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Hamza has also his share in the decoration of Pashto,

The coming generations will ever be conscious of this

(Hamza Shinwari)

The death anniversary of great Pashto poet Hamza Shinwari is being observed on
July 17. Born in 1907 Hamza Baba died of kidney failure. He spent last decade of life
shifting between his adopted hometown, Peshawar and the native village Landi Kotal.
In winter he lived in a small, modest house, inside Aasia Gate and the scorching
summers drived him to his village in the comparatively cooler hills. But unlike the
rest of the old, retired people who are resigned to their fate, he had a virtual stream
of friends, disciples, admirers and well-wishers, calling on him every day. There was
hardly any day in his life when a visitor or two are not with him, talking to him with
the tongue of the pen as he was too deaf to hear ordinary human voice; and he did
not relish the hearing aid either. However, despite all his senility and infirmity he had
good eye sight and the most wonderful memory. He remembered almost all his
poetry, indeed not only his own poetry but a great deal of god poetry from Urdu,
Persian and even Arabic literatures that he might have read long ago. His over-all
knowledge of Pashto literature was simply encyclopedic. One felt that he was as
much a part of the hoary past as the ultra-modern age of Pashto literature. He
claimed with unshakable authority:
The crimson colour in your cheeks is the colour of the blood of Hamza,
You came of age, Pashto Ghazal, but turned me into an old Baba.
But this Baba-e-Pashto Ghazal, as he is commonly referred to, actually started his
poetic career with writing Urdu poetry, way back in the 1920s, when he was a fifth
class student at the Islamia Collegiate School. He would then show his Urdu poetry
for correction to the late Maulana Abdul Qadir who was an eighth class student at the
school. Although not one of his earliest Urdu works. But he neither continued with
school nor with Urdu poetry. Both he had to give up one by one. First he gave up
school when he was in the 9th class. This must have been the greatest pleasure for
him as he had been extremely miserable throughout his school life, not because he
was a duffer or a blockhead but because of an earlier bitter experience when one day
he was mercilessly beaten by the insensible primary teacher at Landi Kotal, for an
apparently innocent mistake. From that day he had given up that school. When he
was then admitted to the Collegiate School, his school phobia or hatred was not
mitigated, although, like all the other pupils, he would attend classes, pass exams,
write poetry, play games, and like an uncommon naughty boy, even forge the
principal's signatures; yet he seemed to have already cast the die and was looking
for the earliest opportunity to cross the Rubicon. Perhaps one of the tantalizing
factors on the other side of the bridge was the irresistible lure of the theatrical
companies which had then taken Peshawar by storm. The jingling glitter of this
make-believe world had aroused the latent actor in him. This sudden craze for acting
made a virtual gypsy of him, wandering all over the vast Indian subcontinent in
search of a role in some theatrical company or film as the silent movies had also
come to India and the talkies were not far behind.
Like the unbounded Prometheus he called it a day and left school for a practical life
full of ups and downs, worries and pleasures, wavering and tenacity, but underneath
all such crosscurrents he had a strong, unrelenting sense of a mission; a desire to
achieve the unattainable, whether in art or literature, to be ranked among the
immortals. His yawning youth was evolving into a restless adolescence and his
inborn artistic compulsions were creating stormy ripples on the surface of the deep
sea of his otherwise drab life. A fragrant flowering spring was breaking somewhere in
the remote recesses of his drowsy consciousness and he was deeply intoxicated with
the lure of a fuller life, a life without let or hindrance. In this life he would visualize
himself now as a clown and now as a hero, holding destiny in his own hands and with
a contemptuous smile on his face.
Soon after leaving school he was married and at the same time employed in the
political department as a passport officer at Torkham. He was also called upon to be
assisting his father at a contract work on the Landi Kotal, Torkham railway line. But
soon he gave up the passport officership for T.T. ship in the then North-Western
railways to quit it for trying his luck at Bombay which was then a sort of
subcontinental Hollywood. Although this long tour of great expectations turned out to
be a complete misadventure, yet he was not demoralized and in 1920 succeeded in
getting the role of a dacoit in a silent movies called the Falcon, made by the Punjab
Film Company, Lahore, with Harri Ram Sethi as its director and producer. However,
it was in 1941 that his craze for films found complete fulfilment when he was called
upon by Rafique Ghaznavi, from Bombay, to write the script, songs and dialogues for
the first ever Pashto film Laila Majnoon. Later on he also wrote scripts for two more
Pashto films, Pighla (The Virgin) and Allaqa Ghair (The Tribal Territory) Both were
filmed at Lahore during the sixties.
