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Landays

(From Poetry Foundation. Link to the complete article given below)

I call. You’re stone.
One day you’ll look and find I’m gone.

 

The teenage poet who uttered this folk poem called herself Rahila Muska. She lived in Helmand, a Taliban stronghold and one of the most restive of Afghanistan’s thirty-four provinces since the U.S. invasion began on October 7, 2001. Muska, like many young and rural Afghan women, wasn’t allowed to leave her home. Fearing that she’d be kidnapped or raped by warlords, her father pulled her out of school after the fifth grade. Poetry, which she learned from other women and on the radio, became her only form of education.

In Afghan culture, poetry is revered, particularly the high literary forms that derive from Persian or Arabic. But the poem above is a folk couplet — a landay — an oral and often anonymous scrap of song created by and for mostly illiterate people: the more than twenty million Pashtun women who span the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Traditionally, landays are sung aloud, often to the beat of a hand drum, which, along with other kinds of music, was banned by the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, and in some places, still is.

A landay has only a few formal properties. Each has twenty-two syllables: nine in the first line, thirteen in the second. The poem ends with the sound “ma” or “na.” Sometimes they rhyme, but more often not. In Pashto, they lilt internally from word to word in a kind of two-line lullaby that belies the sharpness of their content, which is distinctive not only for its beauty, bawdiness, and wit, but also for the piercing ability to articulate a common truth about war, separation, homeland, grief, or love. Within these five main tropes, the couplets express a collective fury, a lament, an earthy joke, a love of home, a longing for the end of separation, a call to arms, all of which frustrate any facile image of a Pashtun woman as nothing but a mute ghost beneath a blue burqa.

From the Aryan caravans that likely brought these poems to Afghanistan thousands of years ago to ongoing U.S. drone strikes, the subjects of landays are remixed like hip-hop, with old words swapped for newer, more relevant ones. A woman’s sleeve in a centuries-old landay becomes her bra strap today. A colonial British officer becomes a contemporary American soldier. A book becomes a gun. Each biting word change has much to teach about the social satire that ripples under the surface of a woman’s life. With the drawdown of American forces in 2014 looming, these are the voices of protest most at risk when the Americans pull out. Although some landays reflect fury at the presence of the U.S. military, many women fear that in the absence of America’s involvement they will return to lives of isolation and oppression, just as under the Taliban.

Landays began among nomads and farmers. They were shared around a fire, sung after a day in the fields or at a wedding. More than three decades of war has diluted a culture, as well as displaced millions of people who can’t return safely to their villages. Conflict has also contributed to globalization. Now people share landays virtually via the internet, Facebook, text messages, and the radio. It’s not only the subject matter that makes them risqué. Landays are mostly sung, and singing is linked to licentiousness in the Afghan consciousness. Women singers are viewed as prostitutes. Women get around this by singing in secret — in front of only close family or, say, a harmless-looking foreign woman. Usually in a village or a family one woman is more skilled at singing landays than others, yet men have no idea who she is. Much of an Afghan woman’s life involves a cloak-and-dagger dance around honor — a gap between who she seems to be and who she is.

Read more at the Poetry Foundation link here

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42 Diaries From the Frontline

By Sameer Arshad Khatlani

Afghan diplomat Masood Khalili had enrolled for PhD after finishing his master’s degree from Delhi University, when communists seized power in Kabul in April 1978. His father, iconic poet and academic Khalilullah, called him from Baghdad, where he was the Afghan ambassador, to break the news. He warned Khalili that the communists had come and Russians will follow. “Go get your PhD from the mountains of Afghanistan,’’ Khalilullah told his 28-year-old son. Khalili immediately left Delhi to join Afghan rebels as a political officer in Peshawar, before entering Afghanistan.

Khalilullah’s fears came true the following year when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. Khalili responded by crisscrossing the country, mostly on his donkey, for the next nine years to mobilise Afghans against the occupiers. Read more

Source: The Indian Express


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Book Review: Garrisoned Minds: Women and Armed Conflict in South Asia

minds

As a journalist one has covered and read stories galore about rape, atrocities by the armed forces and militants and suppression of women in the name of religion, caste, but reading Garrisoned Minds underlines the brutality all over again.

So disturbing are some of the essays that it is not possible to read them at one go. The book follows 12 journalists across the conflict zones of South Asia—Pakistan, Nepal and India (Kashmir and the Northeast). The impact of 13 long years of war in Afghanistan is evident in neighbouring Pakistan.

The editors, Laxmi Murthy and Mitu Varma, have done well to begin each section with the historical context of a conflict. It is a bold book because it names and exposes the armed forces as well as extremists who tortured and raped women. For women, breaking the silence has severe consequences and without support, few women dare speak out. Read more


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Review: In ‘More,’ Dispatches From Hell by a Human Trafficker

more

This disturbing new novel by Hakan Gunday, one of Turkey’s leading young writers, is like a visit to a Hieronymus Bosch hell: terrifying scenes of suffering, starvation, sadism, depravity and the agonies associated with combat zones. “More” recounts the story of a boy named Gaza who works with his father, a human trafficker, and it conveys the suffering of refugees and migrants as they try to make their way from war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Syria through Turkey and eventually on to Greece and the wider world (that is, if they survive a cascade of perils, one more awful than the next). It is also the narrator’s coming-of-age story, starting at 9 — a dark fable that traces the metamorphosis of a bright schoolboy into an appalling monster.

The importance of this novel — which won the French Prix Médicis Étranger award — lies in its horrific portrayals of refugees fleeing desperate situations, sometimes leaving home with a lifetime’s possessions in a single plastic bag, only to find themselves in another inferno, preyed upon by unscrupulous smugglers and thugs. Such passages powerfully convey the plight of a record number of refugees today — the United Nations estimates that 65.3 million people were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution at the end of 2015 — with the visceral, emotional detail that reports from policy groups rarely possess. Read more


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Review: The Pashtuns: The Unresolved Key to the Future of Afghanistan and Pakistan By Abuba kar Siddique

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. Continue reading


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Review: The Wrong Enemy — American in Afghanistan 2001 2014 by Carlotta Gall

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.” Continue reading


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I am Malala: Not Anne Frank but Harry Potter?

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.” Continue reading


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Review: Return of a King by William Dalrymple

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. Continue reading


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Afghanistan: How is Hamid Karzai still standing?

William Dalrymple writes about the Karzai family in the NYT

william_dalrympleThe Karzai family graveyard lies a few miles outside Kandahar, on the edge of the village of Karz. On the day I drove there, burned-out cars stood rusting by the sides of the road, children splashed through open drains and bullet holes riddled the mud walls opposite checkpoints. Amid all this, the graveyard stood out — gleaming, immaculate. Straggling bougainvillea and mulberry trees blossomed over the calligraphic tiles topping the cream-colored walls. Through the double gates were lines of cypresses. In the middle stood a domed enclosure containing the graves of the clan elders.

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Review: The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam

Nina Martyris reviews The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam in the LARB

BlindMansGardenAslam roots The Blind Man’s Garden in a fictional town in northern Pakistan, but the story spills over into the chaos of Afghanistan. Though written after The Wasted Vigil, the events in it prequel those of the earlier novel, which is set a few years into the war on terror. This is a looser, less honed book than its outstanding predecessor, and because it hoes the same brutal and melancholy 9/11 furrow, it lacks the freshness of the former. But it is still has the power to move and terrify. Continue reading