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An absolution of Hareep in the North
Ustad Jan Ali’s mellifluous Journey

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In 1934, was born now 88 years old legend Ustaad Jan Ali. He was brought up in Sharot, Gilgit.Ustaad Jan Ali declares Malang of sherqila aka ‘Junglee Peer’ as his role model. Following the lead of this vocal trailblazer, the then young songwriter started winning hearts since then! As a youth during the mid-1900’s in Gilgit, Ustaad Jan Ali’s passion for songwriting was kindled by the mutinous sound of his Guru Malang.    

Let’s face it – Ustaad Jan Ali has cultivated a concise bio that accentuates his accomplishments, to go along with his vintage-inspired imagery. His convalescence music infuses strong vocals and resonant harmonies into contemporary reggae and traditional rhythms. It wouldn’t be inappropriate to give a buzz about his career as a primary continuation of peace building. He has, unquestionably, been the only folk bard from Gilgit to have raised social situations via his popular odes even when it wasn’t a thing.

Baba-e-Hareep Ustaad Jan Ali has developed a troubadour memoir for 7 decades, that’s a considerable example of incorporating all of the significant elements of being a bohemian virtuoso.  From the description of his innate style to his accomplishments, and a mention of the Broadside Ballads, this very writing wraps all of the bases.

Speaking to the team The Karakoram, Ustaad Jan Ali, the fiercely rooted in Hareep, shared some of the little-known facts about his life excursion. Here is how it starts:

Ustaad Jan Ali wrote his first song at the age of 12. He Joined Northern Areas Scouts like many other youths of the town at the age of 14 in 1962. By the time of his retirement, he had already jotted down plenty of songs addressing social issues and domestic problems in his signature witty way and reached the peak of his musical career.

About his childhood, he quoted “Right after two years of my birth I lost my father, my adolescence was no different than any common kid in Sharot, my ancestral place. Got schooled, and graduated from middle school, so I know reading and writing.

When team The Karakoram asked him about any songs/poems he could recall he said “I don’t remember the number, there has to be as many as likely since I haven’t put together a record of my compositions, regardless, I can tell that I do think of each one of them for certain.

His success speaks for himself, many like us have grown old listening to Ustaad Jan Ali. He has invariably succeeded to inspire the youth, and certainly discerns the enunciated culture of the locality like many other indigenous artists. About the lasses of Gilgit he asserted that he would recommend them to never give up on their passion. He advised that fresh writers should uncover the connotation and motive of their writing in order to cherish the profession.

What makes him distinctive is his way of articulating modern sensibilities and ordeals in time-honored genres of Shina sonnet!

Despite being marginalized by the regional taboos, the practitioners of the arts in Gilgit have kept enchorial carol, unwritten tales, maestro, and proficiency extant for centuries now.

Ustaad Jan Ali would usually comment on the political crisis in Gilgit explicitly stated.

He even intoned a few verses for ‘The Karakoram’ from one of his distinguished compositions that goes like this:

Shong thay mour tha zamana hoshiyar bilin,

Gilgitaich gileeto karay ikhtiyar bilin?

Mae sargann gileet thae khachi Haal bilin,

Khash dareeno nomech intiqal bilin.


Watch out for mumbling; this era is prying on you

The people of Gilgit never had the leverage, to decide their fate.

Oh, My beloved Sargan (old name of Gilgit) Gilgit, You have become Pitiful

The entire land is being allotted to nonnatives.

Apart from poems about his political stance, he had inscribed about the love of his life too.

Talking about this lesser examined content of his life, he narrated “No one can be a credible poet unless he has flunked in love”
He fell in love scandalously with a married woman, at that time he was wedded too. And to the awe of all, none in their families came off to have a problem about it till the date.
He dares to accept and own his love in front of the world. They say that when an artist is bold, strong, and unflinching in his message and voice, he becomes a Legend.
He cherishes his cohort artists and asserts his profound admiration for Professor Amin Zia, Behram, Jamshed Dukhi, and Abdul Khalid Taj.

He is a fable who has altered a genre forever, revamped the shape of music, and established a new outlet for expression.

