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Parallels in poetry

Parallels in poetry

KHAN Abdul Ghani Khan (1914-1996) is commonly known as the ‘mad philosopher’ in Pashto literary circles because of his unique style and poetic expression. Despite being the elder son of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (also known as Bacha Khan), leader of the Khudai Khidmatgar Movement, he kept a low profile and engaged mainly in literary and artistic pursuits. He was a multifaceted personality: a poet, sculptor, painter and a philosopher in a league of his own, and has influenced almost four generations of Pakhtun youth through his vibrant and revolutionary poetry. To date, two research scholars, Professor Dr Shazia Babar and Rubina Islam Mohammadzai, have conducted studies comparing Khan with John Keats and Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Gauhar Rahman Naveed is a professor of Urdu and the author of 11 books in both Urdu and Pashto. His new book, Iqbal aur Ghani Khan ki Shairana Mumaaslatein [Poetic similarities between Iqbal and Ghani Khan] unveils some interesting parallels between Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Khan. Both poets were well read and widely travelled, aware of both Western and Eastern philosophies. Both spoke boldly against the traditional mullah and advocated freedom, equality and humanism. Both took part in active politics (Khan led the Zalmai Pakhtoon organisation), challenging the status quo and raising their voices for the downtrodden masses.

This is the third research treatise on the Pashto poet-philosopher who dedicated his life to the language. Khan was against stereotypes and believed in the strength of the Pakhtun youth; through his poetry, he exhorted them to be forward-looking and progressive, to bring about a substantive change in their societal fabric. Iqbal, too, wanted the Afghan nation to come out of superstition and free itself from the slavery of ignorance, building a society based on peace and mutual harmony.

In Naveed’s analysis, while Iqbal spoke for the unification of the Muslim ummah on one platform, Khan wanted the freedom and welfare of the Pakhtun nation. Yet where Iqbal used difficult Persian and Arabic phraseology and diction to enrich his poetic vision, Khan used simple language and even slang to convey his message to the common Pakhtun reader. Khan brought about a revolution in Pashto poetry and introduced new poetic dimensions in literary expressions, while Iqbal triggered a sense of experimentation in conventional Urdu thought.

Deeper understanding of the two literary figures reveals that there are more convergences than divergences in their thoughts and expressions. Overall, the complete works of both poets draw upon the subjects of love, beauty and philosophy, with humanism, romanticism, and naturalism serving as recurrent themes.

In one of his poems titled ‘Khudaya wale [Why, God]’ Khan raises questions about the creation of the universe and its numerous manifestations, then tries to answer them himself through the status and power human beings enjoy over the universe. In dialogue with God he, like Iqbal, sometimes complains as well. For instance, he questions why the heart, death, grief, old age, poverty, and despondency were created against reason, life, pleasure, youth, wealth, and hope. It is much like Iqbal in his poem, ‘Khizr-i-Rah’, where he raises various queries regarding the plight of Muslims.

Khan translated several poems of Iqbal into Pashto. Naveed, quoting Khan, writes: “If I have to choose between the poetry of all the great Pashto poets, including Khushal Khan Khattak and Rahman Baba, and Iqbal, I would prefer two couplets of Iqbal over the rest.” The couplet from Iqbal’s poem ‘Jibraeel-o-Iblees’ has the latter telling the former that it was he (Iblees) who gave colour to Adam’s story while the angel merely obeyed. At times, one feels he has directly benefited from the poetry of Iqbal. Khan lost his mother when he was just six years old, later writing a poem in her memory that Pakhtun critics considered a masterpiece. Iqbal also put into verse his love for his mother. Both poets not only paid rich tribute to their mothers in elegies, but also shed light on the natural cycle of life and death in a philosophical manner which was reflective of their flights of imagination.

On the concepts of life and death, Iqbal considers the slumber of death as the ecstasy of life while Khan, in a couplet, says: “I don’t admit that death is the end of existence; the end of wine in a cup doesn’t signify the end of ecstasy.” There are hidden sparks of Sufism in Khan’s works which lend another dimension to his personality, whereas Iqbal’s poetry is drenched in Sufism. Allusions to Adam, the arch-devil, various prophets and figures from other religions are present in the works of both. The concepts of reason and love in Khan find fine expression, while Iqbal gives importance to divine love. Each of the two poets wrote inspirational poems to motivate the youth of their times, exhorting them to think of the future, face challenges, and leave the world a better place.

This book will allow readers to recognise that humanity belongs to the same soil and shares the same issues. We need to be united to draw inspiration from the thoughts and concepts presented by great literary figures, as we live and die on the same, shared piece of earth.

The reviewer is a Dawn contributor.

Iqbal aur Ghani Khan ki Shairana Mumaaslatein
By Gauhar Rahman Naveed
Mazmoon Publications, District Mardan

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, December 11th, 2016

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