Hamza Baba
(Baba e Pashto Ghazal)

ستا په اننګو کښې د حمزه د وينو سرۀ دي
تۀ شوي د پښتو غزله ځوان زه دي بابا کړم

The crimson color in your cheeks,
Is the color of the blood of Hamza.
You came of age, Pashto Ghazal,
But turned me into an old man

The twentieth century proved very fertile, rich, and flourishing for Pashto literature as it gave birth to the legendary poet and father of Pashto ghazal, Ameer Hamza Khan Shinwari. Ameer Hamza Shinwari, also known as Hamza Baba, was one of the greatest poets of Pashto language who acted as a bridge between classical and modern poetry. In Hamza Baba poetry one could see the Khushal Khan Khattak and Rahman Baba’s reflection at the same time. Hamza Baba poetry reflected Sufism, nationalism, humanity, romanticism, mysticism, and patriotism. Besides a poet, Ameer Hamza Shinwari was a prose writer as well who has written dialogues for various Pashto films. Hamza Baba had inherited Sufi influence from Mirza Khan Ansari poetry which reflected well in his work. Hamza Baba was celebrated in his life which was a big achievement for any legendary personality.

Ameer Hamza was born in Kafila Sarai, Landi Kotal a small town in Khyber Agency in 1907. His father Bazmir Khan was a Malik of Shinwari tribe. In 1915 Ameer Hamza got admission in primary school in Landi Kotal. One day he got brutally beaten up by his teacher for an apparently innocent mistake, because of this bitter experience he began to hate the school and started to skip classes. He was then enrolled in Islamia Collegiate School in 1917 so that he could get education in a good environment, where he started to write poetry in Urdu in fifth class and used to show his it to Maulana Abdul Qadir (the first director of Pashto academy) who was an eighth class student at there at that time. Ameer Hamza gave up school when he was in the ninth class, as he had been extremely miserable throughout his school life, not because he was a dull or a blockhead student but because the early trauma, bitter experience and phobia of school wasn’t alleviated from his mind. He has also mentioned it in one of his couplets:

د اسرافيل راته شپيلې ياده شي
زه چې ټالې د مدرسې واورم

It reminds me of israfil’s flute
Whenever, I hear the bell of school

According to Professor Dr. Qabil Khan Afridi, after leaving school he was employed in the political department as a clerk at Landi kotal but he quitted that job and started to work as a ticket collector in Khyber railways, later he resigned from that job too. He used to go to theatre to watch films. The glittery world of films and larger than life characters fascinated him so much that he wanted to be one of them. This craze of acting led him to Bombay to try his luck in acting. It made a gypsy of him, wandering all over the vast Indian subcontinent to get opportunity to perform a role in some film. Although this long tour of great expectations turned out to be a complete misadventure, yet he was not demoralized and at last succeeded in getting the role of a dacoit in a silent movie called the Falcon, made by the Punjab Film Company, Lahore, with Harri Ram Sethi as its director and producer. However, it was in 1941 that his craze for films found complete fulfillment when he was called upon by Rafique Ghaznavi, from Bombay, to write the script, songs, and dialogues for the first ever Pashto film Laila Majnoon. After partition he also contributed for Pashto film industry and wrote scripts for two more Pashto films, Pighla (The Virgin) and Allaqa Ghair (The Tribal Territory). One thing that very few people will know is that he was not only fond of music but could also play a Rabab very well.

In late 1920’s, on his way back to Khyber from Bombay he took the opportunity to visit the Khwaja moinuddin Chishti shrine at Ajmer Sharif in Rajasthan. It was the turning point in his life that attracted him towards the mystic world of Sufiism. There he joined a qawwali troupe and accompanied them on their entire tour. It was Sattar Shah and Hamza who introduced the tradition of both qawwali and the Pashto mushaira to the Pashtun belt of the then NWFP and tribal areas, and they dedicated the first ever Pashto mushaira to the saint poet ‘Abd ul-Rahman Baba’.

About his initiation into this esoteric discipline he said, “I stepped into this Hairatabad (Wonderland) in 1930. I was not consciously inclined that way before. It would be truer to say that I have not come here of my own accord but have simply been dragged to it”. Perhaps the credit of it all goes to his farsighted spiritual guide Abdul Sattar Shah who dragged him to the path of Sufism in the very formative years of his young age and instructed him to switch over from Urdu to Pashto poetry. He took formal allegiance in the Chishtia order at the hands of Syed Sattar Shah, whom his entire family lovingly called Bacha Jan. He lived in Dubgari, Peshawar and died in 1953. Later, Hamza wrote his memoirs which were published in Urdu in 1969, under the title “Tazkira-e-Sattariya”.

Baba was not just a Pashto poet but also a Sufi saint. He was above the prejudice and was the preacher of interfaith unity. He had not received formal education but had extensively studied mysticism, philosophy and Sufi literature and loved poetry drenched in Sufi thoughts.
For example, one of his couplets is:

يا خو هيڅ نيشته دا واړه وهم و خيال دې
او که وي نو بس د يار به وي وجود

Either there exists nothing ,
it is just all our imaginary random thoughts
However, if there exist anything ,
it would be just the presence of beloved

The Bazm-e-Adab was perhaps the first ever Pashto literary society of its kind in the entire Frontier province. It started holding Pashto “Mushaira” not only in the city schools, colleges, and the villages around but also at the shrine of Rahman Baba. These mushairas soon got popular and became a tradition. It was in 1940 at one such mushaira that Hamza was given the title of “The King Of Ghazal” now commonly referred to as “Baba-e-Ghazal” when he recited the Ghazal. One of its couplets is here.

