Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Wali Khan : The Frontier Liberal

by  M. Taqi

part 1 of a five part profile series written over the last two years by the writer

گریزد از صف ما ہر کہ مرد غوغا نیست
کسے کہ کشتہ نہ شد از قبیلہ ما نیست
guraizad az saf e ma har keh mard e ghaugha neest
kasay keh kushtah na shud az qabeela e ma neest

He who lacks the will to protest, should step away from my fold. Anyone not willing to sacrifice does not belong to my clan -  Nazeeri Nishaburi.

Throughout the second half of the twentieth century Wali Khan indeed remained the voice of protest and democratic opposition in Pakistan.
One is tempted to compare Wali Khan's legacy to the mystical story in Rumi's Mathnawi, of the elephant surrounded by several men in a dark room trying to figure it out. He certainly was different things to different people.
For his adversaries like the right-wing Muslim Leaguers a la Qayyum Khan or the populist ZA Bhutto he was the arch-enemy - an absolute traitor - who should have been physically eliminated. And to this end they tried their best - at times using the services of a certain leftist group in the NWFP.
His adversaries at least concurred on him being a constant thorn in their side. However, his admirers faced a bigger dilemma - how to classify Wali Khan and which aspects of his thought and politics to choose,subscribe to and admire.
Was a he a Pashtun nationalist, out to undo the wrongs of history and colonialism and reunite the Pashtun irredentas of Afghanistan,FATA, NWFP and Baluchistan and recreate a greater Pashtunistan - something that had not been achieved since Ahmed Shah Durrani.
The others argued that he was a socialist in the Nehruvian mould, who relished his role in the Afro-Asian Solidarity movement. And yet others believed that the Solidarity was a front for a complete implementation of the Soviet agenda and Wali Khan was somehow keen on carrying the latter out.
Like the people around the elephant in that dark room, in Rumi's parable, most of us - supporters and detractors alike - only felt parts of Wali Khan's political being and mistook that part for the whole. Such differences in vantage points and observations made therefrom , make Wali Khan's legacy infinitely negotiable.
For example, the late Jauhar Mir - a PPP intellectual and poet- writing about Wali Khan had stated that Wali Khan really had no political creed of his own and he borrowed and adopted the leftist ideology from his fellow travelers.
On the other hand, his comrade-in-arms Habib Jalib opened his poem about Wali Khan with :
مرے کارواں میں شامل کوئی کم نظر نہیں ہے
جو نہ مٹ سکے وطن پر میرا ہمسفر نہیں ہے
meray karwaaN meiN shamil koee kamnazar naheeN hai
jo na mit sakay watan per mera hamsafar naheeN hai
There is no one in my entourage whose creed is pettiness. No such person travels with me who can't make a sacrifice for the motherland
Jalib was visiting Peshawar in 1990 to address election rallies when I asked him about his inspiration for this particular poem about Wali Khan. He acknowledged that indeed it was the Nazeeri Nishaburi's verse quoted in the opening which he had paraphrased.
While the contemporary historians and his biographers - of whom there is a dire need - would certainly keep negotiating and determining Wali Khan's political legacy, one thing is clear that he was a pioneer in the center-left electoral politics in the undivided Pakistan.
Wali Khan's most underestimated contribution perhaps is that he made a clean break with the politics of street agitation espoused by Maulana Hameed Bhashani and the militant adventurism championed by Major (R) Ishaq and Muhammad Afzal Bangash.
The Peshawar declaration of July 1, 1968 announcing the formation of Pakistan National Awami Party (NAP) with a clear electoral program and a socialist economic manifesto was a watershed event in the history of the leftist electoral politics in Pakistan. Along with Professor Muzzafar Ahmed , Mahmud ul Haq Usmani, Arbab Sikander Khalil and G B Bizenjo, Wali Khan had brought the leftists and nationalists not just together but at the verge of political power through ballot.
Another landmark achievement of Wali Khan was using the anti-Ayub campaigns of the 1960s to help the Pashtun polity metamorphose into the twentieth century political party organization. While Baacha Khan's anti-British struggle had trickled down to the town and village level, the organization of the Red Shirts had remained arrested at a pre-independence stage. Wali Khan was acutely aware of this shortcoming and deployed the anti-Ayub campaign's scaffolding to build the NAP's organizational structure along modern lines.
Wali Khan's campaign in support of Ms.Fatima Jinnah against Ayub Khan, not only reflected his anti-tyranny character but in doing so resonated well with the Pashtun youth by then entering the universities and getting exposed to the modern thought. Some of these students like Latif Afridi and Afrasiab Khattak were to later inherit Wali Khan's political mantle at different levels.
Yusuf Lodhi cartoon 
Wali Khan's foremost acknowledged contribution remains his role in the post-1971 constitution making. It was at this juncture that he shone as a polished Westminster style democrat and negotiated and delivered with Z A Bhutto the unanimously approved 1973 Constitution of Pakistan.    
While the PPP's tactics of political intrigue and personal and political persecution threatened to derail the process every step of the way, Wali Khan and other NAP leaders remained above personal fray and pettiness. Former PPP Law Minister Rafi Raza and Sardar Sherbaz Khan Mazari's written accounts are succinct portraits of the magnanimity displayed by the opposition leaders in bringing the constitution-making to fruition.
I am not sure if he would have liked to be called one, but in his words and actions Wali Khan was the liberal in the western sense of the word.
Without subscribing to any textbook ideology, Wali Khan groomed the diversity of political visions he had managed to rally around him. He was bridge between the anti-British struggle and the needs of conducting politics in a modern nation-state. While keeping his values and historical inheritance intact he looked forward to a changing world.In a country teeming with overt religiosity, he had remained a torchbearer of secular ethos till the very end.
I believe that Wali Khan's politics will continue to be studied,admired and criticized from various ideological,political and personal perspectives but I hope that due attention would also be paid to Wali Khan the man. The man who once acted on the stage as a child-star, who was a repertoire of poetry -whether Pashto tapay or Faiz's Urdu ghazals, who loved Yousuf Lodhi's political cartoons and Gulzar Alam's music.
Like Rumi himself, Wali Khan's creed was not the moral certitude but an acknowledgment that an alternative view existed too. This, to me, was the hallmark of the Frontier Liberal that Wali Khan was.
The writer can be reached at mazdaki@me.com. He tweets at http://twitter.com/mazdaki
  • The article originally appeared in "The Statesman" on January 25, 2010.
  •  copyright Statesman, Peshawar republished for information purposes

