Remembering Attah Shad

Masood Hameed on the work of Balochistan's poetic giant on his 21st death anniversary

Remembering Attah Shad
“To a poet in lover’s mood” observes Peter Lamborn Wilson, “the sea smiles with him in his joy, the wind whispers the name of his beloved, the stars look down on him like friendly eyes; to the same poet in another mood, the same sea looks grim and cruel, the winds mock his sighs, and the cold stars watch him with a passionless inscrutable gaze.”

It is through contributions that we get a peep into the life, character, temperament and idiosyncrasies of a poet. A whole array of poets, novelists or prose writers is thus recaptured from a seemingly distant past and they become known and familiar to us as though they were our own living contemporaries.

A great man is he who is both the creature and creator of his age. Such fabulous honour goes to great poets like Mohammed Ishaq, known as Attah Shad. Born as to a carpenter’s family in November 1939 at Singanisar, in Turbat, Balochistan, he left a legend and tradition of his own for Urdu and Balochi literature.

It is often said that it is a writer’s job to hold a mirror up to society. That is, in fact, precisely what a literary giant like Attah Shad did, with his witty and caustic satirical writings. Moreover, for the beauty of his expression, he is recognised and becomes a favourite to many lovers of literature.

Attah Shad with Dilip Kumar

He is known not only as poet but also as a critic, playwright and researcher. At the beginning, he wrote poems in Urdu and later his interests prompted him to write in the Balochi language.

In his early poetry, Attah Shad mostly took a leaf out of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s book and followed his literary example. But very soon, he was creating his own graceful form of expression.

In 1950s, the Balochi literature landscape was mainly dominated by two giants, Gul Khan Naseer and Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi. Attah Shad, new to this, was able to explore novel techniques and styles for modern Balochi symbolic poetry. For these contributions, in fact, Shad is extolled as the architect of modern symbolism in Balochi literature.

In the beginning, Shad’s critics became detractors of his style. Later, they acknowledged his mastery and Shad’s modes of expression became the most popular ones among the current generation of Baloch poets.

During the time of Attah Shad, Balochi poetry ran along either ‘progressive’ or ‘purist’ styles. Shad relied upon neither of these but worked on a new poetic diction. His work was inclusive of words from all dialects of the Balochi language. He shunned the overused themes, modes of expression and metaphors.

The traditionalists would accuse Attah of sensationalism. But he ignored them all and kept producing great poetry.

Symbolism and expressionism are the brilliant literary genres that Shad relied on for his poetic compositions. The new diction afforded him a distinct poetic expression.

Attah Shad at Radio Pakistan with Jameel-ud-deen Aali, Prof. Mujtaba Hussain, Bashir Baloch and Abid Rizvi

Akbar Barakzai, a famed figure in Balochi literature, says, “It was the ultra-modern poems that brought Shad to a frisson in literary fame and recognition”. Barakzai added that Attah’s modernity may be accounted for by the fact that he was greatly influenced by Miraji, Noon Meem Rashid and the European symbolist movement.

“One exceptional attribute of Shad’s poetry which singularly distinguishes him from all the other Urdu and Baloch poets is: Shad’s work evolved from kaleidoscope images of nature and nuanced sounds, scents and colours of Balochistan” observes Akbar Barakzai.

It is also a popular opinion that Attah Shad’s poetic wanderlust brought him to progressivism. Unlike many other poets he would never compromise on aesthetic principles. His progressivism can precisely be defined as aesthetical progressivism, in fact.

Attah Shad uses a popular Balochi proverb in his short poem Wafa (oath of allegiance): “Tas e aap sad  sal wàfa”

This proverb that Attah quoted in his poetry reflects the generosity, hospitality and loyalty of Baloch society that is steeped in its distinctive social and cultural ethos. It may not be deemed merely as a stereotype that arose from ‘primitive’ Baloch society of bygone days. In fact, this proverb still resonates with the existing reality for many.
Attah Shad also introduced a new poetic flavor to Urdu poetry by versifying Balochi folklore, romantic sagas and maxims

Attah Shad’s poems like Shipank (The Shepherd), Dil greeth o shap nareeth (Cries the heart and wails), Sahat Nameeran int (Time is eternal), Januzam (The Widow) and Firangi Zal (The White Lady) provided a fresh direction to contemporary Balochi verse.

The poem Sahkandan (On the threshold of death) is typical of Balochi resistance poetry.

Attah says:

Tao pa sarani gudaga zind a hayalan kush a;

Pa sindaga dashth kàn a pula cha buh talania

His focus here is on the idea that while individuals can be killed, ideas cannot.

Poems like Mahnaz, Shay Mureed o Hani and Lori depict various epics.

Attah Shad’s poem Wass ay Bewasi (Utter helplessness) is the dreadful cry of the marginalised people, filled with a sense of aloofness and destitution. Shad, in fact, quite wittily expressed the miseries of his people in his verse.

Attah Shad also introduced a new poetic flavor to Urdu poetry by versifying Balochi folklore, romantic sagas and maxims.

Despite Shad’s massive contributions to Urdu literature, sadly, it looks like he has been forgotten, even disregarded, by the Urdu literary establishment of today.

This despite the fact that Urdu poetry’s giants such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ahmed Faraz spoke volumes about Attah’s Urdu poetry and praised his contributions.

Attah Shad, besides his literary activities, also worked for Radio Pakistan Quetta from 1962 to 1969. Later, he served in several government positions: Information Officer, Director General and Secretary CInformation.

He died on the 13th of February 1997 and was buried in Qasi graveyard, Quetta.

Attah Shad may have left us, but his legacy in Urdu and Baluchi literature will never die.

The author is a freelance columnist and blogger. Hey may be reached at