Imtiaz Dharker (born 1954) is a Pakistan-born British poet, artist and documentary filmmaker. She has won the Queen’s Gold Medal for her English poetry.
Dharker was born in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan to Pakistani parents. She was brought up in Glasgow where her family moved when she was less than a year old. She was married to Simon Powell, the founder of the organization Poetry Live, who died in October 2009 after surviving for eleven years with cancer. Dharker divides her time between London, Wales, and Mumbai. She says she describes herself as a "Scottish Muslim Calvinist" adopted by India and married into Wales. Her daughter Ayesha Dharker, (whose father is Anil Dharker), is an actress in international films, television and stage.
Dharker has written 6 books of poetry Purdah (1989), Postcards from God (1997), I speak for the Devil (2001), The Terrorist at my Table (2006), Leaving Fingerprints (2009) and Over the Moon (2014) (all self-illustrated).
Dharker is a prescribed poet on the British AQAGCSE English syllabus. Her poems Blessing and This Room were included in the AQA Anthology, Different Cultures, Cluster 1 and 2 respectively. Her poem Tissue also appears in the 2017 AQA poetry anthology for GCSE English Literature. Her poem Living Space also appears in the WJEC poetry anthology for GCSE English Literature.
Dharker was a member of the judging panel for the 2008 Manchester Poetry Prize, with Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke. For many she is seen as one of Britain's most inspirational contemporary poets. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2011. In the same year, she was awarded the Cholmondeley Prize by the Society of Authors. In 2011 she judged the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award with the poet Glyn Maxwell. In 2012 she was nominated a Parnassus Poet at the Festival of the World, hosted by the Southbank Centre as part of the Cultural Olympiad 2012, the largest poetry festival ever staged in the UK, bringing together poets from all the competing Olympic nations. She was the poet in residence at the Cambridge University Library in January–March 2013. In July 2015 she appeared on the popular BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs and spoke about growing up in Glasgow and her decision to leave her family and elope to India, as well as her second marriage to the late Simon Powell.
The main themes of Dharker's poetry include home, freedom, journeys, geographical and cultural displacement, communal conflict and gender politics. All her books are published by the poetry publishing house Bloodaxe Books. Purdah And Other Poems deal with the various aspects of a Muslim woman's life where Dhaker explores the idea of oppression and violence thought to be a product through the culture of purdah.
Film and illustration
Dharker is also a documentary filmmaker and has written and directed over a hundred films and audio-visuals, centering on education, reproductive health and shelter for women and children. In 1980 she was awarded a Silver Lotus for a short film. An accomplished artist, she has had ten solo exhibitions of pen-and-ink drawings in India, Hong Kong, USA, UK and France.
- Purdah (Oxford University Press, India, 1989)
- Postcards from god (including Purdah) (Bloodaxe Books, 1997, ISBN 1-85224-407-0)
- I Speak for the Devil (Bloodaxe Books, 2001, ISBN 978-1852245696; Penguin BooksIndia, 2003)
- The Terrorist at my Table (Bloodaxe Books, 2006, ISBN 1-85224-735-5; Penguin Books India 2007)
- Leaving Fingerprints (Bloodaxe Books, 2009. ISBN 1-85224-849-1)
- Over the Moon (Bloodaxe Books, 2014. ISBN 978-1780371207)
- "The Right Word"
- Living Space. *Another woman. (Source- English for class x in SSC Telangana)
There are just not enough
Straight lines. That
Is the problem.
Nothing is flat
Or parallel. Beams
Balance crookedly on supports
Thrust off the vertical.
Nails clutch at open seams.
The whole structure leans dangerously
Towards the miraculous.
Into this rough frame,
Someone has squeezed
A living space
And even dared to place
These eggs in a wire basket,
Fragile curves of white
Hung out over the dark edge
Of a slanted universe,
Gathering the light
As if they were
The bright, thin walls of faith.
I have only recently begun reading Imtiaz Dharker’s poetry and I have found it very refreshing. The way she explores cultural differences, identity and the idea of ‘otherness’ really fascinates me. If you read just a little of her biography you will see that she is well placed to talk about those issues; raised in Scotland by Pakistani parents, she attended a Calvinist school as a Muslim, and now lives between Mumbai and London with her Indian Hindu husband. Her poems are bold and brave, often political and always relevant. I really recommend reading more of them.
I chose this particular poem for today’s blog because of that startling image of the fragile, white eggs hanging precariously in the midst of what I suppose is an Indian slum or shanty town.
There is an irresistible playfulness about the language used to depict the chaos of the shanty town. I love the almost tongue-in-cheek tone of that opening phrase and ‘explanation’ of the “problem” with the place — “There are just not enough/ Straight lines”. But this playful tone certainly does not detract from the seriousness of the poverty being described; the squalor and precariousness of existence here is made tangible through the balancing beams, the nails that “clutch at open seams” and the whole structure leaning “dangerously/ towards the miraculous”. That word “clutch” in particular, and that beautiful, off-beat rhyme scheme using “beams”, “seams” and “leans” really creates, I think, a sense of how the whole town is seemingly holding together by a thread.
People have “squeezed” a “living space” into this place. I just adore this second half of the poem. There is something so triumphant about those eggs. Someone has “even dared” to hang the eggs there, so fragile and white and in such a dirty, dangerous, unpredictable environment. The wire basket is such a flimsy protection for them. There is incredible faith displayed by the person who has hung those eggs there. It reminds me of Yeats’ poem He wishes for the cloths of heaven when it goes, “I have spread my dreams under your feet;/ Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” Leaving the eggs there in the middle of the shanty town was sort of like leaving your dreams under somebody’s feet.
The way Dharker describes the eggs at the end of the poem to me is just exquisite: “gathering the light/ into themselves,/ as if they were/ the bright, thin walls of faith”. The bright, thin walls of faith! It’s so beautiful. To me, that is just what faith is — bright and beautiful and heroic — but at the same time so fragile, its “walls” paper-thin like eggshell. Of course, the reality is that these eggs are in a position where they will most likely get broken, and the message about the atrocious conditions of shanty towns can’t be ignored. But the faith that put the eggs there is still heroic and startling, and that is why I chose this poem.
Reviewed by Emily Ardagh