LAHORE: His poetry stirs soul and his name pulls crowds in poetry reciting sessions or mushairas. Though he suffers from speech and movement disorders, his every line is taken well and applauded by the audience. Nowadays, he is admitted to the Lahore General Hospital for neurosurgery.

The most popular Seraiki poet, Shakir Shujaabadi, the crowd-puller in mushairas, is suffering in a dingy room of the hospital in the company of his son, Naveed Shakir. Some of his friends are bearing his treatment expenses.

If Shakir struggles to utter something, Naveed instantly picks up what his father wants to say and conveys it to the audience. If Naveed is right, Shakir nods in approval, otherwise picks up a pen and paper and conveys his message through his words.

When he dropped out in sixth grade, Shakir, whose real name is Muhammad Shafi, started singing as he wanted to be heard loud and clear. He could not establish a career in singing and soon gave up. He realised he could pen lyrics with a beautiful flow and rhyme (Qafia and Radeef) and discovered the poet within him.

He has vague memories of his first poetry recital on Radio Pakistan Multan in 1986, but his unforgettable performance in a mushaira by the Jhoke Seraiki in Bahawalpur in 1989 is quite vivid in his mind.

“I was young, 25 or 26 at that time. Being treated as a newcomer, I was invited to the dais earlier while big names like Janbaz Jatoi, Pur Faiz, Pursoz and some others were allocated the concluding time to keep the crowd intact,” said Shakir with a smile.

“When I started reciting dohras, the crowd cheered in ovation. Once I finished, Janbaz Jatoi came onto the stage and announced that the mushaira was over (implying that there was nothing left recite after Shakir).”

One of his dohras later turned out to become a classic: ‘Kahin Ku Naz Adawan Da, Kahin Ku Naz Wafawan Da/Asan Peele Patar Darakhtan De, Saaku Rahndae Khauf Hawawan Da’. (Some relish their style, some are proud of their faithfulness, we, the yellow leaves, are always in fear of the fall).

After that mushaira, Shakir did not look back. He devoted his life to Seraiki poetry where he spoke for the deprived, oppressed segments of society and forsaken lovers. In 1991, he went to attend the Aalmi Urdu Mushaira Aur Adabi Conference in Bahawalpur as an audience member. When the crowd spotted him, they started chanting his name. The stage secretary invited him to the podium for a few minutes. His dohars again carried the day. Poets from India, Canada and America, in their reviews, mentioned Shakir as a great Seraiki poet.

With his popularity graph rising, his books started hitting the market. Over a dozen of his poetry books have been published but publishers have very rarely paid him royalty. Among his popular books are Laho Da Arq , Peele Patar , Baldian Hanju, Munafaqan Tun Khuda Bachawey, Roseen Tu Dhareen Mar Mar Ke and Gulab Sare Tumhen Mubarak.

In 2004, he suffered a stroke that affected severely his speech and body movements. In 2007, he was conferred with the Pride of Performance Award.

During his 24 years of poetry writing, Shakir has written thousands of dohras, qatas, songs and ghazals. The classic forms of kafi and nazm did not attract him much.

“Kafi is a simple conversation while nazm is not even a conversation,” he says. “One verse of a ghazal, in my view, can cover the whole universe.”

This people’s poet has been bedridden for 12 years and is not ambulatory. According to doctors, he has been suffering from a movement disorder since birth. He has generalised dystonic posture of head and neck. A medical board’s report is awaited. Naveed says the government should arrange for his father’s treatment abroad.

Naveed says his father devoted his life to poetry; his dohras are a household name in the Seraiki region, but the mass recognition never translated into financial comforts.

In February 2014, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a job, monthly stipend and house for Shakir. The promise was never materialised. Later, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif announced Rs25,000 monthly stipend for him but that was delivered only once this January. The high court had taken notice of his illness and poor living condition two months back and sought a report from Shujabad authorities. He was taken to Nishtar Hospital Multan once to appease the court.

“My father is ill; he needs respect and proper treatment, not false promises against which he has been writing all his life,” he says. – Ahsan Raza

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2015

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