By the thirties he was deeply entrenched in Sophism. About his initiation into this
esoteric discipline he said, "I stepped into this Hairatabad (Wonderland) in 1930. I
was not consciously inclined that way before. It would be more true to say that I
have not come here of my own accord but have simply been dragged to it". But once
he entered these enticing portals he then lived there for good, unruffled by the ups
and downs of life or the push and pull of his own base nature. Eversince he lived the
serene life of a hermit in the monastery of his own pure (or rather purified) soul. For
a long time he had carved a niche for himself in the awesome temple of mysticism.
He was venerated more as Murshid than as one of the greatest of Pashto poets.
Perhaps the credit of it all go to his farsighted Sheikh who dragged him to the path
of Sulook in the very formative years of his young and restless life which was but
poised for a leap in the void, unmindful of hell or heaven. We can not but appreciate
his practical wisdom in first advising Hamza, against his own wish, to take to Pashto
literature instead of Urdu and then formally initiating him in the eternal lore of
mysticism to add yet another and more subtle dimension to his vastly promising life.
He took formal allegiance, in the Chishtia order, at the hands of Syed Abdus Sattar
Shah whom his entire family lovingly called Bacha Jan, who lived in the Dubgari
Street, Peshawar and died in 1953. Later on Hamza wrote his memoirs which were
published in Urdu in 1969, under the title Tazkira-e-Sattariya.
It was in 1937 that a Pashto literary society called Bazm-e-Adab was established at,
as Hamza, would call it, the Astana Sharif of Syed Abdus Sattar Shah, with the active
patronage of the enlightened Pir. Apart from Bach Jan, its founding fathers were
Syed Rahat Zakheli as its president, Hamza Shinwari as its vice-president and Bad
Shah Gul Niazi as its general secretary. After some time, the presidentship was
entrusted to Hamza Shinwari to look after its affairs right upto 1950 when it was
merged in a larger society called Olasi Adabi Jirga (National Literary Council).
The Bazm-e-Adab was perhaps the first ever Pashto literary society of its kind in the
entire Frontier province. It started holding Pashto Mushairas not only in the city
schools, colleges and the villages around but also at the shrine of Rehman Baba.
These Mushairas soon became popular and the annual Rehman Mushaira was tuned
into an Urs to be celebrated with great fanfare. It was in 1940 at one such Mushaira
that Hamza was given the title of "The King Of Ghazal" now commonly referred to as
"Baba-e-Ghazal", when he recited the poem of which I shall give here two couplets.
I am again invited by the Raqib
It may only be a trap for revenge.
Your dark eyes are bent on my heart
The Moors are again poised for storming the Kaaba. (Hamza)
For a number of years this society worked for the revival of Pashto letters. Its scope
expanded with the passage of time. A time came when a larger and more
representative society was visualized to accommodate poets and writers from the
entire province.
It was in 1950 that the Bazm-e-Adab was finally merged into the Olasi Adabi Jirga.
The moving spirit behind this August Jirga was Sanobar Hussain Kakaji with Hamza
Shinwari and Dost Mohammad Kamil as its vice-president and general secretary. Its
membership consisted of Qalandar Momand, Ajmal Khattak, Mir Mehdi Shah, Wali
Mohammad Toofan, Fazle Haq Shaida, Saifur Rehman Salim, Afzal Bangash, Latif
Wahmi, Hussain Khan Soz, Ayub Sabir, Farigh Bokhari, Raza Hamdani, Qamar Rahi
and a number of others. Apart from promoting poetry this Jirga also paid equal
attention to the promotion of Pashto prose. For poetry as well as prose, it started
holding regular sessions at the Balakhana of Kamil in Peshawar's famous Khyber
Whenever he was at Peshawar Hamza also regularly attended the meetings of an
Urdu literary circle called Dairay-e-Adabiya, run by Zia Jaffery and Abdul Wadood
Qamar and a number of younger poets like Raza Hamdani, Farigh Bokhari, Ahmed
Faraz and Mohsin Ihsan. Some of these Urdu poets took to translating Pashto works
into Urdu. To this list must also be added the name of Khatir Ghaznavi who rendered
some of the Pashto romances in Urdu and published them under the title, Sarhad Ke
Rooman (Romances from the Frontier). In the beginning they all gathered around Zia
Jaffery but affected by the Indian progressive literature they gave up his company
and each tried to find his own mooring in the quicksand of the fast changing fashions
of Urdu literature.
