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Folk Songs

The folk “songs of a nation are its spiritual self-portraits, provided the race is primitive enough to be honest. It is easy to be honest in feeling – one cannot help it -but extremely difficult to be so in the expression of it, specially as men become civilised. When custom begins to dictate to instinct, when the eyes look more at the listeners than at the face of the beloved, that is the time when convention overcomes music, ethics overcome passion, and desire is substituted for love. So if you find the Pathan folk-songs too brutal and naked and direct, do not forget that he lives a straight and primitive life in a lonely valley or a small village, and is too busy worrying about the next thing to shoot, to find time to be civilized.

Let us go to his valley in Dir. There he is – walking towards us, of medium height and sensitive build. He has long locks, neatly oiled and combed, wrapped in a red silk, kerchief which is twisted round the head like the crown of I Caesar. He wears a flower in his hair and collyrium in his eye. His lips are dyed red with walnut bark. He carries his sitar in his hand and his rifle at his shoulder. You would think he is very effeminate until you looked at his eyes. They are clear, manly and bold. They do not know fear, and won’t live long enough to know death. He pays the most lavish price for these made up eyes and painted lips. This son of the bravest tribe of the Pathans never takes cover in a fight and always laughs and sings when he is frightened. He will soon die fighting, a man as brave and strong and hand some as he, for he knows only how to love and laugh and fight and nothing else. He is taught nothing else. Let us listen to his song:

0 the flowers are lined in your hair And your eyes, 0 my beloved, Are like the flowers of Narcissus 0 my priceless rare treasure, 0 my life, 0 my soul, 0 my little mountain poppy, You are my morning star, You the flower on the slope, You the white snow on the peak, Your laughter is the waterfall, Your whispers the evening breeze 0 my branch of apple-bloosom, Who spilt moonlight in your eyes? 0 my little butterfly Come and live in my heart.

And down from the field by the riverside comes the clear sweet voice of a girl which says, apparently to the trees in her father’s field:

0 my lover, build a hut On the peak of Ilium, And I will come dancing to it Like a golden partridge.

That is how it starts. Then the boy goes and tells someone to tell his parents. And suppose everyone agrees and everything is all right, which it seldom is, then the mother fixes a date to fetch the golden partridge. The girls of the boy’s family are on the way in their best clothes, and an overdose of make-up in honour of the bride. Two white hands with henna-red palms strike up the cymbal, the giggles subside, and the song begins:

0 the groom is tall as a pine And the bride is a bush of roses, On her head is a golden shawl, On her chin is a beauty spot;

And then they get married and live happily together for they know that they will not be long together.

One day he goes out, and never comes back. He has laughed his way into a bullet that was fired by another of his own blood and race. His wife inherits from him a moment of joy, two sons and a lifetime of sorrow. She hangs up his rifle and sitar for his sons. She learns to hide her tears when she hears a love-song in the evening. She worships her elder son because he looks like his father and the younger one because he smiles like him. When she sits by the fire in the evening and looks at the eyes of her children and then at the empty space beside them she thinks of him who is not there. ‘What was our father like?” the boys ask. She cannot tell them that he was a great doctor, or a philosopher or a priest. She says he was a great man and a great fighter and she sings to them the song that was made about that fight, the fight in which the Malaizais beat the Alizais, the fight in which their father died with his three brothers and five cousins.

It was a cursed day, bleak and cold,
It was the last day of spring
When Hakim Khan and his heroes bold
Conquered the fort of the Alizai king.
A messenger came
And rushed through the tribe, From village to village,
From house to house,
And called to fight
And glory and death
The men and youths
Of Malaizais
And men picked up
Their guns,
And wives pleaded
And mother cried
And men looked at
Their children play,
And ground their teeth
And swore and sighed.
And brother looked
At brothers eyes
To see he felt
The same-
The wives wept,
The mothers cried,
The men
They rode away.
And little children
With little cries
And little hearts
And little hands,
Asked for their fathers,
Uncles and friends,
And made their mothers cry the more-
How can a child understand!
The men went through the valley Hazzaro
And up the peak of Naroke,
They sang of laughter and tomorrow
And covered death in a little joke.
The king of the Alizais
Bent and kissed His only son,
His only Child. He loved the name
He bore and blessed
And he was brave
And strong and wild
“I will tame the proud
And kill the strong
For I am stronger
And prouder.
I will crush those devils,
Those foolish fools
With cunning and

