Thursday, 08 October 2015  -  24 Dhul-Hijjah 1436 H
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Ada Jafri: The first lady of Urdu poetry

Ada Jafri

Rohail A. Khan

JEDDAH — Ada Jafri is without a doubt the first lady poet from the subcontinent who became internationally famous in the male-dominated world of Urdu poetry and literature.
Her poetic journey, which spans over 80 years, started when she wrote her first verse in 1936 at the age of 10 years.

The multi-dimensional value of her poetry, along with her intellectual and charismatic personality, makes her a prominent figure in contemporary Urdu literature from first World War to date.

She was born on August 22, 1926, in Badayun, British India, into a scholarly family. Her illustrious parents named her Azeez Jehan. 

God-gifted in various faculties, she entered in the poetic circles as Ada Badayuni , equipped with vast study and knowledge of Urdu, Arabic, and Persian literature.

After her marriage and migration to Karachi, Pakistan, in December 1947, she permanently adopted "Ada Jafri" as her pen name. 

Ada (meaning: style) was part of a traditionally conservative society where women were not allowed to think and express independently.

However, she turned out to be bold and tactful enough to express herself without inhibitions or barriers.

Encouragement in her early youth from her parents and later from her scholarly husband Nurul Hasan Jafri kept her literary spark going.

In addition to being the modern-age "First Lady of Urdu Poetry," Ada has equally been a successful house wife, mother, and grandmother.

She married Nurul Hasan Jafri on January 29, 1947 in Lucknow, British India.

Nurul Hasan Jafri, a civil servant, rose to the highest ranks in the Government of Pakistan and was a notable literary figure.

For many years, he served as the president of "Anjuman e Taraqqi e Urdu" and carried forward the legacies of Baba e Urdu Moulvi Abdul Haq.

Nurul Hasan, a major inspiration to Ada’s writing, passed away in December, 1995, two years short of their Golden Jubilee wedding anniversary.

Ada published her first collection of poems "Main Saaz Dhoondti Rahee" in 1950. She has published five collections of Urdu Poetry, in addition to an autobiography, short essay, and forty research papers.

In depth study of Ada's poetry proves her grasp over both traditional and modern sensibilities. Both literary trends can be seen inter-woven in her poems.

Na ghubar mein na gulab mein mujhe dekhna
Meray dard kee aab-o-taab mein mujhe dekhna
Kisi dhun mein tum bhee jo bastiyon ko tyag dou
Isee rah-e-khana-e-kharaab mein mujhe dekhna,

Eastern traditions and cultural values are naturally inbuilt in her personality, but her extraordinary talent and intellect could not surrender itself completely and Ada started taking keen interest in the world of modern Urdu literature.

Kehtay hain kay humse khataa kaar bohat hain,
Ik rasm e wafa thee so wafa daar bohat hain,
Raahoun main koi aabla paa ab nahee milta,
Rastay main magar qafla e salaar bohat hain,
Ik khawab ka ehsaan bhee uthaye nahi uthta,
Kya kahiyey kay asooda e azaar bohat hain,
Her jazba e bay daad kay ehkaam hazaroun,
Her lamha bay khwab kay asraar bohat hain,
Palko talak aa pohnche na honto kee tamazat
Ab tak tau ada ayena berdaar bohat hain,

Her emotional depth and social consciousness finds expression in her poetry. This unification of modern and traditional sensibility makes her significantly "larger than life" for both schools of thoughts.

Her Ghazals have been rendered in various Ragas by reputed classical music maestros. Her Ghazal below became famous when rendered by (late) Ustad Amanat Ali Khan in 1970:

Honto pe kabhi unkay mera naam hee aaye,
Aaye tau sahee ber-ser-e-ilzaam hee aaye,
Heraan hain lab-basta hain, dilgir hain gunche,
Khushboo kee zubani tera paigham hee aaye,
Kya raah badalne ka gila hum safaroun say,
Jis rah say chalay teray der-o-baam hee aaye,
Baqi na rahay saakh "ada" dasht-e-junoon kee,
Dil main agar andesha-e-anjaam hee aaye,

As early as 1950, the legendary Ada was recognized as the "First Lady of Urdu Poetry" for her rich contributions.

In 1955, Hamdard Foundation, New Dehli, recognized her as the "Outstanding Female Poet of the Century."

She was awarded the coveted Adamjee Award in 1967 for her second poetic collection "Shehr e Dard."

In recognition of her esoteric works, the Government of Pakistan awarded her "Tamgha e Imtiaz" in 1981.

She received the Baba e Urdu Award from the Pakistan Academy of Letters in 1994, and the Quaid e Azam Literary Award in 1997. She is the recipient of various international awards from literary societies in North America and Europe.

To appreciate her lifetime achievements, the Government of Pakistan conferred upon her the "Pride of Performance Award" in 2002.

Ada is the first woman recipient of the Kamal e Funn Award for life time achievement by the Pakistan Academy of Letters in 2003.

Famous Urdu Poet and Critic, Jazib Qureshi, said:" Ada Jafri is the first and only lady poet who carries in her poetry the eternal colors of Ghalib, Iqbal, and Jigar."

Ada, who travels to and fro Karachi and Toronto, still continues to play a proactive role to promote Urdu across the world.

Let us pay tribute to this "First Lady of Urdu Poetry" on her 87th birthday.

Ada Jafri’s Poetry Collection: “Main Saaz Dhoondti Rahee” can be reviewed at

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