Happy June, dear heroes, happy Pride month!
As a mere ally, there's not much I can say about the LGBTQ+ community - it's not up to me. I can, although, guarantee that, here at Heroes without cape, all colours are welcome: everyone has room to be the heroes they are, freely and openly! Life is so much better when all the colours of the rainbow are included and are recognised.
Because June is the month that celebrates the free expression of everyone, on a love extent, I couldn't fail to bring you a hero of the month that would open space to talk about the right we all have to love those we love, far from prejudice and judgment.
Meet Nasimy, the hero of the month of June. Inspired by Ifti Nasim, a Pakistani poet who marked his existence when, in 1994, he wrote and published a book of poetry in Urdu, "Narman" - the first in that language to directly and openly declare homosexual desires.
The book's publication was bittersweet: it was, on one hand, met with great criticism, indignation and renunciation, but on the other hand started a movement and inspired other Pakistani poets to write freely about their love for someone who shared their gender identity. It's said that the distributor who was helping Nasim publish his poems, knowing that the contents of the book would generate controversy, didn't allow anyone to read the poems until the book was fully printed and ready for distribution. The editor, when he realised that the poetry contained themes related to homosexuality, is said to have said: "Take those profane and dirty books away from me, or I will burn them!" Because it caused controversy, the work wasn't and is still not sold in normal market cycles, but in secret, in a sort of underground market.
Due to the honesty of Nasim's poetry, a group of young poets began to refer to other works of the same style as "narmani" poetry - life goals right here. But it wasn't just within the Pakistani homosexual community that the change this hero's work caused was seen. A 60-year-old man, also Pakistani, told Nasim that he cried rivers when reading his book, apparently because, until then, he had never known what homosexuality was. From then on, he became a true ally and supporter of gay rights.
Ifti Nasim didn't have an easy childhood. From an early age he knew he was different from his family and friends. He knew early on that he was a homosexual, and considering that everyone around him despised everything that was not the norm of a couple, he saw his future end tragically: either alone, or prematurely, believing he'd end his own life due to not being able to handle the scrutiny and isolation. He moved to the United States as a young adult because he once read in a Life magazine that a gay man was much less likely to be persecuted and imprisoned there than in Pakistan. He fled alone, tired and afraid that by staying he would have to live his whole life in secret. He told his father, who wanted him to marry him to a woman, that he was just going to visit America, but he never got around to leaving. Later, he helped two sisters and a brother follow him. He based himself in Chicago and there his charm and exuberance quickly spread far and wide.
Other than writing poetry, this hero was a columnist, radio host and luxury cars salesman. He raised money to help small communities that suffered disasters, helped mount a peace rally after 9/11, and regularly sent money to family members in Pakistan. He was the first poet from a Third World country to read at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago, and for his poetic work he received the Rabindranath Tagore Award from the South Asian Families of Chicago. He was president of the South Asian Performing Arts Council of America and co-founded Sangat, an organisation whose aim is to provide education and support to young gay men from South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan. About Sangat, I leave you with a quote from Nasim, that explains why they chose Sangat for the organisation's name, and which I thought was wonderful:
"Sangat mean[s] togetherness. When somebody is playing sitar, and tabla is playing — it’s called Sangat, all the music fusion are called Sangat. If it’s together — it’s sangeet, sangeet sathi, friend. So I said why don’t we call it Sangat. "
If you noticed, I've introduced you to this hero of the month by conjugating all verbs in the past tense. As it turns out, Ifti Nasim passed away after a heart attack in 2011. He was 64 years old. I tell you this only to justify why I speak of him in the past and not the present, for his death does not dignify him more or less. He was a real star who was born in the wrong country, at the wrong time - or maybe not, maybe everything was just right and he was supposed to be born in Pakistan, so that he could then cross the world and spread his contagious glow through wherever he passed.
For a number of reasons (you've just read them all), Ifti Nasim was a hero, and he left a spectacular legacy. Nasim's courage and boldness enriched the world and I think it's fair to say that when he left, he left it a whole lot better.
I hope you enjoyed meeting Nasimy (aka Ifti Nasim), and that it was a name you had never heard before! I say my goodbyes with one of my favorite phrases, to well mark this June 2021: LOVE IS LOVE.
See you soon, heroes!
— The Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame: http://chicagolgbthalloffame.org/nasim-ifti/
— Paving the way for Cyber Queens, by Mustafa Saifuddin: https://www.saada.org/tides/article/paving-the-way-for-cyber-queens
— He didn't want to fight, but Ifti Nasim could provoke, by Mary Schmich: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2011-07-27-ct-met-schmich-0727-20110727-story.html
— Oral history interview with Ifti Nasim: https://www.saada.org/item/20200309-6038