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Ghani Khan: Life and Works

Ghani-KhanKhan Abdul Ghani Khan, also known by his pen name ‘Lewanae Falsafi’, was a modern Afghan-Pashtun poet and artist of the 20th century, and one of the best speakers of the Central Legislative Assembly of British-India in 1947. He was unfortunately less understood among the Afghan-Pashtuns and less known poet across the world just as Khushal Khan Khattak and Rehman Baba. He was born in December 1914 at village Utmanzai, District Charsadda of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (then North West Frontier Province). Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa was under the supervision of British-India from 1893 to 1947 after the historical agreement of Durand Line, between Great Britain and Afghanistan in 1893. 

The birth of Ghani Khan coincided with the inception of the World War I in Europe. He was the eldest son of the great legendary freedom fighter and the Red-Short Leader, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan also known as Bacha Khan (King of the Kings). His father was the first ‘Khudai Khidmatgar’ and the non-violent leader of the Pashtuns. He was also known as ‘The Frontier Gandhi’ as he was a close fellow of Mahatma Gandhi in the freedom movement of the United India. Owing father’s influence, Ghani Khan was also involved in politics, supporting the nonviolence movement in India.


Bacha Khan and Gandhi G

Ghani Khan had a multi-dynamic personality. He was not only a poet, but a great artist, philosopher, theologian, historian, politician, humanist, statesman, mystic, and chemical engineer. He saw very closely the ins and outs of life from the very beginning to the very end. He was unfortunately a most unfortunate person because he was born in such a society where love, art and music were considered taboos.


As a matter of fact his people were the lovers of art, music and poetry but it was actually the religious Mullah who had declared all these as taboos in the name of Islam. After banning love, art and music the people of his society had developed trend toward extremism. And extremism benefited Mullah in the recruitment process of Mujahideen (Muslim Jihadists).

In his life Ghani Khan was also sent behind bars for six years in 1948 by the unconstitutional and unelected government of Pakistan. His only crime was the struggle for the rights of non-violent Khudai Khidmatgars from the platform of Zalmay-Pakhtun; the defensive organization against the offensive Muslim League. Ghani Khan, like his father Bacha Khan, was the follower and preacher of non-violent philosophy. Baba believed in secular independent India while his Muslim rivals ‘The All India Muslim League’ full packed of Muslim elites, believed in communal politics in subcontinent. But after the partition of India no stone was left unturned by the Muslim League while torturing Ghani Khan and the non-violent Khudai Khidmatgars. M.A. Jinnah, the main factor of the Indian partition and the founder of Pakistan, gave free hand to his companion Sahibzada Abdul Qayum Khan to torture the non-violent Pashtuns as much as possible. And even though the unconstitutional and unelected government of Pakistan declared Bacha Khan, Ghani Khan and their fellows as the traitors of the Islamic ideological state which is called Pakistan.  Ghani Khan was imprisoned from 1948-54.

Ghani Khan’s childhood was miserable as he himself said once, “My childhood was miserable, my mother died by the influenza epidemic when I was six and Wali was four. Baba [father (Bacha Khan)] had found a new love . . . his people. He opened ‘Azad Schools’ all over the frontier province in his first attempt to change the condition of his people”[1]

Ghani Khan did his matriculation from Azad High School, Utmanzai (Charsadda) and after that he studied in Millia University, Delhi in 1927. In 1928 he studied the Bible in England under the supervision of the priest Vicam. “One of the reasons for asking Ghani Khan to stay at the priest’s house may have been that Abdul Ghaffar Khan was very impressed by the Christian missionary zeal of which he had had a foretaste of when he had been a boy studying in a Peshawar based mission school. Maybe he wanted Ghani to feel the same zeal which had led to the establishment of his Movement”.[2] He was sent to study the ways of English people;

                              They urge, ‘Go to London and learn English,

                                Meet the English and learn their ways.[3]

