|Ajmal Khattak on the right|
Some 10 years ago he ended his speech in Pashto with “Khpal kachkol ba garzawama, khpal rabab ba tingawama” ( I will carry my own kachkol, I will play my own rabab)
Shortly afterwards was the last time I saw him, we had travelled from Peshawar to Akora to pay our respects to his family on a recent loss.
I remember how I used to look at his place with a mixture of curiosity and surprise. Here was the home of a former senator, former President of a major regional party, former MNA and legendary Pashto writer and poet and yet he didn’t live in some grand mansion or own vast tracts of land. It was a simple run down village house where at times neghbours would send food too because Khattak sahib couldn’t afford to feed his guests. His politics was no different, it wasn’t about personality. While others were quiet about the brutal military crackdown against the Bengalis he was there trying to spread the word that the use of violence against ones own people has consequences.
He was targetted by Zulfiqar Bhutto’s Federal Security Force after the Liaqat Bagh massacre, his family suffered horribly, he narrowly escaped assasination before escaping to Kabul and yet many years later he’d acknowledge Bhutto being a brilliant politician (there was an irony to his exile as he was denounced as a traitor by the PPP, only for many PPP activists to end up in exile with him in Kabul after 1977).
I have a vivid memory of how he refused to become part of the patronage culture that is so common in Pakistani politics. Back in the early 1990′s while he was the President of the ANP, someone we knew had approached him to arrange a job for their son, his answer was direct and simple “I don’t do sifarish for my own sons, how can I do it for you?”.
And then there is his poetry, his most major work “da ghairat chagha ” (The cry of honour) was so controversial in it’s appeal for people’s rights that it was banned in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In our world, where one equates politics with business and achievement with wealth, he was a man of another generation. A generation that still dreamt of a more just society, where politics was not a dirty word and politicians were disliked for their philosophy and beliefs and not their sordid tales of swiss bank accounts or defaulted bank loans.
It is that loss which is the most tragic part of his passing. Amidst all the flowery tributes to his passing, people have failed to answer the question. What stops us from honouring the brilliant and humble while they live?
Perhaps to paraphrase the poem: We should pity ourselves who despise a passion in its dream, yet submit in its awakening?
Rest in peace Ajmal Khattak, it is time to let others carry your kachkol..
As a final piece here is his poem 'Paradise ' with english translation by Aziz Ahmad.
Paradise by Ajmal Khattak
I asked a mullah, what do you think is Paradise like?
He ran his fingers through his beard and said
“Fresh fruits and rivers of milk”
A talib (student) was sitting nearby
I asked him, what do you say?
He put aside the book of Zulekha he was reading, and said
“Beautiful women with (tattooed) green dots on their cheeks”
A shaikh stood nearby, rolling his tasbeeh (rosary)
He stroked his beard and said (questioning the talib):
“No, it’s not like that!”
“Paradise is beautiful servant boys and heavenly music.”
A khan raised his head from a lengthy sajda (prostration in prayer)
What is your opinion, Khan Sahib? I asked
He adjusted his turban and said
“The luxuriously furnished and perfumed mansions”
Nearby, a labourer stood in his tattered clothes
I asked him, do you know what Paradise is?
He wiped the sweat from his brow and said
“It’s a full stomach and deep slumber”
A man, in dishevelled hair, passed by, lost in his thoughts
I asked, what do you say, philosopher?
Smoothing his hair, he said:
“It’s nothing but dreams conjured up to please man”
(Confused) I looked down into my heart and then looked up into the blue sky; and heard a murmur in reply:
“Paradise is your home where you are the master, and at liberty;
and if you cannot attain the freedom, then sacrifice on the path to freedom, as an ideal, is Paradise;
Be it hellfire or the gallows”.
Source: Adapted from an article published in The News on 14 October 2009