The Legend
Amir Hamza Shinwari Baba

The death anniversary of great Pashto poet Hamza Shinwari is being observed on July 17. Born in 1907 Hamza Baba died of kidney failure. He spent last decade of life shifting between his adopted hometown, Peshawar and the native village Landi Kotal. In winter he lived in a small, modest house, inside Aasia Gate and the scorching summers drived him to his village in the comparatively cooler hills. But unlike the rest of the old, retired people who are resigned to their fate, he had a virtual stream of friends, disciples, admirers and well-wishers, calling on him every day. There was hardly any day in his life when a visitor or two are not with him, talking to him with the tongue of the pen as he was too deaf to hear ordinary human voice; and he did not relish the hearing aid either. However, despite all his senility and infirmity he had good eye sight and the most wonderful memory. He remembered almost all his poetry, indeed not only his own poetry but a great deal of god poetry from Urdu, Persian and even Arabic literatures that he might have read long ago. His over-all knowledge of Pashto literature was simply encyclopedic. One felt that he was as much a part of the hoary past as the ultra-modern age of Pashto literature. He claimed with unshakable authority:
Translation: The crimson colour in your cheeks is the colour of the blood of Hamza,You came of age, Pashto Ghazal, but turned me into an old Baba.But this Baba-e-Pashto Ghazal, as he is commonly referred to, actually started his poetic career with writing Urdu poetry, way back in the 1920s, when he was a fifth class student at the Islamia Collegiate School. He would then show his Urdu poetry for correction to the late Maulana Abdul Qadir who was an eighth class student at the school. Although not one of his earliest Urdu works. But he neither continued with school nor with Urdu poetry. Both he had to give up one by one. First he gave up school when he was in the 9th class. This must have been the greatest pleasure for him as he had been extremely miserable throughout his school life, not because he was a duffer or a blockhead but because of an earlier bitter experience when one day he was mercilessly beaten by the insensible primary teacher at Landi Kotal, for an apparently innocent mistake. From that day he had given up that school. When he was then admitted to the Collegiate School, his school phobia or hatred was not mitigated, although, like all the other pupils, he would attend classes, pass exams, write poetry, play games, and like an uncommon naughty boy, even forge the principal's signatures; yet he seemed to have already cast the die and was looking for the earliest opportunity to cross the Rubicon. Perhaps one of the tantalizing factors on the other side of the bridge was the irresistible lure of the theatrical companies which had then taken Peshawar by storm. The jingling glitter of this make-believe world had aroused the latent actor in him. This sudden craze for acting made a virtual gypsy of him, wandering all over the vast Indian subcontinent in search of a role in some theatrical company or film as the silent movies had also come to India and the talkies were not far behind. Like the unbounded Prometheus he called it a day and left school for a practical life full of ups and downs, worries and pleasures, wavering and tenacity, but underneath all such crosscurrents he had a strong, unrelenting sense of a mission; a desire to achieve the unattainable, whether in art or literature, to be ranked among the immortals. His yawning youth was evolving into a restless adolescence and his inborn artistic compulsions were creating stormy ripples on the surface of the deep sea of his otherwise drab life. A fragrant flowering spring was breaking somewhere in the remote recesses of his drowsy consciousness and he was deeply intoxicated with the lure of a fuller life, a life without let or hindrance. In this life he would visualize himself now as a clown and now as a hero, holding destiny in his own hands and with a contemptuous smile on his face.
Soon after leaving school he was married and at the same time employed in the political department as a passport officer at Torkham. He was also called upon to be assisting his father at a contract work on the Landi Kotal, Torkham railway line. But soon he gave up the passport officership for T.T. ship in the then North-Western railways to quit it for trying his luck at Bombay which was then a sort of subcontinental Hollywood. Although this long tour of great expectations turned out to be a complete misadventure, yet he was not demoralized and in 1920 succeeded in getting the role of a dacoit in a silent movies called the Falcon, made by the Punjab Film Company, Lahore, with Harri Ram Sethi as its director and producer. However, it was in 1941 that his craze for films found complete fulfilment when he was called upon by Rafique Ghaznavi, from Bombay, to write the script, songs and dialogues for the first ever Pashto film Laila Majnoon. Later on he also wrote scripts for two more Pashto films, Pighla (The Virgin) and Allaqa Ghair (The Tribal Territory) Both were filmed at Lahore during the sixties. By the thirties he was deeply entrenched in Sophism. About his initiation into this esoteric discipline he said, "I stepped into this Hairatabad (Wonderland) in 1930. I was not consciously inclined that way before. It would be more true to say that I have not come here of my own accord but have simply been dragged to it". But once he entered these enticing portals he then lived there for good, unruffled by the ups and downs of life or the push and pull of his own base nature. Eversince he lived the serene life of a hermit in the monastery of his own pure (or rather purified) soul. For a long time he had carved a niche for himself in the awesome temple of mysticism. He was venerated more as Murshid than as one of the greatest of Pashto poets. Perhaps the credit of it all go to his farsighted Sheikh who dragged him to the path of Sulook in the very formative years of his young and restless life which was but poised for a leap in the void, unmindful of hell or heaven. We can not but appreciate his practical wisdom in first advising Hamza, against his own wish, to take to Pashto literature instead of Urdu and then formally