This is a fictional story of a precocious child of Pesheng, a mountainous town of Bamyan, an Afghan province.
“I have no sleep tonight.
Ever and again I open my door and look out on
The darkness, ’’
Repeating these lines of Tagore, I was eagerly waiting to see the sun unveiling itself. After a long interval, the sun has shown its face. I woke up hurriedly and went directly to Grandpa’s room to wake him up. He was snoring.
I gently prodded him in the ribs and said, ‘Subhbakhairpidr-e-bazurg, Good morning Grandpa!’’
‘SubhbakhairazizumShakoorHaider, Good morning my darling ShakoorHaider!’ he replied by gently kissing both of my hands.
After bathing, he called my mother and said to her, ‘Uzma, please make sheerbrenj and heftmewa before 9:00 am. After the completion of these sweet puddings, our party will begin.’ My mother went to the kitchen albeit having serious health issues. She had to go because she was the only woman in our five-member family.
I was with my Grandpa. Do you know why we were arranging this celebratory party? It was not Nawruz or Afghanistan Independence Day, but still, we all were excited about this ruckus. The reason was a single piece of paper called Ultrasound Report, which said that after seven long years, at last, my mother had conceived a child. After knowing about this, I found myself to be the happiest person in the family, which is why I didn’t sleep the whole night.
Oh! Apologies, I’ve forgotten to tell you about my pal i.e., Grandpa. His Facebook profile description says NaeemHaider / Life in Literature. He is true. He spent a large chunk of his life with the literary intellectuals of Afghanistan. His closest friend is PartawNaderi, an eminent poet. Whenever he writes a poem, Grandpa is the first person to whom he sends it. After receiving it, he narrates a complete poem to me, which dances in my hippocampus for a very long time. This is routine. Rabindranath Tagore is his favourite poet. He can speak seven languages. ‘NaeemHaider is a multi-faceted personality, ‘said one of my Grandpa’s friends. Learn from him as much as you can, Shakoor.’’
After 9:00 am, we celebrated together and enjoyed ourselves a lot. For me, it was the most exciting day of my life because I would be a sibling of brother or sister within a week or two. I have spent ten years of my life alone and deserted. One of the worst feelings of life is to become a lonely child in the 21st century not blessed with the mobile phone or any gadget having Tom and Jerry in it. Living only literary life becomes boring sometimes, I presume.
Nasime! … Next morning, my Grandpa was going to say something to Grandma, but I chimed in and asked, ‘what is the most haunting, soul-stirring and never-to-be-forgotten memory of your life, Grandpa?’
‘Taliban did the most horrible act of my life. A Sickening and cowardly act. In 2001, they infamously blew up giant Buddhas in Bamyan, a region defined by its diverse archaeology, coruscating lakes, vivid panoramic valleys and rich green meadows. We love our culture – Afghan culture. We share it with the world through the five-day Dambura Festival every year.’ Compos mentis, he replied. ‘My nerves are pretty strong but this incident is a festering sore of my body.’
Four days later, we decided to go to Dasht-e-Barchi hospital in Kabul, which happened to be 181 kilometres away from our home town. Our neighbour suggested this hospital to us. A storm of thoughts regarding siblings had opened its floodgates, so I went to sleep and didn’t wake up on the way. After four hours, I found myself in the hospital. My mother got admitted. Exhausted, I slept with Grandpa on the same bed.
The next day, earlier in the morning, I had got the happiest news of my life. God had bestowed his blessings upon us by granting us a beautiful boy. Mother named him Omid. Grandpa welcomed Omid by narrating this stanza from Tagore’s poem, Waiting:
The song I came to sing
Remains unsung to this day.
I have spent my days stringing
And in unstringing my instrument.
Your birth has brought the true time of singing I have long waited for. Now I’m ready, said Grandpa with an ocean of tears in his eyes.
Like many, I’ll not say ‘’remembering the past is a torment, O Lord’’. It is as gut-wrenching as many other inhuman stories that happened to Afghans. It was 9:00 am, I suppose, when they came to the maternity ward in the police uniform and started indiscriminate firing. I was with my mother while she was breastfeeding Omid and grandpa was in the washroom. He opened the door but within a second a bullet of thirty rupees kissed his left leg. After hearing this commotion, my nerves began to frazzle. These three terrorists were brutally firing on the children in cribs and pregnant mothers. Every corner of the ward was soaked with the red blood of the children who made a gargantuan mistake of coming to this hellish planet – for many, and a soothing place – for some living in swanky villas. Blood was gushing out of those unfortunate mothers’ bodies who were about to give birth to those children whose right to life was decided by those living outside or inside their country. My mother was hiding under a bed when one of them noticed and yanked her hair. Omid was in her most secure lap and I, next to her. Seeing the spine-chilling face of that terrorist, I thought life was the most horrible thing. I recalled PartawNaderi verses:
“Perhaps life is crow
That takes flight with Satan’s wings
Perhaps life is a Satan himself
Awakening a wicked man to murder
Perhaps life is a grief-stricken earth
Who has opened up her bloodied arms to me”
I felt suffocated due to his presence. And what was he doing? Using racial slurs and toying with mother’s chest. Omid fainted due to fear as the sound of bullets was still reverberating through the ward.