Friday, 27 July 2012

Rajesh Khanna: The Prince of Romance

originally published by Outlook India and Daily Times Pakistan
Beyond Borders
picture copyright Hindu 

Many say Jitin Arora was born in Amritsar, India while some others claim he may have been born in Burewala in what is now Pakistan but most agree that as Rajesh Khanna he lived in the hearts of millions from Kabul to Kolkata, and beyond. I say most, as even when the prince of romance is mourned everywhere Hindi and Urdu are understood, some like a Pakistani television anchor Talat Hussain opted to deride him quite viciously. In his show dated July 19, 2012, which can be found at http://bit.ly/MuFrV3, Mr. Hussain disparages the media coverage of Rajesh Khanna’s demise on the pretext of evaluating its news value. The anchor’s barely concealed xenophobia is most unfortunate but let it not take away from what Kaka, as Rajesh was affectionately called, meant to literally hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis.

Pakistani governments had opted to first levy heavy taxes on the Indian films to curb import and then banned them initially in the western wing in 1952 and eventually even in East Pakistan by 1962. But it is still hard to erect barriers to popular culture, especially where the historical and linguistic bonds unite people despite the state ideology or political dispensation. When Doordarshan India started its telecast to Lahore it attracted not just the locals but also many others who could manage to travel to Lahore. On the other hand, Peshawar’s lifeline to the Indian cinema turned out to be the metropolitan Kabul of 1960s and 1970s. Theaters like the Temurshahi, Kabul Nandareh, Zainab Nandareh and Behzad screened new Bombay movies in Kabul. And as one Peshawari elder put it, they “descended upon Kabul to watch Aradhana in hordes”. Indeed one need not look beyond that 1969 release to grasp the magic of Rajesh Khanna.

The chemistry between Rajesh and his leading lady Sharmila Tagore in Aradhana, and thereafter, was almost palpable. Add to it Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar’s playback rendition to Sachin Dev ‘SD’ Burman’s music and there was no looking back for Rajesh. The beat, rhythm and use of orchestra to produce an exceedingly contemporary melody – as against SD’s semi-classical and folk-based tunes - in one song at least, also had the unmistakable fingerprint of SD’s son Rahul Dev Burman, whose name appeared as the assistant music director. Kishore Kumar and RD Burman became to Rajesh what Mukesh and Shankar-Jai Kishan were to the great Raj Kapoor. The trio did some 32 movies together. Rajesh was to later say to the documentary filmmaker Jack Pizzey about Kishore: “This is one of those playback singers … I mean … you hear the playback singer and you feel it is me who is singing …more or less … lots of similarity between his voice and my voice … only thing is that he can sing, I can’t!”

About that song Nilanjana Bhattacharjya notes in a 2009 study on the Hindi film song sequence in the periodical Asian Music: “Roop Tera Mastana (Your Beauty Intoxicates Me) from Aradhana, for example, unfolds in a secluded log cabin in Kashmir. The lyrics to the song annotate the rising level of passion between the couple amidst their awareness that despite having eloped, they approach dangerous territory. The lyrics effectively rule out any need for dialogue as the song sequence depicts a young man and young woman drawn increasingly closer before cutting to an unrelated scene the next morning.”

