Majestic Malihabad (one of the three tehsils of Lucknow district, UP), known all over the world for the marvellous mangoes it produces and for the great Urdu poet Padmabhushan Josh Malihabadi (ne Shabbeer Hasan Khan Afridi)(1898-1982) it gave birth to, is a land of legends, both of yore as well as living. Apart from Josh, who became a living legend in his own life, Malihabad produced the first Indian to reach
It is the presence of Afridi Pathans in Malihabad that lends the land its identity and grants an aura of mystery to it. It is believed by many that hundreds of years ago ancestors of Malihabad’s Afridis were uprooted from their place of birth, thousands of kilometres away in
It is just a sprinkling of Afridi Pathans here in Malihabad; the rest of them form part of the world’s largest tribal confederacy in the hill country from the eastern spurs of the Safed Koh (
According to the legend, the Afridi is actually the lost Israelite tribe of Ephraim, which was forced into exile and thus into oblivion in 721 BC by the Assyrians. The Israelite past of Afridi Pathans is mentioned in a number of medieval Persian texts, viz :
· Muhammad Hayat Khan’s Hayat-e-Afghani
· Abul Fazl’s Akbarnama
· Sulayman Maku’s Tadhkirat al Awliya (13th century)
· Qutb Khan, Sarmast Khan Abdali, Hamza Khan, Umar Khan Kakarr and Zarif Khan’s Mirat al-Afghani
· Hafiz Rahmat Khan’s Khulasaat-ul-Ansab
· Nimatullah’s Tarikh-e-Khan-e-Jahani
· Akhund Darwiza’s Tadhkirat al-Abrar (AD 1611)
· Hamidullah Mustawfi’s Tarikh-e-Guzeeda (12th century)
· Minhaj-e-Siraj’s Tabaqat-e-Nasiri
· Abu Sulayman Daud’s Rauza-ul-Bab Twarikh-ul-Akbar-wal-Ansab (AD 1310)
· Hamidullah Mustawfi’s Majma-ul-Ansab
· Bukhtawar Khan’s Mirat-ul-Alam
Jerusalem based organisation, solely dedicated to the task of finding the ‘Lost Tribes of Israel’) wants the Afridis to migrate to . Another Israeli organisation, Beit Zur, too, has welcomed them. Israel
In November 2002, an international research team comprising Professor Tudor Parfitt (Chairman of the Centre of Near & Middle East and Director of the Centre of Jewish Studies, SOAS, London University), Dr Yulia Egorova (a historian and linguist from Russia) and the present author embarked on an expedition to Malihabad and collected DNA samples of fifty paternally unrelated Afridi males to confirm their supposed Israelite descent with the help of genetic research. Now, modern science is providing tantalising clues to this ancient legend.
The Pathan settlement in Malihabad dates back to AD 1202, when the
Ghilzai (Qandhari) settlement in Malihabad dates back to AD 1753, when a Ghilzai Pathan adventurer, Yusuf Khan, settled in Khairabad, a
The Bazad Khail settlement in Bari Garhi in Malihabad was founded by one Sheikh Ibrahim, who was a Mansabdar (a noble with high rank) in the Mughal emperor’s service. They first settled in the Ahma
The Amanzai Pathans settled in Garhi Sanjar Khan and Bakhtiarnagar in Malihabad under the auspices of Nawab Diler Khan, a Subadar of
The sons were after this received into favour. Bahadur Khan was appointed to
In AH 1105/AD 1693, Sarmast Khan, son of Bahadur Khan, separated, and shifted to Bakhtiarnagar in Malihabad. Sanjar Khan, the son of Kamaal Khan, remained in Bulaqinagar, and changed its name to that of Garhi Sanjar Khan. But the hero of the family was Dilawar Khan’s son Sarmast Khan, who raised it to its greatest prosperity. He took service under the Mughal emperor, and rose to the rank of Mansabdar under Farrukhsiyar, and by his many legendary acts of valour, won himself the title of Nawab Shamsher Khan. An instance of his bravery is cherished. It is said that as he was marching with the Saiyyads of Baraha to raise Farrukhsiyar to the throne, the future emperor remarked – “It is all very well when I conquer, but is there any one now that dare use my land measure and money ?” Dilawar Khan stepped forward, and said that he dared, and he went into
But during the reign of Safdar Jang, this family fell into disgrace. While the Nawab Wazir was in
