Atta Shad Baloch: The Unsung Poet of Urdu

An interview of Atta Shad Baloch, a renowned poet of Balochi and Urdu

Born as Mohammad Ishaq, renowned Baloch poet Atta Shad Baloch had to change his name at an early age in a way that could be called rather interesting. In this interview with Parveen Shakir, one of Pakistan’s few female poets, Atta Shad says there were already three students in the first class at school when he had gone for admission. So his teacher suggested his father that the kid’s name be changed in order to avoid a confusion among the teachers and students. Subsequently, his father asked the teacher to suggest a name. Atta Mohammad, the teacher had said. That’s how from Ishaq, the renowned poet of Urdu and Balochi became Atta. In later years of his life — as he started poetry — he earned himself a name as Atta Shad.

When I posted this video on my Facebook a few days back, a friend of mine was irritated the way Parveen Shakir refers to Atta Shad as ‘tum,’ the Urdu word for ‘you’ used to address someone in a very informal and casual way. I was also a bit uncomfortable the way Parveen was continuously addressing him as ‘tum’ whereas Atta Shad was using the word ‘aap,’ also the Urdu word for ‘you’ but used to address interpersonally to show respect and admiration for the people whom you are talking to. In Urdu, there’s a huge distinction between the two words, and their usage sets the whole mode of the conversation. Since it is a TV interview, I presume, Parveen Shakir could have used the word ‘aap’ instead.

Atta Shad has done one of his best poetry in Urdu language and his contribution to the literature of the language are immense (His poetry in his native Balochi language is also  considered the best ever done in the language). But it’s unfortunate that he has not received the appreciation and acclaim he is entitled to shockingly enough, he used to be referred as ‘Quotay da shayar’ in Urdu mushairas (gathering of poets in which they present their work of poetry) instead of ‘Quetta ka shayar,’ or the poet from Quetta, by the people of the dominant culture in Pakistan. The word ‘quota’ was used as if Atta Shad had been invited to their gatherings not because of his stature as a poet, but because there had to be representation of Balochistan in these mushairas.

Anyhow, Atta Shad’s contribution to Urdu and as well as his mother-tongue – Balochi – would be remembered forever. He continues to inspire me and many others in Balochistan no matter how discriminatory the poets or people of the dominant culture in Pakistan get towards this brilliant poet of his time.