By Fazal Amin Beg(based on an interview in 2014)
Ali Ahmad Shah (nom de plume as Shani) son of Ali Madad hah was born in july 1971 at Kil in Chipursan valley. He belongs to the Ghulam Shah lineage group of the Barcha tribe of Ganish (Central Hunza). His grandfather migrated to Kil in recent pas and settled there. Shani thus in this way was born in Chipursan valley and got language shift from Burushaski to Wakhi as it is a common phenomenon in the case of most of the language community speakers of entire Hunza valley as well as Gilgit-Baltistan Region. Shani has two daughters and tree sons.
Ali Ahmad Shani got his primary level education from the Aga Khan Diamond Jubilee school in his native village Kil (up to class 2 and Mirza Aman being his first teacher) and up to class-5 from the Aga Khan D.J. school Reshit in Chipursan valley. His teachers in this school were Asmatulah, Bahram Baig, MuhammadUllah Baig, Lutfullah and others.
After qualifying his primary education, Shani had the option to either go to Gulmit, Baltit, Gilgit in 1983 or Karachi. After consultation of his father with Shani, the latter was sent to Karachi as his closed relatives were present in the metropolitican metropolitan city. Ali Ahmad Shani thus reached Karachi and at his boyhood. Staying with his maternal uncle Sultan Feroz, Shani would work in the morning in a shop and go to school in evening. In this way, he did study and did his matriculation in 1988. Continuing his job, he got admission inIslamia College, Karachi. He didqualify his F.A. (Part I) but couldn’t continue his education as his father was seriously ill. After reaching his village staying for seven days in his house, Shani’s father passed away in 1989. As he was the only son of his paents, he had thus to stay in the village with his family (mother, wife and children). Thus, pursuing his education remained as a dream as there no one else to suort Shani and his family. These constraints compelled Shani and pushed him towards earning and feeing of his family.
For the first time, he started teaching in the D.J. school Kil and continued it from 1990-1995 by getting remuneration of Rs.500/- (five hundred only) per month. He did not continue his education along with his job, at least from the Allama Iqbal Oen University.
There came up a strategic shift with the Aga Khan Education Service, Pakistan (AKESP) in 1995 that those having their education above bachelors were retained while lower than graduation were released. AliAhmadShaiwasone of those teachers, as mentioned above, having basically his matriculation certificate only. He thus had to quit AKESP after his services of five years teaching.
Observing his people of the valley and the benefits in the trans-border enterprises, Shani then alsobegan his trading in the Little Pamir of Afghanistan with the Kirghiz people. He would bring Pamiri yaks to and sell them in Hunza.
In addition, he also joined seasonally the Tourism Industry and started going with the international tourists as porter and singer with the Nazir Sabir Expedition and Adventure Travel of AshrafAman,both belonging to the Hunza valley.
Building his nice friendship relationship with the Kirghiz of Little Pamir, as is a desired norm between the Wakhi of Hunza and Kirghiz of Little Pamir, Ali Ahmad Shani got the livestock relatively for cheaper rates. He thus also bought horses. Shani became an effective member of the Polo Teams of Chipursan valley. He played efficiently the polo. Furthermore, a team of an international film industry came to Chipursan valley and made a historical film on the mountain Wakhi community. Chivalry and polo in the was acomponent of this film. The horsemen of Chipursan valley including Shani were part of this film. Shani and his horse thus earned over one hundred thousand rupees in the film shooting. Shani thus linked his sport linked with his livelihood strategically. What we could observe that from the earning coming out of the horse’s laborious job and earning, Shani constructed a new house of him. Having this experience for four years only (1996-2000),Shanisold hissecond horse also and did not keep furthermore any horse as it very difficult to rear a horse as 24 hours, one has to be with the it to caring purpose. Those who are in nuclear family, like Shani,and children engaged with education, it is very difficult to raise or rear a hourse. There is a Wakhi proverb: “zẽman-e dilwiya et yash-e dilwiyayi barobar” (means “Reearing a child and rearing a hourse are equal”). Or in another word, it is also said: “Za et yashi yi zel”(achid and ahorse are same). It isthus became very difficult for Shanito keep up with horse.
Ali AhmadShani left for the down country in 2006. inRawalpindi, he joined a Chinese company named BGP where he initially worked as a Mechanic-Helper and later on promoted to Store-Keeper. Shani thus spent almost four years with the BGP.
In 2007, Mahbub Aziz of Gulmit and Dr. Farman of Khyber (Hunza Valley) working in Ishkoshim of Afghan Badakhshan with the Aga Khan Foundation’s Tourism Promotion Department favored in hiring Ali Ahmad Shani to assist them in the field (Wakhan district) to promote tourism and culture as Shan had experience of working in tourism industry as well as playing music (rabob), singing and martial art. He served Aga Khan Foundation Afghanistan for ten months.