The Hindi film music and lip-syncing are virtually synonymous but this song sequence perhaps is unique in that Rajesh matched the range of Kishore’s voice only through the panoply of his expression without moving his lips. And did the male protagonist Arun’s body language and gaze fixed on Vandana, the female lead, delivered - and evoked - every emotion it could or what! Perhaps inspired by this and similar song sequences, Jack Pizzey had to say: “Kissing may be forbidden on the Indian screen but Rajesh has found more ways of implying love than the Kama Sutra has of making it!”

Little wonder that the movie, which on the face of it was a maternal melodrama, practically broke every taboo on sensuality in the Indian cinema and established Rajesh Khanna as the unmistakable prince of passion. He essayed the double role of a father and son, both dapper air force officers, in a movie that condemns a woman’s victimization at one level and at another more sublime one punishes her for a ‘lapse of judgment’. Unlike majority of Hindi movies the real protagonist of the movie is Vandana and no surprise that Sharmila Tagore’s powerful performance landed her the Filmfare award for best actress that year. Rajesh, however, came out of Aradhana as the heartthrob, whose mention forever would entail anecdotes about how girls would slap kisses on his car, write letters to him in their blood or marry his picture.

The Rajesh Khanna phenomenon was actually the sub-continental middleclass finding its first original celebrity post-1947. Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand were past their prime in more ways than one. The Nehruvian ethos of the former two especially was ready to be replaced by something more compatible with the increasingly urbanizing masses that were craving, yet not willing, to let go of the tradition. In Pakistan Rajesh was not quite the idol of the Anglicized upper crust and obviously not of the ideologically anchored-types. That is in fact true for whole commercial Hindi cinema. But Rajesh’s appeal was in the mohallahs and streets of the large and small towns where the arrival of the videocassette recorder (VCR) in 1980s provided the young and old an opportunity to cram through his entire filmography. There was hardly a neighborhood in any town where the local “music center” would not have at least his first 13 blockbusters. In a way, arrival in the Pakistani market via the VCR gave Rajesh certain immunity against the box-office as the barometer of success and forever archived his image as the quintessential flamboyant romantic.

Rajesh Khanna was a Bollywood icon when there was no Bollywood, Bombay had not become the puritanical Mumbai yet, and Pakistan, of course had not produced its own version of Bal Thackerays. The news value of anything and how it should be slotted is certainly debatable but let there be no doubt that to Pakistanis too Rajesh Khanna’s death means the passing of an era. He will always be remembered as The Superstar – the one for whom the term was coined. RIP Kaka!

Dr. Mohammad Taqi is a regular columnist for Daily Times, Pakistan. He can be reached at mazdaki@me.com or via Twitter @mazdaki

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Tales from the Qissa Khwani Bazaar

originally published by reorient in 24/7/12

A Spice Seller in Peshawar
A Spice Seller in Peshawar
There’s no doubt that the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a region located between Afghanistan and Pakistan, has seen its share of violence, lawlessness, war, and turmoil. However, there’s so much more to this vast and diverse land that is home to myriad peoples and traditions, and its unfortunate that people both in the region and in the West are only exposed to the darker side of the story.
Luckily for us,  the writers at Qissa Khwaniin the ancient tradition of their storytelling ancestors, are providing alternative perspectives to the ones channeled through the media, in the hope of changing the way the region is perceived throughout the world. I had the chance to speak to a Peshawari native about this wonderful initiative, as well as his thoughts on the FATA region itself and the endangered art of storytelling therein.
What is Qissa Khwani, and why did you establish the site?
The name, Qissa Khwani, is a reference to the old Qissa Kwhani Bazaar (Lit. ‘Storytellers’ Market) in the city of Peshawar. Historically, the marketplace was a stopping point for caravans travelling eastwards to Delhi, or westwards and northwards as far as Baghdad, and even the golden road to Samarkand! The biggest ethnic group in this area are Pashtuns, but it is also home to other ethnic groups, including Dari (a Persian variant) speaking Tajiks, Hazaras, Hindko speakers and the Baloch. The traders would have probably in between business exchanges over carpets, spices, and furs, sat down in the local tea houses and swapped stories of local areas and faraway lands. This tradition of storytelling – the telling of a  local  ‘narrative’ – is what really inspired the creation of the website. There were other influences as well, as for someone with close ties to the region, I had yet to see a newspaper or website where I could find out what was really happening in the region. The national and foreign newspapers wrote in broad brushes, missing out on cricual bits of context. Finally, one day a year back I wrote an article entitled Pashtuns: Chowkidar or Noble Savages? and finally decided to set up Qissa Khwani.
You once mentioned to me that the Federally Administered Tribal Areas are negatively portrayed in the Western media, and that you are unhappy about this. How do you view the region, and what role do you see yourself playing in changing the way people perceive it?
I do not neccesarrily see it being something exclusive to the Western media; the national Pakistani media has been as equally complicit. Furthermore, I don’t see the issue being specific to  Pakistan’s FATA alone, but rather to the entire region stretching from Herat in Afghanistan, to Attock in Pakistan, to as far north as Chitral, right down to the Baloch areas of Pakistan. My issue is not with necessarily what is reported (although that is also an issue), as much as the fact that we usually only hear one side of the story. As Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so astutely remarked, ‘the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story’.
The Qissa Khwani Bazaar
The Qissa Khwani Bazaar
The region is experiencing unprecedented turmoil. Beyond the tens of thousands that have died, schools have been destroyed, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. There has been a generation brought up to live amidst instability, and  surrounded by money, weapons, radicalisation, and drugs. To give you some examples of the insecurity, in the first three months of 2009, there were 200 kidnappings for ransom in Peshawar, while according to another source in the city of Quetta, over 800 Hazaras were killed in 24 incidents of mass-murder, in addition to there being 131 targeted ambushes since 2001.
Thus, articles or reports to do with people who live in the area are often written by outsiders, and are simplified into stereotypes (although some are benign) about terrorists,  backward war-like savages, graveyards for empires, and long-bearded lawlessness. That isn’t the case, however. The locals are people who live, love, bleed, and die like everyone else. Their lives and stories are as worthy of attention as those of anyone else’s, and are just as interesting, if not more.
A Chaiwalla
A Chaiwalla

