Thursday, 9 June 2016

QK archives: Thinking like a Pathan

ARTICLE: Thinking like a Pathan
Originally published by Dawn circa 2002
By Dr Ali Jan

The credit for undertaking the most comprehensive work on Pushto language accomplished by any author during the colonial period goes to Henry George Raverty who was a military lieutenant of the Bombay Army. While serving in Peshawar in 1849-50 he was taught Pushto by a learned linguist, Maulvi (later Qazi) Abdur Rahman Khan Muhammadzai of Hashtnagar, translator of the Old Testament from Hebrew and John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress into Pushto, among other notable literary works.

Abdur Rahman had also taught the legendary Sir Richard Francis Burton when he was serving as a lieutenant in the East India Company (Burton was a multi-lingual explorer, writer and under cover military spy for the British who later translated the famous classic Arabian Nights from Arabic into English in his much publicized adventurous life and also became one of the few non-Muslims ever to perform Haj in Makkah under the guise of a Pathan in 1853.)

H.G. Raverty had abundant experience in documentation related work. Moinuddin Khan, a well-known scholar of library sciences, in an article, "Bibliographical Landscape" (Dawn, B&A 2001) states:

"Raverty set the tradition of compiling district gazetteers. He wrote and illustrated an account of the district of Peshawar (1849-50) when he was stationed with his regiment. He was an administrator-turned-writer who entered the services of East India. In his administrative capacity he participated in the Punjab campaign (1849-1850) and took part in the first Frontier expedition (1856) against the tribes of the Swat border. He was also assistant commissioner of Punjab from 1852-1859)."

Raverty published his first Pushto book on grammar in 1855, A Grammar of the Pukhto, Pushto or Language of the Afghans (2 vols) He also compiled a dictionary, A Dictionary of the Puk'hto, Pus'hto, or Language of the Afghans (1860). This comprehensive hardback Pushto-to-English dictionary had over 1100 pages. Each Pushto word was written in Pushto script and then romanized, with definitions and easy to read printing. At a time when there was insufficient written literature except for a few diwans and largely oral poetry, Raverty studied old Pushto texts and published two books. Following the trend of other authors of that time he gave his first book an oriental name, The Gulistan-i-Roh: Afghan Poetry and Prose (1860). It was a selection of ten poetical and six prose works that he had compiled from antiquated manuscripts in his personal possession which included authors like Akhund Darwezah, Babu Jan, Abdur Rahman Baba, Khushal Khan Khattak, etc. Selections from the Poetry of the Afghans, from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century (1862) was his other significant work.

In the preface to Gulistan-i-Roh (Second Edition, 1867), Raverty admits to the difficulties faced by him in compiling these texts due to insufficient written Pushto material and other hardships:

"Pushto manuscripts of any antiquity have now become scarce, even amongst the Afghans, whose language it is. This has, doubtless, been caused by the numerous civil convulsions which Afghanistan has undergone during the last sixty years, in which period the cultivation of the Afghan language has, comparatively, declined. Hence the few works now to be met with are generally full of errors, from the fact of the katibs, or copyists, being, with rare exceptions, persons wholly unacquainted with the Pushto language, and not Afghans, who are, generally, indifferent writers."


French interest in Pushto is evident by the publication of Chants Populares des Afghans (Da Pakhtunkhwa dah sher haar o bahar), compilation work of Pushto poetry and songs in two volumes by James Darmesteter in 1877, which was financed by the French government. The key emphasis of the French literary circles, however, remained on Persian in that period. 'Pakhtunkhwa' was then a non-politicised term and is used naturally in the title to describe the region where Pushto is spoken.

The name of Mir Ahmad Shah Rizwani figures prominently in the latter half of the 19th century among Pushto literary figures. Textbooks for Munshi Fazil and Adeeb Fazil classes of the Punjab University courses were written and compiled by him, according to Dr Sher Zaman Taizi.

Rev T.B. Hughes' Ganj-i-Pukhto (1897), whose English translation was rendered by Trevor C. Plouden, became the official textbook for the lower standard examinations in Pushto and Kalid-i-Afghani (including Tarikh-i-Mahmud-i-Ghaznavi) for higher standard.

