Rudyard Kipling grew up in Lahore. His father founded a college of arts there. “Zamzama”, the great brass canon in Lahore, was immortalized in Kipling's “Kim”.

Pakistan has been called a land of poetry. It has been said that nearly every Pakistani has written some poetry. Faiz Ahmad Faiz is considered to be Pakistan's greatest poet. There is a national holiday celebrating his birth. [Source: Countries and Their Cultures, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

There are long-standing literary traditions in Urdu, the national language, as well as in the regional languages such as Sindhi, Punjabi, and Pushto. The vast majority of popular academic and standard literary works are published in Urdu, Technical subjects and more academic writings are usually in English. [Source: “Cities of the World”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times: “Pakistan may be home to Islamic terrorists. It boasts a nuclear arsenal and an omnipotent military. But it is also a place where lyrical expression still holds great power to inform, inspire and even mobilize the masses, as it has in recent months, to the government's dismay. That power derives from the fact that poetry is woven into the fabric of everyday life here in a way seldom found in the West. Drivers of three-wheeled taxis paint their own witty ditties on the backs of their vehicles. Families of newlyweds commission special odes to the bride and groom. Ordinary Pakistanis drop original or well-known couplets into general conversation. [Source: Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2008]

Sindh Literature and Languages

In Sindh — more so than other provinces — a wide variety of different languages are spoken. Sindhi is the major spoken language in Sindh. Key dialects are Kachchi, Lari, Lasi, Thareli, Vicholo (Central Sindhi), Macharia, Dukslinu (Hindu Sindhi) and Sindhi Musalmani (Muslim Sindhi). [Source: Ministry of Culture, Pakistan ]

Nearly 14 million Muslim refugees (Muhajirs) settled in Sindh after the independence of Pakistan, populating mostly urban centers of the province. They spoke Urdu, Gujarati, Bengali as well as other languages that reflect their different regions of origin. Urdu is the second major language spoken in urban areas of Sindh.

Dhatki, also known as Dhati or Thari, is a Marwari dialect of Rajasthani language. Bagri language, a dialect of Rajasthani language is also spoken in Sindh. Goaria is a Marwari Rajasthani language spoken by some 25,000 people in Sindh Province of Pakistan. This language is used by Hindus prominently.

Memons speak an unwritten language called Memoni, a mixture of Sindhi and Kutchi. Kutchi language, a dialect of Indo-Aryan is spoken in Bhanushalis (Bhunsari in Kutchi), Nizari Ismaili Muslims (satpanth), and various other Muslim communities in the region, including other Muslim Khojas and the Kutchi Memon community.

Parkari Koli (sometimes called just Parkari) is a language mainly spoken in the province of Sindh. Saraiki is also spoken in Sindh. It is an Indo-European language, related to Kutchi, Gujarati and other Indo-European languages. Aer is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by approximately 200 people in Sindh, Pakistan.

Sindhi language known for its rich literature was very popular literary language between 14th and 18th centuries. The Sindhi language first appeared in writing in the 8th century AD. It is established that Sindhi was the first and the earliest language of East in which the Quran was translated in the eighth or 9th century A.D.

Its writers have contributed extensively in various forms of literature both in poetry and prose. The rich literature of Sindh comprises of books on religion, philosophy, medicine, sociology, logic, literature, history, politics and culture. Pir Sadruddin (1290-1409 A.D.), was a great poet, saint and Sufi of his time. He composed his verses (ginans) in Lari and Katchi dialects of Sindhi.

Shah Abdul Latif of Bhit (1690?1753) is the greatest thinker, Sufi, musician and poet of all time, produced by Sindh. He wrote Sassi Punnun, Umar Marvi in his famous book Shah Jo Risalo. Sachal Sarmast, Saami and Khalifo Nabi Bux Laghari are celebrated poets of the Talpur period in Sindh (1783-1843 A.D.). Shah lutufullah Qadri, Shah Inayat, Mir Masoom Shah, Makhdoom Nooh of Hala and many others are the renowned literary personalities, who enriched the language with mystic, romantic and epic poetry. Sindhi is taught in schools in the province of Sindh.

Heer and Ranjha

Perhaps the most famous story in the Punjab is the tale of the two lovers Heer and Ranjha, A sort of Punjabi version of Romeo and Juliet, it is a long story with many twists and turns about the love between a handsome, flute-playing, part-time yogi named Ranjha and a beautiful girl named Heer, who comes from a wealthy family.

Heer and Ranija meet after Ranjha was thrown out his house for quarreling with his brothers. They quickly fall in love. Heer prods here father into hiring Ranjha to work as a shepherd for her family. The couple meet secretly in the forest everyday until they are discovered together by Heer’s evil uncle and Ranjha is fired and Heer is forced to marry someone she doesn’t want to marry.