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

Your site describes itself as a storyteller’s bazaar. What is the current state of storytelling in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan? Are traditional storytellers still relevant, or are they fast succumbing to the changes brought about by modernity?
Storytelling is always relevant. It reminds us of what the world was like, and where were are today. More importantly, stories remind us to hope and dream for a better future.
Unfortunately, storytelling faces several challenges in the region. For one, storytelling depends on the presence of curious audiences, and people willing to spend time to listen to stories. As well, there is a lack of money to spend on literacy, and one cannot freely express oneself without fear of reprisal. In the case of the latter, most of the books about the region are written by outsiders, and at the same time, there are local bookshops unable to turn a profit and  are closing down as a result. While that might sound negative, I would argue that there are many writers, storytellers, and readers out there; all they need is the right platform.
In addition to the material on Qissa Khwani, what books would you recommend as a primer to further understanding the region (i.e. the F.A.T.A.), and going beyond the headlines? I’ve just recently read a book by Jamil Ahmad (who once lived in the region), called The Wandering Falcon, which, although it was a wonderful story, did not do much to promote the positive aspects of the region.
The Wandering Falcon is an excellent novel, and it serves its purpose as a story. If you enjoyed it, I would also recommend The Pathans by Ghani Khan, which is available for free online. Both both books talk about a time that has passed two generations back. In terms of the FATA, there have been plenty of books around, and if you want something radically different, written from a distinct ideological point of view, I would suggest Farhat Taj’s Taliban and Anti-Taliban. While I don’t necessarily agree with the author on many facets of the book, it is nonetheless an attempt at offering an alternative narrative. In terms of really looking beyond the headlines and connecting with the lives of people, I have yet to read anything that really stands out.
How do you view the future of the Qissa Khwani website?
In broad terms, it will hopefully become a website which will feature a variety of different writers, writing on everything from politics, history, and culture, to travel and fiction. And perhaps – just perhaps – one of our writers will one day tell the world a story that will change how others perceive the region.
Visit the Qissa Khwani website at www.qissa-khwani.com.
About Joobin Bekhrad:
Joobin Bekhrad Joobin is the Founder and Editor of REORIENT, and the Co-Founder of art clvb 

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Love Crimes Of Kabul: A Review

please note this review of love crimes of Kabul contains spoilers with some adult themes

 by S. Esapzai

I watched this documentary recently called Love Crimes of Kabul (if any of my readers are interested in watching it – and I strongly recommend that they do). Anyway, as I was watching this film, I could not help thinking just how utterly obsessed everyone was when it came to sex, but most importantly of all, girls keeping their hymens intact to ensure purity and inviolability. Now, before my readers jump to any conclusions, I want to make it very clear here that I am not, in anyway, condoning pre-marital sex. Not at all, actually. However, in Afghanistan, premarital sex is not only religiously forbidden, as per the country’s Islamic beliefs (Shar’ia Law), but it is also illegal. Young women and men who do happen to engage in sexual relations before marriage are punished severely. So, while some are simply thrown into prison — given sentences that go up to ten years — others, on the other hand, especially when they commit adultery, are blatantly stoned to death.

Love Crimes of Kabul follows the stories/lives of three young women in the Badum Bagh Women’s Prison in Kabul, Afghanistan. And I have to say that while I was expecting to watch yet another extremely depressing documentary about the ways in which women are oppressed, especially behind bars; this documentary, however, pleasantly surprised me! It was nothing like what I’d expected; the stories that were shared were sad, distressing, and troublesome. Yet, at the same time, they were very fascinating and sort of sexy in a way. And their life in prison did not seem so bad either. They ate amazing food; were allowed to have their children live/stay with them; and they were always gossiping, laughing, and just having a lot of fun, even with the guards (who were also women, mind you)! But then things always seem peachy on the surface, don’t they? And it would be unfair of me to simply judge “prison life” on what I see in a documentary, which could also be staged, for all I know.