Pushto language manuals provided learning aids for those new to the language. Pushto Manual (1880) by H.G. Raverty, Khazana-i-Afghani, Sawal-o-Jawab and Pushto Guide all by Maulvi Muhammad Ismail Khan, 1000 Pashto Idioms and Sentences (1899) by Capt E.H.S. Boxer, Lessons in Pakhtoo Prose Composition (1900) and First Pukhtoo Book (1901) by G.W. Gilbertson and first (1901) and second Pukhtu Manual (1907) by G. Roos-Keppel, are some of the earliest guide books on colloquial Pushto worth mentioning.

Notable writers besides Raverty and Bellew who authored books on grammar included Lt Col John C. Vaughan 1864, Rev. E. Trumpp 1873 and Maj A.D. Cox 1911 etc. H.W. Bellew in 1870 had also compiled Dictionary of Pukkto Language. In this dictionary words were traced to their roots in Persian, Arabic and Indian (Sanskrit) languages.

The groundwork it would seem should have been sufficiently covered by the learning manuals written by Raverty, Bellew and Trumpp but they focused more on elementary and fell short of addressing complex matters of construction, syntax and idiom. To fill out this deficiency Major D.L.R. Lorimer, who whilst serving with the Khyber Rifles in Landi Kotal, worked on A Syntax of Colloquial Pushto (1915), which was published by the Oxford University Press, London. While explaining the need for a new learning book, Lorimer in its preface states:

"Both Raverty and Trumpp have based their work on Pushto literature, which is a serious drawback for the average student, who wants, as speedily as may be, to acquire a working knowledge of the colloquial language. This is hardly to be gained from a study of poetry or translations from the Persian, mostly two or three hundred years old, which are affected by Persian models or Persian originals, and which have had little influence on the speech of an unliterary and illiterate people."

Sir George Roos-Keppel's name has become synonymous with the Islamia College Peshawar, which also owes its establishment to the efforts of Nawab Sahibzada Sir Abdul Qayyum Khan and Haji Turangzai. Roos-Keppel had a long administrative association with the Frontier region. He served in the capacities of Political Agent in Kurram and Khyber and later Chief Commissioner (equivalent of Governor) of NWFP. At the turn of the 20th century, he was also president of Central Committee of Examiners in Pushto. He authored The Pashto Manual in 1901 and wrote a second impression in 1907 when he was serving as Captain in the Khyber. In 1901, he also produced his own editions of Rev T.B. Hughes' Ganj-i-Pushto and Tarikh-i-Sultan Mahmud-i-Ghaznavi with their English translations, which became standard textbooks for military officers replacing the older versions.

Roos-Keppel was well versed in Pushto and his command over the colloquial can be judged from an inaugural speech he gave in Islamia College, Peshawar, in 1913-14. A strongly built man of mixed Dutch-Swedish-English blood, he bore a thick Edwardian moustache. When Roos-Keppel came to address, he mesmerized the entire gathering by the rendering of his speech in perfect Pushto. (To give the reader an idea I must present a snippet exactly as narrated by late Dr M. Zarif of Nishterabad, the writer's maternal grandfather who was present in the audience). After the initial salutations and thanks in Pushto, he began:

"Yo wraz pah day lar teradum no zra kay may soach ooko, yarra Roos-Keppela dasay ba kha na-ee chih dalta keh yo taleemi idara jor kray shi?"

(One day while I was walking past this place, I thought to myself: my good fellow Roos-Keppel, wouldn't it be splendid to build an educational institute over this site?)

A hushed silence held the audience which was only broken when Roos-Keppel finished his speech. The echoes of 'Roos-Keppel Zindabad' followed a loud round of applause from the gathering as he received a standing ovation.

Here, it is important to point out that Roos-Keppel thought like a Pathan, for him to use the expression "yarra Roos-Keppela" - adding 'a' at the end of one's name - is significant, as it is unique to Pushto colloquial only. To hear him say that would have brought a smile on any Pathan's face and would have made the audience forget that he was a foreigner addressing them, but rather as 'one of their own.'

Sir Olaf Caroe, in The Pathans (1958) makes the following observation about Roos-Keppel:

"A very fluent speaker of their language, he could turn a proverb, point a moral, quote a poet, make a domestic allusion in perfect timing and in communion with those who heard him."

Further on, he concludes:

"More than any Englishman, if such he was, he is remembered still; he has been claimed as a sort of malik in excelsis, a Pathan among Pathans."