Faqeer Muhammad Khan’s grandfather, Muhammad Yar Beg Khan Afridi, came to India at Delhi, to serve under the second Nawab of Oudh (Awadh), Safdarjang, who was there as the prime minister of the Mughal kingdom. He also accompanied him to Faizabad. He was an army commander of five companies, comprising soldiers from his own tribe, the Afridi. Faqeer Muhammad Khan arrived in Malihabad during the reign of Nawab Shuja-ud-daula (1754-1775). He then took service in the Qandhari horse, a regiment of the Nawab’s that was commanded by Abdur Rahman Khan of Khalispur. He soon left the regiment to join the service of Nawab Ameer Khan at his state at Tonk in Rajasthan. Impressed by him, Nawab Ameer Khan sent him as his envoy to the Nawab of Oudh (Awadh), Sa’adat Ali Khan, with an elephant and rupees six thousand for his road expenses, Enroute to Lucknow, at Kanpur, Faqeer Muhammad Khan learnt of the death of Nawab Sa’adat Ali Khan (on July 11, 1814), and changed his route for his old home in Malihabad. He then got an introduction to Agha Mir, Minister of Ghaziuddin Haidar, and got a place about the court on the pay of Rupees One Hundred and Fifty per month; and eleven horse riders were put under him. He soon rose to become the commander of a cavalry of twenty-five thousand. This became the nucleus of a regiment, which he recruited from his countrymen in Malihabad. In AD 1827 he was granted the lease of the Malihabad pargana by the Amils, Gobardhan Das and Param Dhan. And he held the pargana in different occassions from them till AD 1843, pitching up several villages whose owners had defaulted. He got a lieu on others, and in this way founded an estate, which came to be called Tharri Fatehnagar. Later, he was also the governor of Khairabad. Prestigious titles of Nawab Tahavur Jang and Hasaam-ud-daula were bestowed upon him by the Nawab of Oudh (Awadh). In AD 1850 he died, and his sons, Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan (circa 1828-1903) and Nawab Muhammad Naseem Khan, succeeded to the estate, which they divided. Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan’s was called Kasmandi Khurd, while that of Nawab Muhammad Naseem Khan’s was Sahlamau.
Interestingly, Nawab Faqeer Muhammad Khan was also a notable poet of his time, who assumed the takhallus (pseudonym) of ‘Goya’. His collection of poems, titled Diwan-e-Goya, consists of different styles of Urdu verse – ghazal, nazm, qaseeda (ode), naat (poem in praise of the prophet Muhammad), noha (elegy), salaam, etc. He translated the Persian masterpiece Anwaar-e-Suheli into Urdu. The translated version became popular as Bustaan-e-Hikmat, several editions of which have been published till now. The subject of more than thirty books, Goya is considered one of the greatest classical Urdu poets.
His son Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan ‘Ahmad’ (1828-1903), grandfather of Josh, was a prominent poet of his age, who published a diwan (collection of poems) of six hundred and eighty-six pages. His collection of poems, titled Makhzan-e-Aalam, was published in 1860 at Naami Press,
A son of Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan ‘Ahmad’ rose like a meteor on the poetic horizon, but died at the young age of twenty-eight, leaving behind a collection of poems which was published in 1890. It contained naats and ghazals. His name was Ameer Ahmad Khan ‘Ameer’ (1858-1886).
Another son of Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan ‘Ahmad’ – Basheer Ahmad Khan ‘Basheer’Diwan-e-Basheer, was also published (1874-1916), Josh’s father, earned great repute for his poetic genius. His collection of poems,
Malihabad’s Afridi Pathans have a penchant for poetry. It would not be an exaggeration to say that every Afridi is born with a poetic potential, but only some of them use it.
It is impossible not to mention the great poet Muhammad Murtuza Khan ‘Wasl Malihabadi’ (1820-1903),Anwar Nadeem’s great-grandfather, when talking about the tradition of poetry among the Afridi Pathans of Malihabad. His diwan (collection of poems) titled Gulshan-e-Wasl was published in 1896. His absorbing poetry is distinguished by an unusual choice of words and a specific style.
His son Abdul Rauf Khan ‘Lutf Malihabadi’, Anwar Nadeem’s grandfather, was the author of the famous work Naerang-e-Khayaal. He also translated the Persian classics Guldast-e-Najaat and Maulana Rum’s Munajaat into Urdu. His language and diction is still admired for its lucidity, its transparent structure and unparalleled precision. The translations done by him have been considered splendid mixtures of clarity, precision, grace, sophistication and wit.