The first woman we are introduced to, in the documentary, is Kareema – a pretty dimpled, bold and outspoken 20-year-old Hazara woman whose crime was that she hadd fallen in love with a man, had pre-marital sex with him, and was now carrying his child. During her interview in the film, she did mention that they were engaged to get married, that she loved him very much, and that she hoped to marry him soon. I personally thought that the most interesting part about her story was that she was not caught and turned in by outsiders/relatives; but rather, she, herself, went to the authorities and turned herself in! Brave much? And her reasoning: well, her fiancé had refused to marry her partly due to her “loose” character, but mostly due to pressures from his parents, who disapproved of their relationship all along, simply because they did not want their son marrying a Hazara. Her fiancé was a Pashtun and it appears that in Afghanistan, if a Pashtun marries a Hazara, it is looked down upon (not all the time, but most of the time). It’s a sad reality but it’s the truth, it seems. So, as a result of her fiancé’s family disapproving of her (as well as her fiancé admitting in an interview that he’d wished that he’d never met her and that he didn’t love her), Kareema retaliated by turning herself in to the authorities (for having had premarital sex), which also lead to her fiancé’s arrest. And the only way he was to be released was if he married her. Her wish to marry her fiancé, of course, does come true eventually, as the film progresses. But I thought that the way she went about getting what she wanted was extremely brave, especially for a woman living in a country like Afghanistan; albeit she practically forced the man to marry her (which I am against, of course, for no one should be forced into doing something they don’t want/desire). She also admitted that she was not afraid to get divorced, yet she also made sure that she demanded enough money so that in case they did get divorced, she would be able to fend for herself. Here, I admit, I was pretty impressed with the way she handled the whole situation.

Anyway, the thing I fail to comprehend is why has peoples’ personal lives become such a concern of public authority? It’s almost like a Big Brother kind of scenario, where peoples’ every move and every action is monitored, especially when it comes to their sexual relations. There seems to be so much obsession with sex – and the control of it – that when stories of pre-marital relations and conceiving children out of wedlock arise, people become utterly barbaric and do not know how to deal with such situations. And, again, I am not saying that I condone such behaviours nor am I saying that I support/encourage them, but I just feel that there is no need to throw young couples into prison on account of it, nor even murder (not kill) them, just because society believes it to be wrong. We are all humans at the end of the day. We all have desires. We are not perfect beings. And mistakes happen. But punishment and death is not the answer! It’s never the answer. The fact of the matter is that, no matter how much we try to suppress such behaviours and scream that it’s wrong, it’s immoral, and that it is forbidden, the more young people will be lured towards it and will do it, in hiding; thus throwing all caution to the wind. Force and suppression is never the way to go about these things. Rather, it’s better to educate young people about sex and about the consequences of it, instead of brushing the whole issue under the carpet because any talk of sex and what happens between men and women in the bedroom is forbidden, for it is not something to be discussed with kids (that are old enough to understand) so openly and freely.

Further, I’ve come to realize, both through personal experience (especially on my recent trip to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) and also through other peoples’ experiences, that our women more often like to gossip, joke, and tease other women when it comes to sex (and would do so for hours on end), but they will never discuss it with their children – especially those who are old enough to comprehend it. Sex is so taboo; so wrong; yet the desire to engage in it is de rigueur. Men marry more than one woman, and while they claim that it is for other reasons besides satisfying their sexual appetites, I somehow never buy that claim. No man is saintly enough to take on a virgin wife, who happens to be 25 years younger than he, just so that he can care for her. While “care”may be one of the reasons, it is never the only reason!

Oh, and speaking of virginity, there also appears to be this whole other obsession with virginity and chastity. And absolute deep importance is often given to it, for to be a virgin is to be “holy”; and the longer a woman, especially, preserves it, the better she is off: personally, socially, morally, psychologically, and most importantly of all, maritally. This obsession with virginity is depicted in the documentary through the second young female: 18-year-old Sabereh, who also belongs to the Hazara tribe. She is a pretty little petite young woman, whose crime was that she, too, like Kareema, had fallen in love with a boy and was caught kissing him at her house. However, it is emphasized repeatedly that she is a virgin (yes, they do medical tests on her in order to prove that!), so her case seems to be a little uncertain. For according to the law, since Sabereh was still a virgin, she did not really commit any “moral” crimes.

