Sunday, September 4, 2011
Afghan Affair – Déjà Vu
How often does it happen that you reach a place for the first time in your life and instantly feel you have arrived that you have been here before, and this is where you belong. As my feet lands upon Afghan soil, this is exactly how I feel. A country that I have dreamt of ever since I have known the great Himalaya and the trans-Himalayan Ranges.
My childhood was replete with Afghan encounters as dry fruit sellers from Kabul (we called them Kabuilwallahs) would potter around selling their merchandise and would enthrall the buyers (especially me) with tales of a magic land full of snow white mountains, green lush pastures, beautiful men, women and children, legends of fairies and jinni, orchards full of apricots and peaches, gurgling mountain spring a sip from which could make one immortal, the fierce horse riders, the nomadic tribes and the valor of the Afghan people who have never been conquered or subjugated by a foreign force. Names like Kabul, Khyber Pass, Bamiyan, Mazar-e-Sharif, Heart were part of my fantasy world. The northeast being the land of the mighty Hindu Kush (killer of Hindu – legend says that a Hindu King had got killed while crossing one of the high passes, so the name of the range) and Pamir Ranges spurned my over imaginative mind further.
Soviet invasion, the resistance movement, the creation of Mujahedeen and Taliban, hijacking of an Indian airplane and ultimately the US retaliation; most bizarre and severe instances of human rights violation both from outside and within and Nat Geo spurring our minds even further with stark and grim pictures of the war victims, of crippled and blinded children, and many such issues that filled up the media and thousands of novels (many of which I read hungrily) did not deter my dream that the land must somehow still preserve its pristine puerile presence where people lived happily and content and mountain springs could indeed make one immortal and I just knew that one day it would be my destiny to amble upon those orchards and green fields of Afghan and befriend the simple hearted people. My dream finally came true on that day when I stepped into Afghanistan along with two dear friends.
To my friends it was a climbing adventure; for me it was and it will always be an adventure of a lifetime, a journey to my roots, a reunion with myself that in some past life I had lost within these spectacular landscape.
From this post onwards I would be serving you dish after dish a series of snippets, travelogues, memories and simple tales—often unbelievable, often too bizarre to be fantasy, and often funny enough to make you smile but above all a reminiscence to those of us, who have begun to doubt humanity that there indeed are the most unlikely places upon our planet where kindness is found amidst cruelty, where sustenance is found amidst depravity, where innocence flourishes amidst indifference, where laughter and happiness reverberate across the valleys amidst sadness and where life blooms beneath the shadow of death. People often call Afghan a hopeless land, especially by many of those who are there to precisely alleviate that (like the international aid workers) but to me it turned out to be the only place where hope is not only burning within the darkest of hearts but amongst those who have nothing left to burn. More than the landscape and the green fields of corn and maize, what touched me deepest were the people and their attitude and their outlook towards a visitor.
Each of my posts on Afghan would have the same base title ‘Afghan Affair’ (for me it was no less than a heady affair with someone I am smitten with) followed by the name of the particular post. Through these you would share not only my journey, not so much of the climb perhaps, but also find yourself within the homes and hearts of the lovely Afghan people and would befriend them as effortless as I did. All I ask of you in return is to redesign your thoughts about this land and about mankind in general, to fill your hearts with compassion and not with biases, and to be generous to those not so fortunate and to be forgiving to those who might have erred; for that’s what Afghan would teach you eventually—to see others and yourself with compassion and it would take you on a journey within, a place where you should venture but seldom do since we are scared of the darkness not realizing that that’s where the lights sparkle. Let our journey begin.
I am not an expert on anything, least of all on Afghanistan. All I knew and know about Afghanistan can be written in capital bold on the head of a nail leaving room for the entire Koran, insha Allah. During my one month long crusade through this land I only saw a miniscule part of the vast country, interacted with few people and by no means my experience can be termed as the kaleidoscope of the country or of its people. At the best my impressions can be termed as a seagull skimming the ocean waves and picking up one or two morsels here and there, which doesn’t make it an oceanographer or a traveler through the seven seas. But what the seagull certainly knows is how to catch a fish and it can do so upon any part of the oceans or sea and it also knows that seawater is essentially saline. In short, the seagull can definitely tell us the essence of the ocean.
So perhaps my observations and stories would give you the essence of Afghanistan and all things Afghani. To conclude this post, I am sharing with you all, verbatim, some of my random scribbling within the first few days of being on Afghan soil in the same chronological order they were written. Reading them now, reads like a turbulent BBC rogue reporter reporting from Kabul, but like I said before, these came from within, at the spur of the moment. I am so glad now, as I type them out for you, that these scribbling did not get washed away by the rivers that we crossed or buried by the avalanches that buried the author alright. So here goes…
1) A nation placed so strategically, precariously and sparsely would naturally have a tumultuous past, an uncertain present and an unknown future. It is in constant turmoil in order to survive, in order to exist and in order to prove to the world that they can be independent and self reliant without all the dirty fingers mocking up their land, people and culture like an ignoramus baker’s dough.
2) They live not in hope but in despair, since that is optimism in Afghan. A country so outraged ridiculed and restricted that now all they have is a fierce attachment to their identity and ethnicity. Most people have no wish to leave their home or to know of the outside world. They smile even as they die; they dance and sing even as landmines and bombs render them limbless. Gutted houses, roofless rooms, barely any food (except naan and chai) on table, low life expectancy, and Afghans still survive with their warmth, smile, hospitality and discarded dogmatism that borders on insanity. Its beauty is unshaped and untouched by human intellect, green valleys dotted with mud houses, yellow mustard fields swaying to the breeze and the people wandering around with nothing inside their head or within their calloused hands. They have suffered so long that suffering is a way of life and any comfort is abjectly rejected.
3) Have I understood Afghanistan or its people; I asked myself as my passport is getting stamped with the exit visa. No more than I have understood myself… my heart speaks to me. With that I take a long deep look at the land where I now belonged and turn my back but not my soul to its people.
Khuda Hafiz Afghanistan and inshah Allah I shall be back soon.