LifeBeat Follow-Up: Shadab Zeest Hashmi
It’s time to get to know the fascinating Shadab Zeest Hashmi a little better in this follow-up. Shadab was a guest on the last episode (watch the episode) of LIfeBeat: Conversations with Purposeful Womxn which was recorded live on July 15, 2021. Shadab is a critically acclaimed and accomplished poet and essayist. Find out her seasonal cravings when she visits Pakistan, learn more about her family, what her childhood dream was, and more. This Q&A was conducted over email, and Shadab provided her answers on June 9, 2022.
Lizzie: The conversation started with my lightning round of questions for all the guests beginning with your favorite plant or flower. For the follow-up, I’m interested to know what is the first thing you want to eat when you visit Pakistan?
Shadab: Chilled mangoes in the summer, carrot halva topped with khoya (ricotta cheese) and a cup of kashmiri tea in the winter.
Next I asked what instant expertise you would want. Your answer was that you’d like to be a master of nutrition. Was there anything specific that brought on your interest in health and nutrition?
My brother owns a farm on the outskirts of Lahore; it is a labor of love, a self-sustaining organic farm that has been featured in National Geographic among other places. I’ve been very inspired by how my brother and sister-in-law use their farm’s yield routinely for healing and wellness. They make turmeric ginger tea which is good against inflammation, they use hibiscus which is known to lower cholesterol, and besides herbs, seeds, fruits and vegetables, they also use clarified butter and colostrum from lactating livestock which are known to be very beneficial. In a time when we’re desperately seeking ways to live healthier lives and develop a closer, more honest and protective relationship with the environment, I feel like my visits to Zacky Farms have created a deeper interest in me to learn about nature, health and nutrition.
Finally, I asked what you, as a child, had wanted to be when you grew up. You wanted to be a painter. Did you have other childhood dreams that you’d like to share with us? How about any current dreams or goals?
As a young child I dreamed of living in a mountain village where I’d sleep in the upper story of my house high on the mountain and watch the sunrise from my window every morning. When I was a bit older I wanted to be a painter and to look after a museum.
In our one-on-one conversation, you generously shared a bit of your life story that began in Pakistan and brought you to San Diego. You also shared an excerpt from your lovely book, Comb. Please talk a bit more about your sons, the lives they are pursuing, and how you and your husband encourage them in those pursuits.
The last piece in Comb, titled “Shampooing,” is about my sons as babies, and about collapsing the distance between generations and between continents by way of speaking and singing to my children while grooming them. My husband and I feel incredibly fortunate to have raised our kids on an abundance of faith, art, sports, music, science, family and friends, and yes, poetry! Two of our boys are now college graduates, the youngest is in high school; each is pursuing a different academic path. Our eldest, Yaseen, just graduated from Harvard Divinity School; Yousuf just graduated from Berkeley majoring in Chemistry and Music; and Yousha is a rising junior at Carlsbad High who enjoys being part of the school’s distinguished Speech and Debate team. We don’t know what the future has in store, but the boys have our wholehearted support in whatever they pursue next. One of the things I’m most grateful for is that our kids enjoy being home with us in Carlsbad.
Speaking of Comb, please let us know how the reception for the book has been. Have you done readings, virtual or in-person? Did you go to AWP [Association of Writers & Writing Programs] this year with it? Are you working on anything new?
I did present on an AWP panel this year, alongside Deema Shehabi, Samina Najmi, Zeina Hashem Beck and Allison Mandeville. The book was launched virtually in 2021; it was a beautiful event hosted by Sable Books, attended by mentors, fellow writers, and friends in the UK, Pakistan, India, Canada and across the US. The UK-based artist Salma Ahmed Caller (whose exquisite work is featured in the book and graces the cover), writer-friends Angela Narcisso Torres, Deema Shehabi, Osama Siddique, Endi Bogue Hartigan and Ilona Yusuf shared words about the book, poet-musician Brandon Cesmat shared a song as did my boys, It was an honor to hear from Julia Bouwsma, Maine’s Poet Laureate and the contest judge who named Comb the winner of the Hybrid Book Prize, and a pure delight to see faces of mentors, friends and readers from different places— all on my screen. The Pakistani launch was equally special. It was hosted virtually at Pakistan Learning Festival in a hybrid format with a live audience, an excellent panel with the illustrious education-activist Baela Raza Jamil and the noted journalist and scholar, Raza Rumi. I have yet to present the book in an in-person event; I look forward to giving a non-virtual public reading from Comb soon.
Finally, you schooled us on the different poetic forms of the qasida and the ghazal. Do you use any other poetic forms in your writing that you could discuss?
I enjoy writing in other forms too. Comb includes a pantoum, several fragments, a visual/found poem about an ancient bodhi tree in Peshawar– the quoted text in it is from the travelogue of a famous Buddhist pilgrim and the poem is shaped as a tree. There is also an Ekphrastic poem after the famed ancient Scythian comb made of gold. I enjoyed using a variety of forms since it’s a hybrid book.
I’d like to add that it was incredibly exciting and memorable to join you and your guests on LifeBeat. Your format is unique, and I enjoyed the conversation very much! Thank you, Lizzie, and thank you, Puna Press!
Thank you, Shadab, for taking some time to share more about yourself, your family, and your work. The depth and breadth of your work is evident, and we wish you great success in all you do! Be sure to visit her website at www.shadabhashmi.com to purchase her books.
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