Author: Qalandar Momand - Empathizing with the poor
By Nuzhat Rahman
Qalandar Momand is a very versatile personality in modern Pushto
literature. He writes both prose and poetry. He is a critic, a journalist,
a researcher, a teacher and a position holder in the Public Service
Commission's examination. But he has remained behind the bars most of the
time for his 'leftist views'. A very upright and straight forward man, he
holds his integrity supreme. In the process, he says, he exemplifies what
Iqbal says in this verse:
ham ne Iqbal ka kaha mana
aur faqon ke hathon marte rahe
jhukne walon ne rifaten dekhin
ham khudi ko buland karte rahe
(I followed Iqbal's directions and was trampled by starvation. Those who
submitted, lived in luxury while I kept upholding my ego.)
Best known as a poet, he is an excellent short story writer as well.
Critics agree that his short story 'Gajare' is the best in Pushto
language. The consensus is that whosoever might have written the first
Pushto short story, it is Qalandar Momand who has taken it to its zenith.
His largest contribution to Pushto literature is the compilation of the
Pushto dictionary Daryab. He worked on this project, sponsored by the
Department of Education NWFP, from 1983 to 1993 and this invaluable work
has earned him an esteemed place in Pushto literature.
Momand does not write now as his eyesight has been failing. "I have not
written any book since 1990, though I have penned a few articles and
critical pieces in the last ten years. When I receive some reading
material I ask my children to read it out to me. I listen and sometimes
when I feel inspired to write I dictate short critical appreciation notes.
My other and only hobby these days is attending weekly meetings of an
organization of new writers 'Da samio likunko maraka'. I feel very happy
and contented in guiding the new upcoming writers," he says.
How does he feel about the modern Pushto ghazal as compared to classical
ghazal? "In my opinion modern ghazals are better than the old ones,
because when Hamza Shinwari started writing ghazals in the 1940s, he did
not have any school or pattern to follow in Pushto, whereas the modern
poets have Hamza's and his contemporaries' works to learn and follow. That
has made modern ghazals mature and complete."
How would he describe the present socio-political milieu in the country
for promoting literature? "Political conditions in this country were never
encouraging for writers be they in creative literature or journalism.
Those in power cannot digest the truth or be tolerant. Look how Faiz
suffered. He was deprived even of his job and forced to live in exile.
I secured first position in the Public Service Commission examination and
I was made jobless several times. What I did achieve was imprisonment,
imprisonment and more imprisonment for several years in different cities
of Pakistan, because I had the courage to speak up my mind and to reflect
my views through my writings, which were not in conformity with those of
the rulers. In my opinion expressing one's self truly and honestly is the
right and duty of a writer. If he or she cannot do that, it is better to
keep silent. Hypocrisy and distorted opinions do not win respect for a
"Besides, reading habits in our country are very poor. Few people read
books and this results in low print-runs. Have you seen the notice on a
very famous old bookshop and publishing company in Peshawar? It reads that
they are bowing out of the publishing business. Most of our governments
have done nothing to improve the situation. The literacy rate is low and
there is no official patronage of the book trade. The writers and
publishers who are still struggling to survive in these adverse
circumstances are working against heavy odds, specially the writers and
publishers of languages other than English and Urdu."
Twentieth century Pushto poetry has reflected colonialism, communism and
progressive thinking at the same time? Why this combination of diverse
views? "I do not agree with this combination being in Pushto poetry. The
best Pushto poetry started in the fourth quarter of the twentieth century
and the elements you are talking about came in later. But in my opinion in
any language communism is always present with nationalism and not
colonialism. Nehru was a nationalist leader and Allama Iqbal used to say
about him that Nehru has been born between Moscow and Banaras."
These days most of our young poets are producing collection after
collection of poems most of which are quite dull. As a critic what does he
have to say? Are the preface writers right in praising the book so
profusely? "Anybody's preface or introduction cannot make somebody a poet
or a good writer. If that were true then every poet would have been
excellent. Any poet's worth is determined by the verdict of the majority
of his/her readers and critics. Whoever passes this test will survive and
the rest will not be known even for a short period."
Does he not think that criticism is not very common in Pushto literature
as it is in Urdu? "Yes you are right, it is because the Pashtoons are very
self-centred and self-righteous people and for some 'valid' reasons very
few dare to criticise a Pashtoon. Lately there have been a few writers who
realize that literary criticism is essential for the improvement of a
writer. Hence they are now trying to swallow this bitter pill."
Faiz, Ahmad Nadim Qasmi, Khushhal Khan Khattak and Ajmal Khattak are
Qalandar Momand's favourite writers. He owns a three-room house, and one
of the rooms is full of his personal books, mostly on politics and from
the pre-Partition years. Any message for the readers? "Yes convey my
goodwill to them. Here is also a word for new writers in any language:
'always write the truth after thorough research and conscientiously, write
about the realities of life in Pakistan'."
Qalandar Momand belongs to an educated middle class family. From his early
college days at the Islamia College Peshawar during the late 1940s, he was
very involved in politics. He was strongly influenced by Bacha Khan and
later became an active member of the ANP, which made him persona non grata
for the establishment. Qalandar Momand's works have a strong leftist
orientation. He has taken up themes such as the exploitation of the poor
by the rich and the unfulfilled lives of the masses because of the unequal
distribution of wealth.
His best short story 'Gajare' revolves around the same theme. It is the
story of a young girl, who wishes to wear gajare (fresh flower bracelets)
but her poor father cannot fulfil her simple wish. Later her father is
arrested for a crime he has not committed and while the police is leading
him away handcuffed, the daughter says she wants the same gajare as he was
wearing but not made of iron but of flowers and with no chains attached.
Though he is one of the best ghazal writer in modern Pushto and ghazals
usually are used to express the sentiment of love. But Qalandar Momand's
ghazals convey his bitterness about life. He says, 'I cannot change my
luck which is predetermined. I have a fire raging in my heart and I have a
ghazal to offer.' In another ghazal he writes, "If the garden can be
freshened up with my blood then let every thorn be stuck in my heart. No
matter how many thorns you put between me and the flower, I do not care as
I do not put my feet on them. I put my heart on them."