There was a long lapse in literary developments during the 18th and early 19th century until the arrival of the British in this region. The early Pashto literature of colonial period consisted of grammar books and collections of oral poetry and tales. They were written in a self-serving manner in order to provide samples of the language and to make it possible for the British officials to learn Pashto. They dealt with grammar and commonly spoken idioms and phrases. Their authors were often British administrators-turned-writers who compiled them under guidance from native Afghan scholars of those times.
'The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal' in 1838 published the first scientific study of vocabulary by Major Robert Leech of Bombay Engineers - a distinguished oriental scholar - that mentioned Teerhai, and the Deer dialects (Pashto spoken in Dir and Tirah parts of the Frontier.) He was "one of the first European officers who entered and one of the last who left Afghanistan during the time of British occupation of that Country." His untimely death in 1845, at the age of 33, cut short a promising career.
A German professor, Dr. Bernhard Dorn who lived in St. Petersburg - which at the time was the Russian capital - worked on 'Grammatische Ubersicht' or Grammatical Overview (1840) and later compiled: 'A Chrestomathy of the Pushtu or Afghan language' (1847) A chrestomathy is a collection of selected literary passages, often by one author and especially from a foreign language. Professor Dorn was also among the founding members of the National Russian Library, St. Petersburg.
Isidore Loewenthal, an orthodox Jew in Poland, born in Germany and just graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary - New Jersey, became an Evangelist missionary in Peshawar under the auspices of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. Here he translated the New Testament in Pashto and embarked upon compiling a Pashto dictionary before he died at age 37. His grave is in the Old English Cemetery Peshawar where he was buried. His tombstone bears the following inscription:
"Rev. Isidore Loewenthal, of the American Presbyterian Mission who translated the New Testament into Pushtoo - was shot by his Chokeydar, April 27, 1864."
Dr. Henry Walter Bellew, a surgeon in the Bengal Army wrote the first book by any British on Pashto grammar, 'A Grammar of the Pooshtoo Language'. Priced at Rupees Five, it was published by the Baptist Mission Press-Calcutta in 1854.
The credit for undertaking the most comprehensive work on Pashto language accomplished by any author during the colonial period goes to Henry George Raverty who was a military lieutenant of the Bombay Army. While serving in Peshawar in 1849-50 he was taught Pashto by a learned linguist, Maulvi (afterwards Qazi) Abdur Rahman Khan Muhammadzai - translator of Old Testament from Hebrew and John Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress' into Pashto among other notable literary works.
Abdur Rahman had also taught the legendary Sir Richard Francis Burton when he was serving as a lieutenant in East India Company (Burton was a multi-lingual explorer, writer and under cover military spy for British who later translated the famous classic 'Arabian Nights' from Arabic into English in his much publicized adventurous life and also became one of the few non-Muslims ever to perform Hajj in Makkah under the guise of a Pathan in 1853.)
|Sir Richard Burton|
H. G. Raverty had abundant experience in documentation related work. Moinuddin Khan, a well-known scholar of library sciences in an article, 'Bibliographical Landscape' (DAWN 2001) states:
"Raverty set the tradition of compiling district gazetteers. He wrote and illustrated an account of the district of Peshawar (1849-50) when he was stationed with his regiment. He was an administrator-turned-writer who entered the services of East India. In the administrative capacity he participated in the Punjab Campaign (1849-1850 and took part in the first Frontier Expedition (1856) against tribes of Swat Border. He was also assistant commissioner of Punjab from 1852-1859)"
Raverty published his first Pashto book on grammar in 1855: 'A Grammar of the Pukhto, Pushto or Language of the Afghans' (2 vols.) He also compiled a dictionary: 'A Dictionary of the Puk'hto, Pus'hto, or Language of the Afghans' (1860). This comprehensive hardback Pashto to English dictionary had over 1100 pages. Each Pashto word was written in Pashto script and then romanized, with definitions and easy to read printing.
At a time when there was insufficient written literature except for a few dewans and largely oral poetry, Raverty studied old Pashto texts and published two books. Following the trend of other authors of that time he gave his first book an oriental name: 'The Gulistan-i-Roh: Afghan Poetry and Prose' (1860). It was a selection of ten poetical and six prose works that he had compiled from antiquated manuscripts in his personal possession which included authors like Akhund Darwezah, Babu Jan, Abdur Rahman Baba, Khushal Khan Khattak, etc. 'Selections from the Poetry of the Afghans, from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century' (1862) was his other significant work.
In the preface to 'Gulistan-i-Roh' (Second Edition, 1867), Raverty admits to the difficulties faced by him in compiling these texts due to insufficient written Pashto material and other hardships:
"Pushto manuscripts of any antiquity are now become scarce, even amongst the Afghans, whose language it is. This has, doubtless, been caused by the numerous civil convulsions which Afghanistan has undergone during the last sixty years, in which period the cultivation of the Afghan language has, comparatively, declined. Hence the few works now to be met with are generally full of errors, from the fact of the Katibs, or Copyists, being, with rare exceptions, persons wholly unacquainted with the Pushto language, and not Afghans, who are, generally, indifferent writers."