At the end of the story Heer and Ranjha are reunited and given permission to marry. As they are making plans for the wedding Heer is given a poisoned drink and dies. Ranjha is so distraught he lowers himself into her grave and falls dead from despair after he learns what has happened.

Everyone knows the story and everyone knows the ending. The art of the story is in the telling and the poetry. The trials and tribulations of the lovers is also viewed a s a metaphor the relationship between man and God. The most famous telling of the story is in a poem written by Syed Waris Shah in 1776. It is still a matter of debate as to whether Heer and Ranjha were real people or fictional characters. The fascination with the story is interesting because arranged marriages are still the norm and a union like Heer and Ranjha’s would be just as scandalous now as it was then.

Their shrine in Jhang is a popular pilgrimage site. It is said Heer and Ranjha are buried here. Among the hundreds of visitors are women that want to conceive a baby, newlyweds and lovestruck teenagers and lonely singles searching for a mate. One woman who came with her fiancee told AP, “I came to the shrine a year ago to ask the saints to help me find my true love. Now I have him, so we came back to say thank you.” A man visiting the shrine said he was there to say thank for a son after five daughters. The shrine was built in the 16th century and features a facade covered by green, blue and white tiles. It was built to look like a charpoy, a traditional South Asian bed, . Pilgrims eat a pinch of salt from a bowl before they pray before the tomb. The salt is said to bring good luck. Women bring flowers and clothes, Young grooms lay down their wedding clothes.

Poetry in Pakistan

Pakistan has been called a land of poetry. It has been said that nearly every Pakistani has written some poetry. Faiz Ahmad Faiz is considered to be Pakistan's greatest poet. There is a national holiday celebrating his birth. [Source: Countries and Their Cultures, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Poetry is very popular and greatly valued. Even remote villages have their own poets. Public recitation of poetry is a popular form of entertainment. Faiz Ahmed Faiz.and Fehmida Riaz are considered Pakistan’s great revolutionary poets. Muhammad Iqbal, the man that came up with the idea of creating a separate Muslim state that eventually became Pakistan, was a poet and thinker

Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times: “Pakistan may be home to Islamic terrorists. It boasts a nuclear arsenal and an omnipotent military. But it is also a place where lyrical expression still holds great power to inform, inspire and even mobilize the masses, as it has in recent months, to the government's dismay. That power derives from the fact that poetry is woven into the fabric of everyday life here in a way seldom found in the West. Drivers of three-wheeled taxis paint their own witty ditties on the backs of their vehicles. Families of newlyweds commission special odes to the bride and groom. Ordinary Pakistanis drop original or well-known couplets into general conversation. [Source: Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2008]

“On her return from exile last year, slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto visited Lahore, Pakistan's cultural hub, where one of her first acts was to pay respects at the tomb of the revered poet Mohammed Iqbal. His birthday is a national holiday. (Imagine a U.S. holiday for Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson.) "Our people are very fond of poetry. If you talk on any subject for one hour, if you start your speech with verses, then the people appreciate it and start stepping in," said Ahmed Faraz, one of the best-known poets in Pakistan today. "It's very powerful."

“Poetry's ability to stir the soul has roots that stretch back centuries in South Asia, to the great Sufi mystics who rhapsodically described encounters with the divine. Their poems also gave voice to the feelings, thoughts and concerns of common folk, who, being largely illiterate, often used spoken and sung verse to share ideas and stories. Until more recent times, public gatherings known as mushairas, at which poets would read out their work, could attract thousands of spectators and make or break an aspiring writer.”

The Sindh is famous for poets, particularly Shah Abdul Latif (See Below). Sachal Sarmast, Saami and Khalifo Nabi Bux Laghari are celebrated poets of the Talpur period in Sindh Sachal Sarmast (1739-1829) is honored as an eminent Sufi and is the focal point of a major Sufi festival in Sindh. He celebrates humanity through his poetry. Shah lutufullah Qadri, Shah Inayat, Mir Masoom Shah, Makhdoom Nooh of Hala and many others are the renowned literary personalities are associated with the Sindh. They enriched the Sindhi language with mystic, romantic and epic poetry.

Shah Abdul Latif: Sufi Saint and Poet

Shah Abdul Latif (1690-1753) is arguably Pakistan’s most revered poet and Sufi saint. There is a shrine and festival that honors him and his mystical poetry. Shah Abdul Latif is particularly associated with Sindh, the home of his shrine and festival. His poetry celebrates peace, love and beauty. His work, Shah Jo Risalo, is known and recited throughout Sindh.

