Taran N. Khan takes us through the lanes of Kabul, creating an elegant cartography of poets, museums, archaeologists and local book markets.

Written on the City

The road to Kabul is made of stories. A fragment of a memory leads me to the afternoon when I first read about the city, in a book I found on Baba’s shelves. The adults were deep in sleep; the house filled with the kind of stillness in which fables begin. The short story I perused was written by the legendary Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore in 1892.

Abubakar Siddique’s book is a well-researched and racy account of the Afghanistan jigsaw, writes Avalok Langer in Tehelka

pashtunIt’s 2014 and as promised, the US is withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan. No one knows how many soldiers will stay back and what their role will be, but one thing is clear: after spending over a decade and billions of dollars on their “war on terror”, the world’s most powerful nation will leave behind a fractured nation, forced to somehow pick up the pieces and try to rebuild itself.

Carlotta Gall’s book does a decent job of building on the general narrative of the US choosing the wrong war to fight. But it falls short when it comes to providing foolproof sources to back its claims, writes Avalok Langer in Tehelka

carlottagallAs dawn broke, American and Afghan soldiers surrounded the village and advanced on foot, searching houses and detaining people. “When they came right into the village and saw the dead women and children they were very sad and their attitude changed towards us … they told me through a translator that they had made a mistake. They said ‘we are sorry, but what’s done, we cannot undo.’ … ‘They were collecting body parts in buckets’, the governor told us … Four days after the bombardment, the place was still a scene of unspeakable gore. Blood stained the ground and putrefying flesh was still entangled amid the bright scarlet blossoms of a pomegranate tree.”

Why the book I Am Malala is too simple an answer, the narrator too quick a martyr and the narrative too slyly an ode: Guernica

malalaThe cover of I Am Malala suggests an entirely straightforward book: a courageous answer to the question posed by a gunman in the back of a school van. The simple portrait that looks out from the bookshelf broadcasts Yousafzai’s bravery (her bare face to answer a man covering his) while also, with its undeniable echoes of the National Geographic photo of Sharbat Gula, the “Afghan Girl,” offering an amuse-bouche to the audience: Herein lies a tale of heroism, of wild and untamed lands, of danger and the exotic amid the mountains and valleys. But the tension that runs just below the surface, steady and undeniable as undertow, is also present right on the cover, with the double-barreled, reductive subtitle identifying Malala Yousafzai as “the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban.”

William Dalrymple’s colourful history of the first British campaign in Afghanistan draws effective parallels with recent events: Ian Thomson in The Guardian

return of a kingKenneth Williams, with his nasal, camp-cockney inflections, made a very good Khasi of Kalabar in Carry On Up the Khyber. The film, shot in 1968 in north Wales, satirised British imperial ambitions in Afghanistan and the Kingdom of Kabul (now Pakistan). Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond and his posh cor blimey cohorts find themselves out of their depth amid tribal bloodletting and jihadi mayhem. Qur’anic ideals of mercy are not shown the 3rd Foot and Mouth Regiment as they move up the Khyber.