Khatir Afridi — the pride of Khyber

PESHAWAR: It is unfortunate that a great literary figure like Misri Khan Khatir Afridi has been forgotten. However the 36th death anniversary of the John Keats of Pashto passed uneventfully because no literary organisations bothered to organise recitals and functions to remember the life and works of the great poet.

It is ironic that the NWFP Cultural Department, the Pashto Academy of the Peshawar University, the Pashto Adabi Board, the Academy of Letters in Islamabad and over two hundred Pashto adabi jirgas did not arrange a single seminar to honour Khatir. No special pamphlets or supplements were published by any of these organisations to mark the genius of the internationally acclaimed poet. Even foreign radio channels such as the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Voice of America that often broadcast Pashto programmes, did not air any programmes on Khatir. Khatir Afridi was born in 1929 and belonged to Sado Khel, a sub-tribe of the Zakha Khel, in the Khyber Agency. His father died when Khatir was still very young and he grew up under the care of his grandfather and uncle. He was not an educated man and found employment as a gardener at the Khyber Rifle Camp. He later on started his own business. Khatir Afridi started his poetic career at a very young age by composing folk poetry, including loba, tapa, chartbeta,geet and nimakai. He soon switched to writing ghazals and became known for his simple and spontaneous verses.

Khatir’s first poetry collection entitled ‘Da Khatir Kuliyat’ was published in 1998. Its second edition was published in 1999 and the third edition in 2004. After Rahman Baba, no other Pashto poet has attained the level of popularity that Khatir Afridi did with his honest and candid verses.

Almost 80 percent of Khatir’s poetry has been adapted to music and has been translated into English, German, French, Russian, Persian and Urdu. It has become a tradition in the NWFP that singers start their concerts by singing his verses.

One of Khatir’s most famous verses is: “Da Khatir rangeen ghazal ta hairanaigam, Pa dey kharr Khyber ke sa dee be la khhaorro”, which translated into English means: “I am mesmerised by the colourful ghazal of Khatir, otherwise there is nothing charming in Khyber except barren earth.” Khatir’s poetry contains beautiful metaphors and similes such as “Khalaq che nakha walee goree warta,Ta che makh pat karro no gozaar dey okrro” (People watch the target when they shoot at it, you shot me after closing your eyes and hiding your face).

Hamza Baba, a renowned Pashto poet, once said that “poetry was ingrained in Khatir Afridi’s blood and Nazir Shinwari’s mentorship had groomed his poetic sensibilities”. Pashto Academy Chairperson Dr Salma Shaheen says that Khatir was the pride of Khyber and all Pakhtoons loved his poetry.

Khatir Afridi passed away on August 24, 1968 at the age of 39 leaving behind a wife, two daughters and a son Javed Khan Afridi. However, even though he is no longer among us, his poetry continues to live on in the hearts of millions of Pakhtoons. Just a few months before his death, Khatir wrote: “Che pa qabar mey teraigey khudai da paara, Lag sha maata khapa neewalei zaba marr yem”. “For God’s sake, when you pass near my grave, please walk by slowly because you know I am already a dead man