Shah Abdul Latif of Bhit was also a great thinker and Aufi musician. He wrote Sassi Punnun, Umar Marvi in his famous book Shah Jo Risalo.Syed I R Kazimi wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “He was a philosopher, a poet, a musicologist and a preacher. He presented his teachings through poetry and music — both instruments sublime — and commands a very large following, not only among Muslims but also among Hindus and Christians all over Asia and beyond.

“In the words of Abdul Hamid Akhund, the Shah is synonymous with Sindh. He is the very fountainhead of Sindh's culture; his message remains as fresh as that of any present day poet and the people of Sindh find solace from his writings. He did indeed pray for Sindh; one of his prayers, in exquisite Sindhi, translates thus:
Oh God, may ever You on Sindh
bestow abundance rare;
Beloved! All the world let Thy grace, and fruitful be.
[Source: Syed I R Kazimi, Daily Yomiuri, August 4, 2009]

“He fascinated and captivated his generation, thus spreading the real Islam far and wide, along the Indus, from Sindh in its south to Punjab and beyond in its north. The large following which the Shah’s teachings command, can be gauged from the fact that The Risalo has been translated into several languages including English, Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, Arabic and Bengali.”

“Present day thinkers recognize the Shah’s message as that of Pluralism and Universalism and many scholars have researched — and continue to research — one or the other aspect of his poetry and music. One of his translators, H.T. Sorley, has said that "no one can read his poetry without being conscious at once that here is something really great; here is beauty expressed with utter frankness of sincerity, without conceits, elaborations or pomposity, which are the common faults of all Oriental poets from the time of the great Persians. In Shah are set forth, in sheer simplicity, the feelings of reverence, adoration and humility; feelings that are the base of all religions and are essential to the highest qualities of poetry. There is no intellectualism. There could not be; he not being formally educated by any standard, yet these wonderful poems were poured forth without effort and were collected and compiled by his followers".

“Elsewhere Sorley says what is noteworthy for present day image makers of Pakistan: “in my opinion, Shah Abdul Latif is the greatest poet which the country, that is now called Pakistan, has produced. That he is not the national poet of Pakistan is due to historical and political reasons which are quite divorced from considerations of literary excellence".

Shah Abdul Latif’s Life

Syed I R Kazimi wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “Shah Abdul Latif was born in a Syed family in 1690 AD. His childhood was spent in Soi-Qandar, a few miles east of Bhit. His adolescence was spent in the village Kotri Moghul where, historians say, his ascetic nature firmed up. In his prime, he was of average height, well-built and wore a rounded beard on a wheatish face which shone with intelligence and his divine nobility showed on his forehead. He had sharp eyes and was seen always with a solemn face reflecting a penetrating mind engrossed in deep thoughts. He rarely used sandals, preferring always to walk barefoot. He slept on wooden beds with old patched quilts. He wore long yogic white shirts, stitched with black thread and a Kulah rounded with a black cloth. He was austere in his living habits and slept little. [Source: Syed I R Kazimi, Daily Yomiuri, August 4, 2009]

“The Shah's teachings, dressed in poetry and music, constitutes the real soul of Pakistan. The all-pervading theme of his poetry is Divine Love. That, of course, is common with all Sufi Saints, but what singles out and perpetuates the Master's work is the allegorical presentations of his teachings. He wrote in that Sindhi which was then the language of commoners at a time when Persian was the language of officials and elites. His diction appealed to all — the literate and the illiterate, the rich and the poor. The commoners understood him readily, for he also employed, as characters in his poetry, the peasants, weavers, fishermen, sailors, ironsmiths etcetera — all the professions prevalent then in this land.

“His music and his poetry go hand in hand, each adding to the value of the other, thus driving home his teachings. Music was his constant companion and he was basking in it when he was breathing his last on the 14th day of Safar, the second month of the Muslim calendar in 1754 AD at the age of 63.

“Describing his last moments, K.B.Advani said the Shah was proceeding on a pilgrimage to Karbala but when one of his devotees reminded him of his stated desire to be buried at Bhit, he gave up the journey and returned to his abode. Here he put on black clothes and sang from his Sur Kedaro for twenty days in his solitude. Emerging thereafter, he took a bath and, covering himself with a white sheet of cloth, called upon the assembled faquirs to sing. This they did devotedly for three consecutive days until they found the Great Master had crossed the bridge. His tomb, of a remarkably graceful architecture, ordered by Mian Ghulam Shah Kalhoro, was the work of Eidan, the then most eminent artisan. Here, some of the Shah’s relics — his turban, his long walking stick, the beggar bowl from which he used to eat and drink — are preserved for ardent devotees to venerate –.