Hamza was also the first major poet to have consciously created and carefully
sustained a pervading literary consciousness throughout the Khyber. He raised a
fresh crop of young, talented poets who were soon to yield a rich literary harvest
ready for export to Afghanistan and the rest of the Pashto speaking world. Among
this galaxy of poets we may mention Nazir Shinwari, Khatir Afridi, Khyber Afridi,
Sahir Afridi, and so on. These pioneers of the Khyber school of poetry were
overtaken by a still larger number of poets from the younger generation. Among
these may be mentioned Shahzad Afridi, Kalim Shinwari, Riaz Afridi, Yar Hussain
Sair, Itihad Afridi, Manzoor Afridi, Qandahar Afridi, Shafiq Shinwari, Jafran Muntazir,
Niamatullah Asser and so on. These and many more poets of this school have now
established themselves as masters. Most of them have published their collections of
poetry and prose works. Their songs from the radio, television, films and the local
musicians, are a source of perennial joy.
With Khushal Khan Khattak (1613-1689) in the seventeenth century, we come
across a flowering revival in Pashto letters which can be called a truly raging
renaissance. This renaissance was partly facilitated by the necessary spade work by
an earlier, 16th century movement, called the Roshanite Movement with Bayazid
Ansari (1535-1579), ambivalently referred to both as Pir Roshan (the enlightened
Pir) and Pir Tarik (the dark Pir), as its leader. This movement put forth not only
enduring works in both Pashto prose and poetry but also formally introduced
mysticism in Pashto literature, devising the alphabet of the Pashto language. This
literary-religion-political movement found staunch antagonists in Delhi on the one
hand and Akhun Darweza (circa 1570) a vice-regent of Hazrat Ali Tarmezi called Pir
Baba, on the other. The battle of books that was started with Khairul Bayan (Account
of piety) by Bayazid Ansari and Makhzanul Islam (the treasure of Islam) by Akhun
Darweza was taken up by subsequent writers from birth the camps. Both the sides
produced eminent writers to enrich Pashto literature and give it a prestige of its own.
It was also during this period that Pashto was rather too heavily Persianised and
Arabicised to make it almost impossible for the subsequent writers to get rid of its
alien, cumbersome diction.
The renaissance that had started with Khushal Khan in the seventeenth century can
be said to have folded up with Ahmed Shah Abdali (1712-1773), in the 18th century,
if not earlier. The other great poets of this period are Abdur Rehman Baba (1651-
1710), Abdul Hameed (1667-1732), Ali Khan (1705-1853) and Kazim Khan Shaida
(1757-1813). Here I shall compare Hamza Shinwari with each of these classical
luminaries of medieval Pashto literature:
I girded my sward for the Afghan honour
I am the chivalrous Khushal Khattak
(Khushal Khan Khattak)
The enemy brands it as a language of hell,
To heaven I will go with Pashto
All that is apparent is the veil,
The refulgence of beauty is beyond perception
(Rehman Baba)
These are all veils on your face,
Philosophy, Jurisprudence, interpretations
Are all without your trace
Although far superior to animals
Yet in love, intellect also flopped
The black and white of love is beyond me,
While lost in the days and nights of intellect
Your lips are more deadly than your tresses,
The Qazalbash are more callous than the Hindus
(Ali Khan)
Watching your tresses with longing for your face
I only demand Kashmir from the Hindus
Like a bubble I filled it with a cold sigh,
Who could light a candle on my grave?
A bubble like an eye in your search,
I am drifting in the sea of your live
I forget the throne of Delhi,
When I remember the peaks of Pakhtoonkhwa
(Ahmed Shah)
I feel the taste of Pakhtoonkhwa in India,
When I come across an Afghan there
In the preface to Hamza Shinwari's book, Ghazawoon (Yawning), Qalandar Momand
maintains, "The poetry of all the contemporary Ghazal writers; their expression,
construction, style, imagery and even their diction have all been influenced by the
Ghazal of Hamza. So, if the poetry of Hamza is to be discussed, it will necessitate the
discussion of all the contemporary poets which is a difficult task".
Similarly, comparing Hamza to a light-house for the coming generations, Noor
Mohammad Zigar has written, "It is a law of nature that every age is provided with
such personalities as can determine the standard and keep the wheel of evolution
turning. Whenever a society reaches a stage of evolution when the previous
standards no longer hold good then a new sage emerges. Only the one with the
enlightened mind, high thoughts, strong morals and good manners is selected from
among the entire society for its guidance. Such a person is usually a symbol of unity
and universality and his influence transcends all the barriers of caste, colour or
creed. Though localized by necessity, his art and thought can benefit the entire
human society. Apart from his own time such a person can be like a light-house for
the coming ages", Hamza has also been compared to a large tree with its roots deep
down in the classical tradition, its trunk a source of strength for the present age
while its tender, high boughs and the fruit therein is a symbol of hope and
nourishment for the posterity.
As compared to poetry, Pashto prose is rather poor. Many of our great writers, of
course with a few fortunate exceptions, have paid this equally vital branch of
literature; they have hardly ever wandered from the evergreen pastures of poetry.
