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Walking the Mughal Gardens of Pinjore, 20 km from Chandigarh on the Delhi Shimla highway, one suddenly hears the haunting notes of the flute. Or sometimes a melodious voice floats to the ears. The singer very often cannot be seen for he is hidden behind an arch or sitting in a tiled dry pool. But on a crowded weekend tourists seek out the singer of sad melodies and surround him with requests for more songs.

This bard of a vanishing tribe is called Khan, the fakir poet of Pinjore. Some call him diwana Shayar or the mad poet. Khan looks very much like the romantic poet who has abandoned the world in a frenzy. His hair is matted, there is a far-away glint in his eyes and a mysterious smile on his un shaved face. He carries a flute in his hand and a blanket around his waist. A stray dog whom the Khan has chosen to be friend sits at his feet. Khan chain-smokes, very often joining two or three cigarettes in a single long line.

His poetry is that of longing and separation. The Romantic exile has a sad story. Now in his late forties, Khan was born in Manghot Brahman in the Rawalpindi district of West Punjab. Most of his kith and kin were killed in the 1947 riots and his father died a few years after the partition of the country. For six years he worked as a tea stall contractor in the Jalandhar and Phagwara railway stations. Then he came to Pinjore town and set up a tea shop and married a woman who had been abandoned along with her daughter by her husband. However, a little after the daughter was married off, his wife went away with another man. Khan could not bear the loss and gave up his work and home and took the path of `fakiri’, singing in the garden and eating whatever he got. For years he never used to accept any money but now he takes what the visitors give him and in the evening distributes it to the children, keeping only enough for a meal and a packet of cigarettes.

A cultured conversationalist even though he has received only elementary school education, he says that he came to be known as “Khan” after he staged a play called “Khooni Khan” in the town, playing the lead himself. Khan also acts in the Ramlila and the people of the town love him. He sometimes writes “sehras” for weddings. And though he has been offered jobs including one by the department of cultural affairs, Haryana, which from time to time organises an evening of his poetry in the open-air theatre at Pinjore, Khan refuses them with his favourite couple: “Teri she hanshahi se hamein Kya matlab ai dost. Fakiri ka mazabvbhi kuchh kam nahin hai” (what have I have to do with your kingdom my friend. The charm of abandonment is no less”)

Once in a while his admirers from Chandigarh and Patiala bring him to their homes for an evening of his ghazals which he pens down in `Persian script in tattered notebooks. He will never forget a person he has spoken to and very often wishes to treat his admirers to coffee in some posh restaurant!

About the author:
Nirupama Dutt

Nirupama Dutt The writer, Nirupama Dutt is a poet, journalist, translator and art and literary critic of many seasons. She lives in Chandigarh.

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