Honoring his extensive services and attainments, the Government of Pakistan presented him with well-deserved recognition; one of the Highly ranked rewards in Pakistan the presidential Award, the Pride of Performance officially known as Presidential Pride in February 2022!

Whether it is a political dogma, interpersonal considerations, or a comprehensive view of society, His music made him who he is!!

He takes a strong bearing against aggressive religious indoctrination and the installation of fear. Furthermore, bringing up the complication of separating right from wrong:

Thae masjid ga yah

Thae Iamam ga yah

Jannat as horanee mai Ghulam ga yah

Fasad gir alim to maey imam ga yah

Fasad ot tak tharain o Islam ga yah


Neither do I want your mosque, nor do I strive for your Imam (who leads prayers in a mosque)

I don’t crave for the beautiful woman of the heaven promised,

I repudiate him as my Imam if he’s hostile.

Also, I reject the Islam which stir up conflict.

On imploring about some overtures for the government he told

He’d like to be a part of some Heritage Music instructing foundations,

Yet, he said we require academies which would be prepared to lodge youth who are eager in learning and in-turn treasuring our lineage. The explanation he referred to for stressing a setup with accommodation is that since most of the hopefuls belong to far flung neighborhoods of the region and are impoverished, additionally they’re treated as frivolous for embracing the pursuits, nevertheless they’re enthusiastic enough to adopt it as a career and we should commit to our best to facilitate them.

After conversing with the living parable, himself, what ‘The Karakoram’ inferred is…

He Who Sings, Prays Twice…

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Epic of King Kesar

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Like other regions of Tibet & Magnolia, the Epic of Kesar-the son of god has been equally popular in Baltistan-the Little Tibet, and Gilgit and Hunza (Brushal) since its creation. For centuries and millenniums, this grand epic was not written but transmitted orally from one to the other generation like a holy gospel.

The Epic of King Kesar possessed a great importance in the societies of Baltistan from the very beginning to late 19th century AD, the time when a great change started emerging in the region by introduction of Islamic and modern Persian and Urdu Literature. In the past, this epic was the prime Literature of all Tibetan regions including Baltistan and in Brushal i.e. presents Gilgit & Diamar Divisions. as and had a very important role in forming the local culture, traditions, games and sports, politics and the social structure and it remained the greatest source of entertainment as well.

I had the opportunity to record the epic in 1980 when I accompanied with Dr.Renate Sohnen (Tubingen University Germany) who visited Baltistan collect and record some legends and folk songs of Baltistan. We recorded the Kesar epic from late Abdur Rehman Mistripa in Stak village of Baltistan who was the last master epic reciter. Dr Sohnen made two copies of the epic. We both had one copy each for our literary use. 

I had been going through this epic for several years and I had the opportunity to read some books on the mythology of ancient Greece, Egypt, India and history of Persia as well and some other books. Study of these books increased my interest and knowledge in epics and legends and acquainted me with the high value of this epic as well.

In the 1st International Symposium on King Kesar (Chinese Gesar) Epic in Chengdu China-1988, I presented my paper “A Survey of the Legendary Kesar in Baltistan Area” as well as sang a song from the epic showing  the Kesar singing tradition in Baltistan, both were approbated by many scholars  from outside as well as inside the China . 

It is strange to note that the Epic of King Kesar (Baltistan version) contains many subjects, events and characters similar to Greek and Egyptian Mythology as well as ancient Persian history. In this regard, this epic covers many characters, events of Golden and Silver Ages of Greek Mythology, the early time of the Pharos of Egypt and the beginning of the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great. For example   Egyptian gods and deities Khnum, Horus and Anubis are very similar to Phasangkha Raskes (father of Kesar), Khre-bu Khraqthung, Wamoe-bu Joli (uncles of Kesar) etc.; AND the Symplegades (clashing mountain) and Braq-sgo Jiring-mo in Nar village of Skardu, and Golden fleece of ‘Jasson and the Argonauts’ and quest for the golden fleece of Brong Xampa in Kesar Epic look very same.   Moreover, Valhalla of Northern (Scandinavian) Mythology and Yashirat Katsa   look very similar. We find two abodes of Kesar in the epic. First Yashirat Katsa a spacious cave or rock-cut house, during his youth and later his castle Shel-kar Ldem-khar during his lordship. Shel-kar Ldem-khar means a hanging castle of white crystals, which clearly gives the idea of a dwelling place in the high crystal mountains. It is also analogous to the rock-dwellings of the Samoud people, whose time period has been reckoned as 2200/2000 BC. Moreover, a tale in this epic i.e. the abduction of the goddess Lha-mo Brung-mo, the wife of Kesar by the Turkish king Plaghal-lde and her recovery by Kesar look very similar to the abduction of Sita the pious wife of Ram Chanderji of Indian Saga “Ramayan” by Rawan of (Sri) Lanka and recovery of her by Ram Chanderji. But here, Kesar stands much higher than Ram Chanderji, as he reached the Turkish capital, plundered Turkish army and brought back his wife single handedly overcoming all magic-powers, human and monstrous obstructions and other hazards. It is generally believed that the story of Ramayana came in to being during pre-historic time of India. Keeping in consideration the above similarities of characters, events and social lives, it can be convincingly said that the epic of Kesar was composed or created in between 2000 BC; and 1500 years BC.

