They say in Africa that when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. To this Julius Nyerere had once added that when elephants make love, the grass still suffers. Nyerere had made this witty remark at a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in the 1970’s. The organisation had been formed to extricate as much of the world from suffering the same fate as the grass in this African proverb, during the Cold War. Yet, it failed Afghanistan as most of NAM’s members were anything but non-aligned. Unfortunately, this included its leading lights.
The US decided to give the USSR a bloody nose in Afghanistan. It seemed no one cared for the poor country caught in the crossfire. Washington found Gen Zia ul Haq’s Pakistan to be a more than willing partner. For the Pakistani dictator, this was an unbelievably lucky opportunity to gain international ‘legitimacy’, even recognition. But for Afghanistan and her people this superpower showdown meant the worst misfortune, misery, death and destruction in the country’s history. The misery continues even two decades after one of the superpowers is no more.
The following article is a short trip down memory lane by an Afghan expat, Muhammad Qayoumi, for Foreign Policy (May 27, 2010). It is one glimpse, through a particular little window, of how three decades of war can push a country six centuries back in time. It is not claimed that Afghanistan did not have large areas which were, as it were, centuries behind parts of Kabul, Herat and Mazar e Sharif, even 30 years ago. But what is most saddening about this little window on the past is the realisation of the damage that has been done to the psyche of the Afghan people, regardless of who they were, where they lived and in which ‘century’. To regain self-confidence, and to let go of anxieties of more than one sort, would perhaps be the most difficult task faced by the Afghans in their efforts to try and rebuild their country. They will have to relearn to be Afghans, rediscover their own history and not only find hope and security, but once again get used to feeling hopeful and secure. They will have to learn to smile again. (bciv)
Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan…
Record stores, Mad Men furniture, and pencil skirts — when Kabul had rock ‘n’ roll, not rockets
On a recent trip to Afghanistan, British Defense Secretary Liam Fox drew fire for calling it “a broken 13th-century country.” The most common objection was not that he was wrong, but that he was overly blunt. He’s hardly the first Westerner to label Afghanistan as medieval. Former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince recently described the country as inhabited by “barbarians” with “a 1200 A.D. mentality.” Many assume that’s all Afghanistan has ever been — an ungovernable land where chaos is carved into the hills. Given the images people see on TV and the headlines written about Afghanistan over the past three decades of war, many conclude the country never made it out of the Middle Ages. Continue reading
Edited and Tranlated by Rita Kothari
We are grateful to Isa Daudpota to have alerted us to an invaluable collection of Sindhi Partition narratives.
As Isa says, most people in Pakistan are unaware of the plight of Sindhi Hindus who migrated to India at the time of Partition. The two stories are a useful corrective. Copies are available from www.penguinindia.com or amazon.com. Indeed, All public libraries in Sindh should have a copy.
Unbordered Memories. Sindhi Stories of Partition. Ed and Trans Rita Kothari. Contents and Intro
Two stories from Unbordered Memories. ed Rita Kothari. Penguin
Arundhati Roy’s New Book Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers Looks at What We Have Done to Democracy
Written by Al Huebner Cross-Post from Toward Freedom
The essays in this new book by the brilliant Indian writer Arundhati Roy cover topics that range from the attack on the Indian Parliament to the Armenian genocide, and the terrorist attack on Mumbai to George Bush’s “triumphant” visit to India and Pakistan. But what runs through all of these essays is a critical look at democracy, as practiced in those countries that claim to be democracies. Continue reading
Reviewed by S.G. Jilanee
Saadat Hasan Manto was very popular in his time as a progressive writer. But he wrote in Urdu. Now, Rakhshanda Jalil introduces him to English readers with a collection of 16 of his short stories and three sketches in Naked Voices. Continue reading
by Aasem Bakhshi
Contrary to the mainstream religious belief, incredulity and skepticism regarding the ultimate nature of truth, existence of God and eschatological claims of scripture is not an entirely modern phenomenon. In his famous thought experiment Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, Ibn Tufayl the famous Muslim philosopher of 12th century Spain, aesthetically described discovery of God as the “joy without lapse, unending bliss, infinite rapture and delight” and inability to find Him as “infinite torture”. The curious and always speculative protagonist of the fable remains incessantly engaged between cosmological antinomies such as those put forward by contests between classical Greek eternalism and scriptural creationism; or the ones related to human origins such as spontaneous generation (understandably so, considering the scientific milieu of 12th century) or simple creationism as proposed by orthodox religion. Continue reading
By Raza Rumi
Story telling has been a primordial urge, never quite expressed in its fullest measure, but always lingering and floating like life. There was a sub-continent before the colonial interaction that brought in its wake an aesthetic hardened by the industrial revolution and its uniformity of life and space. This was a world rich with myriad identities, of whispers and tales all interlaced in a peculiarly complex kaleidoscope. Since the 19th century that particular aspect of folk story telling and transfer of generational accounts gave way to what is now known as education and knowledge – instruments and reflections of power and a linear world view set elsewhere but adapted awkwardly to the local context.
This is why Simorgh Women’s Resource and Publication Centre in Lahore, under the leadership of Neelum Hussain, have undertaken the challenging task of reclaiming the rich heritage that lies in our folklore especially that of the Punjab. “The Romance of Raja Rasalu and Other Tales” is a stunning compilation of the romance of Punjab’s legendary hero, Raja Rasalu and, while it draws heavily on the
colonial storytellers, the book twists the narrative in a manner that brings us closer to the origins of our cultural sensibilities. The tales are sheer magic. The romance, the intrigue, the bravery and the integrated nature of human existence where it finds communication even with birds and trees comes to a full life throughout the narrative.
It is one thing to produce an admirable compendium but it is another matter to ensure that the purpose and spirit of the tales are adequately reflected in the illustrations. This particular touch of originality is provided by the eminent artist Laila Rehman whose breathtakingly attractive illustrations add a new layer of meaning and sensibility to the folk stories. It is, therefore, as has been rightly stated in the introduction, a book for pleasure: a pleasure that moves beyond the immediate and the momentary and merges into the real or imagined pleasure of living. Laila’s paintings and sketches are evocative enough to generate a parallel story within the larger narrative. It is as if the reader is traversing into several worlds. One minute Continue reading