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The poet at his cobbler's shop. —Photo by author
The poet at his cobbler's shop. —Photo by author

In the small suburban town of Rodala, located in Jaranwala, Faisalabad, there sits a cobbler in the main bazaar, Munawar Shakeel, who has been repairing the shoes of the villagers for three decades now.

But in recent years, his customers are less interested in getting their shoes repaired and more interested in listening to his verses on the sweet and bitter realities of life.

Munawar is a poet.

He is the author of five Punjabi poetry books, and with the poor and downtrodden as the subject of his poetry, he is considered a major voice of people living in suburban areas.

Born in 1969, Munawar lost his father during his childhood, and he was unable to receive any sort of formal education. Even then, he started composing verses as early as the age of 13. Ultimately, his first book Soch Samandar was published in 2004.

Munawar tells me that cobbling is his family profession. He says: “I make Rs250 to Rs300 daily by selling newspapers at local shops, and repairing shoes. From this money, I set aside Rs10 daily for getting my books published.”

His second book Pardes Di Sangat was published in 2005; third book Saddiyan De Bhait in 2009; fourth book Jhora Dhap Gawachi Da in 2011; and fifth Akhaan Mitti Ho Gaiyaan was published in 2013.

They are all award-winning books.

Munawar is a member of literary groups like the Royal Adabi Academy, Jaranwala and the Naqeebi Karvan-e-Adab. He has also received awards from organisations such as Ashna-e-Saandal Bar, Pakistan Writers’ Guild, and Punjabi Sevak.

“I make Rs250 to Rs300 daily by selling newspapers at local shops and repairing shoes.”—Photo by author
“I make Rs250 to Rs300 daily by selling newspapers at local shops and repairing shoes.”—Photo by author

Talking about his poetry, he said that the elite and middle classes of the society have always subjected the lower classes to discrimination, and there is no one to raise a voice against the miseries and discrimination they face.

“I want to speak for the lower classes through my poetry, and those things which cannot be said directly, I want to say them through verse.”

Innu kinne paani ditta, innu kinne boya aey
Patthar de jo seene uttey, boota ugya hoya aey

[Who watered it, who sowed it,
The plant that grew on a heart of stone]

Munawar says that as a child, he most wanted an education but the early death of his father and the scarcity of resources had made it impossible.

“Thus, I purchased books myself and started reading. The habit is so ingrained now that I can’t sleep if I don’t read for four hours daily after work.”

The poet consciously chooses only to write in his mother tongue Punjabi.

“Punjabi is the mother tongue of Punjabis, and it is their right to be taught in this language. It is the job of the government to promote Punjabi and all regional languages.”

He thinks that for being a good poet, it is necessary to feel the pain of the humanity, which should reflect in the poetry.

His sixth book Taanghan, consisting 112 of his ghazals, will be available in markets by the end of this year.

“There is glory in hard work. I have no shame in repairing shoes, but I want people to be more aware, and I want them to read books so we can also stand in the ranks of developed nations.”

Munawar Shakeel’s teacher in literature, Ghulam Mustafa Azad Naqeebi, says people in suburban areas are not short of ability, but they often get left behind due to a shortage of resources.

According to the teacher, Munawar's poetry throbs with the pain of the downtrodden people. It is far from the traditional metaphors of love and intimacy, and closer to the needs, wishes, and difficulties of the common people.

Note: If you wish to purchase Munawar Shakeel’s books, send an e-mail at faisalabad@lokpunjab.org with your name, address, and phone number.


This article first appeared on Faisalabad Sujag and has been reproduced with permission. Translation by Bilal Karim Mughal.


Author Image

Rizwan Safdar is a Features Editor at Sujag Faisalabad.


The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (77) Closed



aisabhi Jul 15, 2015 01:05pm

Amazing story. Munawar Shakeel is a hero and Mr. Rizwan Safdar has done well to discover him.

rich Jul 15, 2015 01:06pm

salute from mumbai

Fakhr Jul 15, 2015 01:13pm

Really inspiring

Jayanta Chakrabarti Jul 15, 2015 01:15pm

Indian Salute to this never say die soul. God Bless u.