Similarities of matters, events and characters in this epic with the mythology of Greece and Egypt give us a clear indication that during the prehistoric time or precisely in the 1st and 2nd millennium BC; there was a strong relationship between the east and the west, and they used to influence each other through trade and tourism through the Silk-routes. It is very interesting to read that an outstanding research scholar of Kashmir Professor Fida Muhammad Husain and Suzanne Olson from New York who are particularly involved in researching the ancient history of  the sub-continent and its northern bordering places like, Ladakh and Kashmir, in their books. Prof. F. Hansen in “The Fifth Gospel” writes (page -8) “Contacts between East & West: From time immemorial there have existed contacts between the East and the West. Besides the sea routes, there were land routes for commercial as well as political purposes. It is a historical fact that there have been continuous migrations from West to East, during ancient and medieval period of our history, in search of better natural resources of food, water and wood. We have scanty references about actual routs used by the nomad tribes during their migration. However, it is clear that there existed links between the Middle East countries with India, Afghanistan, Central Asia and Tibet. (Page-9) It may be pointed out that since ancient times, there existed an easy highway from Arabia to Persia, then to Afghanistan and North India to Kashmir to Tibet and the Pamir’s”. (Page-199)  “The Silk Route:  During the ancient world, the countries in the south west Asia, formed one compact unit. During the 6th century BC; Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and some regions of the northern India formed part of the Achaemenian dominion of Cyrus and Darius. The people living in this vast tract of land, had close links by way of trade, commerce and culture.”.Prof.Hasnain further writes “from ancient times, the valley of Kashmir had established commercial relations with Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asian countries. Its capital lay on the Silk Route, which connected East and West. Many centuries before the advent of Jesus Christ, the armies of the Greeks, penetrated in to North India and the Indus basin through land routes of the past”. (200) “Herodotus knew the people of Kaspira or Kashmir”. “During the reign of Cyrus, the Great, the whole region from Thebes to Taxila in the Punjab came under the domination of the Persians. With the extension of the Persian empire by Darius, right up to the North-western regions of India, the valley of Kashmir including Hunza, Nagar and Chiral came under direct control of the Persians”. “It may be pointed out that the Mediterranean people started moving and spreading towards East, North and the West, in the beginning of Neolithic age. One branch migrated towards North-west of Indian sub-continent. More-over Professor Hansen in his another marvelous research work (book) “Roza-Bal” has given the detail that how the Christ was narrowly survived from the crucifixion and after healing from his wounds flee from Jerusalem to the east out of Roman Empire domination with his holy mother and followers and finally arrived in Kashmir, Srinagar where he married with a Kashmiri lady “Marjan” spent some years, and finally took his last breath and was buried in a place which is well known by “Roza Bal” –the tomb of an unknown (or forgotten prophet).These quotations from The Fifth Gospel  and Roza Bal manifest the  human relationship between the West and the East, including the area in the North-west of Indian sub-continent which include Kashmir, Ladakh, Baltistan and the valleys of Hunza, Nagar and  Chitral in the antiquity. It is also  historical fact that the first Persian Emperor Cyrus –the Great had conquered the area in the north of Persia and crossed  Bolor range and conquered the areas on the right bank of River Indus and included in his empire, which certainly put some historical and cultural influence of the west over this lofty mountain valleys.Thus the migrants from the west i.e. Egypt, Greek controlled area of Palestine and the Arabs brought their myths and stories with them which were incorporated in the local fables and myths of the mountainous areas of Hindu Kush and Himalaya and a new epic was evolved under the name of Kesar.

