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Eulogizing The Protectors of Culture and Tradition

QUITE PROPITIOUSLY, a flurry of activities is getting underway in the context of revival of Shina language in its original form and diction. This is in addition to the marked efforts afoot to build a consensus among the literary circles formed by Shina speaking communities all across the Shina speaking areas – mostly inhabiting northern Pakistan and part of the Indian held Kashmir- to popularize and universalize a homogenized approach to a unified code aimed at sustaining and preserving this language which is sadly on the wane.

To give a recent example, Shakil Ahmad Shakil carried out a research work culminating in his products like ‘dade shilokeh’ (grandmas’s tales) and Shina Grammar, Aziz-ur-Rehman Malangi’s Shina Diwan and to top them all is Haji Shah Mirza’s translation of the Holy Qura’an into Shina which is greatly contributive to the existing literature in Shina. There is no gainsaying that viewed in terms of it originality of form, diction and etymology, Shina language, as it becomes evident, has undergone an unimaginable transformation so far with innumerable words of other languages having been assimilated into it during the course to be termed as an ominously transitional phase. The literary work under reference sets an unprecedented milestone in Shina literature at this point in time when the language badly needed it and necessitating all out efforts aimed at its resuscitation.

This is fundamentally because no timely attempts geared towards its preservation could be made. It has to be admitted that all those languages getting categorized as the endangered ones and having no cod of their own are more susceptible to vanish faster than those which have their own code – grammatical syntax bolstered by allied literature. The more there is abundant literature of the sort available, the more secure it could be from becoming endangered and disappearing – a phenomenon linguist call the death of a language. Given this, the construction of codes becomes the sine qua non while on the contrary, the languages literally devoid of the same may face extinction so fast.

If one has a glance through the ‘Tribes of Hindoo Koosh’ by John Bidulph to have glimpses of Shina folktales etc., reflected therein, one can be very well poised to conclude that the original language of those days and usages of those times radically differ from that of the present. This makes it abundantly clear that the Shina spoken by the respective communities a century back essentially differed from the present usage which glaringly makes the latter antithetical to the olden diction, syntax and phraseology. The Shina speakers today utterly fail in connotative form, to make any sense of the phraseology remaining in use in the olden times which is a pointer in the direction that Shina has dangerously undergone a seachange overtime.

One may safely conclude that things would certainly have been quite different had the society then was any way literate and there were literary activities underway to document the cultural, linguistic and traditional activities of those time for passing them on to what is called the ‘takeover generation’ in written form. Such an ideal situation would alongside, have enabled them to document the area’s history as well.

But notwithstanding this, those imbued with the spirit of and intellectually endowed with a keen perception, have all along kept struggling by way of their literary excursions in the domain of Shina literature to resuscitate the language in its original form. Apart from encompassing the scenarios associated with Shina language generally, the present write-up is aimed at highlighting what came forth during the course of a fruitful discussion held with Haji Shah Mirza in regard to his recent literary product the outcomes of this must be addressed minutely and fully hereunder. It may be said that the author has so laboriously consummated the gigantic work of translating Shina an arduous task indeed.

It is first pertinent to make a mention to the effect that Haji Shah Mirza was born at village Taisote in Bagrote on 30.04.1931. It may be said that the entire population of GB then was engaged in mountain farming and were wholly ignorant of the very concept of education. It was time when the aphorism in Shina ‘daree han to dasee noosha’, meant having male children was considered a boon only in the context that it accordingly to those coining the phraseology, was likely to male members in dominant majority. In such a milieu, emphasis was traditionally laid on engaging the male members in broaden economic activities in the context of agrarian activity being everything else abroad to the people of those times, Bagrote valley being no exception. It is quite amazing that it dawned upon Haji Shah Mirza to take to education to apparently against all odds. Educating children was considered merely wastage of time by the village folk and deprecated until late fifties when it became gradually evident when the pioneers getting education were seen bringing about a perceptual change instrumental in a positive transformation in life and thus becoming a role model for the rest.

