Sunday, June 8, 2008

Afghan Literature

I am currently reading The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad, a woman who lived in Kabul with an Afghan family. I mention this, for though it is about Afghanistan which is much more extreme than Tajikistan in terms of Islamic culture and fundamentalism, she describes so precisely the feeling of which I still can hardly speak from my Tajik experience: the perception thof being trapped, slowly but surely more and more each day, so that on the first days you don't realize it, but on the 30th day you find a shell is hard around you. I am actually sure this is unique to women, and for a Western woman to experience this is like taking a knife in the gut, where you will not die, but the wound is so severe that you know you will bleed and hurt for a long time after.

In her book, Asne Seierstad mentions the poetry of Afghan women. This is a collection from anonymous writers which in English is called Songs of Love and War: Afghan Women's Poetry. They are called landays in Farsi and are written in two line verses of 9 and 13 syllables. Here are a few:

Cruel People, you can see the old man
On his way to my bed
And you ask me why I cry and tear my hair

Tomorrow morning I will be killed because of you.
Do not say that you did not love me

Take me first in your arms!
Afterward you can bind yourself in my velvet thighs

In many ways this is the most touching poetry I have ever heard. For these are women who loved, when to love was to commit the heaviest of crimes; they are the ones who had the courage to write about their emotions when feminine emotion was ignored, and they do, for once, not hide themselves behind a hijab or burka, but expose the honest truth about a woman's life to their society.

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