During the study of this Epic, it was conceived that though Kesar  had a very complex nature and habits , he used all type of sorcery, tricks and seduction to overcome his opponents but his fashion of activities and adventures cannot be measured on the scale of good or evil of our time. If we l look into the purpose of sending him to this world-the world of human being, his adventures against the oppressors, the devils and monsters, who were the symbols of evil, Kesar’s deliverance of safety to the common human beings and making the world a peaceful realm, give us a clear clue that he might be one of the savior and an apostle of God in his own time, as the Holy Quran says “And certainly, we raised in every nation an apostle. – (The Bee; verse No.36)” However, the readers and the scholars may give their best judgment regarding the personality, life and mission of Kesar.  

The name Kesar (Chinese pronounce it Gesar) looks itself, a western oriented name. And as I believe, it is a transliteration of Caesar of Roman   or Kisra of Persian history, like Qaiser is the Arabic version of these titles. In Tibetan Dictionaries (like Jaschke) Kesar has been explained in two different ways i.e. (a) It is actually the corrupt form of sKey-sar which means a ‘re-incarnated” or new-born (re-born) one and (b) Name of a wild flower grown in the Tibetan mountains. In an Urdu-English Dictionary, Kesar has been termed as Saffron and in a dialect as a Lion (Pl. see Kitabistan 20thCentury STANDARD Dictionary, Lahore). However, it is very difficult to find out the correct etymology or origin of this name ‘Kesar” at the moment.

The manifestation of this Epic-which is termed as the Kesar -Baltistan version and Hunza version also, is that, it is absolutely a non-religious epic.   It has neither any tradition of Islam nor any thing of Buddhism. However, it has many traditions of Shamanism. All the other versions of this Epic found in other Tibetan areas, China, Magnolia and India have been mashed and blended with Lamaism to make it a Buddhist Epic, thus mutilating its originality and historical and social values.  

I believe that it is a great epic and is like a treasure in the bottom of sea and has no value unless this treasure is brought to surface and presented before its admirers. I bring this epic before the world readers and started translating it in English so that more and more readers could read it. I finished it incurring several years. In August 2017, two gentlemen from North Korea Mr.Byun, JiTae of Haroojai Club with another member, who were in search of  an English version of Kesar Epic visited me and after a brief discussion, we made an agreement and they paid me 2000 US$ for my “permission” to translate it in to Korean language and produce as book for the members of Haroojai Club Seoul, Korea. This deal manifest that how much this great epic “Kesar-the son of god” (Baltistan version) possess a dynamic value in to the literary societies of the world

 In 2020, the University of Baltistan, Skardu acquired my permission and published it under the title of “Kesar-the son of god” under their program  of “Preservation  & Promotion of Balti Folk Literature”,

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A Solo Female Guide on Visiting Hunza Valley

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Rahma Khan

Off the radar from the World Travel Guidebooks, Pakistan is still fighting its own battles to revive the tourism industry in the country. Home to some of the highest mountain peaks in the world, a thriving cultural and second to none hospitality, Pakistan has everything to offer to the travellers. However, one baby step at a time, the country has reached a certain small level of success to boost up local as well as international tourism in the last couple of years.

I am Pakistani by nationality but I have barely spent any time of my life in the country. Earlier this year, I packed my bags to venture out on a solo adventure to the picturesque fairytale-like Hunza Valley in Northern Pakistan. I was aware of the fact that traveling solo in Pakistan is not very straightforward just like anywhere else in the world. The only advantage I had on my hands was a little bit more familiarity with the local language as compared to other foreign tourists.