According to Ghani Khan ‘Baba [father] wanted me to stay with a noble English family [priest’s family] to study their ways of life and know the cause of their national ascendancy. If this was his [Baba’s] wish he should have sent me to either the University of Oxford or Cambridge which had played a great role in raising the English nation to great heights of power and supremacy’.[4] 6553427783_9502956092

Ghani Khan was a young man with enough beauty. According to Ustad Beniwal, a friend of the family, ‘in the free English atmosphere of London Ghani Khan’s good looks proved a disaster.’ He was pursued by English women everywhere and soon he was infatuated by an actress. His friends were scared that he might become serious and marry her. One of them wrote to his father Abdul Ghaffar Khan and told him everything. His father did not waste time and took prompt action and asked Ghani Khan to go to America and finish his studies there. Hence, after spending two and a half years in England studying the Bible, he went to America with the help of Sardar Shah Wali Khan then the Afghan Ambassador to the U.K. In America he joined South Louisiana University to study Chemical Engineering.[5] Though Ghani Khan went to America his heart was in London. It was then that he wrote many verses on the liberalism of the western society. In America he proved himself a capable and talented student. Here too, Ghani Khan suffered due to the detention of his father after the failure of the Round Table Conference in 1931. His father was sent to Hazari Bagh Jail (India) in 1932.[6] According to Abaseen Yousafzai in his essay “Ghani Khan; Life and Works” the property of Bacha Khan was also confiscated by the British government. “Although Ghaffar Khan was a state prisoner, no allowance was sanctioned for his children”.[7]

Ghani Khan directly suffered from financial crisis. He was stranded in America, got disturbed and lost interest in his studies. At that time America was also facing the Great Depression in its economy was in doldrums. So Ghani Khan was suffering from financial crisis both in America and at home as well. Therefore he had to return from America without completing his course of studies. Even though financial circumstances of Ghani Khan had reached such a crisis in America that even for his ticket home his relatives sent him money.”[8]

Ghani Khan came to India but he was under the influence of Europe. Therefore again he went to England in 1932 and tried his luck there but did not become successful ultimately he returned to India. His father wished and wanted Ghani Khan to become a modern Muslim scholar and completed his education from ‘Jamia-ul-Azhar’ a religious institute in Egypt. But having influence of European’s society Ghani Khan was not ready to become a religious scholar. In Europe and America, Ghani Khan completely became westernized. He used western style of suits and hats. He was highly impressed by the development of West in the field of science and technology. He was struck by the fact that he belonged to a backward country and suffered from inferiority complex. The elders of his family took strong exception to his Western style and wrote to Bacha Khan about his son’s behaviors.

Bacha Khan after consulting Doctor Khan and Rajindra Prassad decided to send Ghani Khan to Jawahar Lal Nehru a veteran Indian politician. On the order of his father Ghani Khan settled in Allabad, the native town of Nehru. Jawahar Lal and his wife Kamala treated Ghani Khan like their own son. Ghani Khan used to stay in the room of Moti Lal Nehru, father of Jawahar Lal Nehru.

Ghani Khan used to play and roam about with their only daughter Indira and enjoy each and every moment of his stay with Nehru family. But very soon Jawahar Lal Nehru got imprisoned on the charge of an inflammatory speech to the British government but he managed to enroll both Indira and Ghani Khan in the Shantiniketan (House of Peace), a university on the border of Behar and Bengal.

Shantiniketan was situated at distance of about 90 miles from Calcutta. It was founded by Rabindra Nath Tigore in 1901. He wanted the revival of Indian cultures and civilization and to create a sense of love among the students irrespective of their religion, colour, land and race. It was for this reason that the institution was named the Shantiniketan (House of Peace). 1619199_812672252093019_343980741_n

Ghani Khan and Indira both were brilliant students and took active part in the student politics and were elected president and general secretary of the students union respectively.

