Wednesday, 1 June 2016

QK archives: Amir Hamza Khan Shinwari:King of Pushto Ghazal

Amir Hamza Khan Shinwari - King of Pushto ghazal

By Sher Alam Shinwari
Originally published by Dawn circa 2003

"When spring-time flushes the desert grass
Our Kafilas wind through the Khyber Pass
Lean are the purses but heavy the bales
When the snowbound trade of the north comes down,
To the market square of Peshawar Town." - (Rudyard Kipling)

The Khyber Pass is an integral part of Pakistan. This ancient caravan route - a corridor for invasions and the main trade route in the past between Central Asia and South Asia - is one of the most important passes in the world. It has had historic and strategic importance as a gateway to the subcontinent.

The sights and sounds of the Khyber reminds one of the conquerors who marauded India. But there is also the romantic side of this mountain pass which today attracts the tourists by the thousands. Foreign dignitaries love to visit this scenic spot when peace prevails. In this area was born a poet who made a name for himself in the annals of Pushto literature. He was the literary legend, Amir Hamza Khan Shinwari, Baba-i-Pushto ghazal. Amir Hamza was born in 1907 at Landikotal, Khyber Agency, in village Khuga Khel.

The fifth of six sons of his father, Hamza did not have an easy life. His father was not in the good books of the Political Agent of Khyber, and the family had to face the brunt of the ruler's anger.

Hamza Baba was two years old when his mother died. Balkhi Khan, his elder brother, was like a mother to him, till his father remarried. Hamza's step-mother too was very kind to him. In 1930, Hamza Baba's father died and he was once again left in desolation.

In 1915, Hamza was admitted to a primary school at Landikotal One day, his teacher asked him to write his tables on a takhti. Instead Hamza happily drew some human figures for which he was punished severely. This unfortunate incident made Hamza a regular truant. He would not attend school, instead he would spend the day at his mother's grave. He was later admitted to the Islamia Collegiate School, Peshawar, in 1917 to the fifth grade, where he gradually adjusted to the school environment.

About the same time, he began to compose poetry in Urdu, and would get Maulana Abdul Qadir to correct his verses. Hamza also actively participated in sports such as football and hockey, but never took his education seriously. An incident in his childhood, when he was subjected to corporal punishment by his teacher, drove him away from school forever.

He versified the incident in the these words:

I am reminded of the flute of Israfeel!
When I hear the sound of the school bell.

Hamza loved watching stage plays and silent films and was equally fond of music. But after his marriage at a very young age, he developed an interest in mysticism. It was then that he happened to meet Syed Abdul Sattar Bacha who advised him to start composing poetry in his mother tongue.

Bacha Sahib was a saint and a spiritual guide. Hamza followed his advice and perfected the Pushto ghazal and came to be known as its 'king'. His ideas were innovative and pierced the soul of every Pakhtun like a two-edged sword. There was something kindly in the candid expression of his lofty thoughts. He Pakhtunized the Pushto ghazal completely, blending with it the courage and force of the sturdy Pakhtun. Hamza Baba's ghazal is the crystallized embodiment of a typical Pakhtun society, bemoaning and bewailing its misfortune down the ages.

Hamza was born with poetic sentiments in his soul. His experience in Pushto poetry are guidelines for poets of the younger generation. Not only was Hamza Baba the founder of the perfect Pushto ghazal, he also opened new vistas for Pakhtoon poets. He writes in a couplet:

Many colourful flowers bloom in the moor of Pushto language;
It is, now time, for opening our eyes.

The two prominent qualities of Hamza's poetry which rise above the rest are mysticism and Pakhtunwali - the Pakhtun code of conduct. At times it seemed that the scope of his mysticism was somewhat limited, as he was criticized for being a staunch Pakhtun mystic whereas mysticism transcends all ethnic, linguistic or racial boundaries. This aspect of his mysticism is evident in the verses:

O, Lord, I beg of You!

