Pashtu poetry brings people together in Eastern Afghanistan

Sweet life that passes by slowly slowly
Like water it flows slowly slowly
Friends are the flowers of spring
They follow the path of autumn slowly slowly 

                                      -Khushal Khan Khattak

Afghanistan has a long tradition of poetry which is known worldwide. It has given birth to Rumi and many other Sufi poets who promoted a culture of tolerance and transcendental humanism during their lifetime. They have left their legacy in precious books of poetry. But all these are in Farsi/Dari which have influenced Pashtu poetry centuries later.

The most famous Pashtu poet of this tradition is Khushal Khan Khatak (1613-1689) who is regarded as the founder of written literature of Pashtu. Khushal Khan himself was the chief of his tribe and was actively involved in political activities to lead his people to a better life, guarantee them more political independence and put an end to feuds between tribes to achieve his goal. His political struggles and his poems, sometimes very epic, made him an influential figure amongst Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 1

This spirit still exists among Pashtu speaking people although it is weakened due to the influx of Islamic extremism in recent decades. Still poetry brings people together and allows them to express their feelings.

As other artistic expressions or activities can cause trouble, such as theatre and music, poetry remains the most trouble-free, modest and accepted way of artistic expression. Having this understanding, young poets in Eastern Afghanistan use poetry both as a way to express their thoughts and a as a tool to bring people together for enlightened social and cultural gatherings.

2Many poetry sessions and events are organized in Eastern Afghanistan, especially, in Jalalabad, which serves as an economic and cultural capital of the region. The Orange Blossom Festival is the largest and most renowned annual festival that brings many Pashtu poets and artists together. The event takes place every year in the time of the orange blossoming in Jalalabad, Nangarhar. This festival was first convened fifty years ago and is since then every year a messenger of hope and of a new start in the springtime.

This is also an opportunity to acknowledge Pashtu literature and its known poets. As the official, Awrang Samim, said, “Such a festival can produce great messages for the interest of people, peace and stability. The poems and lines can be the hidden realities of our society that comes out from the heart of poets.”

                                                                       *

So many are the wishes in my heart
How I pray your liquid eyes to fulfill them all
Each drop of my tears is a piece of my heart
filled with countless regrets
Ask not my mouth, ask rather my eyes, red with tears
Filled with a rainbow of prayerful longings
Waiting for a single smiling glance from a certain person
I have books full of wishes
As provisions for this world and the next, O Khattak,
I have burnt spots on my injured heart

-Ajmal Khattak (1925 – 2010)

Pashtu poets well aware of the fact, raise questions, express their fears, concerns, hopes and eloquently criticize the authorities.  This is what they cannot express in other events.

Unlike many other events, this festival gives equal opportunity for women. Furthermore, local games by the Sikh community of the province were a further fascinating happening of the event that showed the colorfulness of the local culture. As an Elder said at the end of the event, “may the odor of peace like the odor of the orange blossoms prevail our country and may the life of our people be always like the fresh and happy times of spring.”

                                                    *

Spring came again bearing the message
Of flowers, colors and light
My Saqi smiled and brought a full cup
Of intoxication, youth and laughter
Morning came, dispelling a night
Of darkness, fear and regret
I saw a yellow flower in the dusk
It brought regards from my beloved
this mind of mine will never accept
That the creator of flowers also created hell
How will He enjoy my screams
The One who created narcissus just for me

                                      -Ghani (1914 – 1995)3

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