Hunza Valley in Pakistan is situated in the independently administrative state of Gilgit Baltistan. I started off my journey from Islamabad Main Bus Terminal towards Gilgit Baltistan, which was a long 19 hours mostly off-road drive towards the town of Chillas. The small town of Chillas lays a few hours’ drive ahead of Hunza valley. It sits in the lap of the Karakorum, Hindukush and Himalayan giants. I visited the ‘Junction Point’, a unique place on earth where three mountain ranges meet and two rivers, River Indus and River Gilgit merge together.

The next morning, I continued my journey towards Hunza with a private driver with a car. There is also an option to use the NATCO bus to reach all the way till Hunza, but it is rather a longer alternative than traveling in a car. The mountains in Gilgit Baltistan are dry and barren, however, as I approached towards Hunza, the entire landscape changed to giant snow-capped peaks with River Gilgit flow at their foothills. I made a pit stop at Mt. Nanga Parbat viewpoint, the 8th highest mountain peak in the world.

Just a few miles away from Hunza comes the Mt. Rakaposhi.This is a good place to stop over for lunch with a great view of Mt. Rakaposhi right in front. Also, luckily I happened to visit the Hunza Valley during the cherry blossom season, so things turned out for me more fairytale-like. And yes, you can see some really beautiful cherry blossom in Pakistan without any tourists, unlike everywhere else in the world!

Entering upon Hunza, my first stop was at Altit Fort, a 6th-century fort, which was a winter house for the ruling king. After taking a very informative and well-organized guided tour of the fort, I sipped a local apricot drink with views that will blow off anyone away! Also, when you’re at Altit Fort do not forget to try ‘Chamoos’ which is an apricot juice made with locally grown apricots of Hunza.

The final place to check off the list before I call it a day was to visit Eagles Nest, a mountain top viewpoint best known for some spectacular sunrise and sunset views over the Karakorum Mountains. And definitely, the views didn’t disappoint at all!

Next day, I hopped on again on the road for a three hours’ drive towards the very end of Pakistan, the Khunjerab Pass (Pakistan-China border), which also happens to be the highest land border crossing in the world. It is a true magnificence of engineering expertise by Chinese and Pakistanis to build Khunjerab Pass at such a high altitude and challenging weather conditions. To reach Khunjerab Pass, you’ll pass through the Khunjerab National Park, the third-largest national park in Pakistan

The final two stops of my Hunza trip comprised of a boat ride in Attabad Lake, a lake which was formed by glacier melting and flooding in 2010. The turquoise water of Attabad Lake reminded me of the beautiful shade of blue I saw in the Maldives; however, the lake drowned more than thirty small villages, which makes it a tragic beauty.

No trip to Hunza Valley is complete without visiting the Hussaini Bridge, termed as the scariest suspension bridge crossing in the world. However, the view it offers makes it completely worth crossing. I managed to reach halfway across the bridge, but extremely cold winds and slight fear of height didn’t make me proceed any further. Nonetheless, the view of the Passu Cathedral or famously known as the Passu Cones of Hunza made my effort absolutely worth every single step on that bridge.

Traveling as a solo female in Pakistan can be challenging at times due to lack of proper tourism infrastructure, but it can never be unsafe. North Pakistan, particularly, Hunza Valley is the booming tourist hotspot in the country with extremely helpful and hospitable locals who will welcome you with open arms. Pakistan is a land of natural beauty and wonders, so add it in your bucket list now to experience the most of this unexplored, untouched gem of Asia.

Rahma Khan is a travel blogger, and freelance independent journalist from Karachi based in Canada. Working as an engineer during the day and a writer by night, Rahma loves to solo travel whenever she gets time in between. She share her travel tales on her travel blog ‘The Sane Adventurer’ and her work has been published in many international travel publications and magazines.

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The Aeolian harp has roots in Greek mythology. According to the ancient Greeks, Aeolus was the god of the winds. He lived in a cave with his many, many sons and daughters, and sent forth whatever wind Zeus asked for. When Odysseus, the mastermind of Trojan horse, stopped there on his way home from Troy, he received a bag of winds to fill his sails. But while he was asleep, his men, thinking it contained treasure, opened the bag and released the raging winds, which blew their ships all the way back to their starting point.

According to Homer, it was the god Hermes who invented the harp, by having the wind blow over the dried sinews attached to the shell of a dead tortoise. As the harp needed wind contributed by Aeolus, the harp be called Aeolian harp producing enchanting harmonies when the wind passes over it.

