“Having already enjoyed the privilege of attending historical Jamia Millia Dehli, destiny brought Ghani Khan to Anand Bhawan — the home of Jawaharlal Nehru in Allahabad, for eight long months, to occupy the rooms where Motilal Nehru once lived. Over here, he was looked after by Kamala, Jawaharlal’s wife, while for company, he had comely, Indira Priyadarshini — later day Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India. As if proximity of these towering historical figures was not enough, sometimes around 1934, Jawaharlal Nehru sent him and Indira to study together at Shantiniketan Academy (currently Visva Bharati University), founded by great Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, where he studied arts and sculpture while Indira took up Chemistry and History”.
All these fascinating accounts, shrouded in awe-inspiring historical references, were narrated by my friend Khan of Charsadda as we squatted inside a Ghaani, one freezing December evening. Ghaani is a phenomenon, typical of rural Charsadda and Mardan, associated with making of coarse sugar (gur) from boiling sugarcane extract.
I had arrived in Charsadda, having heard about the existence of a museum of sorts developed at the residence of great Pashto poet Ghani Khan — the son of legendary Bacha Khan and brother of Wali Khan. My host, Khan of Charsadda, was adamant that before we enter Ghani Khan’s residence, it would be befitting to first spend some time in the picturesque rural landscape of Charsadda which had provided essential inspiration to Ghani Khan for his mesmerising poetry.
To achieve this end, I had been taken to a mud-structure Ghaani near the serene Jindi River, in close proximity of the poet’s residence at Mohammad Narai village in Utmanzai area. It was inside that dimly lit Ghaani, laden with scent of fermenting sugarcane, that my host narrated the near intoxicating details from early life of the great Pashto poet. I was still trying to digest the historical linkages, involving Nehrus, Indira, Bacha Khan, Ghani Khan and Rabindranath Tagore, when he unveiled yet another twist in this enchanting account.
“Ghani Khan and Indira continued their studies at Shantiniketan Academy for quite some time. Ghani Khan was elected president of the students union while Indira became the social secretary. Ghani Khan had the added honour of being taught painting and sculpture by Nandalal Bose, an accomplished Indian artist of his times who later became head of Arts School Kala-Bhavana. At this juncture, events took an unexpected turn with a visit of Bacha Khan to Shantiniketan Academy. For some inexplicable reason, Bacha Khan suddenly decided to withdraw Ghani Khan from this premier art institute and even the intercession of Mahatma Gandhi (at the insistence of Ghani Khan’s teacher, Nandalal Bose) failed to change his mind,” said Khan.
At this point, my friend’s eyes sparkled with a child-like smile. “Don’t ask me the reason for this decision by Bacha Khan. In less than a year’s time following Ghani Khan’s departure from the Academy, Indira also left her studies mid-course as she accompanied her ailing mother to Germany for treatment”.
“Eyes full of manliness, laughter and the devil” is how Ghani Khan described the Pashtun folks in his famous book, Pathans. True to this description, I could clearly see an unspoken story brewing in the devilish mind of Khan about the youthful Ghani Khan and Indira.
Having listened to these fabled accounts of early days of Ghani Khan’s life from my Charsadda friend, I reached my objective destination — Aman Garh — the great poet’s residence, with mixed feelings of reverence, awe and excitement.
Inside, the first thing that struck us was the abundance of old, towering trees around the main building. Evening shadows of these mighty trees silhouetted a sprawling garden as the air throbbed with a multitude of evening songs of birds. Beneath the towering trees, line after line of fruit trees of mixed varieties was interspersed with an ensemble of colourful bushes.
Walking through this impressive garden, we reached the hujra and were greeted with a huge mural showing the impressive and towering figure of Bacha Khan, flanked by his three sons — Ghani Khan, Ali Khan and Wali Khan — in their youthful years. A more apt spectacle of Pashtun manly charms coupled with unparalleled achievements cannot be imagined than the one presented by this larger-than-life picture affixed in the hujra of Ghani Khan.