initiating him in the eternal lore of mysticism to add yet another and more subtle dimension to his vastly promising life. He took formal allegiance, in the Chishtia order, at the hands of Syed Abdus Sattar Shah whom his entire family lovingly called Bacha Jan, who lived in the Dubgari Street, Peshawar and died in 1953. Later on Hamza wrote his memoirs which were published in Urdu in 1969, under the title Tazkira-e-Sattariya. It was in 1937 that a Pashto literary society called Bazm-e-Adab was established at, as Hamza, would call it, the Astana Sharif of Syed Abdus Sattar Shah, with the active patronage of the enlightened Pir. Apart from Bach Jan, its founding fathers were Syed Rahat Zakheli as its president, Hamza Shinwari as its vice-president and Bad Shah Gul Niazi as its general secretary. After some time, the presidentship was entrusted to Hamza Shinwari to look after its affairs right upto 1950 when it was merged in a larger society called Olasi Adabi Jirga (National Literary Council).
The Bazm-e-Adab was perhaps the first ever Pashto literary society of its kind in the entire Frontier province. It started holding Pashto Mushairas not only in the city schools, colleges and the villages around but also at the shrine of Rehman Baba. These Mushairas soon became popular and the annual Rehman Mushaira was tuned into an Urs to be celebrated with great fanfare. It was in 1940 at one such Mushaira that Hamza was given the title of "The King Of Ghazal" now commonly referred to as "Baba-e-Ghazal", when he recited the poem of which I shall give here two couplets.
Translation:
I am again invited by the Raqib
It may only be a trap for revenge.
Your dark eyes are bent on my heart
The Moors are again poised for storming the Kaaba. (Hamza)
For a number of years this society worked for the revival of Pashto letters. Its scope expanded with the passage of time. A time came when a larger and more representative society was visualized to accommodate poets and writers from the entire province. It was in 1950 that the Bazm-e-Adab was finally merged into the Olasi Adabi Jirga. The moving spirit behind this August Jirga was Sanobar Hussain Kakaji with Hamza Shinwari and Dost Mohammad Kamil as its vice-president and general secretary. Its membership consisted of Qalandar Momand, Ajmal Khattak, Mir Mehdi Shah, Wali Mohammad Toofan, Fazle Haq Shaida, Saifur Rehman Salim, Afzal Bangash, Latif Wahmi, Hussain Khan Soz, Ayub Sabir, Farigh Bokhari, Raza Hamdani, Qamar Rahi and a number of others. Apart from promoting poetry this Jirga also paid equal attention to the promotion of Pashto prose. For poetry as well as prose, it started holding regular sessions at the Balakhana of Kamil in Peshawar's famous Khyber Bazar. Whenever he was at Peshawar Hamza also regularly attended the meetings of an Urdu literary circle called Dairay-e-Adabiya, run by Zia Jaffery and Abdul Wadood Qamar and a number of younger poets like Raza Hamdani, Farigh Bokhari, Ahmed Faraz and Mohsin Ihsan. Some of these Urdu poets took to translating Pashto works into Urdu. To this list must also be added the name of Khatir Ghaznavi who rendered some of the Pashto romances in Urdu and published them under the title, Sarhad Ke Rooman (Romances from the Frontier). In the beginning they all gathered around Zia Jaffery but affected by the Indian progressive literature they gave up his company and each tried to find his own mooring in the quicksand of the fast changing fashions of Urdu literature.
Hamza was also the first major poet to have consciously created and carefully sustained a pervading literary consciousness throughout the Khyber. He raised a fresh crop of young, talented poets who were soon to yield a rich literary harvest ready for export to Afghanistan and the rest of the Pashto speaking world. Among this galaxy of poets we may mention Nazir Shinwari, Khatir Afridi, Khyber Afridi, Sahir Afridi, and so on. These pioneers of the Khyber school of poetry were overtaken by a still larger number of poets from the younger generation. Among these may be mentioned Shahzad Afridi, Kalim Shinwari, Riaz Afridi, Yar Hussain Sair, Itihad Afridi, Manzoor Afridi, Qandahar Afridi, Shafiq Shinwari, Jafran Muntazir, Niamatullah Asser and so on. These and many more poets of this school have now established themselves as masters. Most of them have published their collections of poetry and prose works. Their songs from the radio, television, films and the local musicians, are a source of perennial joy. With Khushal Khan Khattak (1613-1689) in the seventeenth century, we come across a flowering revival in Pashto letters which can be called a truly raging renaissance. This renaissance was partly facilitated by the necessary spade work by an earlier, 16th century movement, called the Roshanite Movement with Bayazid Ansari (1535-1579), ambivalently referred to both as Pir Roshan (the enlightened Pir) and Pir Tarik (the dark Pir), as its leader. This movement put forth not only enduring works in both Pashto prose and poetry but also formally introduced mysticism in Pashto literature, devising the alphabet of the Pashto language. This literary-religion-political movement found staunch antagonists in Delhi on the one hand and Akhun Darweza (circa 1570) a vice-regent of Hazrat Ali Tarmezi called Pir Baba, on the other. The battle of books that was started with Khairul Bayan (Account of piety) by Bayazid Ansari and Makhzanul Islam (the treasure of Islam) by Akhun Darweza was taken up by subsequent writers from birth the camps. Both the sides produced eminent writers to enrich Pashto literature and give it a prestige of its own. It was also during this period that Pashto was rather too heavily Persianised and Arabicised to make it almost impossible for the subsequent writers to get rid of its alien, cumbersome diction.
The renaissance that had started with Khushal Khan in the seventeenth century can be said to have folded up with Ahmed Shah Abdali (1712-1773), in the 18th century, if not earlier. The other great poets of this period are Abdur Rehman Baba (1651-1710), Abdul Hameed (1667-1732), Ali Khan (1705-1853) and Kazim Khan Shaida (1757-1813). Here I shall compare Hamza Shinwari with each of these classical luminaries of medieval Pashto literature:
Translation:
I girded my sward for the Afghan honour
I am the chivalrous Khushal Khattak