Ghani Khan encountered Nandlal Bose, the principal of the Art School, at the department of Journalism. An occasional visit to the Art School inspired Ghani Khan to start painting and sketching.[9] Shantiniketan had a lasting influence on Ghani Khan who was enchanted by the dazzling world of West during his stay in Europe and America. He himself conceded to it too. He was dragged back from his inferiority complex about his country’s backwardness by the education at Shantiniketan. Ghani Khan learned painting in a proper way from Nand Lal Bose and sculptures from Rabindra Nath Tigore a Nobel winner in art. Personally Ghani Khan is more inclined towards sculptures than the two dimensional media, but he has occasionally exhibited his paintings.

Ghani and Roshan

Ghani Khan and his wife Roshan Khan

په جومات کښې مې ونه موند په مکه کښې رانه ورک شـــو
خدای مې زړه کښې را پیدا شو چې مې مخ د یار کړه ښکل

Translation of the verses:

I found God neither in Mosque nor in Mecca
God becomes visible in my heart when I kissed the face of my beloved

In 1934, Ghani Khan joined the Gola Gokarnath Sugar Mills in U.P as labour officer. But due to his extraordinary talents he was promoted as Chief Chemist in a short time. At this time Ghani Khan met the love of his life…Roshan.  Roshan belonged to a well respected Parsi family of Hyderabad Deccan. Ghani Khan met Roshan in Bombay at the house of a friend. She was the youngest daughter of Rustam Jang. At first his father Abdul Ghaffar Khan opposed the marriage when Ghani asked for his permission. According to Mrs. Yahya Jan, Ghaffar Khan slapped Ghani so hard that he fell down. But Ghani was determined and he married Roshan in December 1939. The problem that raised the strife was the Non-Islamic status of Roshan as she was a Zoroastrian. This also annoyed the Khudai Khidmatgars and they threatened even Bacha Khan that they would shun their duties as Khudai Khidmatgars. But they were pacified after Roshan embraced Islam. In Pashtun’s tribes religion Islam is the sole touchstone for the measurement of each and everything. So to be a Pashtun one must be a Muslim. Although various aspects of the Pashtun culture and traditions are against Islam but now it is changing into Arabic culture due to the imposition of the very religion Islam. So after embracing Islam the family accepted his wife Roshan as Roshan Khan and with time Abdul Ghaffar Khan was impressed with how well she put up with Ghani Khan’s roily poly and melancholic moods. They were to have three children; two daughters and a son. His one daughter married a Hindu and the other a Canadian and they settled in India after their marriage. Ghani Khan married off his son Faridoon Khan at a young age. Ghani Khan was to know inconsolable grief when his only son died young of cancer. According to Ghani Khan’s sister life lost its meaning for Ghani Khan after the death of his only son Faridoon Khan. But he did try to find solace in Faridoon’s children of which Behram seemed to be his favourite.[10] Behram Khan was also the name of Ghani Khan’s grandfather.

In 1945, Ghani Khan was elected as a member of the Central Legislative Assembly of British-India. He was one of the youngest MLAs. He proved to be a good spokesman and his speeches were eagerly awaited by the other members.

Ghani Khan has proved his mettle in various fields of life. He was sculptor, painter, poet, philosopher, theologian, historian, politician, legislator, statesman, mystic, prose writer and chemical engineer.  He was the founder of the Zalmay-Pakhtun Organization which he founded in 1947. He was the member of the Khudai Khidmatgar Movement and the follower of non-violence philosophy. But he had innumerable contribution in Pashto literature and art. He is famous for his poems. Basically he has molded the old pattern of Pashto poetry into a new style.

Ghani Khan has produced his work in Pashto, Urdu and English.

  1. Da Panjeray Chaghaar (Cry of the Cage)

This is his first anthology of verses which he completed in Haripur Jail, Hadarabad Jail and D.I. Khan Jail, from October 1950 to October 1953. This poetry of Ghani Khan includes his political and philosophical thoughts. In this anthology Ghani Khan actually motivates his nonviolent Khudai Khidmatgars and awakens them from the deep slumber.