Shah Abdul Latif’s Poetry

Syed I R Kazimi wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “The Shah's poetry is his tool for preaching the real Islam — the religion of man’s peace — peace within and without. That is the Sufi thought — divine love. Love, driven by a surge in man’s longing for return to his Creator, by building character qualifications to earn His bounties in the hereafter. The modern West is familiar with Sindh's Sufi culture and history, largely from the enormous studies written by the late Prof. Dr. Annemarie Schimmel. [Source: Syed I R Kazimi, Daily Yomiuri, August 4, 2009]

“In his baits and waii's, the Shah shows that man's being, as we see it, is not the reality; reality is elsewhere; our existence is an echo of another reality; life is the push and the pull between that reality and its reflection, and both can merge only through divine love; death is a bridge for mortal lovers to cross to meet their Lover Supreme; love brings forth the means to man’s salvation; it inspires, it heals, it creates, says the Master.

“The Risalo contains the complete works of The Master. It is divided into 36 chapters called sur [which, in classical music of the subcontinent, means the mode of singing]. Five of these chapters are not his poetry. For each of his baits and waiis. he specified the raags in which they have to be sung.

“Drawing from the different folklores and ballads popular in his times, the Shah used those stories and the teachings of Islam as warps and whefts, weaving them into exquisite fabrics of thoughts. He delivered the fabric in his own music, which attracted and engrossed all those who converged around him.

“All his life he fought like a ghazi, as against being a martyr, urging his followers to work
against hatred with love
against self importance with benevolence
against lust with grace
against parochialism with pluralism
against violence with peace
against fanaticism with Quranic commands: ‘Laa ikraaha-fid-deen’ and
‘Lakum deen-a-kum waliedeen’.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984) is considered to have been Pakistan's greatest poet. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature and is honored in Pakistan with a national holiday celebrating his birth. He wrote in Urdu and Punjabi and was one of the most celebrated writers of the Urdu language in Pakistan. He distinguished himself as a teacher, an army officer, a journalist, a trade unionist and a broadcaster as well as a poet. [Source: Wikipedia;]

Faiz was born in Sialkot in what is now Pakistan in Punjab when it was part of British India. His father rose from being a poor shepherd to become a skilled barrister. He studied at at Islamic and Christian schools as a youth and went to the Government College and Oriental College and served in the British Indian Army. After Pakistan's independence, Faiz became the editor to The Pakistan Times and was a leading member of the Communist Party before being arrested in 1951 for allegedly being part of leftist conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Faiz was released after four years in prison and went on to become a leading member of the Progressive Writers' Movement and served in to the Bhutto administration, before -exiling himself to Beirut. An avowed Marxist, he was award the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union in 1962. His work remains influential and widely read in Pakistan.

Henry Chu wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Faiz’s "Speak. . . ," “is so iconic that human rights activists here put that single word on stickers, in exhortation, and almost everyone understands the allusion. His daughter For Salima Hashmi, an eminent painter and dean of visual arts at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, said “it is only natural that her fellow Pakistanis should seek consolation and courage in the lyrical, when ordinary words are not enough. "I think in times of crisis, the true subject comes out, the true subject being what the Sufis call the ability to stand up and have your head sliced off, because through that you will live forever," she said. "Poetry is used very much to give courage, to get you to stand up above yourself." [Source: Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2008]

“Speak” opens and closes like this:
Speak — your lips are free.
Speak — your tongue is still yours. . . .
Speak — there is little time
But little though it is
It is enough.
Time enough
Before the body perishes —
Before the tongue atrophies.
Speak — truth still lives.
Say what you have
To say.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz Poems

Quatrain (Original Urdu)
Raat yunh dil mein teri khoee hui yaad aayee
Jaise veeraaney mein chupkey sey bahaar aa jaye
Jaisey sehra on mein howley se chaley baadey naseem
Jaisey beemaar ko bey wajhey Qaraar aa jaaye

Quatrain (English Translation)
Last night, your lost memories crept into my heart
as spring arrives secretly into a barren garden
as a cool morning breeze blows slowly in a desert
as a sick person feels well, for no reason.
For an alternate English translation please look here. [Source:,]

I am being accused of loving you, that is all
It is not an insult, but a praise, that is all
My heart is pleased at the words of the accusers
O my dearest dear, they say your name, that is all
For what I am ridiculed, it is not a crime
My heart's useless playtime, a failed love, that is all
I haven't lost hope, but just a fight, that is all
The night of suffering lengthens, but just a night, that is all
In the hand of time is not the rolling of my fate
In the hand of time roll just the days, that is all
A day will come for sure when I will see the truth
My beautiful beloved is behind a veil, that is all
The night is young, Faiz start saying a Ghazal
A storm of emotions is raging inside, that is all

