Writing Balochistan

Balochistan is a neglected area not only in Pakistan but in Afghanistan and Iran too. Just like so many other nationalities such as Bengalis, Kurds, Pakhtuns, Punjabis, and many others, the Baloch find themselves divided across borders. But that is not our cause of concern here.

Our concern is more about how little other people know about the Baloch, the Balochi language, and Balochistan itself in Pakistan. This lack of interest, or rather apathy, that we see and feel in other provinces about the backwardness and underdevelopment in Balochistan is the result of a long process of denial and deception that we have imposed on ourselves. This has been done through a so-called ‘uniform education’ and by the controlled media that gloss over the real issues of injustices in a multiethnic and multilingual society.

In all this, Dr Shah Mohammad Marri is a writer who has been fighting against such ignorance and injustices with his pen. It is a sad reality that most of us are unduly economical when it comes to highlighting the good work that our academic and creative people do. Be it art, culture, history, or literature, we are reserved in our appreciation of those who move off the beaten track. Dr Shah Mohammad Marri has moved far away from the rut; he has been a doctor, pathologist, mentor, teacher, and most of all a prolific translator and writer. He is one of those who, despite their financial constraints, keep producing good work for the benefit of society. His fecundity has neither depleted his energy nor affected the quality of his writings.

Just like Ahmed Salim – another scholar and prolific writer of repute – Dr Shah Marri is diverse in his interests and multidimensional in his writings. Be it biography, history, language and literature, or social issues, Dr Marri has put his pen to multiple subjects. Two of his best contributions are his two series of books titled ‘Ushshaq ke qaflay’ (Caravans of the passionate) and ‘Sangat trajim’ (Sangat translations).

Under the first series he has written biographies of dozens of towering personalities who struggled for democracy and fundamental rights of the people especially in Balochistan. Each biography is a book of 150 to 300 pages and covers the life and struggle of a prominent activist, leader, or writer who normally does not find space in our Pakistani textbooks. Somehow our government-approved and prescribed textbooks have not gone beyond Tipu Sultan and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan or Allama Iqbal and M A Jinnah. Dr Marri has tried to fill that gap by biographies of those who fought for democracy in the country, in Balochistan particularly.

Take for example, his books on Must Tawakkali and Gul Khan Naseer – arguably the best poets of the Balochi language in the 19th and 20th centuries respectively. Or his two biographies of Yusuf Aziz Magsi and Abdul Aziz Kurd – the doyens of political awareness in Balochistan. Or his writings on relatively less known and mostly neglected activists and journalists such as Babu Abdul Kareem Yorish and Dr Amiruddin, who was born in Hyderabad Deccan but made Balochistan his home. These are just some of the over 50 books Dr Marri has penned.

He has not confined himself to personalities who lived or worked in Balochistan, Dr Marri’s scope is varied and wide. Be it the sixth-century Persian reformer Mazdak; the 18th century peasant leader in Sindh, Shah Inayat; or Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Dr Marri has written books on activists, leaders, and writers who had love for their people and tried to enlighten the masses with their work and writing. The same applies to personalities from across the border or across the oceans. The list of books by Dr Marri includes names of revolutionaries such as Tom Paine, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro, to writers such as Maxim Gorky, Pablo Neruda, and Victor Jara.

Coming to his translations, again we see a long list of substantive works that Dr Marri has translated mostly from English to Balochi and Urdu. One of the first books that Dr Marri translated was Mikhail Pikulin’s ‘The Baloch’. Pikulin was a great Russian scholar of Baloch culture and history. In the preface of his translation, Dr Marri narrates that after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989, the Mujahideen looted libraries in the areas that came under their control. Precious books and invaluable manuscripts looted from Afghanistan found their way to footpaths and pavements in Quetta.

That’s where Dr Marri bought Pikulin’s book just for a couple of rupees and liked it so much that he started translating it almost immediately. The book is a treasure trove of information about the demography and geography of Balochistan, the Baloch lifestyle, and the Baloch subtribes and tribes. It also has chapters on the British occupation of eastern Balochistan and the Baloch liberation and nationalist movement in the first half of the 20th century. Anyone interested in Baloch culture and history must read this translation by Dr Marri – and thank him.

The same applies to at least two more books: Lambrick’s ‘Marri Uprising’ translated as ‘Marri Baghawat’ of the 1940s; and ‘Defence of Kahan’ by Charles Reynolds Williams translated as ‘Marri Baloch Jang-e-Muzahimat’. Both books give accounts of Baloch fighting against the British onslaught in the mid-19th century. These contain correspondence, diary entries and firsthand narrations of the people who actually took part in battles or heard it from eyewitnesses. Dr Shah Marri must be commended for bringing these to the Urdu readers who may be interested in knowing more about Balochistan.

In addition to books on the history of Balochistan, Dr Shah Mohammad Marri has also translated numerous books of literary merit. ‘Gandum ki roti’ (Wheat Bread) is one such Balochi novel that Abdul Sattar Purdeli wrote and Dr Marri translated into Urdu in 2003. Abdul Sattar Purdeli is an Afghan Baloch striving for peace in this region. His novels have seen multiple reprints in Pakistan. Another feather in Dr Marri’s cap is his contribution to the ‘Pakistani Adab ke Memar’ (The builders of Pakistani literature) series of the Pakistan Academy of Letters. He has written many detailed accounts of Balochi writers such as Must Tawakkali and Abdullah Jan Jamal Dini.

On the literary side, Dr Marri has written on Baloch language and literature too. His book ‘Mukhtasar Tareekh-e-Zuban-o-Adab Balochi’ (A hrief history of Balochi language and literature) has been published in two editions in 2009 and 2019. This is a 360-page account of the development of the Balochi language and literature and gives you an easy-to-read approach to a basic understanding of the subject. Its first section is a brief introduction to Baloch language, literature, and music, whereas the second and last section spans nearly 300 pages discussing the historical epochs of the Balochi literature from the classical to the modern period.

Lastly, his treatise titled ‘Balochistan mein adabi tehreek’ (The literary movement in Balochistan) is a detailed piece of research covering nearly all literary movements and organizations of the past 100 years or so. It starts with the Young Baloch Movement of the 1920s established by Abdul Aziz Kurd and nurtured by Yusuf Aziz Magsi. Then in 1949 Baloch intellectuals such as Gul Khan Naseer, Azad Jamaldini, Anjum Qazilbash and others established the Balochistan chapter of the Progressive Writers Association (PWA). Soon the government imposed a ban on it for its enlightened, liberal, and progressive outlook. It has refused to die and has seen at least four reincarnations in Balochistan.

To conclude, we must appreciate the hard work Dr Shah Mohammad Marri has put in to keep the literary flame alive in Balochistan.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

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