Nevertheless, the outcome of her so-called crime did not turn out to be too positive, as compared to Kareema’s, despite the fact that it was proven that she was “pure” and all. Instead, they start to accuse her of engaging in sodomy, which according to Islamic law is far worse than anything imaginable. I do not want to spoil it for my readers, who do intend to watch the film, so I won’t delve any more into her story. But, I just find it troubling that medical tests were done on Sabereh in order to determine whether she was a virgin or not. And even that wasn’t enough; it’s like if a man and a woman remotely meet, then that must mean that they’ve had sex or at least engaged in some form of sexual activity. Everything is always assumed, and hardly proven (unless it is deemed absolutely necessary; otherwise, it’s all solely based on assumptions). What if her hymen had broken without sexual penetration, but through other inexplicable means? Of course, in our society, a broken hymen automatically means that the girl is not a virgin, regardless if she has had sex or not. 

The hymen, hence, is the sole determinant of a young woman’s chastity and virtue.   
 Whatever she does, whomever she speaks to, and wherever she goes, her hymen is the first thing she has to protect and put into consideration before anything else. She has to guard her hymen with her life; and if she doesn’t (for example, if she gets raped), then that simply means that she failed to protect it, hence making it all her fault. So, yes, her whole world basically revolves around her hymen; as a matter of fact, her life is her hymen!

Anyhow, the last woman we are introduced to in the documentary is 23-year-old Aleema – a divorced woman who lives at home again with her parents. But because she had a curfew and found her living conditions to be rather abusive and controlling, she decided to run away from home and sought refuge with a woman (as old as her mother) named Zia. However, when she gets caught, not only is she sent to jail but Zia is also blamed and sent to jail with her. And one of the reasons that Zia is sent to jail is because it was claimed that she tried to sell Aleema, hence exploiting her for sexual favours. Of course, they (the authorities) have no proof whatsoever to make such a blatant claim against her. Further, they also blame Aleema for having had some sort of a sexual relationship with Zia’s son – who’s married already and has a wife. And it is proclaimed that the only way that they both (Aleema and Zia) would be released from prison was if Aleema married Zia’s son, hence becoming his second wife. I guess the fact that Aleema was living with Zia, knowing very well that her son lived with her too and the possibility of sexual relations could develop is, in my opinion, the main reason for her arrest. The people who arrested them were probably wondering why Zia would allow a young, un-married (divorced, in this case) woman to live with her, knowing  very well that she had run away from home (and possibly with her son?). The funny thing is that the person who turned in Aleema to the authorities was actually Zia’s son’s first wife, which hence makes it even more flagrant that something must have been going on between Aleema and Zia’s son. Yet, again, there is never any concrete proof provided; it’s all based on assumptions and assumptions alone.

Hence, in the film, we see how Zia tries her very best to convince Aleema to marry her son, so that she could be released. But, Aleema, bold and outspoken, like Kareema, refuses to budge for she knows very well that Zia can’t afford the dowry she feels she deserves. She also knows her son can’t provide the lifestyle she yearns. Aleema further thinks Zia wants her for her son only because she can get her cheap because she’s a divorcee and hence not pure (a virgin) any more. (Virgins, when getting married, are granted much more expensive and lavish weddings that cost around $7,000 to $8,000!) As a result, Aleema feels insignificant and refuses to partake in anything that will make her feel even more cheap and worthless, than what society already thought of her.

Here, I must say just how incredibly sickening I find the way divorced women are perceived in our society – making it seem like being divorced is some sort of a disease; a pestilence! And that those women who walk away from marriages, for being abused (either physically or emotionally), are worse off, as this one woman worker told Aleema, in one scene: “A bad husband is better than no husband.” And as much as I do not agree with this statement at all, this is what most, if not all, women believe and strongly abide by. Anyway, there is much to say on this and I am currently working on a piece dedicated to this “issue” of divorce among Pashtuns. It's an important topic and much light needs to be shed on it.

I realize this post contains lots of spoilers, but I am sure I must have missed out some parts from the film; so again, I would strongly urge my readers to check out this documentary and form their own opinions and conclusions from it. There is indeed much to learn from this, and while it was entertaining and not as depressing as I expected it to be, it definitely depicts a side of Afghanistan that we don’t often see; if ever. I commend these three extremely brave women for coming forth and sharing their fascinating, yet distressing, stories – stories of passion, love, desire, lust, and deception.  And yet, despite the hardships, the pain, and the loss each and every woman endured, they managed to brighten up the cameras with their colourful laughter and beautiful bright smiles. And while the Love Crimes of Kabul comes off as entertaining, simply because the stakes don’t seem as high, and the situations come off as light-hearted and rather humorous instead of distressing, it might just not be the worst kind of oppression.

Yet, it is still oppression. And that we cannot deny.

The author is a Doctoral candidate in Development Studies and Rural Planning, focusing on gender and development (GAD) of rural Pashtun women. She is also a visual artist and the co-founder of Heela Foundation. Her personal blog can be read at sesapzai.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sesapzai

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Rest in Peace: Farida Afridi

On Pashtun Women's Activism: RIP, Farida Afridi!

by  Qrratugai

Farida Afridi, a Pashtun women's rights leader and activist in Khyber Pashtunkhwa (Pakistan), was killed last Friday, July 6th 2012. It hurts to say out loud, "Another Pukhtana killed because of her work." How is one not to feel angry knowing that our society has yet to figure out how to utilize women's voice and skills because, for the past several millennia, few if any societies viewed women as anything more than child-bearing sex machines? 