When Autumn Came
This is the way that autumn came to the trees:
it stripped them down to the skin,
left their ebony bodies naked.
It shook out their hearts, the yellow leaves,
scattered them over the ground.
Anyone could trample them out of shape
undisturbed by a single moan of protest.
The birds that herald dreams
were exiled from their song,
each voice torn out of its throat.
They dropped into the dust
even before the hunter strung his bow.
Oh, God of May have mercy.
Bless these withered bodies
with the passion of your resurrection;
make their dead veins flow with blood again.
Give some tree the gift of green again.
Let one bird sing. (translated by Naomi Lazard)

Someone is at the door again, my weeping heart, no, no one
Perhaps a passerby, who will go somewhere else

The night has passed, waiting, the star-dust is settling
Sleepy candle-flames are flickering in distant palaces
Every pathway has passed into sleep, tired of waiting
Alien dust has smudged all traces of footsteps
Blow out the candles, let the wine and cup flow
Close and lock your sleepless doors
No one, no one will come here now. (Translated by Hamid Rahim Sheikh)

Muhammad Iqbal.

The poet-philosopher Sir Muhammed Iqbal (1873-1938) is credited with being the first to call for the creation of a Muslim state in South Asia, In 1930. Iqbal, an Islamic revivalist, discussed contemporary problems in his presidential address to the Muslim League conference at Allahabad in 1930. He saw India as Asia in miniature, in which a unitary form of government was inconceivable and community rather than territory was the basis for identification. To Iqbal, communalism in its highest sense was the key to the formation of a harmonious whole in India. Therefore, he demanded the creation of a confederated India that would include a Muslim state consisting of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier Province), Sindh, and Balochistan. In subsequent speeches and writings, Iqbal reiterated the claims of Muslims to be considered a nation "based on unity of language, race, history, religion, and identity of economic interests." [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]

Muhammed Iqbal attended Trinity College, Cambridge. He first proposed the idea of a Muslim state in the subcontinent in his address to the Muslim League at Allahabad in 1930. His proposal referred to the four provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and the NorthWest Frontier — essentially what would became the post-1971 boundary of Pakistan. Iqbal's idea gave concrete form to the "Two Nations Theory" of two distinct nations in the subcontinent based on religion (Islam and Hinduism) and with different historical backgrounds, social customs, cultures, and social mores.*

According to “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,”Muhammad Iqbal, one of Pakistan's noted authors, is also considered the spiritual founder of Pakistan. An important intellectual, Iqbal was a champion of freedom and author of many books of poetry in Persian and Urdu, as well as treatises on Sunni Islam. His famous works include The Secrets of the Self (1915), a long spiritual philosophical poem, and Javid-nama (1934), a poem written in response to Dante's Divine Comedy. [Source:“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices,” Thomson Gale, 2006]

Poetry and Politics in Pakistan

Poetry is not only a part of everyday life in Pakistan it can also serve as a call to action in politics and protests. Reporting from Lahore, Henry Chu wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Cut off from the world, even in parts of his own home, Aitzaz Ahsan did what many of his compatriots do in times of personal and political crisis: He wrote a poem. Months of house arrest had left the celebrated lawyer enraged over his isolation and the autocratic, military-backed regime that ordered it. His hopes of a just and tolerant nation appeared to lie in ruins, and his disillusionment bled onto the page.
We walked together singing the song of freedom
A new dawn of freedom was about to break
One push was required to demolish the old edifice
But in fact we were straying apart and losing our dreams
[Source: Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2008]

“The poem was a private "cry against the system," Ahsan said, one man's lament on "the loneliness of being a dreamer in a world full of pragmatists and time-watchers and opportunists." But his words soon reached the ears of millions of Pakistanis. When restrictions on Ahsan's freedom were finally eased last month, television crews besieged him in his study and, one after another, beseeched him to recite his verse for their eager viewers. It was yet another demonstration of how seriously this land takes its poetry. Too powerful, in the eyes of some officials.” Ahmed Faraz, one of the best-known poets in Pakistan, knows this all too well. “In the '80s, he angered dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq with his poem "The Siege," which excoriated the army. For such heresies against the military establishment, Faraz was arrested and thrown in jail.”

“That poetic instinct prompted student Babar Mirza to reach for his pen almost immediately after Musharraf declared emergency rule November 3, 2008. The imposition of de facto martial law triggered a domestic and international outcry. An undergraduate in law, Mirza decided to set aside the sentimental verse he was used to composing, about "love and breakups and stuff," in favor of a six-stanza call to arms to his fellow students at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.
Enough of criticizing history!
Enough of worshiping lies!
For when the truth runs in your veins
It's binding to change your destiny

He recited his poem at a campus rally against Musharraf's emergency decree. It also got posted on one of the many blogs that sprang up to keep people informed amid a ban on private television news channels. "Generally I don't write political poetry," said Mirza, 19. "But I thought that this is the time. The beauty of poetry, in my view, the way it helps political movements, is that it distills ideas. It gives you one line where so many things make sense to you. You address not only external issues but also the inner conscience of your audience."

