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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Women role in Pukhto literature

Women role in Pukhto literature
Tuesday, 06 February 2007
Dr Sher Zaman Taizi
The patriarchal society of Pukhtuns does not encourage education, particularly in case of females. With conversion from different beliefs to Islam, they developed interest in religious education and literacy. The education reached them through Arabic and Persian media which had bright back grounds of literature, especially in the field of poetry. This influenced Pukhto also which was already very fertile for folklore. Since some excellent scholars ignored their own language and worked in other languages, mostly in Persian, they did not find proper place for their names in the history of Pukhto literature while they could not attain deserving status in alien cultures. Whatever value their contributions to arts and literature has, the authors could not assert their own value.
There is ample documentary evidence that Pukhto was a wide spoken language in the areas now covered by Afghanistan. In sixth century BC, as some researchers claim, the Zoroastrian religious book was written in this language. Some scholars, however, contend that it was a language which later grew into numerous branches, the main being Pehlvi and Pukhto. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that it was dominant during the reign of Kanishka in 130s AD.

A slab, discovered at Surkh Kotal and kept in Kabul museum, carries an inscription. It was decoded by late Abdul Haye Habibi, a renowned scholar, which reflects that it was a royal Farman. Its very opening word is Pukhto. It has some other words and phrases which are still spoken by Pukhtuns. But the most striking word of this Farman is "Eir" (for fire) which is spoken in soft dialect exactly in this pronunciation and in this meaning. But its other aspect is more significant for philologists as well as for historians. It was the time when most of the people followed Zoroastrian creed and worshipped fire. It is almost a universal human nature that the holy objects are mentioned in the language of origin. A Muslim feel pride in mentioned holy objects in Arabic. In this perspective, one can imagine that there was a significant part, if not the total, of Pukhto in the religious teachings of Zoroastrian belief.
Another point of interest for philologist in this slab is that it bears a blend of different languages in a single language style. It reveals that Kanishka wanted evolution of a state language in this way. Another attempt was made by Mahmood Ghaznvi but it was limited to the script. The Kanishka's Farman was inscribed in crude Roman alphabets. The relics found at other parts of Pakhtunkhwa show that different styles had been adopted from time to time for writing. Most of these scripts were inscribed on stones. One such inscription has been preserved at Shahbaz Garha, Mardan, which is attributed to the reign of Ashoka.
Mahmood Ghaznvi directed his court scholars to introduce common alphabets for writing of different languages spoken in his kingdom. They introduced Arabic alphabets. Mahmood himself took great interest in promotion of literature, and, therefore, he sponsored learned people from anywhere. It glorified Ghazni as one of the recognized seat of learning. The history of arts and literature can not be completed without the names of al Biruni and Firdousi. This initiative fertilized Persian and Arabic to flourish and prosper at awful pace, but harmed Pukhto. The erstwhile works, if there were any, vanished. And fresh imaginative works could not be carried out in Arabic alphabets which are deficient of many sounds of Pukhto language. The Pukhto writers had to load their writings with unfamiliar Arabic and Persian words and phrases. It discouraged writing in Pukhto. Although in the long run it proved useful in a sense that Pukhto borrowed considerable amounts of words from those languages. On this account some Pukhto scholars consider it the worst type of cultural exploitation
It was Bayazid Ansari alias Pir Roshan (b.1525) who realized and understood the notion of cultural entity which had been reduced to ignominious nothingness by the tyrant Mughul imperialism. When he resolved to rise against the mightiest emperor of his time, Jalaluddin Akbar the Great, he tried to appeal to his people in their own language. But he found that the current alphabets were quite incompatible to expression in Pukhto. To overcome this handicap, he invented some letters and, thus, reanimated Pukhto as a comprehensible means of communication. His innovation proved a cultural revolution which produced in short span of time immortal names of Khushhal Khan Khattak, Rahman Baba, Hameed of Mash Gaga, Ali Khan, Kazim Khan Shaida and so many others to quench the prolonged thirst of Pukhto speakers. His own struggle for freedom also evoked positive response from the oppressed Pukhtuns.
