There is a stark difference between 24-year-old Wadan Utmankhel’s poems and his personal worldview.
“A ghazal can’t end one’s hunger,” the Pashto poet tells The Express Tribune. “You need money to buy things to end hunger.”
A resident of Prang Ghar, Mohmand Agency, he published an anthology of poems last year.
Utmankhel might have lost his eyesight when he was a child but that does not stop him from using words to evoke images of love. His oeuvre consists mainly of romantic poetry. However, Utmankhel’s life goes to show that literature is not always a reflection of a poet or author’s experiences. More often than not, the written words fail to capture the turmoil in his or her life.
The 24-year-old, who can no more see, works at a stone mine in Prang Ghar. “In the past, my uncle used to take care of me,” he says. “I didn’t need to worry about earning. However, my brother and I decided to part ways with our uncle and now I have no other option but to work.”
According to Utmankhel, the daily grind at work has taken its toll on him. “I have trouble cutting stones in the mines on the mountains,” he said.
With time, it has left him with little or no time to pursue his literary aspirations.
“There was a time when I regularly participated in poetry gatherings,” he explains. “But now, I have switched off my phone and try to avoid such gatherings.”
When reality hits you hard, it leaves a vacuum that cannot be filled easily. Still young, Utmankhel is coming to terms with the consequences of this. “I received financial assistance from one of my friends who is a poet to publish this book,” he says. “At least 500 copies were published. So far, I have sold 150 copies. The remaining copies have been gifted to friends.” According to the young poet, everyone wants a copy of his book for free, leaving him penniless.
When asked about how working in a mine has impacted his poetry, Utmankhel says he seldom attends poetry gathering after he left his uncle’s house. “No one has asked me about my financial position,” he explains. “The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has taken positive steps to provide stipends to artists. But since I live in Fata, I don’t think I will get a single penny.”
Is there hope?
Shamsul Qamar Shams, a well-known poet and official of the K-P government, said most literary organisations in the tribal belt have not been registered.
“The Frontier Crimes Regulation created hurdles for such organisations to be registered,” he said. “Although the social welfare department has started registering them, there are no funds for artists in Fata.” According to Shams, the Mohmand political agent (PA) tends to help poets but such assistance is only given to people who have approached him.
“Wadan has not approached the PA,” he said. “If he does, he will be able to obtain the stipend as he is differently-abled.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2015.