Alongside this spectacular mural hung an equally evocative picture showing Mahatama Gandhi and Bacha Khan, standing side-by-side, making one feel face-to-face with history. I felt almost dwarfed in reverence.
Passing through the hujra compound, we were ushered in the main building, which was separated by another gate and a wall. Once inside the living quarters of Ghani Khan, it was as if one had entered imaginary gardens from Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyaat. More towering trees of equally grandiose proportions, including mangoes and banyan, stood in a more neatly laid-out fashion. While the garden around the hujra was less organised and gave a chaotic look, like a poet’s stray thoughts, the inner garden encircling the residential compound was an immaculate affair, as if done with a sculptor’s scalpel.
To my friend Charsadda Khan, this perfectly complimented the diverse dimensions in great Ghani Khan’s creative personality, which I was about to witness soon after entering the main residential building, now changed to a living museum.
Tastefully displayed in three spacious rooms and encircled with an old-styled verandah, the legacies of Ghani Khan took shape in all possible artistic expressions — in many of his self-portraits carrying his flowing signatures and in the Buddha-like busts chiselled out of stones with his own hands.
Running his hands through Ghani Khan’s bookshelf, my friend took out his great collection of poetry, Da Panjary Chaghar or “Chirpings from Prison”, which was produced while he served a six-year sentence in Haripur Jail. “Ghani Khan”, Khan proudly announced, “also rubs shoulders with the likes of Hasrat Mohani and Faiz in producing love songs from behind iron bars”.
We walked from one room to the other, gazing at many personal belongings of Ghani Khan — quaint pieces of furniture, artifacts, utensils, bookshelves, historical pictures, paintings, hand-written papers. Every now and then, my friend recited some apt couplets from Ghani Khan with Urdu translation from many of his poetic collections including Palwashay, Panoos and Latoon.
We must have spent some 40 minutes inside that treasure-trove but to me it looked as if I had spent a lifetime in a fairyland. Every now and then, it looked as if Bacha Khan, Mahatma Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru would step out of one of the many black and white pictures hanging in those rooms. Every now and then, some drawing or a faded writing showed the richness of talent of Ghani Khan, who was a poet par excellence in the manner of likes of Amir Hamza Shinwari and Rehman Baba as well as a political activist having the honour to become the youngest member of legislative assembly in British India before the partition.
Besides his impressive accomplishments, the overall impression one got after witnessing his many creations was of an indefatigable romantic, full of energy and passion. Or to put in Pashto, the Leewanay Falsify as most Pashtuns love to call him on account of his satirical columns that he contributed to an early day Pashto newspaper, Pukhtoon, in the heydays of Khudai Khidmatgar movement.
When we finally left the Ghani Khan house, we again passed through his magical gardens, which were now covered in partial darkness, except for some sitting areas tastefully lit with footlights. Caretaker of the place informed that these were sitting places where Ghani Khan spent hours, working on his poetry, paintings or his clay works.
As we stood under a giant mango tree, moon suddenly rose, flooding the whole wilderness with a celestial radiance. Time had come, the Khan of Charsadda announced, for the visitation from souls of Ghani Khan, Indira and many others alike from bygone days that regularly come to these sleepy gardens. I initially took it as a typically exaggerated account from an admiring Pashtun, but having myself fallen prey to Ghani Khan’s countless allures, I dared not disturb the spell the place had woven round us.
Let death overtake me, Whenever it will;
It will find me prepared, With a flower in hand,
Or a gun in hand, Or quill and ink;
And drowned in laughter, The cares of the world;
Whatever’s in store, Is enough, no more!
(Ghani Khan residence and museum can be reached after leaving Islamabad-Charsadda Motorway at the Charsadda Exit and by travelling a few kilometres on the main highway between Razzar and Takh Bhai close to Utman Zai village)