Pir Roshan did not ignore call of the time. He rendered his mystic ideas into Pukhto. His outstanding contribution is Khair ul Bayan, written in four languages in the form of Surah Rahman. It was a new beginning of Pukhto literature with commendable religious and progressive values. His movement was a hard nut to crack. In the formidable defiles of the mountains of Pakhtunkhwa, the devotees of Pir Roshan could not be castigated. For the Mughuls, they were traitors and miscreants, as described in Tuzk i Jehangiri. Then, the Mughuls mustered support of 'religious figures. Akhund Darweza, then, emerged on the scene to incite Pukhtuns of the occupied areas against what he called `the saint of darkness (Pir Tareek)'. But that Pir was fully equipped with religious as well as cultural arms. Akhund Darweza, although he was a Tajik, also adopted the same way.
Both sides, while furthering their political causes, contributed tremendous values to Pukhto literature. Akhund Darweza wrote Makhzan in reply to Khair ul Bayan. Further more, disciples of both the warring Pirs added more to their contributions in form of poetry.
In this impervious social order of Pukhtuns, in which even the male does not dare to abuse social norms, one would not expect a female to do so. Here even the male poets and writers are under the strains and stress to honour social limitations. They concentrate more on religious aspects and preaching whether they are qualified for it or not, or on folklore, that, too, relating to other cultures, and moral values. It was Khushhal Khan Khattak who elated Pukhto literature to the level of versatility. The lively and lovely poetry of Rahman Baba with esprit de corps of affection, love and peace pull at the Pukhtun heart strings in any circumstance.
On the whole, the Pukhto poetry followed the pattern of Persian in depicting the objects of love, reverence, dignity, remorse, reproach, and so on, as male character. In Persian it does not sound strange. But in Pukhto it looks very odd. Therefore, the poets normally avoided sex romanticism and focussed more on divinity and morality. Exceptions are there as everywhere else.
Khushhal Khan Khattak was too bold to bow before the social commandments. His Ghazal, in some cases, crosses the barriers of poetic decency even. While Hameed of Mash Gagar, Ali Khan, Kazim Khan Shaida and others bestowed all the romantic ideas on their imaginary male objects which sense prevailed through the man possessed society until 1930s. Because, a common poet could not dare to express heterosexual ideas even in Ghazal.
It is, of course, very much confusing for a scholar to know that in this eccentric social order, Tappa is much more fertile and can conceive any idea ranging from the praise of God to erotomania and vulgar expression of love. It has multiplicity of rhythm which can be set to any tone of folk songs. And this is the monopoly of Pakhtun females. Tappa is single line verse of two unequal hemistiches, the first of nine syllables and the second of thirteen ending with the rhyme of "Na or Ma". It has such a vast diversity of ideas that it can be offered even as a proverb by a witty debater on any occasion. Its qualities are fluency, simplicity and spontaneity. Since it comes out of the mind which is almost devoid of erudition its style is direct, frank and meaningful, and, thus, absolutely natural.
Sometime back, an ordinary woman used to rise early in the morning to grind some cereals for the day’s meal with manual grinding machine called Mechan. In the dim light of muster or kerosene oil lamp, all by herself, she used to sing melodious Tappa with the monotonous noise of rubbing stone, without realizing its value and worth. At the spring, in the fields, in the meadows, every where the female folk give vent to their expression in full regard to the beauties of the nature. There will be hardly a woman who would not remember or sing Tappa in her own feminine environment. Many Tappas of unknown poetesses of the nature have become proverbial. One Tappa, of course, attributed to an Afghan woman named Malala. It was recited in the battle field of Maiwand when in the second Anglo Afghan war, the Lashkar of Sardar Ayub Khan was facing a defeat. She recited a Tappa:
If not martyred at Maiwand,
By God! you will live in eternal shame.
It is said that some chivalrous Afghans heard her. And the fleeing Lashkar reassembled abruptly to win the battle. This scribe was lucky to visit the graveyard of myrtrs at Maiwand, and was shown of heap of dust as the grave of Malala. Another such Tappa attained wide popularity during the red shirt freedom movement against the British rule in India:
If the youth failed to do,
Fakhr e Afghan; damsels will fight for you.
Just imagine the frankness, spontaneity and natural beauty of this Tappa (which, of course, could not be reflected exactly in the translation):
God is so gracious to high mountains;
To let snow fall on their peaks and flowers bloom in their feet.
Pour down rain, but slowly,
My travelling sweetheart has no shelter.
