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Khatir Afridi
Unsung poet

By Sher Alam Shinwari

Khatir Afridi whose real name was Misree Khan was born in 1929 at Landikotal to Zakha Khel Afridi. He gained tremendous mass popularity, next only to Rahman Baba, due to his simple style and the deep pathos in his poetry.

Khatir was a few days old when his father died but his grandfather and uncle reared him very well and raised him like a son. Khatir, unfortunately, could not go to school. He took up a job at the Khyber Rifle's camp as a gardener and later on entered the line of private business. But he was fond of poetry and he learnt to compose verses to the tunes of the rabab which was played by the maestro, Bagh-i-Haram, a resident of Malikdeen Khel who lived very close to Khatir.

Qayum Kausar Afridi, his closest companion, told me, "One day I asked Khatir to give me his manuscript so that I could preserve it. I kept it with me till his only son, Javed Khan, grew up and was able to publish it. Khatir dressed simply and would carry a pistol with him according to the tribal tradition. He always wore a black turban but was a polite and calm person. His poetry is simple and spontaneous."

Javed Khan Afridi while talking to me about his father revealed, "A large number of unauthorized and authentic editions of my father's poetry have been published in Kabul and Peshawar. PTV and Radio Pakistan, Peshawar have so far aired quite a bit of Khatir Afridi's poetry but now I intend to take legal action against them. No literary and cultural organization - government or civil - has ever approached me for any kind of award for my father's contribution to Pashto."

When in the early 60s Gulab Sher sang 'Sta manzal manzaloono ke yema, Rasedoo omaidoono ke yema,' from Radio Pakistan, Peshawar, Khatir attained new heights of popularity.

Murad Shinwari says that the tunes of Bagh-i-Haram and the correction of Nazir Baba are the two factors behind Khatir's mass popularity. Nearly 80 per cent of his Kuliyat has been sung and 90 per cent Pakhtoons in every part of the world know about Khatir. Almost every Pashto musical concert begins with Khatir Afridi's verses. His verses are full of pathos, romance and rhythm. He started his poetic career at a very tender age by composing folk poetry including Loba, Tapa, Chartbeta, Geet and Nimakai but then switched over to the ghazal. His diction is simple and easy flowing. Hamza Baba and Nazir Baba could not eclipse his poetic talent.

Dr Raj Wali Shah Khattak maintains that the centrality of his poetry is his deep love and this merit takes him to the pinnacle of universality and sublimity. Khatir's ghazal has all the qualities of the best romantic thoughts reflective of his indepth observation and artistic vision. Dr Salma Shaheen is of the view that Khatir is not only the pride of Khyber but also all the Pakhtoons love his poetry because Khatir is the representative of Ishq.

Every Pakhtoon singer takes pride in singing him. Khatir's first authentic Da Khatir Kuliyat spreading over 605 pages came out in 1998. Its second edition was published in 1999 while the third edition was brought out in 2004 and every edition sold out like hot cakes. Strange to say that the provincial cultural department, Pashto Academy, Pashto Adabi Board, Academy of Letters, Islamabad, Peshawar chapter, more than 200 so called Pashto Adabi Jirgas arranged a seminar or brought out a special issue on the life and works of a poet who enjoys international fame. Also a number of foreign radio channels which broadcast Pashto programmes have not aired any programme on Khatir. A part of his poetry has been translated into English, German, French, Russian, Persian and Urdu. Khatir Afridi, known as the John Keats of Pashto died in 1968 at the age 39. "His couplet on his epitaph 'Che pa qabar mey teraigey khudai da paara, Lag sha maata khapa neewalei zaba marr yem' (Whenever you pass my grave, please stay a little while as I might be dead) shows our apathy towards our legendary heroes, poets and artists," lamented his son Javed Khan Afridi. The credit goes to the unflinching efforts of Qayum Kausar Afridi, Niaz Amin Niaz Afridi, Javed Khan Afridi, Kalimullah Kalim Shinwari and Aslam Taseer Afridi who presented Da Khatir Kuliyat to his numerous Pakhtoon lovers. It is ironic that this popular poet is receding into total oblivion.