Going Native Authors

Beyond the chaos

The creative genius of Afghanistan, largely closed off to the rest of the world, is stunningly explored by the avant-garde Urdu periodical “Urdu Channel” in its latest issue that carries a special section on the contemporary Afghan short story.

Since not much is known about the literature being written in two major languages of Afghanisation – Dari and Pashto– editor of the journal and a promising poet and critic Qamar Siddiqui tries to acquaint us with what exists beyond the total chaos. In this laconic but insightful introduction, he regrets that we hardly know anything about the admirable aspects of Afghanistan. “How does war and violence produce a devilish religiosity? It is aptly reflected through the lenses of the authors. The contemporary short story brims with the elegance of creative prowess and the writers harp on the widespread feeling of disgust and aversion to the merciless violence and its aftermath,” the editor concludes.

The journal, in line with French scholar James Darmesteter’s assertion: “If we want to know what an Afghan is, let us put all books aside and receive his own unconscious confessions from the lips of his favourite poets,” makes the contemporary fiction our entry to understand how one feels to live in a situation shaped by appalling horror.

The first story in the section, “Nama-e-Amaal” (record of deeds) by a young Pashto writer Mahmood Marhun creatively delineates the dreadful consequences of a situation when people tend to forget the difference between mindless killing and scarifying the life for a noble cause. The perpetrator of violence is the killer, not the martyr. The protagonist of the story “Record of Deeds” offered up his life for a cause for him it was Jihad. A thundering voice greeted him in the grave: “You killed innocent children who could not differentiate between friends and foes but you slaughtered them all.”

“That’s right. What is the place I am?” You have not noticed yet that it is the grave and you are no longer alive.

“Am I not alive? No, death cannot touch me. Had I met my end, I would have attained martyrdom.”

“What is this?”

“This is your record of deeds.”

“Is it my record of deeds…please let me stretch my right hand. You know I am a martyr but where is my right hand. What can I do? I can use left hand for carrying my record of deeds. Ouch! Oh God. Why are you taking me towards hell, Am I not a martyr?”

“No, you cannot be taken as martyr. You are nothing more than a brutal killer.”

By turning the prevalent concept of Jihad upside down, Mahmood Mahrun tries to understand why ferocity and cruelty become acceptable and prompts people to celebrate tragedies.

Does intense engagement with an unprecedented act of madness that happened in near past produce a nuanced and enduring narrative? Rarely, it does, and Zalmay Babakohi’s short story “The Idol’s Dust” bears a testimony to the fact. Zalmay fashioned a gripping and immutable narrative only four weeks after the unfortunate destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha’s statue in March 2001. Employing unexplored power of immediacy, the author through his incisive and passionate prose questions what we are presented with. The moving and exuberant narrative depicts poignantly how mindless demolition turned the breakers of the statue into idols. The Taliban, avowed enemy of everything that does not fit into their myopic vision of religion, had blown up Buddha’s statue in Bamiyan valley. What had happened after the Buddha was reduced to ashes and pebbles, the story tells us:

“After getting the statue demolished with great difficulty, the Taliban tried to wipe the dust and soil that obscured their faces. They want to celebrate the completion of the work assigned by the commander of the faithful. Their whole body including their faces, noses, ears and hands wore a nauseating white look, they turned white and resembled the white plaster statues. One said to others, the soil and dust has inundated your faces and heads, you have changed into idols. You should also be blown up, he said and started laughing. It produced a wave of laughter. They rushed toward the river flowing in front of the idols, for removing the idol’s dust and soil from their bodies. The young crusaders plunged into the river to wash their bodies with almost chilled water. They rubbed as quickly as they could but the idol’s dust stayed”.

Since they cannot remove the dust as their appearance closely resembled with idols, it invited the ire of the supreme commander defying all codes of human behaviour. His order was: “Efface everything that either is an idol or looks like an idol. All idols are required to be destroyed at once. Everything, be it living or non-living or has become an idol, must be done away with.”

Dark secrets

The story goes on narrating the heart wrenching tales of all those who took an active part in the demolition and reacquaints with the dark secrets and contradictions of the rigid set of beliefs we could have imagined.

Three other stories by Khan Muhammad Sind, Parveen Faiz Zadamalal and Mohammad Karwan are included in the section. These stories, brilliantly rendered into Urdu by Dr Zakir Khan, make us aware how a trail of national traumas produce an engaging read. Past cannot be one’s future and the contemporary Afghani fiction creatively ratifies it. Dr Qamar Siddiqui and Dr Zakir Ali Khan deserve accolades for making the Afghani writers’ perspective accessible to a larger audience who look to understand the country beyond explosions and utter chaos.

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 3:10:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/beyond-the-chaos/article26734461.ece

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