them
or make of them what you can like.

If you'd give up pursuing them,
you'd discover, without a doubt,
you've a stronger case to make
against those who seek you out.

I well know what powerful arms
you wield in pressing for evil:
your arrogance is allied
with the world, the flesh, and the devil!



More information about the reader-list mailing list