(Khushal Khan Khattak)
The enemy brands it as a language of hell,
To heaven I will go with Pashto

(Hamza)
All that is apparent is the veil,
The refulgence of beauty is beyond perception

(Rehman Baba)
These are all veils on your face,
Philosophy, Jurisprudence, interpretations
Are all without your trace

(Hamza)
Although far superior to animals
Yet in love, intellect also flopped

(Hamza)
The black and white of love is beyond me,
While lost in the days and nights of intellect

(Hamza)
Your lips are more deadly than your tresses,
The Qazalbash are more callous than the Hindus
(Ali Khan)
Watching your tresses with longing for your faceI only demand Kashmir from the Hindus
(Hamza)
Like a bubble I filled it with a cold sigh,
Who could light a candle on my grave?
(Hamza)
A bubble like an eye in your search,
I am drifting in the sea of your live

(Hamza)
I forget the throne of Delhi,
When I remember the peaks of Pakhtoonkhwa

(Ahmed Shah)
I feel the taste of Pakhtoonkhwa in India,
When I come across an Afghan there

(Hamza)
In the preface to Hamza Shinwari's book, Ghazawoon (Yawning), Qalandar Momand maintains, "The poetry of all the contemporary Ghazal writers; their expression, construction, style, imagery and even their diction have all been influenced by the Ghazal of Hamza. So, if the poetry of Hamza is to be discussed, it will necessitate the discussion of all the contemporary poets which is a difficult task".
Similarly, comparing Hamza to a light-house for the coming generations, Noor Mohammad Zigar has written, "It is a law of nature that every age is provided with such personalities as can determine the standard and keep the wheel of evolution turning. Whenever a society reaches a stage of evolution when the previous standards no longer hold good then a new sage emerges. Only the one with the enlightened mind, high thoughts, strong morals and good manners is selected from among the entire society for its guidance. Such a person is usually a symbol of unity and universality and his influence transcends all the barriers of caste, colour or creed. Though localized by necessity, his art and thought can benefit the entire human society. Apart from his own time such a person can be like a light-house for the coming ages", Hamza has also been compared to a large tree with its roots deep down in the classical tradition, its trunk a source of strength for the present age while its tender, high boughs and the fruit therein is a symbol of hope and nourishment for the posterity. As compared to poetry, Pashto prose is rather poor. Many of our great writers, of course with a few fortunate exceptions, have paid this equally vital branch of literature; they have hardly ever wandered from the evergreen pastures of poetry. But on the contrary Hamza has written more prose than poetry, with great diversity and equally great depth. Starting with stories and essays he soon stepped into mysticism from where he took the highway to philosophy. Even in his last days he was writing a book on "Free will and Predetermination" or Jabar wa Ikhtiaar. He has also written a novel. Two volumes of travelogues, a biography and an autobiography. In the beginning he used to write stories or short stories and essays which used to be published in various magazines including the prestigious Nan Paroon (nowadays) which used to be published from Delhi during the Second World War. Later on they were collected and published in a miscellany called Jawar Fikroona (deep thoughts). In 1937 he published his first major work on mysticism under the title Tajjaliate Mohammadia (the refulgence of Mohammad). It can truly be called a compendium on Sophism. In 1957 he published the accounts of his tour of Afghanistan. In 1958 he published a novel called Nawe Chape (new waves). These were followed in 1959 by a treatise Yau Shair (one couplet) on the following couplet of Khushal Khan.
