Pakistani American poet who helped Indian gays migrate

By Ashok Nair, IANS,

Chicago : Pakistan-born poet and gay activist Ifti Nasim, who died of a heart attack in a Chicago hospital, once escaped persecution in his native land for his sexual orientation.

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Nasim, who died Friday at the age of 64, also helped many Pakistani and Indian gays and lesbians migrate to the US.

He came to the US in 1971 and made a name for himself as a gay activist and Urdu poet. He established Sangat, a gay and lesbian organization, and was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1996.

Nasim was a close friend of several lyricists and actors of Hindi cinema.

Nasim’s activism transcended religious and political borders.

The BBC made a documentary on Nasim a few years back. “Success makes the world accept you on your own terms,” Nasim had told IANS, shortly after the documentary was aired.

“But being an openly gay person in the conservative Muslim community has not been easy. They never totally accept you,” he said, “they just about tolerate you.”

Nasim’s books are recommended reading at Santa Clara University in California and at Truman College, Chicago. Over the years, his Urdu poetry won him the grudging respect of the Pakistani literary establishment.

He has also recited his poems at the festival in India to honour the late poet and lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi.

“I had the middle son syndrome,” Nasim recalled in the interview with IANS, “as one of a large family, I was the invisible child.” Naturally enough, loneliness was an early, and constant, companion.

“When I was 14, as a child whom no one loved, I sought other avenues to fulfil my desires. I ended up having a crush on my teachers. None of them gave me a second look. So I created this phantom lover to have secret trysts with,” said Nasim.

Seeking to escape from an arranged marriage, Nasim came to the US when he was 21.

“I read an article in Life magazine, which said that the US was the place for gays to be in,” he said. “Moreover, I was also seeking an escape from the mullahs in Pakistan.”

Nasim shot to fame with his book “Narman” (Persian for half man, half woman). The manner in which Nasim’s verse was published in Pakistan underscored its controversial nature: Because Nasim’s publisher knew there might be “trouble” having the manuscript typeset, the publisher stood over the printer’s shoulder as the text was entered into the computer.

The real nature of the manuscript was not evident to the printer until the books were printed. When the printer realized that the books dealt with gay-related themes, he screamed: “Take these unholy and dirty books away from me, or I’ll set them on fire!”

(Ashok Nair can be contacted at [email protected])