Poetry and Protests in Pakistan

Henry Chu wrote in the Los Angeles Times: In the late 2000s “poetry has, in many ways, emerged again as the galvanizing language” during political protest against President Pervez Musharraf. At every demonstration, their rallying cry draws on a famous Urdu verse by legendary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz:
We shall see
Certainly we, too, shall see
That day which was promised,
Which was written in God's ink
We shall see

Faiz “was a left-wing intellectual whom the government imprisoned in the 1950s for his alleged involvement in a coup attempt. The state does not accord any official recognition to his work, but because of his stature in Pakistani letters, most people are familiar with it anyway, which can lead to surprising results. "A lot of people told me that Faiz has come alive after the emergency yet again. They tell me, 'We've come back to Faiz when we're at a loss for words,' " said the late poet's daughter, Salima Hashmi. "Sometimes I find a totally right-wing mullah standing up in front of a huge audience and starting with two lines of my father's poetry," Hashmi said. "I have a good laugh, and think he would have had a good laugh also."

“Other exponents of "resistance poetry" include such luminaries as Habib Jalib, who spent time behind bars in the 1960s and '70s for lambasting the government in his lyrics, one of which famously compared a manipulated new constitution to "a morning without light." In the recent protests against Musharraf, Jalib's poetry has also been widely invoked: "Such customs . . . / I do not accept, I refuse to recognize."

Public poetry reading “events have mostly vanished, done in by government crackdowns on public assembly and the onslaught of television and the Internet. Yet, "there is still life in the way that poetry is understood and used by ordinary people," Hashmi said.

Sindh Folklore and Literature

Sindhis are the natives of the Sindh province, which includes Karachi, the lower part of the Indus River, the southeast coast of Pakistan and a lot of desert. D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Sind has a rich and varied folklore. One folk tale addresses the relations between Hindus and Muslims in the region. In the 10th century ad, so the story goes, a Muslim ruler in Sindh began forcibly converting Hindus to Islam. The Hindus panicked and prayed to Darya Shah (Varuna, god of the Indus) to protect them. The answer to their prayers was Uderolal who, riding a horse and with a sword in his hand, struck terror into the hearts of the Muslims. He told people that there was only one god — Allah or Ishwar — and that both Muslims and Hindus should worship that one god. The Muslim ruler was suitably chastened and stopped his forcible conversions to Islam. Uderolal is identified with Zindapir (Sindhu Pir), who disappeared into the river Sindhu along with his horse and sword. Th is water deity is worshiped by both Muslims and Hindus, who depend on the waters of the Indus for their livelihood. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

“Important sites, such as Mohenjo-Daro, Amri, and Kot Diji, have left a record of the achievements of the ancient Harappan civilization in the areas of city-planning and building, economic production, social organization, and religion. It is generally held that there is little direct continuity of cultural tradition between the Harappans and modern-day society. However, some writers trace elements of modern Sindhi folk culture to Harappan times. They argue, for example, that the bullock carts used by farmers along the Indus today, or the pipes played by Sindhi shepherds, differ little from those used by the Harappans, as revealed by the archeological record. *\

“Sindhis have a rich tradition of folk literature and mystical Sufi poetry dating to the 14th century ad or even earlier. The legend of Dodo Chanesar, for example, an early Sindhi folk tale, is thought to date to the time of the Sumras. The most famous Sindhi poet, however, is Shah Abdul Latif, whose work, Shah Jo Risalo, is known and recited throughout Sindh. Sachal Sarmast (ad 1739-1829) is another eminent Sufi in the Sindhi literary tradition. In addition to poetry, Sindhi folk culture embraces music, using instruments, such as the sahnai (a wind instrument), dances, songs, and riddles. *\

Baloch Literature and Folklore

The Baloch, also know the Balochi, Baluch or Baluchi, are an ethnic group that live primarily in the sandy plains, deserts and barren mountains of southeast Iran, southwest Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. Illiteracy rates have traditionally been very high among Baloch. Even so they have a rich literature, traditionally oral, and poets and minstrels have generally been held in high esteem. Baloch literature consists of epic poetry, ballads or war and romance, religious compositions, genealogical recitals and folk tales. The earliest dated poem dates to the 12th century. [Source: Nancy E. Gratton,“Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

The Balochmayar Baloch Way code of honor has traditionally been conveyed in oral literature. A popular epic poem recount the legendary exploits of Mir Chakur, a Baloch warrior and chieftain of the Rind tribe. Nancy E. Gratton wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Much composition is given over to genealogical recitals as well. This poetic creativity traditionally had a practical as well as aesthetic aspect — professional minstrels long held the responsibility of carrying information from one to another of Baloch settlements, and during the time of the Baloch Confederacy these traveling singers provided an important means by which the individual leaders of each tribe within the confederacy could be linked to the central leadership.”

