The book festival held in Gwadar recently raised a number of previously unasked questions about the history of Balochi poetry. Based on what one reads in newspapers about the crackdown on what gets published from the south-west of the province and its impact, it seems the only poetry written in Balochistan is about resistance.
The province is always seen in the backdrop of national security, as rightly pointed out by writer Mohammad Hanif during one session, making people think that it is bereft of culture and literature. The term ‘poetry of resistance’ is often associated with the poetry penned by Baloch writers. But what exactly is poetry of resistance coming out of Balochistan?
According to Dr Shah Mohammad Marri, a writer, it is a wrong perception. Sitting in the centre of the stage as musicians were busy setting up at the back, he recounted how love and war have always gone side by side in Balochi literature. “It is not just about resistance. I’m not arguing that there’s been no resistance. Since the province has seen so much bloodshed, it has been the driving point. But most of the poetry is related to love, human entanglements and nature, which is often sidelined,” he begins.
Before the start of the 14th century, poetry began with an oral rendition of events, sung by a group of people called Pahlawan. “Poetry was not done for its own sake. It was based on resolving the questions troubling a writer. These questions were related to nature, drought, tribal conflicts, nightmares or watching a spiritual being, and of course love.
“Writers wrote about these issues because they were directly involved and not just sitting on the sidelines and observing. They were the ones who fought with their sword and pen,” says Dr Marri.
Most of the poetry was about love resulting in war or war resulting in love. Romance has been the driving force of our poetry, says Dr Marri. One of its biggest examples is the writing of poet Mast Tawwakali. As the first era of poetry, in the 14th and 15th century, revolved around bravery and heroism of personalities like Mir Hammal Jihand, who fought the Portuguese and protected Gwadar from invasion, Balaach Gorgech and Qambar.
“There was another poet who introduced Sufism to Balochi poetry. Mast Tawwakali fell in love with a married woman named Sammo,” says A. R. Daad, professor of Balochi at the University of Balochistan. “Despite societal pressures and the realisation that what he was doing is considered ‘wrong’, he pursued her. That struggle led to memorable prose that combined love with Sufism,” added Daad.
Speaking in a similar reverential tone about Tawwakali, Dr Marri says that his poetry would leave the most rational of people “spiritually scarred, as he makes you human”.
Even with stalwarts such as Mir Gul Khan Naseer, says Dr Marri, known for his revolutionary poetry and style of prose, “some of his monumental works are about love and romance.”
From 1830 onwards, which Daad refers to as the ‘Mullahi Daur’, the style of poetry changed. “This is described as folk poetry. There are usually 400-500 lines. It begins by praising God, although most Baloch have little to do with religion, then praise is showered on nature, followed by a eulogy of Hazrat Imam Hussain (which is interesting because most people, without knowing who Imam Hussain is, sacrifice a goat on his death anniversary every year) and then the gist of the poetry — what he wants to speak about,” explains Dr Marri.
By that time, poets had started using Arabic and Persian words, giving an impression that the writer knew more than one language and adding to his sales.
At present, Mubarak Qazi, Abdul Majeed Gwadari, Allah Buksh Buzdar are widely read as they focus on “alienation and weariness”.
The thought of alienation reminded A. R. Daad of women writers. “We, like all others in the country, recently got acquainted with the term ‘feminism’. It is a pity that we have had most of these women writers speak about individuality and express themselves freely through their poetry and writings. Banul Dashtiyari, Gohar Malik, Rukhshanda Taj, Andaleeb Gichki, and historic figures such as Mahnaz and Hani, have all been amidst us,” he added.
What stands out in poetry and other writings is that the connection with folklore is still strong. Dr Marri adds: “You’ll find many writers at this event who, while speaking about the literature of 21st century, quote heavily from the folk. All over the world, three-fourths of the literature is modern while the remaining is folk. But here the opposite is true. It seems the folk era will remain with us for a long time to come.”
Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2017