Should I continue my story?
I wish I could throw off the thoughts because of which I feel myself nothing more than a sub-human.
But Okay, Uh-oh!
I tried to build up the courage to request that monster to forgive us and leave effrontery! “Let us choose one another as companions and compatriots, let us sit at each others’ feet! Inwardly we have many harmonies – think not that we are only what we see.” Listening to these lines of ElifShafak, he replied, “Okay, so you’re a philosopher! They are the most confusing brutes on earth. He then brutally killed my mother and innocent Omid. I became a living corpse. I have waited seven long years for my mother to successfully conceive, nine months to meet my brother and found him dead after four hours of his birth. O world – beautiful only for few, you can’t witness this horrible situation. You can’t put yourself in my shoes. You can’t empathize. Only imagining events like this will explode your hippocampus. To understand this sort of event, you have to live through it. He didn’t wait much and opened fire at my chest. Three bullets pierced through my body and I became silent. I’m dead and speaking, how? “And do not say to those who are killed in the path of God the dead, rather, but alive, but you will not feel.” I have died in the pursuit of happiness and surely this is the path of God.
After some moments, when they left the hospital, Grandpa came out of the washroom attired in red blood. He was injured much more than I thought. Blood was dripping off his clothes. He was crying, yelling and shouting. I have never seen him like that while I was alive. Grandpa was wailing, weeping, whining alone. He was mourning our death and saying,
“To whom shall I tell my grief? The grief of a battle-scarred nation of Afghanistan and these three individuals. This country has been ripped into pieces by warmongers. In the 80s, there were Pakistani Taliban and then came Al-Qaeda, ISIS, NATO, Hamid Karzai, Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah, to name a few. The only thing I know is; I’ve suffered and I’m suffering, I’ve died and I’m dying. Don’t count us mere numbers; we’re souls – do you understand, O filthy world? Allow us to make decisions for our land. I don’t know when they cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war to my beautiful country. I have spent my entire life depressed, compromising and speaking in passive tones to the real-time dogs, even. Learnt it from PartawNaderi verses:
Even when the neighbour’s dog barks at me
I can’t reach for a stone
But when they bark at me
I put off my turban of honour
And tell them in a silky voice
Welcome, I expected you
I’m flummoxed and speechless. How can they kill pregnant women and babies having a life span of only four hours? I’m still optimistic and seeking justice, that’s why my grandchild’s name was Omid – hope in the Dari language. I know and I understand, you’ll kill many like these just for your arms race, but keep in mind we’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel. If justice is denied to us – oppressed, suppressed, brutally maimed and killed, then justice of the world would be in peril – which it is, as MLK once said, “Justice denied anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. O, phoney world! Do something.”
Grandpa is speaking with whom, I was surprised. Whatever he uttered was like Greek to me. O developed and developing world! Give me all the attention I deserve. I know that peace is in the wilderness for us and we are starving for it. We have felt the lashes of unrecognized whips. We’re severely debilitated. Your kids are firing AK-47’s in a PUBG game to kill opponents, and our children are facing the brunt of the same weapons you sell to the world. They are facing bullets because of the indomitable dogs of war unleashed by you. Sitting in an air-conditioned room and mapping out war plans is very easy but putting up with their repercussions needs a brave heart. They just make plans and strategies to bid on my future, our future. Our hearts are simmering but we’re still optimistic. We are vying for justice. Peace is our Aqua Vitae. Keep in mind that these nerve-wracking sufferings might bend our staunch bravery pillars. They might shake them. But the invincible spirit of hope will awake us, unite us and make us a prosperous nation of the world. As PartawNaderi once said about Afghans:
“I’m the twin of light
I know the history of the sun
Rise from the blisters on my hands”
After my death, you would have seen an ocean of tears in my eyes. Every molecule of Hydrogen and Oxygen in it is an unrivalled glimmer of hope. After death, my eyes have got the ability to listen, too. They are open until Afghans have a prosperous life. They are listening to Latif Nangarhari’s melodious song about Afghanistan:
Zmajannanjannanwatana, Afghan watana.