D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”:“Bravery and courage are respected by the Baloch , and many tribal heroes who remained true to Baloch values are revered and honored in folk songs and ballads. Doda, for example, is remembered for defending the principle of bahot, or protection. Legend tells of a wealthy widow, Sammi, who sought protection in the village of Doda Gorgez. One day, Beebagr, a relative of Sammi's deceased husband, carried off some of Sammi's cows. Even though Doda had just been married, he pursued the thieves because he was honor-bound to safeguard the property as well as the life of the widow. Doda was killed in the ensuing battle (a similar tale is found in Rajasthani folklore). In keeping with Baloch tradition, Doda's death was eventually avenged by his brother Balach. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

Brahui Folklore

The Brahui are a Dravidian language group of tribes that live mostly in Balochistan and the Sindh. D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “The Brahui language is rich in oral literature, the various genres including stories and tales, proverbs and riddles and songs. Brahui folk stories are mostly created by nomads, shepherds and farmers for the entertainment of their children and immediate family members. Mothers, for instance, tell their children legends about the mamma, a large apelike creature known for its physical strength and resemblance to humans, and once thought to be quite numerous. Other stories criticize the sardars (hereditary tribal chiefs) and landowners from the point of view of the oppressed classes. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

“In Brahui, as in Baloch, proverbs tend to have background stories. There is, for instance, the saying Balwan na baram ("This is like the marriage of Balwan"), which is often used when plans are too complicated or never come to fruition. The story goes that a simple, but foolish, man Balwan (or Balo Khan) was engaged to be married. His greedy father-in-law-to-be asked Balwan to bring him the required bride-price to marry his daughter. So, Balwan went to his relatives and collected the required amount of money. But when he went back to his father–in-law, the latter asked for more money. Balwan returned to his family to obtain the extra funds, and this situation continued for many rounds, so that Balwan never succeeded in marrying and died single. Hence the proverb. *\

“Another Brahui story tells of Mulla Mansur, an orphan who got a job in the house of a qadi (a Muslim religious leader). The qadi was an insensitive man. Even though Mansur had served him loyally for seven long years, he beat him over a trifling mistake. Mansur left the qadi and took to traveling the world. He met an old shepherd, fell in love with his daughter, and married her. When Mansur and his wife returned to his home, the beauty of his wife caused such a stir that everyone from the qadi to the king desired to possess her. However, Mansur's wife was steadfast in her fidelity to her husband. When the qadi continued to make advances and tried to seduce her, she exposed him publicly. All the people joined in condemning the qadi, and the king banished him from the Brahui lands. This tale presents the Brahui view of the qualities and strength of character desirable in a wife, as well an element of skepticism toward religious leaders who preach purity to the world but practice otherwise. *\

Pashtun Poetry and Literature

Many Pashtun have traditionally been illiterate. They have a strong oral tradition of epic poems and legends. Their literature glorifies Pashtun poets and Muslim generals who fought infidels and not so different from Osama bin Laden. Their greatest poet, Khushhal (died in 1689) wrote love poems and patriotic anthems. Among the famous Pashtun stories are "Adamkhan and Durkhani" are Pashtun adaptions of Persian stories. Characteristic Pashtun folk songs and dances are performed as wedding parties, festivals and sometimes funerals. Certain quatrains, known as matal, and chorus singing is popular among the Pashtun. [Source: revised by M. Kerr, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

Aamir Iqbal and Tim Craig wrote in the Washington Post: “For more than five centuries, poets in remote northwestern Pakistan have recited verses about the area’s mountainous scenery, their tribal culture and love. Although poems have been recited orally in Pashtun culture for millennia, the first written Pashtun poets have been traced to about 1550, said Sarfraz Khan, an author and Central Asia expert at the University of Peshawar in northwest Pakistan. Khan said Bayazid Ansari, a 15th-century preacher and author, was an early pioneer in developing the literature and poetry of the Pashtun culture. One of his sons, Mirza Khan Ansari, also became a poet, and his work is still available in poetry magazines that have been published in North Waziristan for centuries, Khan said. [Source: Aamir Iqbal and Tim Craig, Washington Post, July 25, 2014]

A lot Pashtun poetry explore honor and strength and other attributes the group holds dear. One Pashtun poet wrote: “The eyes of the dove are lovely, my son. But the hawk rules the skies, so cover your dove-like eyes and grow claws.” Other examples of Pashtun literature address rivalries and alliances. According to one Pashtun proverb: “We are only at peace when we are at war.” Another goes: “My brother and I against my cousin; and my cousin, brother and I against the rest of the world.” Pashto is the only known language in which the word for cousin and enemy are the same.

