Bill Donahue in Reed Magazine:
Shadab Zeest Hashmi grew up in Peshawar, Pakistan, in the shadow of the snowcapped Safed Koh mountains marking the border with Afghanistan. In the streets near her home, vendors sold plums and corn with salt and lime. She came to love the bakery that served pink coconut rolls and the clothes dyer who sat before boiling pots of dye listening to cricket games on the radio. Then at age 18, she left Pakistan to land at Reed.
It was 1991. That September, Nirvana would release its second album, Nevermind,replete with the smash hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit”; nose rings would become de rigueur among the more stylish habitués of the Paradox Café. And Shadab would never live in Pakistan again. You’d expect her poetry to be steeped in a longing for home, and in many ways it is. In her second book, Kohl & Chalk, published in early 2013, Shadab visits Peshawar with her three children and remembers:
afternoon shadows on slate verandahs,
the squeaking of a rusted seesaw,
the breaking open of a walnut in a door hinge;
its embossed shell a secret cracking.
The longing aches. Still, even though
Kohl & Chalk is a medley of piquant tableaux largely set in Shadab’s native land, it would be wrong to sum up the book as a sepia-tinted paean to the Pakistan of yore. The volume’s title hints at an outlook that is both cosmopolitan and gracefully political. Kohl is the black lead-based eyeliner that women in Africa and the Middle East have been wearing to dramatic effect since about 3000 BC. Shadab included it in the title because, she says, “My book is the story of a writing woman faced with the challenge of producing poetry while being responsible for raising a family.” “Chalk” is a subtle plea for education which, Shadab says, could prove a “great equalizer” in Pakistan’s viciously stratified society.