Farida Afridi
She was the 25-year-old founder of a women-led organization, SAWERA, the Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas; according to their website, their vision is: "To develop a just society based on equality, indiscrimination, honor and dignity, peace and security for all and where individual are respected without status, tribe, ethnicity or religion." While the organization works to empower women, it hasn't limited its efforts and activism to women alone and is in fact working for the betterment of our society as a whole. It has given equal focus to the youth as well.

Another commendable fact about the organization:
SAWERA is a voluntary, not-for-profit organization dedicated to social and economic development, with due regard for ecological conservation, gender mainstreaming, and social protection – partcularly focusing on the backward areas and marginalized sectors of the communities, especially women and children. The founding members have rich experiences in social engineering, participatory development, disaster management, gender mainstreaming and poverty alleviation initiatives through resource management in a systematic approach.
The worst part is this: neither Farida nor her sister, Noorzia (who co-founded the organization with Farida), ever did anything that could insult their honor or their family's honor. As her sister says, "We told our parents that we would work in accordance with our religious and cultural traditions, assuring them that we would never let the family honour suffer because of our line of work. Finally, they agreed [to let us found this organization]." Shame on the killer(s). May justice be served, if not in this world then in the next. Aameen.

And when we talk about these things openly and bring up our Pashtun society into it (i.e., suggest it's a social problem and our being Pukhtun has something to do with it), many Pashtuns try to silence us. Perhaps it's because of that same effort to smother the truth that we are witnessing the murder of a courageous young woman whose purpose in life was to help improve the lives of our people. So shut up and don't lecture me about how it's not like it's all women! Or how the Pashtun society isn't the only one where things like this happen. Just shut up. I'm sick of these excuses. What do they do for me and for you and for other women and for our children and for our future and for our people and for our society? Nothing. Nothing other than just shoving these crimes under the carpet until another woman's life is taken. Who wants to count the number of women we have murdered in under one year because they were publicly/socially involved in promoting peace and stability, or otherwise being known publicly for some important achievement? It is the unfortunate reality of our society that sometimes, to work for peace, you have to do things your society is not accustomed to, such as making your presence known--not because you want attention but because it's necessary for what you're doing. And so you become a "public" figure, and, well, what to say other than that our society isn't ready for women's "publicity"! It's an insult to the superficiality we call family honor. To hell with honor when we have to kill someone in order to protect it! Could a human life be worth any less?

Apparently, our society isn't ready for those kinds of women, or for women activism in general. But hear me out: our society doesn't have to be ready for it for us to do it anyway. Our society will never be ready for it if we keep thinking, "For now, I'll keep myself on the low because my people just aren't ready for what I do. I'll make sure my daughters do it or my granddaughters or my great-great granddaughters." Stop lying to yourself. Stop fooling yourself. If you can't/don't do it but you sincerely want to, then your great-great granddaughters will not be able to do it either. They won't be able to do anything you're not able to do as long as we keep killing women like Farida Afridi.

As Pashtuns--and especially as Pashtun women--incidents like this pose a major challenge for us, who sincerely hate and often disagree with the popular image that is painted of our people. On the one hand, we don't want to be portrayed as victims and we don't want to victimize ourselves; it's like, "You think Pashtun women are in danger? You think we're all oppressed? Look at me - I'm not! Do I not count as a Pashtun woman? I'm living proof that we're not all in a bad situation." And we don't realize that by assuming that people are oppressed individually rather than collectively, we are in fact supporting this injustice against women. No. Just because you and I are fine individually does not mean we are safe as a group--or that other women are safe individually, too. But on the other hand, when our women are assassinated and harassed, our own people tell us, "It's not like it happens every day," as though that's supposed to make us think all's well and dandy. And we keep telling ourselves and to other people, "No, no this really isn't us! We are much better than this, and the media just only shows you our negative side." But these are excuses! It is excusing and dismissing the reality as "not representative of our people." It's like saying, "Look, ignore the killings of these innocent women; focus instead on our good side, like how hospitable we are. Women are killed all over the world, why just highlight the issue when Pashtuns do it? Besides, we're not oppressed as long as I'm not oppressed as an individual." Oh please - hospitable? Who are we hospitable to when we can't be hospitable to our own people, when our women are at risk because of men (and in many cases women, too) who are walking happily and proudly among us and will never be punished for their crimes because the concept of justice simply does not exist where we come from? Yes, women are victims everywhere in every society. We're not safe anywhere: men rarely get raped (they do--but rarely), men never, ever get killed for the sake of the family's "honor," men don't get killed because of a certain profession or choice. In other words, there don't seem to be any crimes that are traditionally committed against men only. Certain crimes are committed only against women. But who says no one highlights the killing of women in other societies? Or do we see it only as a highlight when our race is the one on trial? Besides, even admitting that this happens in our society isn't enough. We have to talk about what's going on and why; we have to understand the problem in order to figure out how to prevent it in the future. Telling me and others and yourself that "this happens in all societies; crimes against women have no race and no religion" is pointless. So what? What are we trying to establish with these kinds of affirmations? To prove to the world that those who're doing this aren't real Muslims, real Pashtuns? Good luck! To divert people's attention from the actual problem? But why? At the stake of ignoring justice?

