Affectionately referred to as the first lady of Pashtun fiction, Zaitoon Bano – a popular voice on radio, a favorite face on television, and a word widely read in the press – passed away on September 14, after inspiring four generations of Paktun scholars.

Born on June 18, 1938 in the village of Sufaid Dheri near Peshawar, she received an education at a time when most parents were reluctant to send even boys to school. However, his father, Pir Syed Sultan Mahmood Shah, and his grandfather, Pir Syed Abdul Qudoos, were both revolutionary poets and therefore granted Bano permission to prove his latent talent.

And proves she did, raising a loud voice that would continue to resonate in the hearts of many, calling for substantive change in a male-dominated society. Bano was a household name in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and even parts of Afghanistan, for his bold expression and strong female voice that highlighted women’s issues. She enjoyed the same respect in Pashtun literary circles as that accorded to Bano Qudisa in fiction in Urdu.

With its demise, Pashtoine fiction has lost a strong writer who exerted a well-measured resistance, invoking justice, space and respect for women in an environment plagued by unwarranted stereotypes and taboos. Her work has brought to light the recurring themes of so-called honor killings and domestic violence, topics that male writers did not tackle with the strength and courage that it did.

Zaitoon Bano, whose illustrious literary career had an undeniable impact on Pashtun literature and Pakhtun culture, died on September 14

She was a ninth grade student when she wrote her first short story under the pseudonym “Razia Begum”, only proudly revealing her identity when a Peshawar publisher sent her a money order of 250 rupees for her first book, Hindara. . [Mirror], about a young girl married to an elderly man without his consent.

She then obtained an MA in Pashto and Urdu from the University of Peshawar, was a senior producer at Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) Peshawar Radio and also taught at various educational institutions. She married the famous Urdu and Hindko writer Taj Saeed and the couple, like Ashfaq Ahmad and Bano Qudsia, enjoyed a good reputation in literary circles.

From 1958 to 2008, she authored more than two dozen books, such as Maat Bangree [Broken Bangles], Juandi Ghamoona [Living Pains], Khoboona [Dreams], Kachkol [Begging Bowl], Zama’s Diary [My Diary] and Naizurray [Straw]. Her Urdu novels include Sheesham Ka Patta [Leaf of the Rosewood Tree], Barg-i-Arzoo [The Wishing Tree], Bargad Ka Saaya [The Shadow of the Banyan Tree], Dhool [Dust] and Waqt Ki Dehleez By [On the Threshold of Time].

She also has a volume of Pashto poetry, titled Manjeela [Head Cushion]. Fetching water is seen as the responsibility of women in many rural areas of Pakistan; the manjeela is the donut-shaped pillow placed on the head to hold the water pitchers in place while protecting the head.

Three years ago, the Culture Directorate of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa published a huge collection of Pashtun short stories from Bano, titled Da Shagu Mazal [A Journey Through Sands]. Spread over 700 pages, the book contains stories that she wrote between 1958 and 2017. Besides Pashto and Urdu, she was also familiar with Hindko, Punjabi, Persian, Arabic and English languages.

Bano was a popular voice on radio, hosting the show Da Khwendo Narrai [Women’s World] for decades, and has contributed numerous scripts to Pakistani Television (PTV) and Peshawar Radio on various social issues. Interestingly, she also starred on television, portraying a number of title roles from her own stories, as she felt that no one other than her could do justice to the characters she had created after careful observation. . In an interview with this scribe in 2018, she said: “My characters are straightforward, straightforward, telling the naked truth regardless of the so-called taboos and stereotypes in society, because the idea of ​​hiding facts, or saying half-truths, never bother them. “

Poet and president of the Pashtun Academy at the University of Peshawar, Prof. Abaseen Yousafzai calls her “a whole literary package”, adding that “Bano is dead, but her characters will not be because they still live around them. from U.S. Her pencil strokes will always haunt the perpetrators of women’s rights violations. She was the shadow of the perpetual sufferings of women, which she displayed through her characters in a dignified manner.

Bano’s portrayal of the duality of man and oppression against women had such a remarkable impact on the public that today a large number of young women not only participate in literary and cultural activities, but have also become courageous enough to lead seminars, symposia and reading sessions without the help of men, observes Yousafzai.

Writing on Bano’s storytelling, the late director of the Pakistan Academy of Letters, Professor Khatir Ghaznavi, noted that “symbolism has no place in Bano’s stories … product. hypocrisy. “Zaitoon” literally means “olive”, a medicinal plant, so she was sent by God to heal the ailments of her society. “

Famous Urdu writer and television artist Bushra Farrukh believes that Bano crafted wonderful storylines that had an instant impact on readers, and her role in creating a space for women in the rigid Pakhtun society is important. . “The scent of charm is rare in Bano’s writings as she would operate on our society’s ulcer with her sharp quill.”

Professor Salma Shaheen, writer and former director of the Pashtun Academy, believes that Bano’s masterful hand has cleared the thorny bushes from the path of many women writers and motivated them to speak out against the injustices inflicted on women under the guise of ” cultural norms ”.

Kalsoom Zeb, author of several books and president of the Khwendy Adabi Lakhar group of writers, saw Bano as a mentor who had opened many windows for the women of the KP and encouraged them to fearlessly fight for their genuine rights. “Her dearest dream was to see literate KP women engage in literary, social and political activities, and she saw her dream, though still unclear, come true.”

Another prolific writer, Hasina Gul Tanha credits Bano’s writings for creating a stir in the minds of men, encouraging them to educate their daughters in order to save society from paralysis, as she saw education as a powerful weapon. for the empowerment of women.

In recognition of his immense contributions, Bano has received around 15 national literary awards, including the coveted President’s Pride of Performance and Tamgha-i-Imtiaz. Her life’s work has left an indelible mark on KP’s literary scene and continues to influence writers, women and men.

The writer is a Peshawar-based contributor on Pashtun literature and culture. He tweets @ sheralamshinwa4

Posted in Dawn, Books & Authors, October 17, 2021

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