The men of Malaizais
Laughed at death
And laughed at kings
And marched and sang,
And thought of Heaven
And Hell and houris
And springs and flowers
And butterflies,
The said Allah
Is good and sweet
To him who laughs
And sings and dies.”
They said, “The cowards
Weep and work
But fighters go
To Paradise.”
And Hakim Khan
Sat on his horse, And said, “0 sons
Of heroes past,
The day of
Weighing manliness,
That day has come
At last.
“The day that you
Must prove that you
Are born of fire
And truth –
The day that you
Must give your blood
And dreams and life
And youth.
Ah, sing the song.
And pluck the string
And pray for Hakim Khan,
Who lived and sang
And loved and died
And won the name Shahi Mardan,
He led his men
And took the fort
Midst blood and
Thunder and cries.
He killed the king
And burnt the town
And married
His fourteen wives.
And seven hundred funerals went,
And each a friend,
And each man,
And seven hundred
Children ran
To see and love and leave
The man
Who brought them
Song and laughter,
To think of life
And song and death,
To know the ever
Ever after.

The Pathan has a tender heart but tries to hide it under a rough and gruff exterior. He is too good a fighter to leave his weakest part uncovered. “Don’t be so sweet.” he says, “that people may swallow you up nor so bitter that people may spit you out.” so he covers his sweetness with bitterness, self-preservation pure and simple. His violent nature, strong body and tender heart make a very unstable combination for living but and ideal one for poetry and colour. He keeps a rough face because he does not want you to see his soft eyes. He would rather you thought he was a rogue than let you see him weep his eyes out for his wife.

His father and mother try to inure him to the hardness of their own lives! “The eyes of the dove are lovely,” they tell him, “but the air is made for the hawk. So cover your dove-like eyes and grow claws.” He becomes a hawk. But sometimes in the evening he forgets life and its hardship and begins to coo like a dove.

0 the flowers with human beauty,
0 the eyes full of soft light,
And lips that intoxicate,
0 the lips that madden.
Oh Allah! You gave beauty
The light and song of Your being,
And gave my beloved in place of laughter
A garden of white and red flowers,
You gave
Love the strength of the ocean
And the heart of king,
Why did You give music the sound, the colour
And the soothing softness of prayer?
And You gave me a world of sorrows and longings
And filled my heart with tenderness,
Ecstasy and wonder,
And then gave her dreamy eyes
Full of beauty and comfort,
Sometimes flooded with moonlight,
Sometimes shaded with the evening dusk,
Sometimes brimming with hopes and dreams,
Compassionate and loving, kind and proud,
0 Allah of Hell and Judgment and Pain,
0 Allah of curling locks and pure pearls and purer song,
Oh Allah of love and beauty and youth and madness,
0 Allah of the love of the butterfly and the dreams
of the flower,
0 Maker of the narcissus, the poppy and the rose,
0 Maker of Nasim, and kisses and music,
Why did You make from Beauty
This city of dust?
And why did You give the beloved
The light and song of Your Being?

Poor Pathan! he cannot understand what his priest tells him in the light of what his heart tells me.

I have given you the meaning of his folk songs but not their rhythm and flow, their most important elements. You cannot understand a folk song by reading it, you must hear and see it. You cannot understand velvet from a description of it. You must touch it with your fingers and rub it against your cheek in order to know the deep and subtle shades of softness and go to make it. Therefore if you really want to hear and know a Pathan folk-song, go to the bank of one of his many rivers, preferably in the evening when the girls go to fetch their water and the youths hover around to get their daily dose of hope and longing, the only wine the Pathan drinks.

I promised you folk-songs and gave you a very amateurish ordinary love-story instead, that is primitive enough to end in marriage and children. I am sorry but that Is just like a Pathan. He cannot think of love without I marriage. If he does, he pays for it with his life and therefore all his love poetry is about those who dared it.

Society all the world over will hound you for breaking a convention and worship you for daring to do so. Man has a way of worshipping the Breaker of Idols while posing as a great devotee of the temple.

The Pathan may shoot the lover of his daughter but he will sing to the glory of love. A strange attitude, you will admit. No stranger than yours when you would hang a thief and admire a merchant. Man has a way of hanging Christ and asking Pilate to dinner. But whenever he wants to sing it is of Christ, not of Pilate. There are no love-songs about the law. No poet has ever dedicated a song to the mother of his ten children.

The Pathan feels just the same as you. He cannot afford that expensive luxury, the prison, but he can afford a cartridge. The feeling is the same in both cases – only his expression is stronger because he is stronger and poorer. He cannot give Pilate a “gin Rickety,” so he gives him a bite of melon, that is all. But when he sings of love his eyes grow soft and dreamy as yours do, for love and dreams are as universal as measles and fairies.

An Incident >>

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