Translation: I observe the same face in every thing, That disappeared in His over creation
In 1962 he published his first major work on philosophy called Jwand (life) and published its Urdu version, Insan Aur Zindagi, in 1967 he published the accounts of his pilgrimage to Makka with this prophetic verse.
Translation: Even on my journey to Hijaz Hamza,
I go with caravans of the Pakhtoon
In 1970 he published the memoir of his Sheikh Syed Abdus Sattar Shah. It was written in Pashto but he got it translated in Urdu by Tahir Bokhari. The Pashto version has not been published. Round about the same time he published another philosophical treatise called Taskheer Da Kayenat (conquest of the Universe). In 1970 he published Wajud Wa Shudud (The essence and the apparent) in Urdu. This is a detailed commentary on the letters of Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi commonly called Mujaddid-Alf-e-Sani. In 1976 he wrote his autobiography in Urdu on the repeated requests of a friend, Kanwar Mohammad Azam Ali Khan. It has not been published so far. The original MS. lies with Syed Anis Shah Jilani in Sadiqabad, Punjab. In 1980 he published Ana Aur Ilm (Ego and knowledge) in Urdu, its Pashto version was published in 1982. It was called Insani Ana Au Poha (Human Ego and Knowledge). He also translated the entire Dewan of Rehman Baba in Urdu verse. It was published by Pashto Academy in 1963. Then he did Pashto verse translations of Allama Iqbal's Armoghane Hijaz and Javed Nama. They were jointly published by Pashto Academy, Peshawar and Iqbal Academy, Karachi. The former was published in 1964 while the latter in 1967. When the radio station was opened in Peshawar in 1935, along with Abdul Karim Mazloom and Samandar Khan Samandar, Hamza Shinwari was one of its pioneers in dramatics. Da Weeno Jam (Bloody cup) by Aslam Khattak was the first play to be broadcast. Hamza had played the role of the judge in that play. Soon he wrote his first play, Zamindar (the farmer) for the radio. This was followed by hundreds of plays and features over a life-long association with the radio. According to Farooq Shinwari, Hamza has written 200 plays for the radio. But he himself would cautiously lower the number to about 200. The irony is that most of these plays are now simply lost as he would hand in the original manuscript hoping that the radio people would be keeping a record. But having shifted its premises twice since then the radio organization has simply misplaced, if not actually burnt or sold in junk, all the valuable old record. Saifur Rehman Syed has dug up some 60 names of the plays of Hamza Shinwari, from the old diaries of the radio. But they are just names and no more. However, by a happy stroke of luck the following manuscripts of his plays have been preserved: Ahmad Shah Abdali, Akhtar Mo Mubarak Shah (Eid Greetings), Dwa Bakhilan (two Misers), Fateh Khan Rabia, Guman Da Eman Zyan de (doubt undermines faith), Khan Bahadur Sahib, Khushal Khan Khattak, Khisto, Matali Shair (the poet of proverbs) Maimoona, Muqabilla (competition) Qurbani (Sacrifice), Spinsare Paighla (the spinster), and Jrandagarhe (the miller) There is also the MS of Khukale Bala (the beautiful specter) which is a translation of Agha Hasher Kashmiri's stage play Khoobsoorat Bala. Some of his plays like Da Damano Khar (city of the Professional singers) and Da Chursiyano Badshah (king of the Hashish smokers) were also recorded by a Gramophone company whether by His Master's Voice or some other company we will never be able to ascertain nor probably have those obsolete, round plastic discs called records. This recording was first done at Peshawar and then in Delhi