But on the contrary Hamza has written more prose than poetry, with great diversity
and equally great depth. Starting with stories and essays he soon stepped into
mysticism from where he took the highway to philosophy. Even in his last days he
was writing a book on "Free will and Predetermination" or Jabar wa Ikhtiaar. He has
also written a novel. Two volumes of travelogues, a biography and an autobiography.
In the beginning he used to write stories or short stories and essays which used to
be published in various magazines including the prestigious Nan Paroon (nowadays)
which used to be published from Delhi during the Second World War. Later on they
were collected and published in a miscellany called Jawar Fikroona (deep thoughts).
In 1937 he published his first major work on mysticism under the title Tajjaliate
Mohammadia (the refulgence of Mohammad). It can truly be called a compendium on
Sophism. In 1957 he published the accounts of his tour of Afghanistan. In 1958 he
published a novel called Nawe Chape (new waves). These were followed in 1959 by a
treatise Yau Shair (one couplet) on the following couplet of Khushal Khan.
I observe the same face in every thing,
That disappeared in His over creation
In 1962 he published his first major work on philosophy called Jwand (life) and
published its Urdu version, Insan Aur Zindagi, in 1967 he published the accounts of
his pilgrimage to Makka with this prophetic verse.
Even on my journey to Hijaz Hamza,
I go with caravans of the Pakhtoon
In 1970 he published the memoir of his Sheikh Syed Abdus Sattar Shah. It was
written in Pashto but he got it translated in Urdu by Tahir Bokhari. The Pashto
version has not been published. Round about the same time he published another
philosophical treatise called Taskheer Da Kayenat (conquest of the Universe). In
1970 he published Wajud Wa Shudud (The essence and the apparent) in Urdu. This
is a detailed commentary on the letters of Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi commonly called
Mujaddid-Alf-e-Sani. In 1976 he wrote his autobiography in Urdu on the repeated
requests of a friend, Kanwar Mohammad Azam Ali Khan. It has not been published so
far. The original MS. lies with Syed Anis Shah Jilani in Sadiqabad, Punjab. In 1980 he
published Ana Aur Ilm (Ego and knowledge) in Urdu, its Pashto version was
published in 1982. It was called Insani Ana Au Poha (Human Ego and Knowledge).
He also translated the entire Dewan of Rehman Baba in Urdu verse. It was published
by Pashto Academy in 1963. Then he did Pashto verse translations of Allama Iqbal's
Armoghane Hijaz and Javed Nama. They were jointly published by Pashto Academy,
Peshawar and Iqbal Academy, Karachi. The former was published in 1964 while the
latter in 1967. When the radio station was opened in Peshawar in 1935, along with
Abdul Karim Mazloom and Samandar Khan Samandar, Hamza Shinwari was one of
its pioneers in dramatics. Da Weeno Jam (Bloody cup) by Aslam Khattak was the first
play to be broadcast. Hamza had played the role of the judge in that play. Soon he
wrote his first play, Zamindar (the farmer) for the radio. This was followed by
hundreds of plays and features over a life-long association with the radio. According
to Farooq Shinwari, Hamza has written 200 plays for the radio. But he himself would
cautiously lower the number to about 200. The irony is that most of these plays are
now simply lost as he would hand in the original manuscript hoping that the radio
people would be keeping a record. But having shifted its premises twice since then
the radio organization has simply misplaced, if not actually burnt or sold in junk, all
the valuable old record. Saifur Rehman Syed has dug up some 60 names of the plays
of Hamza Shinwari, from the old diaries of the radio. But they are just names and no
more. However, by a happy stroke of luck the following manuscripts of his plays
have been preserved: Ahmad Shah Abdali, Akhtar Mo Mubarak Shah (Eid Greetings),
Dwa Bakhilan (two Misers), Fateh Khan Rabia, Guman Da Eman Zyan de (doubt
undermines faith), Khan Bahadur Sahib, Khushal Khan Khattak, Khisto, Matali Shair
(the poet of proverbs) Maimoona, Muqabilla (competition) Qurbani (Sacrifice),
Spinsare Paighla (the spinster), and Jrandagarhe (the miller)
There is also the MS of Khukale Bala (the beautiful specter) which is a translation of
Agha Hasher Kashmiri's stage play Khoobsoorat Bala. Some of his plays like Da
Damano Khar (city of the Professional singers) and Da Chursiyano Badshah (king of
the Hashish smokers) were also recorded by a Gramophone company whether by His
Master's Voice or some other company we will never be able to ascertain nor
probably have those obsolete, round plastic discs called records. This recording was
first done at Peshawar and then in Delhi.