To provide me the wine of 'Yasrab' in a cup of Afghan.However, contrary to the perceptions of most critics, Hamza Baba widened the scope of mysticism with the introduction of the Pakhtunwali in his poetry, giving the Pakhtuns an identity which is unbiased, calm and dignified.

Qalandar Moomand, a scholar of repute, critic and a contemporary of Hamza Baba calls him a bridge between the conventional and the contemporary in Pushto poetry. "He was the last poet of the classical age in Pushto and was the first poet to introduce new subjects in Pushto ghazal," Qalandar Moomand comments.

Coming from a very humble origin, Hamza would take pride in confessing that he drew inspiration from Khushhal Khan Khattak, Rahman Baba and other classical poets. Baba had the force and energy of Khushhal Khan Khattak, the humility of Rahman Baba and the sublime imaginative power of Kazim Khan Shaida. The genius of Baba does not lie in what he created but in the image of the very age that he sought to paint in Pushto verse. Ben Johnson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, had wilfully recognized the artistic greatness of Shakespeare, terming him a great poet for all times. Hamza too was fortunate to have had received the highest tributes from all of his contemporaries. He saw a huge bulk of his poetry published by the Pushto Academy and the university of Peshawar in the shape of his Kuliyyat.

Hamza Baba's ties with Urdu poetry were deep and profound. Raees Amrohvi writes, "I have come across thousands of people belonging to different walks of life - politicians, men of letters, bureaucrats, social workers, saints and journalists - but when I met Hamza Baba in 1962 in Karachi, he won my heart forever; he is a poet, philosopher, saint, man of letters, politician and a lot more."

Hamza Baba while visiting Karachi, would preside over both Urdu and Pushto mushairas. His contribution to modern Pushto poetry is equally recognized and "Jungadh" is a materpiece in this context. Quoted below are two stanzas from the poem:

Let us build a hut in the jungle
To have a world of our own union within this world.
In the silence of the flower, and the song of a nightingale
To produce the conflagration of laughter out of tears
To keep looking at each other till disappearing in our gaze
Let us build a hut in the jungle

The candle of our childlike sport may light up the evening
The beloved may fetch a cup from the redness of the evening sky
The stars may feel jealous looking at us
May there be a hide and seek of love in our gazingLet us build a hut in the jungle.

Dr Rajwali Shah Khattak, director Pushto Academy, university of Peshawar, said in a recent interview, "Being a versatile genius, Hamza Baba has not been fully explored and if his works are translated into other languages, I am sure, it will introduce an individual school of thought in Eastern philosophy".

Baba had tried his hand at almost all the genres of Pushto language. He translated Allama Iqbal's Armughan-i-Hijaaz and Javed nama into Pushto. He also rendered Rahman Baba's poetry into Urdu verse. Besides his poetry Hamza's prose carries equal weight and he wrote 250 plays from 1935 till after partition for the radio.

In 1941, Rafique Ghaznavi, a famous actor asked Baba to write the script, dialogue and songs for his first ever Pushto film 'Laila Majnun', it took Hamza two months to complete this work, for which he received Rs250. The film was released in Mumbai and all the Pushto-speaking areas of the subcontinent. It was widely acclaimed and its songs are remembered till today.

While in Mumbai he wrote a letter to Farooq Shinwari, Baba's close companion and a poet, narrating a very interesting incident. He wrote, "Farooq Sahib I participated in an Urdu mushaira in which all the major poets were present. When I went up the stage, everyone took me for an unruly and wild stranger. But when I began to recite my verses, the audience was stunned and threw bouquets of appreciation at me."


Important works of Hamza Baba

Poetry: Da zarrah aawaz, Ghazawooney, Baheer, Parey wooney, Saprlaey pa aaina key, Yoon, Szuand au yoon, Salgai and Naawey chapey (A travelogue).

Prose: Da Hijaz palour, (A travelogue in Pushto), Szuawer fikraunah, (Critical essays) Szuand, Wajood shahood, (Philosophical essays in Urdu), Insaan aur khuda (Urdu), Tajjliyat-i-Mohammadia (Pushto) and Insanee anaa au pooha (Pushto)
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