The introduction to the anthology Ghani Khan reflects upon life by feeling that a poet was a slave to his environment. He was like an animal without a skin. That’s why a poet is so sensitive to unhappiness and discomfort. If such a man is given a few days of leisure than he loses himself in happiness. Ghani Khan with his sensitive nature was horrified when he was locked up and his freedom was taken from him. In order to survive this nightmare he had to delve deep within himself in search of some hope and light. This light and hope he found when he reflected upon the happier times he had spent with his wife. The anthology is in fact dedicated to his Parsi wife Roshan Khan whom he refers to as the mother of his children.[11] He addresses his wife that;

You are like a poet dream

 But have a human body

You are like a flower of Paradise having all the Heavenly characters

Your body is delicate, cylindrical and overripe but your heart is full of light that you have inflamed Ghani Khan.

The sweetheart of Ghani born with such a composition

By chivalry she is Pashtun, by beauty she is Irani.

  1. Palwashey (Beams of Light):

This was the second poetic collection of Ghani Khan which was published in Kabul by “Pashto Tolana Kabul’ in 1339 A.H. The name of this book means ‘Light’ but actually reading this book, the readers can feel the flames and grief of the heart of Ghani Khan.

  1. Panoos (Chandelier):

 This was the third collection of Ghani Khan, published in 1978. This anthology was comprised on the two previous collections and along with new verses. This consisted of some very much popular poems like ‘Watana’ which means homeland, ‘Mullah’, ‘World and Paradise’ etc.

  1. Kulyat-e-Ghani (A Collection of Ghani’s Poetry)

(Compendium of his published verses)

This book is consisted of the above three mentioned anthologies. This was published in 1985. In this, there is much about the life of Ghani Khan.   

  1. Gaday-Waday (Stuff and Nonsense):

This was a humorous column called Gaday-Waday (stuff and nonsense), which he constantly published in journal Pukhtoon. In Gaday Waday Ghani Khan focused on social, political, and moral issues, under the pen name of lewaney-falsafi.

The purpose of this column was to highlight the social milieu of his society and to inculcate the political shenanigans of the imperial might in the minds of his people. This column was a magnificent satire on the people of the time and was a struggle to inject the spirit of humanism in a common man.

These columns were published by Pakistan Studies Center Peshawar University in 1982. This collection is contained on both verse and prose.

  1. Latoon (Search):

This book is the complete poetic work of Ghani Khan. This was published by the daily newspaper ‘The Frontier Post’ in 1995.

Ghani Khan was also a prose writer. He has written two books in prose form.

  1. “Khan Sahib” (Mr. Khan)

This book is written in Urdu language. “Khan Sahib” is a small compilation of the views of a rustic, unlettered Pukhtoon on a number of issues as he inter-acts in ‘tea-house’ sessions with highly educated and sophisticated intellectuals -a professor of Urdu, a budding artist, a professor of art, a medical doctor deeply interested in religion and a bank accountant who is a member of a religious political party.   In “Khan Sahib” Ghani Khan shows the broken and unique Urdu accent of the Pashtun. Actually this book is a satire on Urdu language which is forcefully imposed on the Pashtun of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The mother tongue of the Pashtun is Pashto while Persian (Parsi) is the second language of the Pashtun.


  1. The Pathans:

Apart from Pashto and Urdu, Ghani Khan has also produced his work in English. “The Pathan” is his famous book in English which he has published in 1947. This book is a mini encyclopedia of the history, culture, tradition, politics, folk songs, fairy tale, custom, disputes, and revenge of the Afghan-Pashtun.  Baba Ghani Khan says about Pashtun that;

           “Pathan is not merely a race but in fact, a state of mind; there is a Pathan lying inside every man, who at times wakes up and overpowers him.”

He also says that;

‘The Pashtuns are rain sown wheat-they all came up on the same day they are all the same… But the chief reason why I love him is because he will wash his face and oil his beard and perfume his locks and put on his best pair of clothes when he goes out to fight and die.’

