We’re very proud to feature two poems from Orooj-e-Zafar in our new book of poetry and short fiction, America Is Not The World. Here in the first of a series of writer profiles, we ask the all important question: Where in the world is Orooj-e-Zafar? We ask some other questions too.
Who are you? A spoken word poet, trying to become a surgeon on the side. A dreamer trying very hard not to stay one and acclimatizing to being seen.
And where in the world are you? Bani Gala, near the toes of the Himalayas. The dogs here are happier.
What is the best thing about your country? The jalebi my dad bought from Pindi when I won my first handwriting competition at five. The little gasps my mother calls laughing so hard she can’t breathe. My nana’s cupboard of published books. Ajrak. The man who left a stone path in a stream so my mother could cross it. My GSD, Jack. The hills. The sea. The art which never seems to stop moving you. Our unsettling positivity.
And the worst? We’re pretty bad at accepting we have problems; Pakistan’s a bit of a ways away from true socioeconomic prosperity.
How has your country shaped you? It scared me into anonymity first. Though my parents supported me fully, I knew I was diseased with poetry (and womanhood) at an early age and it took me forever and a half to take a peek outside my shell when I performed poetry on venues and at slams here. But I was deeply humbled with the kindness and generosity of the audiences I
performed for, when I saw their hearts in their throats. I owe humility to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. I owe acceptance of differences, be it of color, heritage, sect/religion, gender, to Pakistan. The best of Pakistan raised me without bias. I wear my brownness with pride; my skin tells more stories of bravery and strength than my work ever can.
Tell us about your favorite place in the world. Sitting with my mother, watching everything ranging from Dhoop Kinaray to How to Get Away with Murder. The terrace before 7 am. Shifa Greens with Andrea Gibson.
Tell us about your poems in America Is Not the World. My two poems are worlds apart. Chakwaal was about going to my village every other Sunday as a child and my lovely phuppo, how the sun in Chakwaal was completely different than anything else in my memory, all the love I experienced in that veranda and that charpoy. 16.12.2014 is the day I died and every day after has been one very hesitant inhale after the other. That date marks the terrorist shooting in Army Public School in Peshawar, KPK, Pakistan and is often referred to as Pakistan’s “9/11.” It’s difficult to get people to care about a place as formidably far as mine but care cannot be quantified. This poem is just my heart bleeding.
Tell us about a writer in your country that we should know about. I can’t pick one so: Bilal Tanweer for his debut novel, The Scatter Here is Too Great, which haunts me to this date. Zainab Z. Syed for her beautiful work in Pakistan with Zohab Khan as touring educators and slam poets. Mariam Paracha for founding Spoken Stage and making a platform for Pakistani youth to use the art of story-telling to leave an impact.
What else is going on? Apart from school and waiting for secret, not much. Possibly, swallowing a lump of my social anxiety and applying for positions at organizations like Hunehar.
What is next for you? Hopefully a spoken word album I’ll actually put up for purchase, still very much in the works. You can find the first one here. Going to every single slam I can manage to. Passing second year. Moving. See my secret for a better idea.
Tell us a secret. I’ve been working on chapbooks and hearing back from publishers takes forever and makes me question everything. Also, my mother is an ocean and she calls her daughters the isles of her stability.
Give us a song. This song has made me smile through everything. Not the best “representative” of Pakistan but definitely one of my own. Ugh, young Ali Noor though.
Orooj-e-Zafar has rewritten her bio many, many times because not only is she a certified overthinker, but also never still. She likes to spend her time volunteering at cahoodaloodaling as a poetry reader and has her own weekly segment, Orooj’s Throwback Thursdays. She also fancies herself a spoken word poet and medical student, won the first Voices in Verse Poetry Slam 2015 and was a runner-up in the Pakistan Poetry Slam 2016. Her work has been widely published online, making shy appearances in print. She lives in Bani Gala with her dog, Jack and not enough time to read.