The last two works mentioned above can be described as the finest compilations of existing ancient Pashto literature ever done. Raverty, who retired from Bombay Army at the rank of a Major and became a full-fledged writer, brought out the 'Gospels' (1864) and later 'Fables of Aesop Al-Hakim in Pushtu' (1871) and 'The Pushtu Manual' (1904). H. G. Raverty's remarkable documentation work set a precedent for other authors. As the best-known authority and chief pioneer of the colonial period, he rendered invaluable contributions towards preservation of Pashto literature.
French interest in Pashto is evident by publication of 'Chants Populares des Afghans' (Da Pakhtunkhwa dah sher haar o bahar), compilation work of Pashto poetry and songs in two volumes by James Darmesteter in 1877, which was financed by the French Government. Key emphasis of French literary circles however, remained on Persian in that period. 'Pakhtunkhwa' was then a non-politicised term and is used naturally in the title to describe the region where Pashto is spoken.
The name of Mir Ahmad Shah Rizwani figures prominently in the latter half of the 19th century among Pashto literary figures. Textbooks for Munshi Fazil and Adeeb Fazil classes of the Punjab University courses were written and compiled by him, according to Dr Sher Zaman Taizi.
Rev T. B. Hughes' 'Ganj-i-Pukhto' (1897) whose English translation was rendered by Trevor C. Plouden, became the official textbook for Lower standard examinations in Pashto and 'Kalid-i-Afghani' (including Tarikh-i-Mahmud-i-Ghaznavi) for Higher Standard.
Pashto language manuals provided learning aids for those new to the language. 'Pashto Manual' (1880) by H. G. Raverty, 'Khazana-i-Afghani', 'Sawal-o-Jawab' and 'Pushto Guide' all by Maulvi Muhammad Ismail Khan, '1000 Pashto idioms and sentences' (1899) by Capt E. H. S. Boxer, 'Lessons in Pakkhtoo Prose Composition' (1900) and 'First Pukkhtoo Book' (1901) by G.W. Gilbertson and First (1901) and second Pukhtu Manual (1907) by G. Roos-Keppel, are some of the earliest guide books on colloquial Pashto worth mentioning.
Notable writers besides Raverty and Bellew who authored books on Grammar included: Lt. Col. John C. Vaughan 1864, Rev. E. Trumpp 1873, Tumanowich 1908 and Maj. A. D. Cox 1911 etc. H.W. Bellew in 1870 had also compiled 'Dictionary of Pukkto Language'. In this dictionary words were traced to their roots in Persian, Arabic and Indian (Sanscrit) languages.
The ground work it would seem should have been sufficiently covered by the learning manuals written by Raverty, Bellew and Trumpp but they focused more on elementary and fell short of addressing complex matters of construction, syntax and idiom. To fill out this deficiency Major D. L. R. Lorimer, who whilst serving with the Khyber Rifles in Landi Kotal, worked on 'A Syntax of Colloquial Pushtu' (1915), which was published by the Oxford University Press - London. While explaining the need for a new learning book, Lorimer in its preface mentions:
"Both Raverty and Trumpp have based their work on Pashtu literature, which is a serious draw back for the average student, who wants, as speedily as may be, to acquire a working knowledge of the Colloquial Language. This is hardly to be gained from a study of poetry or translations from the Persian, mostly two or three hundred years old, which are affected by Persian models or Persian originals, and which have had little influence on the speech of an unliterary and illiterate people."
Sir George Roos-Keppel's name has become synonymous with the Islamia College Peshawar - which also owes its establishment to the efforts of Nawab Sahibzada Sir Abdul Qayyum Khan and Haji Turangzai. Roos-Keppel had a long administrative association with the Frontier region. He served in the capacities of Political Agent in Kurram and Khyber and later Chief Commissioner (equivalent of Governor) of NWFP. At the turn of the 20th century, he was also president of Central Committee of Examiners in Pashto. He authored 'The Pashto Manual' in 1901 and wrote a second impression in 1907 when he was serving as Captain in the Khyber. In 1901, he also produced his own editions of Rev T. B. Hughes' 'Ganj-i-Pashto' and 'Tarikh-i-Sultan Mahmud-i-Ghaznavi' with their English translations, which became standard textbooks for Military officers replacing the older versions.
Roos-Keppel was well versed in Pashto and his command over colloquial can be judged from an inaugural speech he gave in Islamia College Peshawar in 1913-14. A strongly built man of mixed Dutch-Swedish-English blood, he bore a thick Edwardian moustache. When Roos-Keppel came to address, he mesmerized the entire gathering by the rendering of his speech in perfect Pashto. (To give the reader an idea I must present a snippet exactly as narrated by Late Dr. M. Zarif of Nishtarabad - writer's maternal grandfather who was present in the audience):
After the initial salutations and thanks in Pashto, he began:
"Yo wraz pah day lar teradum no zra kay may soach ooko, yarra Roos-Keppela dasay ba kha na-ee chih dalta keh yo taleemi idara jor kray shi?"
(One day while I was walking past this place, I thought to myself: my good fellow Roos-Keppel, wouldn't it be splendid to build an educational institute over this site?)
