It’s hard to consume any information related to Afghanistan without meandering onto stereotypes about jihadis and bombs. That’s why the book Poetry of the Taliban, edited by Kandahar-based researchers and writers Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, is important. It reminds you of the loves and life of the ordinary people who still reside in the war-tornmountains.
Two hundred poems, written by residents of Afghanistan, in Persian, Urdu and Pashto were collected since 2006 for this book. Some are a spontaneous outlet for those trapped in the dark shadows of unrest, while others offer glimpses into Afghan tradition and politics.
Sample this. Poet Najibullah Akrami writes, ‘A small house/ I had from father and grandfather/ In which I knew happiness/ My beloved and I would live there/ They were great beauteous times…/ But suddenly a guest came/ I let him be for two days/ But after these to days passed/ The guest became the host/ He told me, ‘You came today/ Be careful not to return tomorrow.
The verses are straightforward, and describe its citizens’ grave realities. Another one, set at a wedding says — The young bride was killed here/ The groom and his wishes were martyred here/ …The story full of love is martyred/ The bride is drenched in red blood/…storms came upon her beautiful life/ But the news brings press releases from Bagram/ Saying that ‘we have killed the terrorists’/…the President has appointed a commission once again / Go and see who they have killed’/ Their pockets are filled not to say a word…
Other poems are as satirical and bitter as you would expect from a country in the throes of a civil war. ‘How many are the NGOs’ describes the disenchantment with the elite agendas of their ‘saviours’. ‘How many are the NGOs!/ Wasting time, they merely sit in their offices/ Their salaries more than ministers/ How many are the NGOs/ It is not clear where these people come from/ How many are the NGOs’.
Some of the imagery is intelligible only to someone with prior exposure to Pashtun poetry, but almost all of it is comprehensible to the reader.
The collection of poems is categorised into Before September 11, Love and Pastoral ( 2007 onwards), Religious, Discontent, The Trench and The Human Cost.
The book also tells you how the poetry was sourced and recorded — via CDs, MP3s, radio and even letters. Many have been turned into songs — an irony in a country where music is still banned in large parts.
A particular verse in the last poem, Graveyard, reads — ‘But among these graves, one of them can be seen from afar/ a martyr’s tomb it is/ it’ beauty is seen from the flags/ As I look at this grave/ hope is buried there/ warm wishes/ are buried there..’ The poem moves on to speak about a woman who visits this tomb, and slowly weeps — ‘her youth is turning to soil,’ — haunting imagery at its best.
The news reports that pour in live from Afghanistan could not transcribe the pain of the people living through the violence. This book did.