Atta Shad: The Poet of Modern Sensibilities

A1By Fazal Baloch 

February 13 marks the 16th death anniversary of prominent Baloch poet Atta Shad, best known as the architect of modern poetic sensibilities in Balochi literature. When Atta emerged on the literary scene, Balochi literature was mainly divided between two schools of thoughts. First was driven by the impact of the Progressive Movement with Mir Gul Khan Naseer and Aazad Jamaldini on the forefront. While the second one was purely an indigenous one. Founded by Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi, the forerunner of modern Balochi literature, this school of thought was deeply rooted in classical Balochi poetry. Mainly, emphasizing on the chasteness of language and simplicity of poetic thoughts, this school of poetry subsequently attracted a wide range of poets to its fold including late Murad Sahir,  Ghulam Rasool Mulla (popularly known as G.R Mulla) and Ahmed Zaheer to mention a few here.
A2As following the cliches was something very antithesis to his innovative nature, Atta chose to drift away from the oft-trodden path of the poetry and went on creating his own aura which made him stand out in the realm of modern Balochi poetry. The enormity of his imagination rendered him to envision beyond his time. Unlike his peers, he deeply observed the universe, contemplated its nature and deeply pondered upon human aspirations and produced the kind of poetry which is by and large still non existent in Balochi literature. Consider these lines:

Cho Hoda baaz inth pa Bani Adam ay sind o bund
Ast kass ey dil ay proshtagen bandan sazeeth
(Enough gods for the break up human relations.
Is there any  god to patch the broken hearts up?)

Or

Maah ay sar beet keh beet rouch ay tah
Zind har jagaha beet tahna beet

(Whether it is on the moon or in the sun
Life is destined to be forlorn everywhere)

Atta bequeathed modern Balochi poetry a fresh poetic diction. His metaphoric and symbolic venture, which is a reflection of his modern sensibilities, also stand apart from the rest of the modern Balochi poets. With the amalgamation of various Balochi dialects, he found a new poetic language for both Ghazal [a poetic form of expression] form of poetryand Nazm [prose]. His voice, thus, can’t be compartmentalized to any specific region or dialect as is the case with most of the eminent Balochi poets.

Atta’s era was the age of socio-political awakening in Balochistan. Though this movement was initiated much before by Yousuf Aziz Magsi and his friends in the early 20th century, it was infused with a new vigor on the literary front by poets like Mir Gul Khan Naseer and Azad Jamaldini with their revolutionary voice. As the two stalwarts were ideologically progressive, they seem more concerned with the social-political ideology than the aesthetic sense of the art. At times their tone especially that of Mir Gul Khan much nears the sloganeering. On the flip side, Atta appears more subtle, metaphoric and symbolic in his approach while expressing socio-political themes. He seems more conscious about the aesthetic sense of the art than anything else.

In poems like Sahkandan, Mahnaa, Singjaah, Chahr and Osth ay sodagiran pa motk ey modern Balochi verse has attained new heights. Consider the following roughly translated lines of the poem Mahnaa:
Me,
Not startled by the wisdom of ambiguous words
That
Life is the outcome of years of sufferings
If wisdom in its course
Thrives on a certain ideology
The universe would be bound to perish!

This heralds a new beginning in the realm of Balochi verse which until then was under the spell of traditional and monotonous mode of expression. Modern Balochi verse for the first time seems contemplating on the subject of being, the universe and its relationship with the man.
Likewise, his Urdu poetry truly reflects his consciousness with modern sensibility. Unlike his contemporaries, the clichés of Urdu poetry could not appeal to Atta Shad. He abandoned outdated expressions and metaphors that had long been associated with Urdu ‘ghazal’ from the days of Wali Dakkani to Hasrat Mohani.

a5As his oeuvre is deeply rooted in his soil, it is quite rare for mundane expressions and metaphors like Gul o bulbul, Khom o paimana, Saqi, Said, Sayyad, Nasih, Qafas, Aseeri, and Rehai etc to visit the domain of Atta Shad’s poetry. Instead, fresh expressions such as Pani ki lakeer, Aab-e- tah-e-sung, Sannatay ka kora kaghaz, Shab-e-habs-e-bay karaan, Shahd lab, Khazan bakht, Chop ki shikan dar shikan yakh bustagi, Khoshkaba-e-jan and the likes frequently appear on the landscape of Atta Shad’s poetry. While reading his Urdu poetry one would definitely catch a glimpse of the nuances of of Baloch culture and landscape of Balochistan. He added a new poetic flavor to Urdu poetry by versifying certain Balochi folklore, romantic sagas and maxims.

Poems like ‘Mahnaaz’, ‘Shah Mureed aur Haani’, ‘Wafa’ and ‘Lori’ represent different aspects of Baloch culture. These poems also help in tracing the psyche of the typical Baloch society.
The short poem ‘Wafa’ (Oath of Allegiance) reads as:

a4On my motherland
A bowl of water
Worths eternal allegiance
Let us quench our thirst
And Submit ourselves
To the eternal bond of love.

Ironically, the poem is often misinterpreted by many as a satire on the tribal society of Balochistan. It has also been referred to as the scarcity of water in Balochistan. It has, however, nothing to do with the rigidity or inflexibility of tribal society and scarcity of water in Balochistan. Those who attempted to unfold its theme, actually couldn’t grasp the contextual sense of the poem.

Atta borrows its main idea from an old yet common Balochi adage which says: Taas e aap bowar sad saal wafa bkan, (drink a bowl of water and remain loyal (to the one who fetch you the water) for hundred years. The adage is reflective of the flexible and benevolent nature of Baloch society.

Apart from cultural nuances, the landscape of Balochistan is yet another theme  that fascinated Atta Shad. Colors of different weathers, frozen winds, flowing streams, hymning fountains, snow-covered valleys, rocky mountains, barren lands, fluttering trees are a few commonplace expressions frequently visit Shad’s poetry.

However, he doesn’t look at Balochistan through the prism of a mere photographer spellbound by its scenic beauty. Rather, he sees Balochistan beyond its landscape by employing the aforementioned expressions and the likes as references to portray the deprivation of the region and sufferings of his people in such a creative way that his verse transcends the geographical barriers and Balochistan becomes the territory where ever tyranny reigns.

Over the years Balochistan has been vulnerable to tribal oppression and state sponsored brutalities. The subject occupies a worth mentioning space in Atta Shad’s poetry. The poem ‘Sar-i-Gongzaar-i-Hawas’, one of his masterpieces, evokes the wounds of the 1970s when the province was undergoing military operation. Likewise, the short poem ‘Hukm-i-Hakim’ (the decree) casts light on the murky realities of tribalism, a phenomenon that has long enchained humanity not only physically but also mentally and ideologically.

He has to his credit a few random but insightful articles on various aspects of Balochi literature which also gives credence to his potentials as a prose writer. These articles leave the reader wonder why Atta did not devote more time to composing prose. Maybe, it was poetry which did not let a wonderful prose writer emerge out of an even greater poet.

Atta Shad, passed away on 13, Feb, 1997 in Quetta.

Fazal Baloch is a regular contributor to The Baloch Hal whose writings mainly focus on Balochi language literature. To read more of his work, please click here

Published in The Baloch Hal on February 14, 2013