.. by Dr Mir Baiz Khan
The 4th International Hindukush Cultural Conference held in Chitral from 14th-16th September 2022. Chitral Public Library, a modern building with conference facilities was the venue; it is located in the cantonment area of Chitral Scouts and adjacent to Government Degree College, was an ideal venue in Chitral context in terms of convenience and security. Despite the meager resources that are available to the Liberian who is an energetic young professional with ambitions to digitalize it with materials related to Chitral history and cultures which are placed elsewhere in archives in the form of manuscripts. He was generous to give me a tour to the library and brief me how he is proceeding with his ambitious plan.
Presentations made at the conference were truly exciting ones. Although presentations were either in English or Urdu, the official and national language respectively, the presenters were of different backgrounds linguistically, ethnically and sub-culturally. It was glaringly noticeable that the intellectual transitioning is on the horizon; the topics of the presentations and the age of the predominant majority of the presenters reflected that the change is inevitable. The old repeated topics seem to be giving way to the new progressive and futuristic topics in contents of the research and approaches of the researchers. Two examples can further illustrate this observation.
Ijaz Ahmad, a young scholar made a presentation on a manuscript of a local poet named Bacha Khan Huma. Both the poet and his poetry were unknown until today. The contents of his poem is a pleasant departure from decades old stalled circle within which everyone had to be fixed in his thinking. The other is a presentation by Mubashir Ali, another young scholar comparing the similarities and differences in poetic style and contents of Ziarat Khan Zerak, a local Chitrali classic poet and William Wordsworth, a British romantic poet. The young scholars’ presentations were ground breaking and what was immensely reassuring was their energy, intellectual approach and self-confidence in exploring new grounds.
It was a great moment of happiness for this writer to see a few female scholars in conference attendance and making presentations. Dr. Almas Khanum, Dr. Sobia Aslam, Dr. Shafiqa Bushra, Dr. Shumaila Shauket Ali, and Miss Ruviada Khan and Uroob Fatima brought great richness to the conference with their presence and presentations. However, what was missing was that these accomplished scholars were not given a leadership role; they could have been moderators, session chairs and keynote speakers. It was particularly disappointing for this writer because in the 2rd International Hindukhush Cultural Conference held in 1990, he sent his wife from Karachi, a non-Chitrali, to read his paper in the conference in order to encourage female participation. Indeed for the leadership responsible for the organizing of the conference, this was a great loss of opportunity.
The real show of talent was displayed at the cultural shows organized for the entertainment of conference participants. It felt that the young artists – poets, singers, musicians, drummers and dancers – were ready to bring about a revolution of rejuvenation and a new and high level of sophistication of the rich and admirably diverse and pluralistic cultural traditions of Chitral as it was once. This writer was amazed to observe the tender, caring and respectful relationship between the senior mature poets and the young novices with their unique way of emulation of their seniors. With the creative impulses and potentials coupled with the creative talents of these youth, one can say without hesitation that tomorrow Chitral is in good hands. However, one element, a key one, was missing and that is that the young poets were from different valleys with different local languages, all shared their poems in one lingua franca that is khowar. In Chitral, I am told, there are sixteen dialects. How great it would have been if there was a representation of the diversity in the poems recited and music played. If Chitral’s diversity to remain and its society to become pluralistic, all languages and cultures of Chitral to be respected, treated and represented equally. A poem, a piece of music, a dance and other items could have been included from the fifteen other languages and sub-cultures of Chitral. A Gawari song, a Kalash dance, a Yadgha poem, a Wakhi dialogue are just a few examples of being inclusive.
Leadership in any organization is a lynchpin around which revolves everything else. The organizing committee of the conference included a group of dynamic individuals who were the driving force of this conference, which was enormously complex and challenging. The committee was extraordinary in dealing with issues of sensitive nature, some of those issues cropped up from nowhere and they were surprisingly unusual and unexpected. It is due to these individuals that the conference was a great success. As mentioned earlier that leadership is pivot for any initiative, be that new or ongoing. It has to be fluid and dynamic otherwise it will become like a pond with stationed water, overtime with the same water it becomes inconsumable and a breeding ground for mosquitos. Thus, timely change of leadership brings about rejuvenation of organization to give it a fresh look and invigorated strength and dynamism. It is about time, it seemed, that leadership needs to be handed over to the new generation of scholars. .. Dr Mir Baiz Khan, Toronto, Canada (Independent Scholar and a participant in the Conference).