Context & Culture

Obituary: The master of modern Pashto ghazal passes away


One of Afghanistan’s most important poets, Muhammad Seddiq Pasarly, has died, aged 85. Known popularly as the ‘Master of Pashto Ghazal (Pashto love poems), Pasarly also translated works by Indian poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore and Persian poet and philosopher Omar Khayyam for Pashto readers. AAN’s Borhan Osman has written this obituary.

 

What is youth? It is planting seeds in heaven’s hopes, then reaping them

Stretching snares to catch imagination’s elusive birds

[What is] Old Age? It is rolling back those stretched snares

With despair’s trembling fingers, hesitantly, bit by bit

شباب څه ؤ؟ د هيلو په آسمان كرل رېبل ؤ

د خيال وركو مرغانو ته د لومو خورول ؤ

زړښت د مايوسۍ په رېږدېدليو ګوتو بېرته

زړه نازړه ، ورو ورو د خورو لومو ټولول ؤ

These verses are from one of the finest Pashto poets writing ghazal – typically love poems, where romance often becomes a way of exploring a mystical love for the divine, although they have developed to explore other themes as well. Muhammad Seddiq Pasarly (1928-2014) – his takhallos means ‘spring’ – was popularly known as the ‘ustad or master of Pashto ghazal’, the highest unofficial title in this field after the ‘father of ghazal’, given to the Sufi poet, Amir Hamza Shinwari, aka Hamza Baba, (1907-1994). Pasarly’s title is uncontested among readers of poetry and literary circles alike.

Pasarly’s innovative style of ghazal, that some critics saw as following the classic Indian schools, is characterised by a powerful imagination (or an overflow of feeling) and deals mainly with universal and humanistic themes, such as the meaning of life, nature and death, all attributes which make his poetry timeless. It is this unique style of deeply imagined poetry with a strong classical flavour that made him the most respected living ghazal poet in Afghanistan.

Among Pasarly’s over 30 works, Zohra, a verse novel of narrative poetry is his magnum opus, the second work of this type in modern Pashto poetry. Other works include Ghazalban that contains 1155 verses, Pasta Aur a (Drizzle), a collection of quatrains, and a novel about social life and politics on a local, rural level, entitled Kuchai Mullah (The Wandering Mullah). He also translated Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali and Omar Khayyam’s Ruba’yyat into Pashto.

Pasarly was born in Ghazni, then moved to Kunduz where he went to school and started writing poetry. When he moved to Peshawar in the wake of the Soviet invasion in 1980, he established a literary magazine, Speydey (Aurora), which he ran for five years. In Peshawar, he was also one of the founders of the Afghan Adabi Bahir, a poets’ club that brought together every week young poets (and writers) living there as refugees. That club is still a regular literary event, but is now held in Kabul and under the mentoring of Pasarly’s eldest son.

Pasarly died at the age of 85 from a chronic illness in New Delhi on 12 January. His funeral, attended by numerous fans and officials, was held today in the open ground of the Eidgah Mosque in Kabul.

He is survived by two daughters and four sons. All four sons have become writers and successful journalists in their own right: Emal Pasarly at the BBC Afghan Service, Ajmal Pasarly and Esmat Sarwan at Radio Azadi and Asadullah Ghazanfar, the oldest son, a prose critic who now oversees the weekly Adabi Bahir meetings of poets in Kabul.

And finally, here is another translation of one of his poems taken from a website dedicated to Pasarly’s works

There were no tall poplars

Nor proud plane trees

Whose shade would bring forth

Springs which lasted until Fall.

There was not even a single familiar willow

In whose shadow I could rest

Not a single place remained

Where I could seek refuge.

What shall I do now ? Where shall I go ?

God knows who I am, what I am good for ?

I am an alien in my own country

A wanderer among my own people.

نه سرلوړي سپېدار ول

نه بر لسه چینارونه

بوټېدل یې چې له سیوري

ان تر مني بهارونه

یوه اشنا وله هم نه وه

چې یې سیوري ته سا واخلم

او یوه روغه خونه هم نه وه

چې یې غېږ کې پنا واخلم

اوس به څه کړم چېرته لړ شم

خدازده څوک یم چیکاره یم

په خپل دېس کې مساپر یم

په خپل قام کې اواره یم

 

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Thematic Category: Context & Culture