‘men of letters’: Uncovering the invisible aspect in Karachi

 Under the darkness of ethnic violence and dreadful images of dead bodies a gem of Pashto literature shines in Karachi, the world’s largest Pukhtoon populated city


Naimat Khan

Dozens of men from different parts of the metropolis are leading towards a house in Gulshan-e-Iqbal vicinity of Karachi where an elderly man wearing a charming smile on his lips would welcome them and take to his drawing room for a candid discussion and critical evaluation of different genres of Pashto literature with some rounds of high tea as refreshment.


Tahir Afridi, hailing from Matanai area of the FR Peshawar and now settled in Karachi for decades is a renowned critic, prolific writer and poet. “He along with Farooq Sarwar from Quetta is the most distinguished Pashto fiction writer of our times”, told Zafar Karimi, a Karachi based poet and journalist who is a frequent visitor not only to his house but other literary gatherings in the city.


The poets and writers gather twice a month under the banner of ‘Jaras Adabi Jirga’ headed by Tahir Afirdi. Not long ago when grass of JahangirPark, in Saddar area had not become dried, they used to sit there in order to attract a large number of poetry lovers. Now the gathering is attended by two dozens writers and poets in Afridi’s house.


But this is not the only literary gathering in the city. Almost five literary organizations are active in Karachi, working for the promotion of Pashto Literature. Among these ‘Ittefaaq Pashto Adabi Jirga’ headed by Saghar Tanqidi, poet and writer, holds it monthly meeting in Banaras, a Pakhtun dominated area of the city. ‘Pashto Adabi Tahreek’ is another literary organization managed by Abdullah Jan Figar, a poet and it meets in Keemari, another Pakhtun dominated populace. ‘Latoon Pashto Adabi Tolanah’ with well-known poet Sarwar Shamal is a Qaidabad based literary organization while ‘Torghar Adabi Tolanah’  is a relatively inactive organization holding its meeting in Hussain Des Silva town in North Nazimabad once a year to discuss current trends in Pashto literature, present literary work and critically evaluate it.


‘Pashtoon thinkers’ forum’, headed by Qasim Jan is a comparatively resourceful organization which holds large events inviting speakers from all part of the country. It has arranged four mega programs in the Karachi Arts Council, since April 2008. “The organization is striving for peace and serving intellectuals”, said Muhammad Arshad Khan better known as MAK, an artist and writer who is one of its founding members.


Unlike PTF, most of the Pashto literary organizations are being deprived of such places to hold their meetings as according to Zafar Karimi “Hardly one or two Pashto poets and writers from Karachi are having membership of the Karachi arts council, the centre of art and literature in the city”


Although there are more than 150 Pashto poets, some have acclaimed the ascription including, Tahir Afridi, Makham Khatak, Zafar Karimi , Riaz Sahil, Altaf Gul Gul, Badshah Hussain Shakir, Qaisar Afirdi, Hasrat Buneri, Fazal Khaliq Ghamgeen, Sagar Tanqidi and Aman Afridi whose poetry is of best quality. Masters of other literary works including prose, fiction, travelogue, literary criticism and research was rare as compared to the poetry.


Talking to this writer, Tahir Afridi who is the mentor of many literary names, lauded the young Pashto poets from Karachi who to him find little or no place in the national media. However, the advent of new media, social network websites have provided the literary circle of Karachi best opportunity to promote their work and show the positive face of their community to the world.”


The poetry, prose, fiction by Pakhtun men of letters reflects the situation of Karachi in particular and that of the country in general, said Qaisar Afridi and added “the situation we are living in has been beautifully expressed in the writings of Karachi writers”.


Quarterly ‘Jaras Pashto’ edited by Tahir Afridi published consecutively for 14 years had been discussing the situation of its era and represented the men of letters from Karachi. It was launched in 1990 from Karachi. Though its publication ceased in 2004 because of lack of funds, it has to its credit two landmarks — special issues on Pashto ghazal and Pushto Nazm, the latter spreading over 1,400 pages.


His novelette “Tarbozak” (the mask) discusses the serious issues like drone attacks, Taliban, American agents and miseries of the people of tribal areas. It seems to be the true stories of the people of Waziristan.


Other literary figures include Mohib Wazir who has “Au Karwan Rawan Sho”( and the Caravan Started its journey) to his credit whereas Qaisar Afirdi, a critic has written a master piece “Leek and TaKhleeq” (Writing and creation).  Nazar Muhammd’s Gandalay Shonday (Sewed Lips) has received high appreciation while Faisal Faaran, now settled in Swabi and Abdul Haadi, settled in Dubai had got their books published when they were part of the Karachi’s literary world. A book, Bed No-28 by Riaz Tansnim was published by PTF where the books by other numerous writers were also published from Karachi.


The literacy face of Karachi in respect with Pashto is not a present day characteristic, as the great poets and writers like Amir Hamza Khan Shinwari, Qalandar Momand, and Ajmal Khatak were frequent visitors of the Pashto Literary world in Karachi since the early 60s. The First ever Pashto Magazine, Adal was launched from Karachi in 1948 whereas Palwasha , Chaga  and Abaseen, were also published from Karachi.


When the Pashto magazines are no more published from Karachi due to lack of sponsorship, the poets and writers are now contributing to different Pashto Magazines published from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan including ‘Leekwal’ (Peshawar), ‘Pakhtun’ (Peshawar) ‘Paaswan’ ( Mardan), ‘Meena’ (Swat) , ‘Meena’ (Kabul ) , ‘Ulfat’ (Peshawar) and ‘Shna Zarghuna” ( Banu).


The creative work of Karachi is the reflection of situation in Karachi in particular and Pakistan in general. “Although Ghazal and poem starts with romance but when a poet sees blood, bombs, target killings and observe the miserable stories related to it, his poetry naturally become the reflection of a sad situation” said Makham Khatak, a poet and writer. He said writing romance in such situation will be saying jokes in the funeral.


The couplet by Zaffar Karimi, a true reflection of the Karachi situation reads;

ننداره مې که د وینو کوې نوره

ددې ښار د اسمان سرې لمنې ګوره

(If you want to see more of my blood, watch the red sky as the blood has reached that height and stained the twilight a deeper red.)


Similarly a couplet by Qaisar Afridi states the policy of our rulers especially the leader of the largest Pukhtoon political party having government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

بیا دې د کومو وجودونو سنګبارۍ ته زړه دے

بیا دې جولۍ د کاڼو راوړه د بیدیا نه ډکه

(You return from abroad with stones and rocks with which humans are going to be bombarded.)


Though the poetry of Karachi poets is reflection of bad situation it does contain love and romance.  A Queta by Makhaam Khatak reads,

دلته زما په ووګو يار پريوتو

تاچه په سر کړلو منګے جانانه

هډو څه پته دے بيخي نه لګي

خدائے خبر مړي که ژوندے جانانه

(As you put pitcher on your head my beloved put her head on my shoulder. You’re nowhere. God knows you’re alive or dead)

Published in Weekend Post ( The Frontier Post )


Author: Naimat

Karachi based journalist, writing on national and international issues.

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