South Jul 15, 2015 01:22pm

Great human being. Hundreds of Saraiki poets are languishing in southern part as well.

Chishti Jul 15, 2015 01:26pm

respect. thats all I can say.

Kuriouskat Jul 15, 2015 01:26pm

This is the kind of people we need to find and write about ! Enough with the Ayan alis and the politicans ..!

Amazing how none of the literally societies mentioned, did anything to alleviate his poverty. What is 3-400 a day ! You pay more for a ride in a taxi on an average daily commute. And yet he continues with dignity and pride ! Respect !

Daud Jul 15, 2015 01:27pm

He is doing great but unfortunately like others unsung heroes he is not getting the respect and recognition which he deserves. Writer also did tremendous job while putting light on his struggle and miseries of his life.

Kirby Jul 15, 2015 01:28pm

Great story. Thank you Dawn for publishing it.
I fully agree that regional languages have a unique place in a society. While Urdu is our national and unifying language, our mother languages are true bases of our feelings and emotions, the expression of which is so elequently displayed in Munawar's poetry. I have lived in the United States for over 40 years now. I see that our Sikh friends ensure that their children speak fluent Punjabi. It is beautiful to speak to them in Punjabi. Inspired by that I endured that our daughter who was also born in America and is now an attorney, learns Punjabi and she did. She is grateful that we taught her her ansestral language. Pakistan Paindabaad!!

Faisal Afridi Jul 15, 2015 01:31pm

This man is a True Color of this country, he should be compensated and brought in lime light

Sajid Syed Jul 15, 2015 01:32pm

I am sending an email right away. I will like to treasure his books for my children and grandchildren to appreciate where we come from and how we made it to where we are. Our story and that of Munawar is not very different. Majority of us made with our focus and hard work. Cheers Munawar Bhai, proud of you and all focused human beings. Cheers!

Fakhir Jul 15, 2015 01:43pm

Inspiring

Tariq Amir Jul 15, 2015 01:43pm

Amazing! In a society where even highly educated and rich are totally ignorant of literature, language and culture, such a person exist. He is a person with a special soul.

Syed Murtuza Hasan ( Indian ) Jul 15, 2015 01:57pm

I salute you....

Dawn Admirer Jul 15, 2015 02:08pm

Munawar is great inspiration. Thank you Rizwan for bringing out this real life story for us.

Ishtiaq Ahmed Jul 15, 2015 02:18pm

The best way to pay homage to this great soul is to buy his books. Maybe Rizwan can help tell us how and where to buy his books.

khurram Jul 15, 2015 02:21pm

Please try to explore some desi online websites like sahulat bazaar.com or even amazon where diaspora can buy the books and support local talent

msh Jul 15, 2015 02:23pm

Thanks Rizwan Safdar for this article and Thanks Munawar Shakeel for writing in Punjabi. Although no government in the history of Pakistan ever promoted Punjabi or any other regional language but still people like Munawar are keeping the regional languages alive.

nathan Jul 15, 2015 02:25pm

Munawwar Shakeel for MNA!!

Mystic Jul 15, 2015 02:32pm

Real unsung héros of the Land of Pure.

msh Jul 15, 2015 02:35pm

bari khushi hoi thuwaday khayalat sun ke Munawar saab. "Punjabi de nal mera rishta aisa ae jiwain maan da putt de nal hunda ae". Very well said. The problem which I observed with Pakistani punjabi people is that they teach their children to speak in Urdu. There is so much of an inferiority complex in most of the Punjabis coming from villages and settled in cities. As I am settled abroad I can see that Sikhs on the other hand always promote Punjabi and teach their children and above all take pride in it which unfortunately on Pakistani side is not the case. You ask somebody in Pakistan whose parents are punjabi "Ki hal ae" he will reply "mein theek houn aap sunaen". that explains all

Bilal Karim Mughal Jul 15, 2015 02:38pm

@Ishtiaq Ahmed The contact email address has already been included at the end of the article for those wishing to purchase the books.

