Of forgotten poets: The elegist of Peshawar fights a lonely battle for his life

Fazal Subhan Abid, the composer of many Pashto anthems, is suffering from Hepatitis C and needs help.

Hidayat Khan July 20, 2014


The writer of hundreds of Pukhtun anthems, Fazal Subhan Abid, is fighting for his life at a hospital in his hometown of Dargai, Malakand. The well-known poet and lyricist, who has composed some of the best beloved Pashto songs of our time, is suffering from Hepatitis C and other health complications.

The 58-year-old Abid Jan, as he is lovingly called by his fans, has spent the past 14 years in Dubai earning a living. He had to return home, however, as his health deteriorated. Due to a lack of proper treatment, Abid’s other organs have also been damaged.

To make matters worse, his ability to pay for his treatment has diminished as well. It has been a long and expensive trial over the last seven years and doctors have now advised operations which could set him back by about Rs8 million. Although the provincial culture minister has announced Rs100,000 for Abid, it is nowhere near the amount he really needs.

Abid’s all-time hits include anthems such as ‘Pekhawar kho Pekhawar day kana’ (Peshawar is Peshawar after all) first sung by Gulzar Alam in 1998 and ‘Pa Pekhawar ke parhar ma jorawai’ (Stop ripping Peshawar apart) sung by Hashmat Sahar. It is an irony that the songs are so well-known but their maker is largely forgotten. “My songs have given me recognition among Pukhtuns in Pakistan, Afghanistan and our diaspora around the world,” said the writer while speaking to The Express Tribune. “The importance of this music among the Pukhtuns is undeniable because of their love for their homeland.”

Some of Abid’s earlier works replaced long-standing favourites such as ‘Mung yu da Khyber zalmi’ (We are the youth of Khyber), which was performed by venerated Pashto ghazal singer Khyal Muhammad. His ‘Lewanai mausam’ (Seasons of madness) has been sung by artists such as Haroon Bacha, Kifayat Shah Bacha and Nazia Iqbal among others.

Others classics include ‘Da Karachai da ranragano khar ke wraka yara’ (Oh lover, you are lost to the lights of Karachi) and ‘Taswir de sanga jorh kram’ (How do I paint your picture), among hundreds of ghazals, which have been complied in a two-volume anthology titled ‘Lewanai mausam’. Another poetry collection is awaiting publication.

“I have always tried to write poetry according to the conditions of my province,” says Abid. “War and militancy have affected every fibre of society, and so, it was inevitable that our poetry and literature would eventually incorporate these elements.”

Abid says a major chunk of his work has focused on paying tribute to Peshawar. “It is a city for the common man,” he says. “It is the centre of all hope for the Pukhtuns and every one of us yearns for the day we will see peace spread in this city of flowers again.”

He believes that good art always leaves an impact on people. “They will hum these tunes for years to come and the words will continue to resound in their hearts long after I am gone,” Abid said from his bed. “It is unfortunate that the work is always remembered, but not the people who are responsible for creating it.”

Some of Abid Jan’s songs have never been performed. One of them carries more than just a message for Peshawar: ‘Sumra lawaris shway Pekhawara sok de nishta’ or ‘How abandoned you are Peshawar, with no one left to care for you’.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2014.