Write verses, not wars: Poet pens change for Khyber Agency

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Khushal Khan Khattak’s nationalistic poetry is a regular feature in Khyber Agency’s literary circles. So it did not come as a surprise when Ali Muhammad Khan Afridi, a PhD student from the University of Peshawar (UoP), announced he was going to trace the history of poets in the region to focus on works unknown to the public.

He knew the task was difficult. There was a lot of research involved in locating the complete works of more than a hundred poets dating back several centuries. Of those many had been written about but a host of young writers remained unexplored till Afridi.

Set to be published by the Pushto Academy, The Contribution of Khyber Agency’s Poets to Pushto Literature is Afridi’s finished product and what helped him gain a doctorate from the UoP.

Afridi, originally from Dara Adam Khel, is also a poet and is associated with the Qasim Ali Khan Afridi Adabi Jirga. He is also a Pushtoo literature lecturer at the Government College in Kohat.

Talking to The Express Tribune about his research, Afridi said other researchers should compile their work and translate them into other languages, including English, to help spread awareness. This could prompt the public to reject extremism, stand up against militancy and present a more positive image of Pukhtuns to the world, he stipulated.

“The tale of literature is as old as time and as old as the agency,” said the scholar. “There are hundreds of literary figures still unknown to Pukhtuns. Their knowledge is limited to Hamza Khan Shinwari and other mainstream poets.”

The body of work

His research is divided into three parts – an introduction to Khyber Agency and its tribes, a history of literary legends and contemporary poets.

The history portion leads off with Mirza Khan Ansari, a celebrated poet. Although his date of birth could not be ascertained, it is said he passed away before Khuskal Khan Khattak’s era. It carries on mentioning female poets of the region including Laila Shabnum. Although women have been associated with poetry in the region, there is limited access to their work and therefore cannot be identified.

“Laila Shabnum is the only published female poet from Khyber Agency,” Afridi said. “Shabnum has written beautiful verse. Her style is often compared to Ameer Hamza Khan Shinwari’s.”

He added when her book was published, the situation in the region and Pukhtun social norms prompted her to write a preface which maintained she did not want to expose her identity to the world.

Although she has participated in many poetry recitals in the area, she has never been seen by any one, claimed Afridi.

Other Pashto poets included in the research are Khusro Afridi, a great wordsmith who wrote about Pukhtun culture, its people and their simplicity.

Another great mentioned by Afridi is Qasim Ali Khan. This poet spent most of his life in India but is originally from Khyber Agency and wrote about it frequently. Alam Khan Afridi, Yar Muhammad Khan, Mira Khan, Saidan Shah are also written about in great detail.

Source: The Express Tribune.