As a progressive writer he wrote ‘I want to see my people educated and enlightened. A people with a vision and a strong sense of justice who can carve out a future for themselves, in harmony with nature’.

In 1980 the government of Pakistan awarded ‘Sitara-e-Imtiaz’ to Ghani Khan for rendering meritorious services in the field of art and literature.

This great Pakhtun artist of 82, was fighting with death and not ready to embrace it. Because

                      “Old age hath yet his honour and his toil”[12]

 He himself addresses the cruel death that;

                              مرګه ځه چيرته وركيږه زه لانه يمه اوزګار

                           خم درنګ كښې لاخمارشته زه ترې لپې ډكومه


“Death, go somewhere, get lost! I’m not done as yet –
 Joy still flows from the amphora of colors into my cupped hands.”

In one of his other poem he says that;

“Death wait! Have patience for I still have some fire left in my body.

 In my blood the fire of life is beating the drum for me to dance.

 When these pathos and music leave me

And my body becomes just a dust then come to me, O’friend (Death)

Even I myself will come to embrace you.”

“And death shall have no dominion”, death waits for none not even for Ghani Khan. It was fixed on Friday night on 15th March 1996, after a protracted illness at the Lady Reading Hospital; Peshawar breathed his last and the dancing emotions, the beating drum and the flaming fire in his heart become calm and cold but still resonating and dancing in the hearts of Zalmay-Pakhtuns. He was buried in his beloved village Utmanzai Charsadda. He is immortal in the hearts of the people as he himself says that;

‘O! My friend, I don’t believe, I don’t believe,

 The end of death is not the end of life

 Like the ending of wine in bottle, is not the end of Masti (intoxication).’ 


The Pashtun Times team at the grave of Ghani Khan in Charsaddah

Ghani Khan was a prophet of truth and the pride of the proud. He will alive for ever in the hearts of the people.

Death can never do that; to separate you from us

O’ Ghani! You are alive; you will be alive and will remain alive.[13]


Work Cited:



[2] . Shazia Babar, “Strains of Romanticism in Abdul Ghani Khan & John Keats, Poetry a Comparative  Study, (Pashto Academy University of Peshawar, 2005), p.43

[3] . Sajjad Zaheer, “The Light” (A Translation of Roshnai by Amina Azfar) A History of the Movement for Progressive Literature in the Indo-Pak Subcontinent, (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 29

[4] . Dr. Fazal-ur-Rahim Marwat, “Ghani Khan The Renaissance Man”

     (The Wufa March 1996), p.46

[5] . Khan Abdul Ghani Khan, “Da Ghani Kulyat,

     (Da Pukhwani ou Rozani Mathbha, 1986), p.652

[6] . Fatima Iqbal, “Ghani Khan as an Artist”.

 (Unpublished  Thesis Submitted to the University of Peshawar for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts, 1993-1994), Ch.I, P.7

[7] . D.G. Tendulkar, “Faith is a Battle”,

     (Published for Gandhi Peace Foundation by Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1967), pp.157-162

[8] . Ibid

[9] . “Rasta” Monthly, Lahore. March 1990. p.63

[10]. Shazia Babar, “Strains of Romanticism in Abdul Ghani Khan & John Keats, Poetry a Comparative Study, (Pashto Academy University of Peshawar, 2005), p.49

[11] . Shazia Babar, “Strains of Romanticism in Abdul Ghani Khan & John Keats, Poetry a Comparative Study, (Pashto Academy University of Peshawar, 2005), pp.90-91

[12] . A.L. Tennyson, Line from Ulysses.

[13] . Prof. Jahanzaib Niaz, “Ghani Ghani Dey” (Baharuna Kitab Kor Peshawar, 2005), p.10


Writer: Aurang Zeb Khan Zalmay

The writer hails from Bannu. He is the Editor and founder of THE PASHTUN TIMES. He can be reached at



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