Hussain Jul 15, 2015 02:41pm

Great story of courage, patience and passion!

Awan Jul 15, 2015 02:42pm

Well throughout the history of Pakistan the Establishment considered the Punjabi culture and language is considered a threat. One of the Most Prolific Writers known as "Ustaad Daman" was not only banned but his books were destroyed in the past. So the cobbler is writing in Punjabi and he will suffer. Punjabi is one of those languages that was banned by the British and our rulers are on the same path to destroy its literary traditions and make an example out of its poets and intellectuals. Because of non recognition Punjabi is being diluted to further dialects and even languages and it is serving the purpose of those who follow the Idea of Divide and Rule.

Hasan Jul 15, 2015 03:02pm

@msh Before the creation of Pakistan even British banned Punjabi language and promoted Urdu in this region. Every Urdu poet was given a scholarship whereas British announced that Punjabi will be banned. British empire used to give 6 aanas during that time to anyone who used to give them any Punjabi book. Britishers destroyed millions of books in Punjabis as they considered this language as a threat to their imperialist designs.

m m amin Jul 15, 2015 03:04pm

.."full many a gem lie buried in the dark fathoms of sea full man a flower are borne to blush unseen and waste their fragrance on the desert air " T.Gray ....Elegy written in a country churchyard .

   Shakeel good luck.
Kuriouskat Jul 15, 2015 03:10pm

@Awan WoW That's a lot of serious allegations..! Its great that you love Punjabi ! Its a beautiful language and an open friendly culture.. But where exactly are you getting this info from? Punjabi considered as threat by the establishment..!! Do you not know that Pakistani establishment and army are both mainly Punjabi speaking ?

Atif Amin Jul 15, 2015 03:28pm

Dignity of work. I salute to you for seeking Hilal rizk.

Tariq Amir Jul 15, 2015 03:32pm

@Kuriouskat You are right that most of the establishment is Punjabi (not all). But they think that each and every regional identity is go againt their theories of a nation building. So they suppress regional diversity, culture and identity. They feel that one language and one culture should be imposed on all over Pakistan. By doing so they feel they will be able to build a stronger state.

shereen Jul 15, 2015 03:37pm

Awesome ji. Thanks to this article I will have a few new books to read :)

ramesh Jul 15, 2015 03:56pm

Great and very soul quenching article. It is only through mother tongue that one can express the finer feelings. Thanks for the coverage.

Kuriouskat Jul 15, 2015 04:16pm

@Tariq Amir I find that hard to believe who in his right mind would try to suppress the language of 60+% of the population !!! I think its mainly a self inflicted suppression of own culture and language that some seem to do. They suppress their own identify and language due to their own inferiority complexes.

I know urdu speaking families that prefer to only speak with their own kids in English, and try to monkey the goras. I someone who used to refer to urdu speakers as "cheap urdu medium".

I think this sad inferiority complex is more common in Punjabis and Urdu speaking families. Sindhi, Baloch and Pathans by far are much more respectful of their culture, language and traditions.

N Sidd Jul 15, 2015 04:18pm

What script does he use to write Punjabi poetry? I have never seen any thing written in Punjabi. Plz pardon my ignorance.

Saeed Masood Jul 15, 2015 04:21pm

Now what will we the 18 million Pakistanis do after reading this great man's story..at least buy a million copies of his books.

sheraz Jul 15, 2015 05:07pm

The poets sets the vision of a society. They fill in the gaps in history by giving voice to the citizenary. It is indeed very sad to note that the social value of poetry has diluted in recent decades and the role of poet, at its best, is more of an entertainer. A society without poetic appreciation offers a larger space for greed and grab. Munawar and his clan are necessary to save our souls.

