07 December 2000 Thursday 10 Ramazan 1421
Ajmal Khattak: The poet within
By Intikhab Amir
It would probably come as a surprise for many to hear that Ajmal Khattak,
a veteran nationalist leader, is also a poet. But since he is a descendant
of the renowned Pashtoon poet, Khushal Khan Khattak, it is no wonder that
he too shares a passion for poetry.
Born in 1925 at Akkora Khattak, a small town on the Grand Trunk road
between Peshawar and Islamabad, Ajmal Khattak has to his credit several
volumes of poetry and literary work in Pashto, a book in Urdu on the
history of Pashto literature and lots of other works which he contributed
during his professional affiliation with Radio Pakistan and as a newspaper
Nevertheless, whenever one thinks of him, the impression of Ajmal Khattak
as a politician dominates all other facets of his personality. Largely,
because of the nationalist politics he has been pursuing for over 60
Politics and poetry have co-existed throughout his years of struggle, and
both at one point were focused on, "the awakening and achievement of
rights and unity of the Pashtoons," says Khattak.
His passion for politics and love for poetry have never created a conflict
within him; in fact, both these features have always complimented each
other, portraying him as a vibrant and spirited person who has bravely
borne all of life's hardships. Since his involvement in politics began
early in life - right from his school days in Peshawar - his troubles too
began early. "My love for poetry grew side by side with my ardour for
politics," says Khattak.
Early exposure to politicking came by way of his family's active
involvement in Ghaffar Khan's Khudai Khidmatgar Tehrik during which their
Hujra, (the traditional place in a Pashtoon's house for male guests)
played as a nerve centre of politics.
His appreciation for poetry developed because the music parties - held
every evening in his Hujra - involved songs based on the works of
prominent Pashtoon poets and the rhythmic beat of the traditional music
instruments Rubab and Gharra would induce him to try a hand at verse
writing as well.
Besides frequenting mushairas where local Pashtoon poets participated
regularly, the musical events taking place as a permanent feature in the
Hujra, all created an environment in which it was obvious that influence
of the arts would prevail.
"Raised on tales of heroism of the Pashtoon warriors who fought against
the British, Sikh and Durrani forces, and living in surroundings dominated
by poor farmers had a profound impact on my mind and evoked deep feelings
for the oppressed," Khattak asserts.
His dynamic surroundings and involvement in politics provided him enough
to ponder over, helping him in discovering his inherent tendency towards
"Poverty, suppression and scenic beauty enhance my sentiments and
intensify my convictions," says Khattak. The vision in his poetry is the
result of sheer inspiration through surroundings which simply form in his
mind as lines of a verse.
The first of his poems was published in 1935-36 when the young Khattak was
in seventh grade at a school in Akkora Khattak. The Pashto poem was
carried in a periodical magazine, The Pakhtoon- a mouthpiece of the Khudai
After the publication of that poem,the magazine published a story written
by young Khattak. The story was based on true accounts of the life of a
farmer, Wahab Din.
"Right from the beginning, my writings have reflected the sufferings and
miseries of the suppressed classes even though my family was influential
even before the British occupied the area," says Ajmal Khattak,
remembering the state of penury his family had to face soon afterwards,
and the difficult times that his parents went through then. Now he is a
political and literary figure of high stature who has followers
everywhere, not only in Pakistan but also across the western borders of
Sitting in a small room of his traditionally perfect Hujra, Ajmal Khattak
expresses satisfaction about his political career and his contribution to
The humble surroundings of his Hujra and the modest house adjacent to it
reveal his unpretentious lifestyle and moderate financial status, proof of
the fact that how little the man made for himself despite being in the
lime light of the country's politics for the last twenty years.
"Ghairat Chagha" (calling of the honour),the first volume of his poems,
was published in 1956.
The poems were inspired by his successive arrests between 1948 to 1956 on
political grounds. "During those years, most of my work had either been
taken away by the raiding police or was destroyed by my mother because of
a fear of the government's action," recalls Khattak.Later, while he was in
exile at Afghanistan, from 1973 to 1979, most of his literary works were
buried by his family members to avoid the wrath of the government agencies
and unfortunately, it was never salvaged. "I have never recovered from the
shock of losing my works," says Khattak, despondently.
