Whispering Heritage

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Whispering Heritage, Reviewed by Dr. Fazal-ur-Rahim Marwat
Published in Khyber.ORG on Thursday, June 23 2005 (http://www.khyber.org)


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Whispering Heritage

Reviewed by Dr. Fazal-ur-Rahim Marwat

Publishing Date: Thursday, June 23 2005

An Intangible Heritage:
The Walled City of Peshawar
Prof Dr Raj Wali Shah Khattak
InterLit Foundation, Peshawar
ISBN 969-8343-32-6
93pp. Price not listed

This book on the cultural heritage of Peshawar comes at a time when the people of this ancient city have been demanding the conservation of their historical legacy. The apathy of the government towards the preservation of culture and heritage in the NWFP is not an isolated phenomenon. The book under review should give a boost to the public interest in the city's heritage.

Culture is the logical outcome of the integration and internal unification of different factors. Legacy is a tremendous force that generates new potentials of feeling and consciousness among the masses. The author, Dr Raj Wali Shah Khattak, is a former director of the Pushto Academy and one of the senior academicians of the University of Peshawar. He has to his credit many articles and books on the Pushto language and literature. Naturally, this has equipped him with the skills of studying and analyzing culture from a scholarly perspective.

Dr. Fazal Rahim MarwatWith its roots in the Gandhara civilization, the walled city of Peshawar stands as a link between the past and the present. Situated at the crossroads of South Asia and Central Asia, it is a significant meeting place for the people of various races, cultures, religions and trades. During the period of the Sikh rule, a wall was constructed around the old city in order to defend it against the surrounding hostile tribes. Security came with a cost, though. Heavy taxes were imposed on the city dwellers. There were 16 gates, all with different names, opening into the city. Out of these only one has survived the ravages of time but this too is in a deplorable condition.

Peshawar has always been the hub of Pakhtoon cultural and literary activities. The most important aspect of this book is to make the people aware of the vanishing heritage and cultural traits of the area. Comprising just 93 pages, the book along with the historical background of the city covers its tribal and racial structures, kinship, family life, customs, traditions, festivals, professions, arts and crafts, music, dances, folklore and literature and even traditional old bazars and streets. The chapter, "An intangible heritage", contains the description of life as it was lived in the walled city of Peshawar many hundreds of years ago. The traditions have spanned generations and to this day continue to be passed from parents to children.

In the preface to the book, Susan Smith writes: "Personally, I have gained a great deal of knowledge about the inner workings of Peshawar's heart - its old walled city. The way in which many people live and act today is explained by the descriptions of life lived in a certain way over many hundreds of years ... Sadly, some of the practices described in this book have ceased to be found in urban Peshawar, although they may still exist in some of the surrounding villages and other communities in the North West Frontier Province."

In the introductory chapter, the author refers to culture as human behaviour with the impact of climate, environment and geography on it. While discussing literature and art, Khattak has also focused on Pushto poets and writers by mentioning some important classical local poets such as Rahman Baba, Mazullah Khan Momand and Hamid Baba. It was in Peshawar that the Ulasi Adabi Jirga (People's Literary Forum) flourished. The Hindko society was founded to promote Hindko language and literature.

In addition to literary and poetic activities, Peshawar has produced great actors like Gul Hamid, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Muhammad Qawi Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, and Firdaus Jamal, etc. Finally, Dr Khattak has very ably touched upon painters, musicians, singers, dancers, and the various genres of folk songs auch as tappa, charbayta, loba, budala, etc. The chapter on entertainment, recreation and sports is also very interesting for the amount of detail included on old games and sports.

The final chapter entitled, "The future of the walled city", states: "The walled city of Peshawar continues to have a multi-ethnic population. Although most of its inhabitants are Pakhtoon; they live side by side with Hindko speakers and peoples of other ethnic groups. Persian is widely spoken and there are pockets in the city where the communities speak Urdu and Chitrali languages."

To protect the inheritance of the walled city of Peshawar, the establishment of a heritage centre should be a priority. The centre should have audio and visual documentation equipment so that every aspect of culture and life, be it folklore, music, types of instruments, stories, etc., can be recorded. Moreover, visual documentation of customs and traditions should include marriage functions, clothing, lifestyle, manners and habits. Research into the oral nature of life in the bazars and streets, both during the day and at night, should be carried out to preserve this historical record. Fairs, festivals and traditions, both secular and religious, should be included in this record.

This book is a product of sound scholarship. The language, phrases, style and even the title page is impressive and reflective of a typical Pakhtoon style.

Peshawar is a magical city, which doesn't let a person who has lived there ever forget it. If Khushal Khan Khattak remembered Peshawar while he was travelling in the remote parts of India 300 years ago, Dr Amjad Hussain is nostalgic for the city in contemporary America. Dr R. Khattak paints with charming words the past and present of this city. While reading the book, it makes one feel as though he is strolling in the bazars of Peshawar.

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Whispering Heritage, Reviewed by Dr. Fazal-ur-Rahim Marwat
Published in Khyber.ORG on Thursday, June 23 2005 (http://www.khyber.org)