Laikin za da kam-zarfo pa kaaso ke na raazam” — Amir Hamza Khan Shinwari.
(I am a human whom even the nature cannot restrain,
Like a falcon I am; the paws of crows cannot reach me,
I am an ocean of wine (of love and knowledge), in high tide of passion,
Of which, a drop cannot the goblets of these upstarts hold.)
Though in vain this time, the crows did try to desecrate the mausoleum of one of the finest Pashtuns that ever lived. Last week, terrorists carried out an attack — fourth in two years — on the final resting place of the greatest Pashto ghazal poet, Amir Hamza Khan Shinwari — known affectionately as Hamza Baba — in Landi Kotal, Khyber Agency. Hats off to the shrine’s caretaker Muhammad Ikram and the khasadar militiamen who refused to vacate the shrine and put up resistance, forcing the militants to flee.
Adherents of the ideology of pure hate have attacked an apostle of pure love yet again, as they have done at the shrines of Sufis like Haji Sahib Turangzai, Rehman Baba, Pir Baba, Baba Farid Ganj-e-Shakar, Abdullah Shah Ghazi and Data Ganj Bakhsh, all over Pakistan. However, there are many who still insist on a dialogue with the peddlers of absolute poison that al Qaeda and its local affiliates are. There is a lot to be said about this dialogue. But today I only wish to remember Hamza Baba for the poised, peaceful, passionate, Pashtun Sufi that he was.
I wondered how the Persians would respond if Hafiz Shirazi’s tomb was vandalised or how the Turks would react to sacrilege of Jalaluddin Rumi’s grave, while reading Hamza Baba’s verses — a work at par with the greats of Persian Sufi poetry. The Persian language, especially its ghazal (love sonnet) form and Sufism have a unique kinship but conceptualising the mystical worldview from a native perspective and formulating it in chaste Pashto had perhaps not been attempted before Hamza Baba.
Sufi orders and indeed Sufi poets like Mirza Khan Ansari of the Roshaniyya order, Kazim Khan Shaida and, of course, Rahman Baba had existed in Pashtun society long before Hamza Baba. In fact, Hamza Baba recognised Ansari and Rahman Baba as his poetic antecedents. However, as Professor Yar Muhammad Maghmoom, has noted in his monograph ‘Hamza’s ghazal and Pashtun mysticism’, Ansari and Shaida had heavy Persian influence on their work. Contrarily, Hamza Baba’s mystic motifs as well as his poetic devices and tools are rooted deeply, yet effortlessly, in the Pashtun lands and Pashtunwali (the Pashtun culture and code of conduct).
Hamza Baba had not made a conscious effort to de-Persianise his work but his thought and creative output are so indigenous that even the use of short poetic meter prevalent in Persian and an occasional Arabic or Persian phrase does not appear to be a transplant. Hamza Baba’s metaphor, allegory and diction are nuanced pointers towards his Pashtun nationalism. Just like his mysticism was not imported, his nationalism too has arisen from the mountains of Khyber and the plains of Peshawar. Unlike the progressive poetry of Pashtun nationalists like Ghani Khan and Ajmal Khattak, and even Allama Iqbal and Faiz, Hamza Baba’s verse is free of Marxist or other European influences. It is perhaps this originality of thought and language that puts him in the league of Hafiz, Saadi, Rumi and Jami.
Three intertwined key currents — or ‘Baheer’, as he has titled one of his books — stand out in Hamza Baba’s poetry, i.e. devotion to ghazal, Pashtunwali and mysticism. He developed his dialectic around the romanticism, figures, forms and norms of Pashtun society, which he deploys to resolve the dichotomy faced by a mystic in pursuit of wahdat-al-wajud (Unity of Being). He says:
“Ta ka kha Pashtun shuay no insan ba shay,
Biya ka kha insaan shuay, Musalman ba shay.”
(First be a good Pashtun and you shall become a good human being,
And only when you become a good human being, will you become a good Muslim.)
Interestingly, these currents flow from and merge back into the person of his Chishti Sufi master, Syed Sattar Shah, known in Peshawar as Badshah Jan. Syed Sattar Shah was the son of Syed Burhan Shah and had moved to Peshawar from Hazara and lived inside the Dabgari Gate of the old walled-city. Hamza Baba was born and raised in Lawargi (Landi Kotal) but his family owned a house in Mohallah Sakhi Shah-e-Mardan (named after a shrine dedicated to Hazrat Ali Murtaza RA) inside Barizqan (popularly but inaccurately called Bayriskay) Gate, a short walk away from Badshah Jan’s residence.
Hamza Baba used to write poetry in Urdu but Badshah Jan, who himself composed poetry under pen-name ‘bay-nawa’ (voiceless), instructed him to write his verse in Pashto and ordered another of his disciples, Rafiq Shinwari — a musician — to compose and sing this verse. Hamza Baba was not really happy with the marching orders but complied and there was no looking back for him. He came to be known as the father of the Pashto ghazal (baba-e-ghazal) a title in which he took great pride and his verses to this effect are well known. Perhaps less known is his humility as a Chishti who was devoted to his Sheikh and attributed this success to Badshah Jan. In a ghazal written at the shrine of his master, he says:
“Pardah-pokh wo cheh “Sattar” wo da aiboono,
Cheh da zarroono Badshah Jan wo, haghah da wo,
Da Hamza da gado-wado wainagano
Pa rishtia cheh qadardan wo, hagha da wo.”
(Sattar — he who covers up one’s lapses — was he,
If there was a Badshah (king) of hearts — it was he,
Who could understand my gibberish?
But one who appreciated it, was he.)
Hamza Baba was a polymath: a poet, writer, dramatist, humorist, lyricist, musician, film-writer, broadcaster, translator but above all a humanist. If Khushal Khan Khattak was the warrior poet (sahib-e-saif-o-qalam), Hamza Baba carried pen in one hand and the candle of love in the other, and that too in a manner befitting of an unassuming Chishti saint with prowess over both knowledge and modesty (sahib-e-ilm-o-hilm).
A column cannot begin to define even one facet of this multidimensional Pashtun prodigy and in Hamza Baba’s words:
“Maa Hamza neemah ke khabarah prekhwa,
Neema ba biya sta pa ratlah wayamah.”
(I will leave my talk unfinished; we shall conclude upon your return.)