The primary education Haji Shah Mirza at Bilchar primary school instilled in him a greater taste for acquiring further education in Gilgit, about 29 km away from his native village. It is worth mentioning that there was only one middle school in Gilgit those days. Those passing primary from the adjoining primary schools had to seek admission there for studying up to eighth class. Haji Shah Mirza proceeded to Gilgit for getting admission but quite fortunately, middle school Gilgit was upgraded to secondary school those days which paved the way for study upto SSC there. Having studied up to 10th class at High School Gilgit, he had to go to Peshawar for the final examination from Peshawar Board in 1954. After passing SSC, he was constrained to take up the job of a clerk in the local Forest department forthwith in 1955. This is for the simple reason that his family could not afford his educational expenses to result from such pursuing higher education either in down country or from Srinagar in the pre-partition days. This being the lie of the land, he persisted with his employment and in the meantime got the chance of undergoing the ‘basic course of forestry’ in Azad Kashmir during 1958-59. Upon completion of the training, he switched to the field service as a Forester in the same department – a service continued until his retirement in 1982 from the post of Assistant Conservator of Forest (ACF).

The fore-going all is well brings it to the fore that Haji Shah Mirza now in his nineties, is among the pioneers who were in the vanguard in the context of educational pursuits. It is they who embarked on and assiduously pursued education and enlightened others to follow in their footsteps – a dream came true with more and more from Bagrote valley getting to schooling. Others joining hands with were Haji Hamza Khan, Haji Ghulam Nabi Wafa, Haji Shah Nawaz from lower Bagrote. Aman Ali Shah preceded this group who left the area to down country in search of education and during the course, was able to serve PBC’s Shina programs in Rawalpindi – a vocation he continued till the end when he retired from a senior position as a reputed broadcaster. What becomes significant in his case is inter alia that he shifted his two younger brothers to Rawalpindi and educated them therein a befitting manner. Viewed cumulatively and holistically, the graphic description of the pangs and privations he suffered in those days as did other such seekers belonging to the valley contemporaneous to him where there no prospects whatsoever in the economic terms. But nonetheless, despite being circumstantially subjected to innumerable odds, he remained steadfast in his pursuit eventually reaching the goal. In the upper halve of the valley, late Master Masud Khan and late Syed Hussain Akbar championed the cause of education and strove hard to drive home significance of education and inculcating into the youth a quest for the acquisition of education.

It may be safely asserted that despite not having received any regular education in Arabic in the absence of such a facility at his village, Haji Shah Mirza who had a great flair for broadening his knowledge and keen interest in research, kept up his strivings for the attainability of his goal of knowledge of Arabic which to him, was the language of his heart and soul. He says he was taught to recite the Holy Qu’ran at school-going age but despite the longing, he did not have the facility of taking any tuition in Arabic then. This makes it construable that the taste for Arabic was inborn in him so he kept up his efforts by consistently adopting the self-teaching methodology, self-correction, self-polishing and showering all his care upon Arabic to the advancement of which he was thenceforward whole-heartedly devoted – something that came to him as a Divine gif t and his great taste thus seems to be at its zenith in his work under reference. It is indeed, an inspired literacy piece, and as such, should rank amongst the best specimens in the entire range of to put it briefly. That is what quite surprisingly imbibe spirit of the language despite not having studied Arabic in a seminary or an institution, became well-versed in its delicacies, subtleties and intricacies eventually being well poised to accomplish the present scholastic work in Shina and come out with this marvelous piece with great finesse and assiduity. It seems that he has taken great care to the effect that only the most appropriate and original Shina words were used to translate and render the Arabic text into Shina.

Having said that he nursed Arabic with his lifeblood, the passion for it was innate and irresistible in him that eventually, compelled his Muse to diffuse its fragrance far and wide, passing over bowers of followers, borrowing and lending, suffusing the entire atmosphere with a saturated and highly concentrated aroma. This is evidently because the impulse within impelled him to come out with the peerless pearls in the end which alongside being an invaluable contribution to Shina language, is a great service in religious and spiritual context. Another hallmark of the Anjuman was the great pacification efforts in the area. They worked hard to bring an end to a long dispute between the feuding inhabitants of the twin villages of Taisote and Bilchar in lower Bagrote over pastures. Indeed, Haji Shah Mirza played a very crucial role in this regard. Even otherwise, he championed the cause of peaceful co-existence and dispute resolutio in Gilgit and kept striving as a member of ‘peace committee’ to bring an end to the sectarian conflict.

The writer is a Gilgit-based freelance contributor, blogger. He can be reached at Email: shamskazmi.syed@gmail.com

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