The Eolian Harp is the title of a poem written by S T Coleridge which focuses on man’s relationship with nature. It refers to the idea that poets’ souls are riding a breeze when they write poetry, and this breeze can be considered the Poetic Genius. In the poem, Coleridge refers to this breeze, and insists that poets are the harp on which the breeze plays, creating music-–that is, creating poetry.

Perhaps William Blake would also have been familiar with the concept of Eolian Harp, being a Romantic poet. Blake believes the Poetic Genius to be beyond simply a talent for poetry; he believed it to be a connection between a person’s soul and what Romantics referred to as the sublime. The sublime referred to anything that was beyond words, anything that truly touched a person to their core, usually found in nature. Poetic Genius is the ability to tap into that sublime, and to convey it through words, with the understanding that words will never be sufficient.

Longinus (1st century A.D Greek critic) was the first critic to say that the ultimate loftiness or sublimity of literature can be said to be achieved when literature moves or transports. For example: The value of any work of literature, according to Longinus, can be assessed by introspection on the part of reader. If the reader is carried away, moved, or transported to ecstasy by the grandeur and passion of the literary work then the work can be considered as a work having some literary height and the word for literary height in Greek has been translated into English as sublime. In his essay On the Sublime, Longinus described the elements or characteristics in any work of art or literature which can make it sublime enough to carry or move the receiver. He says, “Sublimity is the greatest of all literary virtues. This sublimity is not attained by arguments but by imagination. Its effect upon the mind is immediate, like a flash of lightening upon the eye. For him, this exaltation is not only that of the work of art but also that of the artist. Longinus has mentioned five sources to attain the sublimity viz. The grandeur of thought, vivid portrayal of emotions, appropriate use of figures of speech, appropriate use of diction and metaphors and an overall majestic composition.

The evaluation of the poetic genius of Zafar Waqar Taj is a Herculean task as that need a vast exposure to his poetry, however, this may be fairly claimed that he is the living Aeolian harp of the Shina poetry and as Tagore says man is like a little flute of a reed through which God breaths eternally new and newer melodies, the corpus of Shina poetry is battering over the new and newer artifacts created every now and then by the poetic genius of Mr. Taj. The senior poets of Shina agree that we are living in the Zafarian Age of Shina poetry. Shina poetry has reached new heights and has been massively received due to his sung poetry. Those who do not understand Shina, ask for the translations, just to enjoy his songs. Poets and singers of several other languages have borrowed the music beats and main lines of his poetry to be sung in their languages.

The poetic journey of Mr. Taj is surmounting the third decade. To his literary credit up till now are two books of Urdu poetry titled Anand and Akas. Mr. Taj has composed Shina poetry in abundance. The poetry has been sung and thereby reached billions of people in Pakistan and abroad. Those who sang his poetry became famous overnight. Those who listened to it, got enchanted and the spell of his poetry made people of all ages to dance and celebrate the grandeur of his poetic art. Yet there are patriotic songs to commemorate the days of national significance and those of religious hymns to connect man to God. There are also heart rending elegies bringing lumps to the throat and tears to the eyes. They send us into deep melancholy.

The grandeur of thought is the peculiarity of poetic subjects. It means how out of this world and extraordinary is the imagination of the poet.  Mr. Taj has successively amazed us with his unique ideas and literary genius. He sees things beyond the capacity of the normal sight.

Passions latent and remained inexpressive may not carry the receiver to any end. An overt portrayal and expression of passions is what encapsulates and captivates the hearts and circulates the minds like some entity stuck in any whirlpool. Mr. Taj never hides what he feels. He shares when his anguish and pains or else when he is relishing over the draughts of serenity in meadows and paddocks.

Mr. Zafar Taj has made frequent use of appropriate figures of speech, diction, similes and metaphors. He exhibits masterly skills in the appropriate use of figures of speech, diction and metaphors.

To conclude, it may be carefully said that, Shina language shall be indebted to Mr. Zafar for its preservation in terms of diction and folk legacy. He has been the motivation behind the revival, the revitalization and the infusion of new spirit into the nearly lost Shina poetry. He may be accredited for connecting the new generation back to its roots, its language and its culture.

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