A book titled Da Za Paagal Yum (I was the mad) was motivated by the
torture he confronted in jail. The other book Afghani Nang (Afghani
honour) was about his years in exile at Afghanistan.
The numerous national songs, stories and dialogues he wrote for radio have
been conserved by his friend Sabz Ali Mohmand in an un-published volume
Involvement in politics has had strong bearings on his life, influencing
poetry and education. In 1942, while studying in the tenth grade at the
Government High School Peshawar, young Khattak had to go under ground to
avoid imprisonment because of his involvement in the Quit India Movement.
As a result, his name from the school's students enrolment register was
struck off and he had to appear in the examination as a private candidate.
He passed his intermediate exams while serving his jail sentence after he
had completed Pashto Fazil, Munshi Fazil and Adeeb-e-Fazil certificates
also during his jail term. In 1961-62 he took admission in the MA Persian
programme in the University of Peshawar.
His frequent visits to Delhi to meet his cousin Mohammed Umer Khan, who
was studying in a religious educational institution, ultimately gave him
access to the progressive literary circles of India in 1938. There he got
the opportunity of a lifetime to attend discussions and gatherings of the
literary elite of the subcontinent.
"During my visits to Delhi, I was fortunate to have met literary giants
like Josh Maleeh Abadi, Sahir Ludhyanvi, Krishan Chander, Sajjad Zahir and
Rajinder Singh Bedi."
He believes that his entry into Delhi's literary circles left a profound
effect on his mind which, in the years to come,was heavily reflected in
his poems,verses and other literary writings.
"Delhi's literary meetings helped me in refining my thoughts and enabled
me to focus on the Pashtoon movement, freedom from the British, rights for
the oppressed and patriotism."
In the literary circles of Peshawar, he has enjoyed the company of Faarigh
Bukhari, Raza Hamdani, Khatir Ghaznavi and Mohsin Ihsan. Whereas during
his attachment with radio he has worked in the company of Ahmed Nadeem
Qasmi.Another side of his multi-faceted persona is his prolonged
attachment with active journalism.
He started his career in journalism in 1956 as the editor of the Peshawar
edition of the Karachi-based Urdu daily newspaper Anjaam. He also worked
for the Peshawar-based bilingual (Urdu/Pashto) daily newspaper
Baang-e-Haram in the same capacity.
Later,when National Awami Party (presently named as Awami National
Party)purchased preparatory rights of Shahbaz, Ajmal Khattak was the
driving force who ran the affairs of the newspaper.
His columns that appeared in Shahbaz under the title Malung, have been
compiled and published in a book form.
Being the head of his own political party, he does not have much time to
pursue his literary interests, though he manages to participate in
mushairas occasionally. "The frequently changing political situation,
national issues and tragedies are the focus of my poetry these days," he
His sudden ouster from his old political party - Awami National Party -
has left a deep impact on him. "Presently, my writings and poetry are
about the manner in which I was disassociated from my old platform, ending
my 65-year-old association with the party and its causes and how it has
changed my perception regarding a lot of things."
He received the information of his expulsion from ANP while he was
attending a mushaira in Islamabad and his immediate reaction came out in
the form of the following verses;
(I don't care I will take a begging bowl and go to the people, will ask
for the welfare of the country and the nation; I'll go to the old and seek
their counsel, I'll go to the young and will awake them)
Recent newspaper reports alleging that he has been offered the office of
president of Pakistan by the military regime too brought out strong
reactions from him in verse form;
(Oh my old hat! I won't change you for glory or royalty, you are my asset;
you are the sacred trust of my people in my life-long struggle)
It is impossible to say what life has in store for anyone, but for Ajmal
Khattak who at 75 has launched his own political party, it can perhaps be
said that his travails continue as he changes direction of his political
beliefs, now setting goals beyond Pashtoon nationalistic thoughts.