Shiraz Jul 15, 2015 05:13pm

I remember reading a story about a revenue official in Pakistan, I think a collector customs or FBR, who also used to work as a carpenter during weekends and write poetry too ! His hidden talents were not known until he was discovered by a journalist in Pakistan.

With a pen name of "Thoka", implies carpenter in Punjabi, his humble reply to this journalist, for the question related to why he works as a carpenter even when he is a grade 18 or 19 officer, was " One should never forget his reality and roots and that's why I work as a carpenter during weekends."

His poetic talents were discovered while he was working at a house and asked for a poetry book he saw and requested to borrow it for a week. The weekend following, this journalist, who happened to be a relative of owner of the book, got curious about a carpenter interested in reading poetry too. The rest was history.

I read the story many years ago. Unfortunately, I don't have the link to it else I could have shared it.

Imtiaz Ali Jul 15, 2015 05:16pm

It was very intresting story to encourage someone in study.

Robinson Jul 15, 2015 05:16pm

God Bless you, my brother !!!!

FREEDOM Jul 15, 2015 05:27pm

salute to Munawar Shakeel, from Toronto

daada Jul 15, 2015 05:39pm

Wow...great job on this! Sad but brilliant! Bravo for shedding light on an awe inspiring story Rizwan Safdar

Nasiroski Jul 15, 2015 05:45pm

Now that's something wonderful!!! Hats off to you

SMS Jul 15, 2015 06:01pm

You shoudl have added a few more couplets .. one doesn't do justice.

abroo Jul 15, 2015 06:15pm

People like Munawar are extremely valuable to the society. Their voices must be heard and their art cultivated. It would be wonderful, if some kind of grant money is made available to him, for a limited period of time, so he could educate himself and also concentrate on his writing. This way, he could improve his earning potential as well as explore more diverse topics for his poetry.

M Jul 15, 2015 06:25pm

What an inspirational story!!! A real hero....These are stories that I would like to see from all over Pakistan. Well done Rizwan to identify this hero from real life....

faisal Jul 15, 2015 06:31pm

Munawar Shakeel is a man of courage and Razwan Safdar is a real editor. I salute both of you from New York. We desperately need more people like you to make Pakistan a better place. In the west, or in America, every cobbler, barber and laborer has the same chance to move up in life. Unfortunately, in countries like the Islamic Republic of Pakistan or India, people are still stuck in a caste system.

Imran Jul 15, 2015 07:09pm

This is one of the best Dawn articles I have read. I wish Mr. Shakeel wrote in Urdu as well.

Nasser Jul 15, 2015 08:15pm

Great guy; makes most of us look small. I do agree with him that provincial languages such as Punjabi, should be promoted (I am a Urdu speaker) and that comes with its use in education and in official matters too. Only backward countries use foreign languages as medium of communication, as one can express oneself best and most clearly only in his/her own language. In Pakistan, we struggle to express ourselves clearly.

Akashwani Jul 15, 2015 08:15pm

Nice work ,keep it up..

Syed Jul 15, 2015 08:40pm

This is the real pakistan.

raju Jul 15, 2015 09:23pm

inspiration at its peak.

S. I. Rafiq Jul 15, 2015 09:32pm

Diamond in the rough!

Rev. Eldrick Lal Jul 15, 2015 09:54pm

This man is much better than our politicians who acquired fake degrees through dishonest gains. Mr. Shakeel is a man of mettle, true educationist and writer.

Indian Patriot Jul 15, 2015 10:09pm

Reminds me of the antecedents of great poet, philosopher, sufi saint - Kabir. How much I wish I could read Urdu to read these poems.

Talha Ahmed Jul 15, 2015 10:42pm

Please let me know where can I buy his books in Karachi. I want to compose some of his works into a song.

Ramna iftikhar Jul 15, 2015 11:15pm

He is an inspiration.