The Afridi Pathans of Malihabad took active part in
The corresspondence between the then Chief Commissioner of
A son of Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan, Khwaja Ahmad Khan, emerged as a prominent Congress leader of the time of freedom struggle।
An Afridi zamindar of Malihabad and famous horticulturalist, Khan Saheb Abdul Bari Khan(1886-1940), father of Anwar Nadeem, attended the Surat session of the Indian National Congress in 1907, and is still remembered for a revolutionary Urdu weekly,Falaahat, he published against the imperialist rule, from 1919 until it was banned by the British government in 1923. A senior to Josh Malihabadi, he was Josh's local guardian when he was a student in Sitapur.
The great Urdu poet Padmabhushan Josh Malihabadi (ne Shabbeer Hasan Khan Afridi) was exiled from the state of
My mission is change
My name is youth
My slogan is revolution
Revolution and revolution !!
The revolutionary nature of his poetry won him the title of Sha’ir-e-Inquilaab (“the Poet of Revolution”). The belief that one moment of freedom is far better than years of existence under bondage formed the core of his philosophy.
Oh, dwellers of the planet Earth
The thundering sound which is coming from the heavensOne solitary moment of life in freedom is better than eternal life of slavery !!
The feeling that Josh’s poetry creates in its readers is nothing short of revolution. A number of his poems were banned by the British government. In recognition of his valuable contribution to
“Rosy and fair to the eye are the daughters of the Afridis,” wrote the seventeenth century Pathan warrior-poet Khushal Khan Khattak. Afridi women are celebrated for their beauty. No wonder it is an Afridi damsel from Malihabad, Raushanara, resident in
The Afridi Pathans of Malihabad have always been a law unto themselves, and even today they remain as unconquered as ever. During the later Mughal age it became virtually impossible to circulate the Mughal currency in the region – let alone – realise tax from the locals.
The Pathans, including the Afridi, are a people who have built up an ethical code – Pathanwali/Pakhtunwali/Pashtunwali, the essence of which is honour. “I despise the man who does not guide his life by honour,” wrote the great Pathan poet Khushal Khan Khattak. “The very word ‘honour’ drives me mad.” Although it is nowhere written down or formalised, yet every Pathan knows what is required of him.
There are three main canons of Pathanwali/Pakhtunwali/Pashtunwali :-
· Badal (revenge)
· Nanawatai (assylum), and
· Maelmastya (hospitality).
The workings of Badal have led to innumerable feuds and brought Malihabad as much notoriety as its mangoes have brought fame. The obligation of Badal is nicely summed up in a Pathan proverb : “He is not a Pathan who does not give a blow for a pinch.”
Nanawatai requires a Pathan to offer protection to anyone who asks it of him. Its biggest manifestation was seen when Begum Hazrat Mahal took refuge with the Afridi Pathans at Mawai Basantpur in Malihabad. When about three hundred British soldiers reached Malihabad in her pursuit, they were massacred by the men of Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan ‘Ahmad’, taluqdar of Malihabad. The site of this incident came to be known as ‘Gumsena’.
Maelmastya is best reflected in the Malihabadi Pathan practice of feeding mangoes to everyone with the same munificence, from the ordinary villager to the President of the country, from fakirs to aristocrats. Even the richest and proudest Pathan personally serves tea and biscuits, or sometimes a full-scale meal to his guests. Their hospitality has few parallels, but it does not take long for the violent streak in their nature to manifest itself at the slightest provocation. Lieutenant Governor Havelock, at one time considered an honoured guest by Nawab Muhammad Is’haaq Khan, taluqdar of Qamandi Khurd and Thari in Malihabad, had to flee for his life from Malihabad, when he made the near fatal slip of the tongue by telling his Afridi host that the area was a stronghold of wicked scoundrels. For the proud Afridi Pathans, for whom bravery, strength, and courage are highly valued qualities, there could not have been any insult greater than this.
Legends abound in Malihabad, and the anecdotes of Nabi Sher Khan are still recounted with characteristic laconism by locals. As to how the hotheaded Nabi Sher Khan smashed an eye of his out of existence, just to get rid of a fly that kept sitting on it. “Na rahegi aankh, na uspe baithegi makkhi”, was the unassailable logic that prompted him to such drastic action. When hospitalised for medical treatment, he proceeded to chew up the thermometer, which the nurse kept inserting into his mouth to his great annoyance. That he survived despite all this speaks volumes for his hardiness. But then, Malihabad is a land of legends, synonymous with unimaginable things.