Book Review: The legend of Malang Jan

Aziz Ali Dad

Literature in any society emerges within the greater backdrop of culture, economy, politics and aesthetics. These are the underlying currents, which sublimate in the semantic form of a creative piece. Literary criticism helps attain understanding the dialectics of interface between world, text and the reader.

The paucity of poetics in different languages of Gilgit-Baltistan stems essentially from the fact that the regional languages lack required devices and discourse of literary criticism to analyse literature. Engaging with the text and discovering the structural foundations of indigenous literature through modern literary theories can produce the poetics of literature.

‘Malangaey Samutarih’ (collection of Malang) is an important book in the history of Shina literature. It is a collection of Shina poems written by a renowned Shina poet Malang Jan. Most of the poems in this collection were published along with Persian poems in the book ‘Gulzaray Malang Jan’ in 1960.

In the absence of common Shina script, Malang Jan had to rely on the Persian script with alphabets that were chosen not on scientific but on experimental basis. ‘Malangaey Samutarih’ is compiled, translated and edited by columnist Israr-ud-Din The prolegomena is written by linguist and researcher Shakeel Ahmed Shakeel and prefaced (tafreet) by poet Zafar Waqar Taj.

The preface is not one of encomium; rather it unearths inherent paradoxes and contradictions in Malang Jan’s art and life. Despite contradictions in his personal life the forte of Malang lies in the use of similes, metaphors and other literary figures to express romantic sensibilities in the everyday language. A salient feature of the foreward is Israr’s analysis of semiotics of Shina language and literature and how the semiotic universe contributes to the formation of the legend of Malang Jan.

An analysis of the time and space of Malang’s poetry helps us to identify the factors that determined pathways of thought of Malang and his qalam. Malang Jan was trained in Persian mysticism, which had great cultural and literary influence on the region of Gilgit-Baltistan. Malang’s fancy takes flight from realm of humans and attempts to grapple with metaphysical issues at times. For Malang his love of Yurmas and related experiences are related to greater metaphysical realm in which heaven conspired against him and his pen. He says:

Qalam yayain kagazay sath,

Khayal bujin Yurmasay sath,

Falak nachain Malangay sath,

Zulum thain hazar rangay sath.

Malang was born into the age that witnessed destruction of old order and emergence of a new society. In other words, we can say that he stands at a transitional period in which the traditional society finds itself caught in the assortment of challenges posed by modernity.

Malang tried to preserve old sensibilities in new forms of poetry. For that he resorted to Persian classicism. As a result, the spirit of his Shina poetry seems imbued in Persian poetic body. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to include his Shina poetry under the rubric of Persian classicism. Though, the form was Persianised, the sensibilities in his poetry remained typical of Shina language. Malang Jan should be seen as a modern Shina poet instead of a pre-modern poet.

Hailing from the region of Puniyal in Ghizer, Jan introduced mellow words in Puniyali Shina dialect:

Pakeeza han tu yunayjo

Ghulab sharam thaey muckhayjo

Chinali maey jilayjo

Lai shaili bulbulayjo

He produced his poetical works when the local princely states came under the rule of the British Empire and latter the region of Gilgit-Baltistan merged with Pakistan. It was a gradual exposure of the region to outside influence in which Persian has lost its relevance and Urdu and English become dominant mediums.

Most of his poetry is written in Persian, but ascendance of the latter two languages caused sudden uprooting of Persian language from the land of Gilgit-Baltistan. It created literary disconnect from Persian literary traditions.

The process of cultural atrophy of the region of Gilgit with Persian cultural centres in Central Asia and Afghanistan started with the closure of traditional routes that provided window for cultural interaction. However, Shina poetry of Malang has survived in the cultural memory of the masses, because of its strong organic links with the oral culture.

The book signifies a qualitative shift in terms of rigorous work on content and accompanying critical studies. Italian artist, Biliana Tzovina has made two beautiful paintings of Malang Jan for the title and inside pages of the book. A seamy side of the book is the repetition of some sentences in a single essay and faint similarity of ideas express by the commentators in the first three essays. There is no doubt about the quality of analysis in the three essays about life and work of Malang Jan by three different authors. Nevertheless, one feels that these sometimes supersede and anticipate Malang Jan’s poetry.

The printing quality of the book is also compromised, different fonts are used for Shina and Urdu script. If the editor wanted in this way, he should have followed it consistently throughout the book. But there is no consistency even in inconsistency. Even the font size of Shina poetry is varying, making it a difficult read.

The efforts of editor and publisher have exerted great efforts in maintaining the quality of content, but they have failed to maintain quality in designing and publishing. Beauty of ‘Malangaey Samutarih’ is marred by blunders in design. Despite all this, the effort is laudable for the reason that it introduced literature from margins to the literary mainstream by rendering poetry of the founding father of modern Shina poetry into Urdu.

The writer is an Islamabad-based columnist. azizalidad@gmail.com

Title: Malangaey Samutarih

Publisher: Shina Language and

Culture Promotion Society, Gilgit, 2012

Edited and translated by: Israr-ud-Din Israr

Price: Rs 200

Source: The NEWS

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