A hushed silence held the audience which was only broken when Roos-Keppel finished his speech. The echoes of 'Roos-Keppel Zindabad' followed a loud round of applause from the gathering as he received a standing ovation.
(Here, it is important to point out that Roos-Keppel thought like a Pathan, for him to use the expression "yarra Roos-Keppela" - adding 'a' in the end of one's name - is significant, as it is unique to Pashto colloquial only. To hear him say that would have brought a smile on any Pathan's face and would have made the audience forget that he was a foreigner addressing them, but rather as 'one of their own.')
Sir Olaf Caroe, in 'The Pathans' (1958) makes the following observation about Roos-Keppel:
"A very fluent speaker of their language, he could turn a proverb, point a moral, quote a poet, make a domestic allusion in perfect timing and in communion with those who heard him."
Further on, he concludes:
"More than any Englishman, if such he was, he is remembered still; he has been claimed as a sort of malik in excelsis, a Pathan among Pathans."
Until 1909, Pashto literature was confined to book pages in the form of poetry and dastan (classic literature), then Hakim Syed Abdullah Shah, editor of 'Afghan' introduced it in the columns of his newspaper and made it available for reading by general public. Later in 1926, a magazine was launched by the same name. Another magazine 'Sarhad' had been launched the previous year which was followed by 'Pakhtun' in 1927. The launch of these publications contributed immensely to the development of literature at a time when the Frontier was strife with commotion, the memory of the third Anglo-Afghan war was still fresh and bans on anti-state publications were not uncommon. These publications cultivated the seeds of political awareness among Pathans - Pashto being the unifying factor. Apart from being the forerunners to founding of various literary circles, they placed many learned and respected Pashto scholars, writers and poets of that time under limelight, which includes a very long list and about whom a lot has been written which is beyond the scope of the present article.
In the preface to 'Da Kissa Khane Gap', Col. C.L. Peart, Secretary Board of Examiners (Simla - 1930) writes:
"In 1923 it was decided to follow the practice of the Civil Service Commissioners in England and to abolish text-books for army language examinations. This scheme worked well except in the case of Pashto. The negligible prose literature which exists in that language does not lend itself to the learning of the language. It is either archaic or full of flowery Arabic and Persian expressions. And owing to the limited sale of Pashto books, no modern author would come forward with a book to meet our requirements.
These difficulties led to the partial re-introduction of textbooks for Pashto examinations - the 'Hagha Dagha' (Odds and Ends -1929) for Preliminary, and the History of Afghanistan (1930) and the 'Da Kissa Khane Gap' (Gossip of Qissa Khwani - 1930) for the Interpretership examinations - all by the same author, Qazi Ahmad Jan of Peshawar."
Qazi Ahmad Jan had a scholarly background. His father Qazi Abdur Rahman Khan Muhammadzai, a scholar of Pashto and Arabic was among the first Afghans to achieve command over English language. Ahmad Jan enjoyed the status of 'Munshi of Peshawar'. He also compiled papers for examination boards in Pashto. He had taught language to British officers in Peshawar for over half a century, which included names like Field Marshals: Wavell, Auchinleck and Montgomery etc.
Following in the path of Mir Ahmad Shah Rizwani, he authored several academic books. He introduced a new simplistic and lucid style in Pashto prose literature which was modern, inspired by English writings and at the same time retained its natural flow. Furthermore, he promoted a new genre of 'short story' in Pashto, hitherto only confined to English literary works. His books were not only popular among the British officials but also appealed to the Pashto speakers from all general walks of life.
A few lines from his earliest poem titled Zhaba or Language ('Ganj-i-Pashto', Roos-Keppel edition 1901) are as follows:
"Khasoosan chih Pukhto zhabbey tah hajat
Pekh woh der ziatay lah hadd da sa'at
Ahmad okra pah da shaan asaan kalaam
Chih pohagey pre kul warah khaas ao aam"
(Especially when Pashto language was experiencing hardships
Befallen for a great deal of time
Ahmad made its style easy; gracing it with what was needed most
That everybody comprehends it now, young, common and elite both)
Ahmad Jan laid the foundations of modern Pashto prose literature. He also authored several learning manuals that include: 'Afridi Pushtu Manual' (190?), 'Pushtu Made Easy' (1912) and 'How to Speak Pushtu' (1917), etc. (Another writer accredited with work on modern Pashto language guidebooks is Qazi Rahimullah Khan Khalil, a regimental munshi and author of 'Modern Pushto Instructor' (Vol. I - 1937 & Vol. II - 1943)
The modernity introduced by western influences was for the most part beneficial to the Pashto language. Its vocabulary became enriched and varied whilst also retaining its originality. In older Pashto textbooks, the pre-modern worldview seemed to revolve around a recurring theme of religious beliefs and magical, non-rational stories about legendary heroic romances, evil kings, demons, jinns and divine emissaries etc. Scientific methodology introduced by the British brought about refinement and added diversity to the literature which then began to reflect a more modern point of view.
Pashto language also became the symbol of cultural identity of people living in this region. Once viewed as a primitive tongue, Pashto discarded its archaic image in the colonial period and etched its name amongst the progressive languages of the world.