Crushing of Pashtun Poetry in the Taliban Era

Reporting from Bannu in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Aamir Iqbal and Tim Craig wrote in the Washington Post: After “Islamist militants tightened their hold on Pakistan’s tribal regions after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks...the Taliban and its allies quickly crushed the poets’ words and spirits. They were warned not to write phrases that referred to women or serenity and instead ordered to compose jihadist messages of war, brutality and conformity. “It was so horrible for me, like a nightmare, when they approached me for the first time to make words about slaughtering innocent people part of my poetry,” said poet Saleem Khan, 38, who fled North Waziristan for the northwestern city of Bannu. “How could a poet who has very soft feelings for his land and people become a tool to spread terror?” [Source: Aamir Iqbal and Tim Craig, Washington Post, July 25, 2014]

“Under the control of the Pakistani Taliban and other insurgent groups, tribal elders had to shed their colorful turbans and instead don the black ones worn by the militants. Traditionally expansive Pashtun weddings were reduced to just a few guests, because the Taliban didn’t allow music and dancing. Residents who once swapped gossip outside under the stars were encouraged to remain indoors after sunset. “The Taliban’s order was final and no one dared to oppose that,” said Muhammad, a 36-year-old shopkeeper who, like many Pashtuns, uses only one name. “You would have been kidnapped or killed to terrorize the others.”

Initially, the refu-gee poets said, they resisted their new rulers’ orders to abandon poetry by gathering in small groups inside darkened shops and homes to recite their words. “It was a revolution of thought, related to peace,” said Shafiuddin, 28. Eventually, however, all but a handful gave in to the pressure to use their skills to try to advance the cause of Islamist militancy, Shafiuddin and other poets said. They were called upon to pen memorial messages to suicide bombers, record recruitment messages on audiocassettes and create slogans for Taliban commanders to recite on the battlefield. The cassettes sold briskly at local markets, in part because residents felt compelled to buy them out of fear.

“When a Taliban commander approached Saleem Khan and asked him to write lyrics for jihadist songs, he said his first thought was, “I can’t become part of this dirty game.” But “who could dare raise their voice before the Taliban?” he recalled wondering. “There was no government, no law and no court to contest the rights being kept away from me.”

Pashtun Refugee Poets

Reporting from Bannu in southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Aamir Iqbal and Tim Craig wrote in the Washington Post: “Now, about 50 poets are part of a mass migration of more than 700,000 Pakistanis who have been displaced from the North Waziristan region as the military seeks to dislodge Islamist militants there. And amid the chaos of refu-gee life, they are restoring tradition to their verses. Many of the refugees in this northwestern city were abruptly forced to leave their homes and now must endure rationed food, overcrowded housing and uncertainty about the fate of their livestock. Yet despite those hardships, the refugees are also rediscovering a life free from the sway of radical Islamists who effectively ruled North Waziristan for the past decade. [Source: Aamir Iqbal and Tim Craig, Washington Post, July 25, 2014]

“For the poets, many of whom are now living with relatives here in the dusty city of Bannu, the Taliban rules meant many long years of grief. They had been carrying out a tradition passed down through generations of their Pashtun forefathers. Pashtuns, many of whom reside in northwestern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, have a rich history of conveying stories through artful phrases. “It was so great to pen down feelings,” said Qalandar Khan, a 50-year-old poet from North Waziristan who wrote under the pen name Lewana e Wazir, which means “crazy guy from the Wazir tribe.” “When I was a young guy, my poetry was all about the beautiful feelings that every human has in young age,” he said.

“Now, however, Qalandar Khan is living in limbo in Bannu, in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Many North Waziristan refugees are sleeping here in vacant schools or with relatives while they wait for Pakistan’s army to conclude its operation against Taliban militants. Qalandar Khan and other poets are torn by competing emotions. They miss home, and like many of the refugees in Bannu, they angrily accuse the government of being ill-equipped to manage such a mass internal migration.

But, at least for now, they are also free from the Taliban. So within hours of arriving in Bannu, the poets once again began writing and reciting verses. Saleem Khan used his rediscovered freedom to recount his new life as a refugee: “Oh my Almighty, you made me a beggar and beg before those I never wished to meet. Tell me, time, what kind of Pashtun I am that I have become so ugly,” he wrote. “My dignity, don’t allow me to beg. Oh my poverty, you made me fight with my soul. Tell me, time, what kind of Pashtun I am that I have become so ugly....My dignity, don’t allow me to beg before anybody. Oh my poverty, you made me fight with my soul.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (, Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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