تورې سترګې مې د يار زړه ته په زيردي
بيا حبشو په کعبه تړلې لام دې

Your dark eyes are bent on my heart
The Moors are again poised for storming the Kaaba

For several years, this society made remarkable contributions to Pashto literature. Its scope expanded with the passage of time. It was in 1950 that the Bazm-e-Adab was finally merged into the “Olasi Adabi Jirga”. The moving spirit behind this Jirga was Sanobar Hussain Kakaji, Hamza Shinwari and Dost Mohammad Kamil. Hamza Baba was the president of that jirga. Its membership consisted of Qalandar Momand, Ajmal Khattak, Mir Mehdi Shah, Wali Mohammad Toofan, Fazle Haq Shaida, Saifur Rehman Salim, Hassan Khan Soz, Farigh Bokhari and several others. Apart from promoting poetry, Jirga also paid equal attention to the promotion of Pashto prose. For poetry as well as for prose, it started holding regular sessions at the office of Dost Muhammad Kamil in Peshawar’s famous Khyber Bazar. The great service and credit of Olasi Adabi Jirga is that it introduced and encouraged positive and healthy criticism in Pashto literature.

Hamza Baba was a poet and a prose writer; in contradictory he wrote more prose than poetry and with great diversity and equally great depth. He wrote hundreds of plays for radio, some of the plays are Zamindar(the farmer), Dwa Bakhilan(two misers), Akhtar mo Mubarak Sha(Eid greetings), Khushal Khan Khattak, Qurbani (sacrifice), Muqabla (competition) and Jarandaghare(the miller). He has written books, some of them are Tazkira Sittarya, Jabbar wa Ikhtiar (Free will and predetermination), Insani Anna o Poha (Human ego and knowledge), Jawand(Life), Nawe chape (New waves), Da zadra awaz (The voice of the heart) etc. He has written travelogues of his journey to Afghanistan and Mecca that are “Da Kabul Safar” and “Da Hijaz Pa Laor”. He has translated Dewan e Rahman Baba, a poetry collection in to urdu and “Armaghan e Hijaz” and “Javed Nama” of Dr. Allama Iqbal in Pashto. He has also translated Nahj Ul Balagha (the way of eloquence), Khutbat e Hazarat Ali R.A in Pashto.

In the preface of Hamza Shinwari’s book, Ghazawoone (pandiculation,stretching), Qalandar Momand stated, “The poetry of all the contemporary Ghazal writers; their expression, construction, style, imagery and even their phrasing have all been influenced by the Ghazal of Hamza. So, if the poetry of Hamza is to be discussed, it will necessitate the discussion of all the contemporary poets which is a difficult task”.

Kaleem Shinwari, a well-known Pashto poet, writer and researcher has compiled a Persian and Urdu poetry of Hamza Baba in a book called “Baade e Khyber” so that the Hamza Baba lovers enrich their knowledge from his Persian and Urdu poetry and enjoy it.

Hamza Baba was not only the father of Pashto ghazal, but his poems were masterpieces with poetic values. Unfortunately, Pashto literary critics have overlooked it, otherwise they would have given him a significant place in the front row of Pashto poem poets.

In his poems, he uses different beautiful metaphors, similes, and symbols profoundly unlike anybody before. In one of his famous poem sung by Rafiq Shinwari and “Jongara”(The hut), the use of words and symbols is magical.

Hamza Baba died on 18 February 1994. He spent the last decade of his life shifting between his adopted hometown, Peshawar, and the native village Landi Kotal. In winters he lived in a small, modest house, inside Aasia Gate (Dabgari) and in the scorching summers drived himself to his village in the comparatively cooler hills. But unlike the rest of the old, retired people who are resigned to their fate, he had many friends, disciples, admirers, and well-wishers, calling on him every day. There was hardly any day in his life when a visitor or two were not with him, people used to pen down their thoughts to interact with him when he losing his hearing ability (he did not relish the hearing aid either). However, despite all his senility and infirmity he had good eyesight and the most wonderful memory. He remembered almost all his poetry; not only his own poetry but a great deal of poetry from Urdu, Persian and even Arabic that he might have read long ago. His overall knowledge of Pashto literature was simply encyclopedic.

In short, he with the enlightened mind, high thoughts, strong morals, and good manners is selected from among the entire society for its guidance. Such a person is usually a symbol of unity and universality and his influence exceeds all the barriers of caste, color or creed.

Hamza Baba advocated peace, humanism, and love throughout his life. He pioneered many genres in Pashto from scripting first-ever Pashto movie “Laila Majnoon” in the pre-partition era to the incredible travelogues. Hamza Baba had mastery over Urdu, Persian, and Arabic too, and contributed to the disciplines of philosophy, human psychology, and anthology. We need to spread his message as he was a great figure of promoting universalism, interfaith harmony. and humanism.

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Zarghona Khalil

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