Ali Ahmad Shani facilitated the Wakhi horsemen learning playing polo for the first time after a long break initiated from the district headquarters Khandud (K̃hũndũt) in 2007. Another main achievement in the same year in August ofShani’s share is the historical initiative of the first ever organization of polo match on the Roof of the World, entitled “The First Pamir Festival” at Zhuy-Chilap,continued for three days. Thousands of people participated in the festival that included both local and international. Representatives of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), National Geographic Society and as well as Radio Afghanistan Kabul participated in the festival. Afterwards, in September 2007, Shani also facilitated the Aga Khan Foundation and the local community of Afghan Wakhan in organizing a cultural festival for tourism development at Chilkand (wherein the writer of this biography, Fazal Amin Beg along with his assistant Muhammad Yar Baig, also participated). The employees like Shani of the AgaKhan Foundation Afghanistan thus facilitated the local community in opening guest houses for the tourists. The guest houses included ofToshi Boy, Choqon Boy, Qach Big in Sarhad-e Burughel. Other guest houses were in Goz Khun, Qala-e Panja, Khandud, Ishkoshim and the like.
After his return from Afghanistan, Shani worked for two months with New Jubilee Insurance Company inRawalpindi but couldn’t continue it. He thus stayed at home for some time in Kil; but then started working as a contractor with the Chinese of constructing the Karakoram Highway (KKH) for three months in 2010 in Khunzhrav Valley as his son Liaqt was pursuing his study (as sub-engineer) in Swat (Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa). Although, this was a lucrative job, this was also hugely laborious, as at that time it was hard to easily get labors, Shani adds.
Ali Ahmad Shani now initiated for another venture. He opened a cabin-based eatery when the Hunza River lake (Attabad lake) was at village Hussani (Sisuni). With the shrinking of the lake in result of silting, the lake contined going down. Shani and other entrepreneurs also continued their enterprises. When the lake reached G̃harben of Gulmit, opposite Shishkat, Shani would try to benefit from the lucrative enterprise but he then ended up with this enterprise in autumn 2013 when he observed there would come up loss. He then moved to Rawalpindi-Islamabad and started working for the State Life Insurance Company. For over one year he has been working with the State Life and also along with his partner Abdul Hakim of Gulmit, he has initiated for an enterprise by supplying stationeries to the related stakeholders in Rawalpidni-Islambad.
Before entering in the field of poetry in 1993, Ali Ahmad Shani and Fazal Rahman of Zudkhun, being vocalists, would recite devotional songs at Bob Ghundi Shrine inChipursan Valley. The shrine visitors were in hundreds or in thousands and between 200 to 250 sheep and goats were slaughtered sacrificed by those visitors in the specified season. That provided an opportunity for Shani and his friend Fazal Rahman to gain their confidence and improve themselves in singing.
In the field of Wakhi poetry, Ali Ahmad Shani entered in 1993 when he was teacher. The first poem he composed resulted from the shock he received after one of his friends Rahmat Ali son of Asmatullah and Sharifullah along ith their other nine family members of Shorisavz encountered the tragic accident when in September 1992 the snow-avalach hit them at the Pomiri pastureland inChipursan. A stanza of his lament was as under.
Ye z̃hũ khushruyisht, ye z̃hũ yũwretk jawon
Hamev z̃hũ zindagi tu, ham z̃hũ pũzũv, ham z̃hũ jon
Kuyer chiz malũm tu, nas̃htes̃h yem hat jawon
Oh, all my good-looking hey my selective youth;
You were my life, you were my heart, and you were soul;
Who knew that all these eight youg men will disappear.
Shai thus started his poetry. His friends and other people would insist him during the wedding or other times to sing songs and he would do so despite the fact there was no sufficient Wakhi poetry. At the initial stage of his poetry, he would take his versese to Asmatullah Mushfiq for his approval and improvement. In this way, he got appreciation and also correction of the verses.
By now, Ali Ahmad Shani has produced over 30 poems (lament, love and social) along with his livelihood struggles to address his family affairs; and sustain smooth life. Shani remarks that he isnot a poet of higher level but the mainpurpose was to promoe Wakhi language. Shani looks for a melody first and then starts construction of his poetry around it. Along with other poets, Shani would take the approaches of getting melodies of other poets within and out of Wakhi language; but later on, when there came up objection about it, he started altering slightly the already existing melodies and framed his poetry/songs around it, he adds.
Apart from his poetry and singing, Shani is also a musician, seems inherited from his father. He plays rubob, as he started taking interest in this instruement from his childhood hen he was only 6 years old. He would sit on the lap of his father and try to learn something. His father has remaiend a competent rubobist (expert of rubob-playing).
With the course of time, Shani is of the opinion, the Wakhi poetry is moving towards its developed form. “When we compare our poetry with the poetry of those who are well educated and also those of the youth, we shy away from our own poetry”, Shani states. It is remarkable that Wakhi Tajik Cultura Association (WTCA) Hunza after its formation in 1991 worked very hard in preserving, documenting and promoting the Wakhi language, especially provided golden opportunity for the artists of performing arts. “We are and should be very grateful to WTCA,” Shani adds.
In contrast, there is also a behavioral shift among the youth, particularly with the organizers of the performing arts program by the Wakhi cultural forums formed in Islamabad. The artists from far flung areas like Chipursan are invited to the programs and at the end their contribution are not acknowledged rather there are intancesof insulting htem. Unlike WTCA’s approach of appreciation to the artists in the gathering by the management, we evidence using cultural for few persons’ personal interests or otherwise, Shani shows his reservations.
At the end, Ali Ahmad Shani conveys his striking message to the Wakhi community, especially the youth and coming generations to sustain the high Wakhi values of hospitality, politeness and honesty. “Being Wakhi, we have not inherited cheating other people. We should promote our people and language together. We should honestly deal behave with our brothers and sisters. Our anguage should be taught in the schools.”