If the offended sweetheart were appeased,
I will put the pillow of my hair under his head.
Of late, Pukhto academies of Peshawar and Kabul compiled and published thousands of Tappas in book form. Unfortunately, this scribe has not yet seen the one published by the former. Individual efforts have also been made to compile Tappas in book form.
Apart from these countless poetesses, lecturer Shah Jehan has searched out some female poetesses and writers who have put properly their imaginative works in black and white. His article was published in Pa Sarhadi Suba Kshe Rombay Lisani Au Saqafati Conference 29 April 1986 on Pp. 353 367 (the first conference on the language and culture of the Frontier Province). It appeared in monthly Abaseen for September 1991 under the name of Atia Rubi. Some excerpts of this article are presented in the succeeding paragraphs:
In the nineteenth century, Zarghuna daughter of Mulla Din Mohammad Kakar rendered Bostan of Shaikh Muslihuddin Saadi in Pukhto. She wrote imaginative poetry of good standard also. Being a fine calligrapher, she had written herself her poetry for book.
Rabia was mentioned to have written poetry in 920 Hijri. A stanza of her poem is like this:
Adam was sent back to the earth,
His heart a flame with sorrow.
A hell on the earth was raised,
And that was called separation.
Bibi Nek Bakhta daughter of Shaikh Allah Dad Mamuzai of Hashtnagar, married to Shaikh Qadam, and mother of Mian Qasim Afghan, had authored a book in 969H. It was captioned Irshad ul Fuqara.
A wife of Khushhal Khan Khattak, the mother of Ashraf Khan Hijri, named Nautia Khattaka, had sent a Ghazal to her husband when he in jail. It says:
I will not see my face in the mirror,
Nor I will put collyrium in my eyes,
Nor I will redden my hands with myrtle,
Nor I will comb my hair.
May he be 'happy' wherever the darling is,
He may be happy, I will bear the sorrows (for him).
It may be clarified here that Khushhal was the name of the great poet as well as his pen name. Its literary meaning is the happy one. The poetess has given this word a very fine touch of ambiguity which reflects her mastery on the fine art of poetry.
Haleema was a daughter of Khushhal Khan Khattak and the real sister of Abdul Qadir Khan Khattak. She was a religious scholar and had memorized the Holy Quran by heart. She imparted education to females in her home like many other literate females. He has made valuable contribution to literature also.
Zainab was the daughter of Haji Mirwais Khan, Hotak Ghilzai, who had liberated Kandahar from the Safavid dynasty of Iran. Her one brother Mahmood had conquered Isphahan and put an end to the Safavid dynasty while the second was Shah Hussain who ruled Kandahar until the rise of Nadir Shah Afshar. Her teacher was Noor Mohammad Ghilzai. She acted as an adviser to her brothers in state affairs also and was very much fond of literature. Her elegy on the death of Mahmood is considered a master piece in this particular field. It blends her heart rending sorrow for the lass of a brother and expression of her worry about integrity of Pukhtuns and independence of Kandahar.
Piari sounds very strange. Mentioned to be living in 1300H, her available poetry erotic. It seems that she was living somewhere in India where Piari signifies love and affection. But it is not used in Pukhto, at all. The poetry attributed to her bewilders the mind to imagine that it has come out of the mouth of a Pakhtun female. But it is there on record. She must have lived. A writer of such a fine calibre would never bear to obliterate her/his name and throw away her/his poetry of such a high quality to anonymity. Her poetry reflects that she was properly, if not highly, educated, a regular student of fine arts and keen observer. It evokes the research scholars to find out something about this lady poet of romance. See! What she has said:
If my sweetheart sat for a while on the dining rug,
I will offer, submissively, my sweet lips in hospitality.
By God, I will offer everything of my life and property,
If and when the sweetheart of Piari shows up in her presence.
Misri Khanum was daughter of Qazi Ahmad Gul. She was also running a home school. Her book of poetry is not available but a Falnama (oneiromancy) that she had written in 66 lines was esteemed as a holy book at home.
Some other names are also mentioned in the history of literature. Some are Aftab Pari, Zaibo, Hameeda, Nazo, Sur Sanda, Shamo Jan, Sahibo Aajeza, Qadri, Musrifa, Nazo Ana, Noor Jehan Begum, Wabjana, Gul Bashara, Shahu, Torpekai, Rabia Kharoti, Bala Nesta, Bajaurai, Zeenat Jehan and Speena.
