An enigmatic poet

February 13, 2022

Atta Shad’s greatness remains shrouded in mystery

An enigmatic poet

Atta Shad (1939-1997) is perhaps the most enigmatic poet ever to have appeared on the horizons of Balochi literature. Although he is ranked amongst the greatest Balochi poets, his greatness remains shrouded in mystery.

In the late 1950s when most of the modern Balochi poetry was reduced to mere rhyming, Shad managed to create a peculiar aura for himself. He was destined to leave a permanent imprint on Balochi literature.

A modern poetic sensibility, refined language and a freshness of expression, made Shad an entirely different poet not only from his contemporaries but also the generations that had preceded him.

Shad restructured the modern Balochi poetry in more ways than one. He disdained the cliched themes. While he composed both poems in traditional genres and ghazals, he also produced a formidable body of free verse. The latter earned him the wrath of the traditional poets and many early on rejected his work as a sacrilegious disgrace to poetry. His poems Hosham (Unquenchable Thirst), Janozan (The Widow), Soryit (The Concubine), Shepank (The Shepherd) and Mahnu (Mahnu) heralded a new era in the world of Balochi poetry.

Consider the following lines from Mahnu:

“Mahnu, you are the envy of the moon/ I am among the wretched of the earth/ My existence is like/ a dry and barren field/ Lightning has scorched it to ashes/ Facing the wrath of the frigid winters/ Forever thirst-stricken,/ Eyes seek the sea of fragrant clouds/ At the far and unbeknownst threshold of hope.”

The vocabulary Shad chose, or constructed, to express himself had its roots in the three main dialects of Balochi language: Sulaimani, Rakhshani and Makkurani. Before him, most Balochi poets had tended to compose verses primarily in their native dialect. Shad, however, produced a somewhat standard language for poetry that resonated with words from three dialects.

Before Shad, the modern Balochi poetry hardly mentioned a man. Instead, the emphasis was on the collective. A man was thus a mere part of a crowd and lacked a distinct individual identity. It was Shad who, for the first time, assigned special significance to the individual and his existence. In his verse, we meet a man going through an extreme existential crisis.

He is the first modern Balochi poet to pondering upon the absurdity of life and its fallout on man. His poem Wass ay Bewasi (Utter Helplessness) is the lament of a man haunted by the meaninglessness of life. Consider the following lines:

“God, O God!/ Where’s that world?/ The heaven and the earth?/ Where is the day that passes into a dawn-bright night/ The flower-studded stars, the bright moon?/ Where are those entranced ecstasies?/ The pleasant landscape of pleasing hearts?/ I’m a stranger in the world / I’m condemned to be in it.”

Atta Shad’s lyricism does not strike the chord in readers’ hearts like any other romantic poet unless they have the ability to untangle the knots of his multilayered verse.

The sense of loneliness and alienation runs even deeper in his ghazals. We often find him tormented by loneliness and alienation. His quest for peace in this mortal abode often meets an unsatisfying end:

“The breeze like a pleasant dream wafted past in the dead of the night/ I’m all scorched even in the presence of God/ O beautiful earth! How I hail your ever expanding lap?/ Why am I without a home in this immense world?”

At times the sense of alienation develops into a psychological chaos so much so that the poet seeks emancipation in death.

The themes of protest and resistance flow like blood in the veins of Balochi poetry. Most of the earliest works in Balochi poetry to reach us are war ballads, written during or after wars, battles and skirmishes in the 15th Century. These poems are not mere descriptions of wars. Their linguistic construction, metaphors and expressions make them timeless art. Mir Gul Khan Naseer and Azad Jamaldini, continued this tradition of resistance and protest in their poetry in the fourth decade of the 20th Century. Gul Khan soon became a household name in the world of protest poetry. However, instead of Balochi classics he borrowed the themes and modes of expressions from the Urdu poets influenced by the Progressive Writers’ Movement. In other words he looked at poetry through the prism of resistance. The protest is that his work ignored the aesthetic and artistic essence of poetry. He expected from his pen what a warrior expects from his sword. On the other hand, Atta Shad, the angry young man of modern Balochi poetry, maintained a rather subtle approach often using metaphors to relate his themes.

In poems like Sahkandan (The Hour of Death), Meyan Rodaratk (Middle East), Nokin Bairak (The New Flag), Kuja Drapshaga Inth Roch (Where is the glittering sun?) and Rastari Jah (The Den), Balochi resistance poetry breaks new ground. Consider the following lines from Sahkandan, one of the finest free verse poems on the theme ever written in Balochi:

“Could you by severing the heads/ Perish the living thought?/ Could you, by wrenching the flowers/ Stop them from diffusing fragrance?/ If you wish me dead/ Perish my soul first/ If you seek to annihilate me/ First drag to the gallows my desire for love / Force me to gulp down a goblet of poison/And subjugate the beam of my wisdom/ Shatter the knowledge with arrows/ Death, will never perish me/ I am love, beyond embezzlement/ My footprints will remain here forever/ Forever, will glow the lamp my blood has set agleam/ I am dead, die you, as well/ You are alive, so I am.”

Atta Shad’s lyricism is unparalleled in modern Balochi literature.

He crafts images with poetic finesse and drenched with deep longing. His lyricism, however, does not strike the chords of readers’ hearts like any other romantic poet unless they can first untangle the knots of his multilayered verse. His romantic poems are at times informed by shades of nostalgia. Sometimes the shadow of death appears to loom large:

“As moonlight peeps into the bower of the night/ a flowery reflection of your countenance/ blossoms in my heart/ milky way sprinkles the oysters from the sea of heaven/ and reminds me of the rubies of your laughter.”

– Strains of Bitter Ecstasies

Or look at the following couplets:

“I remember you in my embrace/ If ever a halo encircles the moon”


“Wine and goblets, the company of fair maidens clad in exquisite costumes/ May life remain eternal, may there remain no death, no doom”

Atta Shad passed away on February 13, 1997 leaving a rich poetic legacy.

The writer is a translator. He also serves as an assistant

professor at Atta Shad Degree College, Turbat.

He tweets @FazalBaloc

An enigmatic poet