Nightingale of Peshawar falls silent

My piece published in The Friday Times

The bombing of Rehman Baba’s shrine is more proof that we are slipping, inch by inch, into an abyss. It is as if the soul of Peshawar, and by extension that of the whole of Pakistan has been scarred by those barbaric bombs and grenades. Among other ironies of the situation, this one stands out: the late Baba was instrumental in disseminating the message of Islam in the Khyber valley and beyond. And today the zealots destroy his shrine for being un-Islamic! A poet of love and tolerance, of amity and forgiveness to be treated in this manner displays how brutal we have become as a society and how fissured our state is. Otherwise a successor of a mighty steel frame, the indigenised state has surely given up to the hordes that are now hell bent on destroying Pakistan.


Rahman Baba was born in 1632 A.D. at Bahadur Kala, a village close to Peshawar. The Pashtuns hold his work in high esteem and his rank in Pashto poetry matches that of Hafiz Shirazi in Persian literature. The simple, down to earth and universal messages of his poetry have been revered by the Pashtuns as well as many adherents of the Sufi creed in South Asia and elsewhere.

In Afghanistan too, Rehman Baba was an icon and his muse was referred to as the ‘heart-beat’ of every Afghan. A friend told me how Saidu Baba, the famed saint of the now destroyed Swat valley, remarked that if the Pashtuns were to pray from a book other than the Holy Quran it would definitely be Rahman Baba’s work. But nothing describes Baba better than what Janes Enveldson had named him: the “Nightingale of Peshawar.” Alas, nightingales do not sing in gardens that have been ruined by long, harsh winters or other cataclysms such as hatred and violence. […]