In the current phase, quite a good number of females have asserted their status in arts and literature. The leading, and living, figure of this lot is Zaitoon Bano daughter of Syed Mahmood of Spina Warai, Peshawar. She has authored several books and has an experience of journalism also. For self reliance, she has adopted profession of teaching. Her graceful features, sociability and frankness contribute more to charm and attraction of her personality. She writes poetry, novel and drama also, but known better for her short stories.
Dr Khadeeja Feroz ud Din did her Ph.D. on Khushhal Khan Khattak. Born in Bannu, she had completed her thesis in almost eleven years (1928 39). It was in two volume in English, and is considered the most extensive and intensive work ever done on this great man of pen and sword. Since Allama Iqbal was also impressed by this versatile genius, he used to see Khadeeja for exchange of thought.
Syeda Qanita Begum, born at Sra Dherai, Swabi, on April 21, 1908, was the sister of Mian Zia ud Din and Haya ud Din. She took significant active part in Pakistan's movement. But due to social limitations she did not come out to place her name on record, it must have topped the list of female liberators. She remained in obscurity in political life. But it proved a good omen that she diverted her attention to enrichment of Pukhto literature and contributed her invaluable travelogue captioned Zama Safarnama. It was published in 1947, reflecting her sharp observation through her excellent expression of her travels to Delhi, Kashmir, England, America, Canada, France, Rome, Egypt and Afghanistan.
Mubarik Sultana Shamim, daughter of Umar Khitab, was born in Shabqadar in 1925. She was co editor of Pukhto monthly Nangialay and has got some of her essays and a drama published in a book captioned Naway Sahar. Alif Jan Khattaka attained tremendous popularity in the red shirt movement of freedom through her contributions to weekly Pukhtun founded by Bacha Khan. She belonged to Ahmadi Banda, Karak. Her tutor was her father in law who was a government employee and did not like exposure to coercion.
Another freedom fighter behind the Purdah is Syeda Bushra Begum, known as Seen Be Be (abbreviation of the name). She is the daughter of Hakim Mian Azad Gul of Kaka Sahib. She had also run a home school and has tremendous contributions to Pukhto literature, in political field, in her credit. Zeray is the caption of her book of poetry.
Ulfat Begum wrote melancholic poetry in fine metaphorical language. In a line she expresses her melancholy as:
If you want to know about my spiritless soul,
Just drop two drops of water on a hot cooking iron plate.
Fauzia Anjum, a lecturer of Pukhto, is Khattak by tribe. Having faced harrowing tragedies in life, she still upholds her stature. Some critics consider her a poetess of romance.
Dr Lal Baha of Tor Dheri, Swabi, is a professor of history. Her thesis for Ph.D. is captioned "Pa Sarhad Ki Da Sahafat Irtaqa (Evolution of Journalism in the Frontier).
Bibi Maryam and Fatma Jan are added to the list of these illuminative stars on the horizon of Pukhto literature. Bibi Maryam has done her M.Phil and her thesis was published in 1986. It has been captioned Da Pukhto Da Nasar Tarikhi Au Tanqeedi Jaeza (a historical and critical analysis of Pukhto prose). It is a remarkable contribution to the literature as a scholar.
Fatma Jan of Mayar is the daughter of Haji Ghulam Rasul Khan and sister of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a former chairman of district council Mardan and president of Anjuman i Kashtkaran NWFP. She produced her first book, of poetry, Perzoene Da Fitrat in her 70s. Her poetry reflects that she has been influenced more by Rahman Baba, Mirza Ghalib and Allama Iqbal.
There are many other females in this field, known and unknown, who are playing their noticeable role in promotion of Pukhto language and literature. Some of them are Salma Shaheen, Yasmeen Parvez Ahmad, Zakia Haleem, Zahida Tanha, Rafaat Parveen, Syeda Hasina Gul, Syeda Fazila Shahla, Taj Khattaka, Mrs A. Daud, Mrs A.R. Rauf, Sadaqat Sultana, Fehmida Shaheen, Mrs Haya ud Din, Safia Haleem.
The females of Afghanistan could not be included in this brief note due to lack of knowledge.

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