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Kashmiri Woman’s Curious Circles: Is She the Only ‘Coded’ Poet in the World?

Kashmiri Woman’s Curious Circles: Is She the Only ‘Coded’ Poet in the World?

In Kashmir’s literary circles, some people are asserting that a poet from Sonawari might be the world’s only poet to write and read poetry in circles. 


The poetic vision burnished in Zareefa Jan, 55, when she was out to fetch water from her village brook. 

Carrying a pitcher on her head, she soon drifted in trance. The moment she regained her normal composure, she was no longer the same usual village woman. 

It was the beginning of her poetic journey. 

Her style and substance subsequently made her a public figure—known for her poetry, humility and kindness—in her hometown. 

As Shama-e-Mehfil, her poetry would enthral symposiums.

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“My journey of Sufi poetry started after the armed movement began in Kashmir,” says the poet from Poshwari village of Sonawari area, in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district.

Zareefa Jan’s poetic world is as fascinating as her mystifying appearance. She comes across as a taciturn commoner, who lets her circles speak for her. 

To many, her uncanny paper poetry looks like some caveman-scribbled symbolic messages. 

But neither is she a cave-dweller, nor are her circles some wild symbols devoid of rhyme and rhythm. 

“The Sufi tradition in Kashmir from the times of Nund Reshi and Lal Ded is a legacy that Zareefa Jan is shouldering today,” says Shabaz Khan, a well-known writer and poet.

“Her poetry is drawn to divinity in the form of romance.” 

In fact, Khan adds, the poet describes her thoughts in the concept of existentialism. 

“In her poetry, Zareefa asserts that a person should strive to know one’s creator.”

This concept of self-realization, he says, is inspired from a Shaastra philosophy – the amalgamation of Sanskrit and Hinduism approach of searching the divinity. 

“Along with Shaastra,” Khan says, “Zareefa has the dimensions of Sufism in her poetry.”

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Zareefa weaves her verses in coded form. / MI Photo by Bisma Farooq

Her poetry treasure includes a few of her notebooks filled with circles. Those circles or codes can be read by her only. 

“This poetic style sets her apart,” Khan continues. “She’s the only person in the world who can read the poetic circles. And that also makes her the only poet writing poetry in codes.”

But given her unschooled nature, Zareefa has already lost most of her poetry due to her poor health and ill-timings. 

Whenever anything comes to her mind, her unsound state of the body makes it a cumbersome task. 

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However, to compile her couplets, her daughter tried to record her poetry in past. But she gave up the pursuit as it didn’t click with Zareefa.

“My mother feels her poetry better when written in circles,” the daughter says. “Perhaps, she knows it well that her unique expression makes her poetry different from others.”

Loole kyn nyezan syeene pyoum darun,
Myah pyou tchaalun zahre almaas. 

(I took the matters of love on my heart
And ended drinking hammock)

Zareefa, Khan continues, has already written around 300 poems in the form of circles. 

“I want to get them published this year, both in the form of coded language and in Kashmiri.” 

Zareefa’s poetry is a confluence of Shaastra and Sufism. / MI Photo by Bisma Farooq.

Back in the day she lost her pitcher akin to a legendary Kashmiri woman poet of yore, Zareefa came home and started writing her poems. 

While her poetic journey never ended after that, but those first lines forever stayed with her:

Paane soaran aam yaavunye,
lalvunye thovthamye naar.
Yaavun myoun chambe dulvunye,
ye chu samsaar napaidar.
Gase toer kyuth sule saarunye,
lalvunye thovthamye naar.

(I turned wine in my waning youth
Burdened by my existence
My youth faded
In this transient world
And made me seek solace in hereafter,
As my existence became my burden).


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