Asif Jeelani Jul 15, 2015 11:37pm

It's very sad to see that a competent & deserved man didn't get what he & his family deserves in this country... I couldn't understand why he didn't get decent life for him and his family. It's shame that in today's society if you don't speak up about your talent no one would do on your behalf....

Naim Jul 16, 2015 02:31am

Rizwan well done

We are in denial and he is an excluded class

Musaddiq Jul 16, 2015 08:58am

Lovely story!!!!

Rana Qasim Jul 16, 2015 09:14am

No doubt the above mentioned Punjabi verse is very good but in my opinion the word 'boya' should be replaced by 'laya' by the poet. As far as I know the word 'boya' (means planted) is not used in any dialect of Punjabi. In Punjabi: "boota laya janda aay boya nai janda".

Ashfaq Khan Jul 16, 2015 09:25am

If you want to appreciate his work, buy his books.

Qaiser Jul 16, 2015 09:35am

Inspiring! you prove that colleges, university are not necessary to be a vise man, its come with the thinking and self exploring. i salute you.

Tanwir Jul 16, 2015 09:51am

Hidden talent. Instead of hollow praises, we should acknowledge the talent by buying his books.

choudry javed Jul 16, 2015 09:59am

Great man .Mr Rizwan find someone to help this guy.

B.Ally Jul 16, 2015 10:17am

Literature passes all boundries,physical as well as social. Munawer symbolizes free spirit of thought and dignified humanity.

Saujatri Jul 16, 2015 11:01am

Salutes to the wisdom ... a great personality indeed. Thanks to Dawn for introducing such a towering personality.

HaHaHa Jul 16, 2015 11:04am

He must have at least a good job that gives him decent earning.

riz kh Jul 16, 2015 11:40am

Munnawar shakeel u deserve to be prime minister of pakistan bcs we will be able to claim then that we have a pm who can read and write

sijaz Jul 16, 2015 11:47am

@N Sidd Punjabi can be written in Gormukhi (mostly in India) or Shahmukhi (mostly in Pakistan), So if you know how to write Urdu you can surely write Punjabi. The entire Saiful Mulook by Mian Mohammad Bakhsh for example is available in Shahmukhi (Urdu script) at apnaorg.com

A Peshawary Jul 16, 2015 11:48am

@HaHaHa He is already having a most noble job on the face of earth; He is "voice of the people who cannot speak". He does not need good job of the sense of the commoners (Babus, Dukandars, Jagirdars or Landlords etc) rather he is performing marvelous job. He is extra ordinary, out of box, above the bar; in your language.

Mr. Munawar; We solute and profoundly respect you for the job u are dong.

A Peshawary

shanii498@ushoo.com Jul 16, 2015 12:11pm

hats off 2 shakeel, a treasure of nation..

Waqar Jul 16, 2015 09:27pm

@N Sidd Nastaliq (same as urdu/persian)

Rabia Ribz Jul 17, 2015 12:59am

Really inspiring and motivating. Hatts off to the courage and Talent of this great man. This man should be given the respect and recognition which he deserves. Shame on GOVERNMENT.

Farrukh Jul 17, 2015 01:40pm

Really. ..Hats Off to the gentleman for writing and raising voice for his own kind of people. I am inspired by the story and i can safely say that the gentleman who undergoes pain and suffering can write far more better ...close to reality and can portray the life facts into words in real sense. ..God Bless You....

Kuldip Kumar Jul 18, 2015 09:01am

This is called Merit.

shashi chopra Jul 18, 2015 10:25am

very inspiring

IFTIKHAR KHAN Jul 18, 2015 10:23pm

Wow! how could I miss such an amazing story for so many days. I actually read it at another website, www.apnaorg.com

Another person, another Mirza , from Sandal-bar (an area on both sides to river Ravi, Faisalabad, Okara)... this one not a lover of Sahiban but of his mother tongue

Thank you Munawwar Shakeel, you make me proud

Anirbit Jul 21, 2015 03:17am

As an Indian what pains me most is that Munawar is not the official voice that represents Pakistan. I wish that were true.