Of a bard’s centennial

04 May, 2014

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ON the face of it, it is surprising that the year-long celebrations in the memory of Pakhtun poet, sculptor and thinker Khan Abdul Ghani Khan (1914-1996) that are under way in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, cut across partisan lines, linguistic, cultural, geographical and even religious divides.

Two elements seem to contribute to this cu­­­­­rio­sity. First, the celebrations have not been driven or supported by any government department, institution or political party.

Secondly, the seminars, painting exhibitions and concerts seem to have been arranged without profit as the motive, without the involvement of business cor­­­­­­­pora­­tions or companies. The arrangement and organisation of events seem to be spontaneous and self-motivated.

Most of the seminars, exhibitions and concerts are organised by literary, welfare, academic and youth organisations on a self-help basis. The most interesting part is the flow of creativity: an opportunity has been provided to young poets, writers, painters and singers — both men and women — to demonstrate their creative talent. We see ex­­quisite writings, poetry, music, compositions and paintings on display at otherwise deserted theatre halls, hotels, lawns and parks in Peshawar, and urban and rural centres of central, northern and southern KP.

This phenomenon can be explained at two levels. The first is related to the socio-cultural environment of KP. The second level pertains to the bard’s potent voice and intense understanding of the history, culture, society and politics of the people of this province.

At the socio-cultural level, the people of KP have been imprisoned in the dungeon of constricted creativity and cultural expression for a long time now. Art groups, writers, singers and painters have been robbed of their quest for providing creative pleasure and constructive entertainment to their audience. Over the past several years, the indigenous creative expression of self and society has been silenced. The continued killings of scholars, the abductions of artists and singers and the censoring of writers have given rise to fear of thinking, creating and expressing.

The shrinking space for culture, creativity and academic expression has suffocated talent, and depression has descended on the people of KP across linguistic, religious, geographical and cultural divides.

The spontaneous initiation of Ghani Khan’s centennial celebrations is perhaps a collective response to break this vicious circle of fear and suffocation. This seems to be a strong but unconscious collective message to all the forces that have created fear to rob a society of its cultural and creative expression.

The second level through which this apparently surprising self-motivated movement can be explained is the genius of the bard himself. Educated in Azad High School, Utmanzai, Charsadda, followed by the Jamia Millia Delhi, Tagore’s famous Shantiniketan and then in England and the US, Ghani had his fingers right on the pulse of the society he lived in. He can, without exaggeration, be compared with those writers and artists across the world that either started a particular stage of history or ended one.

His poetry, prose, sculptures and paintings depict the collective aspirations and intellect of a particular people and society. The flow of his creativity seems replete with bold expression rooted deeply in the soil.

His brief satire, The Pathan, written in English, provides a window of understanding for those who have not known or talked to even a single Pakhtun. His paintings started a movement in the art history of Pakhtunkhwa. His sculptures resonated with intense philosophical symbolism. Both the content and treatment of his poetry aren’t easily imitated or even followed.

The way he treated his subject matter is so easy that it can be understood by a simple literate person but at the same time, his artistic talent is sublime. He is at once the poet of scholars, thinkers and laymen.

Hence, it is perhaps not surprising that the people of KP find Ghani Khan a focal point of their collective expression at this particular stage of their history. In his expression, the people of KP might have unconsciously found an alternative discourse.

The ingredients of humanity, diversity, free thinking and free expression found profusely in Ghani Khan’s poetry are dialectically opposite to the ingredients of homogenisation, isolation and ‘otherisation’ found in the militant discourse. The federal and provincial governments, literary organisations, and academic groups have a golden opportunity in these spontaneous and self-motivated centennial celebrations to construct a pluralist narrative against the militant one.

The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.

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