Friday, 1 March 2013

Peshawar, Pekhawar and Pishor

By Sayed Amjad Hussain

Recently an interesting book about the old walled city of Peshawar by Dr. Raj Wali Shah Khattak, a well-known Pashto writer and poet and currently the director of Pashto Academy, was published. (An Intangible Heritage: The Walled City of Peshawar, InterLit Foundation, Peshawar, 2005). The book discusses history and linguistic and cultural traditions of the old walled city. It is a well-written and handsomely produced book but suffers from one glaring omission. The book is not about the walled city of Peshawar. The city that Khattak Sahib describes in his book is some mythical city that exists only in his fertile imagination.

Let us establish some parameters and points of reference for the old walled city of Peshawar. It was called a walled city because during the Sikh period the city was contained within a mud wall. Subsequently during the British rule the mud wall was replaced with a masonry structure. The wall and the gates were intact through the 1940s. In the past 50 years however most of the gates have given way to extension of the city beyond the old wall. With a large influx of people from Pushtun countryside the demographics have changed.

So when we talk about the walled city we talk about the city as it stood through the 1950’s and before. It was until that time a Hindko speaking city and the culture and traditions of the city were solidly based on Hindko language. While some of the narrative in the book under discussion, albeit a very small one, is reflective of contemporary Peshawar it certainly cannot be applied to Peshawar of yesteryear.

Now against this backdrop let us examine what Dr. Raj Wali Shah has claimed. He calls the old walled city a Pushtun city and appears to summarily dismiss Hindko language and language-based culture of the city. In discussing the dress, traditions and literature he imports Pukhtun traditions and Pukhtun personalities from the outside and imposes them on the city in such a way that it distorts true picture. Except for a passing and cursory mention of Hindko speaking people (page 38) there is no mention of either the Hindko language or the culture that spawned it. While he claims Dilip Kumar, Qawi Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Prithvi Raj family as Pushtun (they were all Hindko speakers) he forgets to mention Ahmad Shah (Pitras) Bukhari and his younger brother Zulfiqar Ali Bukhari. Similarly Bhai Gama and Professor Miran Bukhsh, musicians extraordinaire, do not make the cut but Pukhtun musicians from outside the city do. In an overzealous attempt to paint the old city in Pushtun colors the famous small- sized waziri bricks are attributed to originate from Wazirstan. They were in fact called waziri because of their smaller size in comparison to shahi bricks that were of larger size.

In order to determine the identity of the original inhabitants of the walled city one has to find answers to the following crucial questions. When did Pushtun tribes come to Peshawar valley and before their arrival who lived in the now 2000-year old Peshawar? Is there any historic evidence that Peshawar City, unlike the countryside, has always been populated by an indigenous Hindko speaking people.

According to historic sources Pukhtun/Afghan tribes did not appear in Peshawar Valley until after 800 AD (Tarikh-e-Farishtah; H.G. Raverty Notes on Afghanistan; Peshawar District Gazetteer 1897-98.) This is also the time when we find the earliest Pashto writing.
So who lived in the area before the appearance of Pashtun Tribes?

There is archeological evidence that Hindko language, as it is spoken through the province, was the language spoken in its ancient form in Gandhara that included wide swaths of present day Punjab, NWFP and Eastern Afghanistan. A stone tablet excavated near Attock gives us clue to the language spoken in Peshawar and its environs. It is written in Kharoshthi script but when phonetically translated it has uncanny resemblance to Hindko that is spoken in Peshawar City and elsewhere in the province including Kohat, parts of Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan and Hazara. (For phonetic translation see Peshawar, Historic City of the Frontier, second edition 1995 page 295 by Ahmad Hasan Dani).

Is there any other evidence that Hindko speaking people dominated the city life in Peshawar?
Let us observe Peshawar through the eyes of the famous English historian H.G. Raverty who visited the city in 1850 and left a detailed account of its neighborhoods, its crafts and its inhabitants. About the demographics he made the following observation:
The inhabitants of the city are a mixed race consisting of people called Peshawurees, who do not pretend to trace their descent; Hindus of the Kutree and Seik tribes, Kashmirians, Afghans and Mughals; but the latter are very few in number.

Of a population 42,000 he did not mention Afghans (Afghans and Pushtuns were synonymous then) as part of the commercial and civic life of the city. Most of the streets and neighborhoods that he mentions in great detail have Hindko names and some have Persian names but not a single one with a Pushtu or Pushtu-sounding name.

We find another interesting facet in Tarikh-e-Farishtah (Nawal Kishore Press, Lucknow 1850) where the city is referred to by its Hindko name Pishore and not by its Pashto name Khar or Pekhawar. Tarikh-e-Farishtah is considered an authoritative source on the history of Pushtuns and it has been quoted by many Pushtun researchers (Pareshan Khattak, Roshan Khan Roshan and Zafar Kakakhel among others) in their work on the origins of Pushtuns.
Based on these historic references one has to conclude that the old walled city of Peshawar has been a Hindko dominated city through antiquity and that it continued to be populated by Hindko speaking people until the very recent past. Conquerors and invaders came and went but the original inhabitants of the city clung on to their language, their culture and their traditions.

Why then the outside world and particularly the world east of the Indus have remained oblivious to the presence of Hindko language and the people who speak this language?
There are many reasons. The most important and perhaps the most damaging has been the glorification of Pashtun culture and Pashto language at the expense of other native cultures and languages by the colonial writers and administrators. The exploits of the British fighting the wild and unruly tribesmen along the turbulent western frontier of British India made fascinating reading at breakfast tables back in London. Whereas there were equally resolute people resisting the British within the cities like Peshawar their struggle was just not glamorous. Somehow the exchange of gunfire across Khyber Mountains was more romantic than the heroic exploits of, say, the citizens of Peshawar City. The incident that turned the tide against the British in the province happened in Peshawar City when a protesting crowd set fire to an armored car and pelted British officers with rocks in Qissa Khani Bazaar. The resultant firing on that fateful April day in 1930 killed a hundred people, almost all of them Peshawaris. It was not the stuff however that moved the likes of Rudyard Kipling to write The Ballad of East and West.

On a personal note I have the utmost admiration for Dr. Raj Wali Shah Khattak and his scholarly work in Pashto literature. But I am deeply offended that in his book he has airbrushed me and my people out of a city where my ancestors have lived through the ages and have contributed so much to the shared heritage of Peshawar.

Originally published as 'On Being Air-brushed out of One’s Home' by September 02, 2005. Article courtesy Akhtar Faruqi, additional pictures courtesy Dr M. Taqi

Dr. Sayed Amjad Hussain is Professor Emeritus of Surgery at the Medical University of Ohio and an op-ed columnist for the daily Toledo Blade. He is the author of five books on Peshawar including Yuk Sheher-e-Arzoo, A Short History of The Frontier Town of Peshawar and Aalam Mei(n) Intikhab Peshawar.
Post a Comment