Poem for Mani

An Orange-Headed Ground Thrush and a Death’s-Head Moth on a Purple Ebony Orchid Branch, by Shaikh Zain al–Din, 1778, India, public domain (courtesy of the Met Museum)

My name is Iftekhar Ahmed. I am originally from Pakistan but I consider myself a citizen of the Indian sub-continent. The multifarious traditions, cultures, languages and history of India are part of my heritage, to which I feel strongly connected.

Even though I am an engineer by training, I have a deep and abiding passion and love for the arts, including poetry, music, art and literature. I am a very socially and politically conscious person who is keenly interested in issues of social justice, supporting progressive ideas on human rights, feminism and LGBTQ+ rights.

I have three sons, the youngest of whom is a trans person, Mani. I witnessed my son’s struggle with gender identity and the need for acceptance and respect. The love of my child compelled me to share his struggle and provide all the emotional support that he needed. His courage and strength to overcome the many hurdles to be the person he really is are truly inspiring to me.

A while back, when my son was going through a difficult time overcoming his fears of rejection and gaining the courage to be his true self, I read Richard Wilbur’s poem, The Writer. I found the words very profound, heart-breaking and inspiring to our situation, and I decided to freely riff off the poem in Urdu. The Urdu version is not intended to be an exact translation, and I have taken some liberties with the spirit of the poem to express my emotional response to my son’s journey.

Mani and I © Masoon Balouch