KARACHI: In a village of Nowshera, 401 years ago, Khushal Khan Khattak was born. He was followed 301 years later – in 1914 – by Ghani Khan in Charsadda. Both men would indelibly mark the culture they were born into, with unmatched literary contributions that echo and inspire to this day.
On the occasion of their joint centennial celebrations, Pukhtoon Thinkers Forum (PTF) organised an event on Wednesday at the Arts Council in Karachi.
Muhammad Arshad Khan, better known as ‘MAK’, has served as the cultural and literary secretary of PTF since its inception in 2007. “We wish for such events to act as a bridge between our culture and that of others,” said MAK, while speaking to The Express Tribune before the event. “This is why we have requested the speakers to use Urdu as much as possible, so that even the non-Pashto speaking members of the audience can understand.”
PTF founder and chairperson Qasim Jan opened the ceremony by explaining his vision, and the necessity, behind the creation of such a platform. Jan explained the main function of PTF is the promotion of literature, culture and most importantly, to spread the message of peace.
“The biggest fear I have is that our youth is drifting away from our culture and language,” shared Jan. “The main reason for this is that our regional educational system is not in our mother tongue.”
Famous Urdu poet, scholar and linguist, Sahar Ansari was also among the panellists. Quoting from Allama Iqbal’s tribute, ‘Khushal Khan ki Wasiyat’, he said Iqbal had foretold that the Pukhtuns would bring about a major revolution in Asia one day, if they could only remain united.
The most anticipated guest of the evening, Abaseen Yousafzai, is one of the most well-known and respected contemporary literary figures amongst Pukhtuns, and also serves as head of the Pashto Academy in Peshawar. Reading out one of his own essays on Ghani Khan, Yousafzai included a number of the great poet’s works – first in Pashto, quickly followed by an Urdu translation.
“One can see glimpses of classic English poetry in his work at times,” said Yousafzai, “While at other times it will have you searching, not for a dictionary, but for a Pukhtun elder to explain his meaning.”
Ghani’s prolific range of poetry extends from romanticism to humour to political and social reckonings, all of which were eloquently read out by Yousafzai. “This is Ghani Khan,” he concluded, “Famous Pashto poet, writer, philosopher and self-proclaimed madman.”
Next to the podium was the guest of honour, Prof Dr Raj Wali Shah Khattak, who has served as the director of the Pashto Academy from 1995 to 2004. “It is said the truth is spoken only by the brave or the mad,” said Shah. “Out of the two personalities we are here to celebrate tonight, Khushal was a fierce warrior while Ghani always called himself a mad philosopher. The reason they are remembered today is because of their unwavering resolve to speak the truth through all times.”
Shah claimed that if the translations of Ghani and Khushal’s works were published in other parts of the world, the image of Pukhtuns would inevitably change. Even though Khushal was a warrior-poet, Shah said, his works clearly state that there is no place in society for extremism.
Shah further drew comparisons between the works of Khushal and German polymath, Goethe. “Both Pashto and German were dependant on neighbouring languages for literary and scholarly usage,” said Shah. “With the arrival of Khushal and Goethe, that scenario changed and their own languages began to take a more prominent shape.”
“The poetry of Khushal might well be 350 years old, but I feel it is still as applicable today as it was then,” Yousafzai told The Express Tribune. “The stereotypical image of Pukhtuns that has been formed in today’s world can be easily refuted by the works of these humanistic poets.”
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2014.