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How Did You Learn The Alphabet?

Meet the poet who never went to school but invented a new alphabet to write poems.

Zareefa Jan created the ‘language of circles’ to help her record her poems. Read to know all about this brand new alphabet. All about Zareefa Jan, the creator of a new alphabet

Zareefa Jan is a 65-year-old Sufi poetess living in the Bandipora district in Kashmir. The poetess never went to school hence, while she can understand and speak Kashmiri, her native language, she cannot read or write it. However, the poetess did not let this stop her. She started writing poems during her thirties. It was at a time when her children were going to school to learn how to write in Urdu and English. However, her poems came to her in Kashmiri, a language neglected in its region. “It would have been futile and unjust to ask them to learn another language. And who would have taught them? Kashmiri, as a subject, was not part of their school curricula like English and Urdu. Also, I wasn’t sure whether to share my poetry with them at all,” said Zareefa.

She recounts that she went to fetch water from a brook when she lost all sense of the environment around her and fell into a trance. However, when she came to her senses, she was without her pitcher but, felt renewed. “When I regained my senses, a gazal just came out of my mouth,” recounted Zareefa. Gazals are pomes or ‘an ode’ which originated in Arabic. They are often around the themes of loss, longing, and love. “Until then, I had no idea of what poetry was because I had never read it. But ever since, I have written hundreds of poems and ghazals,” she adds. Story behind the making of the alphabet

It took her a few years to gather the courage to share her work with her family. Her family was surprised at the gravity of her poems. Unfortunately, she could only memorize a few of them. Since she had no way of documenting, they were lost to memory. She was not satisfied with recording them on tape or getting her daughter to write them. “I can’t take my children with me everywhere I go to read my poetry and ask them to whisper my lines into my ear so that I can say them out loud for others. Also, my children can’t be with me every time I have a thought and want to record it, either on tape or on paper,” she said.

Hence, she came up with a great alternative. Every time she had a new thought, she would grab a piece o paper and draw various shapes. “If there was an apple as a word in my poem, I’d draw an apple; if there was a heart, I’d draw a heart,” she said. She then joined her daughter to decode get Kulsum to write down poetry in the conventional script. “But I am illiterate, and I had never held a pen before. So everything I drew was just a different shape and size of a circle. Like, even if I drew a banana, it would be circular!” she exclaimed. Unfortunately with Kulsum’s passing, it came to a halt.

She neglected to document the poem for a while. However, the circles gave her a new idea. She assigned new meanings and created a brand new alphabet. Additionally, the language of circles is written from the right to left, like Urdu and Kashmiri scripts. “This is my language, the language of circles. I’ve developed it over the years,” said Zareefa, full of pride.“Nobody in the world can read those lines except my mother,” said Shafaat Lone, Zareefa’s son.