We really are NOT safe, especially in our own society when our people are killing us off because we're doing something they don't have the balls, the guts, the mind to tolerate, let alone appreciate. And what is it that women who are constantly being killed do? Oh, I can't think of anything important ... other than making their presence known to the world and to their society, refusing to be pushed back into the backward thinking that the woman's only role is to remain inside her home cooking, cleaning, having kids, and submitting to her husband's sexual needs with a smile. Or else.

In a weird way, it's not just  "women" who are in danger in our society. It's a particular type of women: those who are actually working for peace, not just desiring it and hoping someone else will bring it. Because we have been leaving this responsibility to others for too long, and it has only exacerbated things.

In short, in our society, you (woman) are safe only and only if you submit to the degradation you are put through by your own people; as an individual, you become a danger to society only when you  realize your potential and want to do more than just be sexually available for your husband, obey your mother-in-law, and have children. (Note: I'm not against having kids! But that's not ALL women are capable of doing.) But this still doesn't mean you're completely safe if you submit to society: as long as one of us is unsafe, we are all unsafe. If the life of one us is taken, we should all be mourning and condemning the act and striving to prevent further such attacks. In fact, in such a society, it's not just the women that are unsafe, then; it's everyone, including men! How can any of us think this is not a problem? Can we really afford to turn a blind eye on crimes against women for any longer? Yesterday, it was Malalai Kakar; today, it's Farida Afridi ... who's next? There is a pattern, and trying to avoid being similar to these women won't help. Silence isn't the answer; not pursuing your dreams, not pursuing peace will not solve the problem.  In fact, the only thing more deplorable than the crime itself is our silence.

It's so disheartening. It almost makes you lose hope, but you can't afford to lose hope. No, it's not because people look up to you; it's not because you are the "light" of your people (don't ever fool yourself into thinking you are THE light of your people!); but it's because your society needs more OF you. You as an individual can't do much, but your society needs you collectively.

I know dismissing Farida's murder as a misogynistic act is almost shallow... but it is just that, isn't it? When will we stop hating women? When will we understand religion from a viewpoint that highly respects and appreciates individuals, including women, who work for peace, for a stable society--for people! In fact, doesn't Islam prioritize the safety and the well-being of others? In many cases, your own dealings with God come AFTER your dealings with other people! God tells us He can't forgive us until those whom we have wronged forgive us. How do--rather, how can--we justify the killing of others in the name of religion or culture? What kind of a God do we believe in that we think will forgive us--or that He doesn't see it as a sin? When will we stop selectively plucking off those among us who only want the best for us, even if their idea of what is "best" for us isn't identical to our own, even if the paths they take in trying to reach that goal isn't the same as ours? Ultimately, don't we all want peace? Don't we all want justice for everyone in our society regardless of gender, religion, origin, and other differences? Don't we all want to be respected and recognized as full human beings without being limited to just one role that our society has designated for us when we can be so much more, when we can be a part of the solution to the problems we're facing?

Also, note Farida's age--she was 25 years old. (Ghazala Javed was 24.) We often tell ourselves, "I haven't even lived!" when, really, we're all living. Do events like these have to happen for us to remember that we're all here for a reason, that we all have certain skills that enable us to do things a certain way that others may not be able to do for whatever reason? 

But let's ask ourselves why it is usually the young that are targeted in crimes like these. 25 years old. What all was she capable of doing? Everything. Anything. What all had she accomplished in such a short life? An unbelievable amount. The younger people are, the better targets they make because of the reason for which they are killed: the killer(s) cannot bear to see them continue their work, which they will continue to do as long as they have the stamina, the power, the skills, the time, the opportunity to do. And the younger people are, the more energetic, the more passionate they are. They are easily motivated, and they're constantly seeking inspiration and inspiring others. They are more bold, more adventurous--if something isn't made available to them, they'll make it available for themselves. And this is why they pose a greater "danger" to society (read: the killers of peace) than do older people.
Farida Afridi
Rest in peace, dear Farida Afridi. You may have passed away, but your spirit will continue to linger over our heads, reminding us that you are still alive. Thank you for helping to improve the lives of many, many girls and women, and thank you even more for inspiring those of us who need inspiration from people like you. May you be granted the eternal peace that you were working so hard for, that you gave up your life for. May your family be granted the patience to deal with your loss without letting it break them. May your fans and others who looked up to you, as well as those whom you have serviced, be blessed with resources to be inspired by your work and follow your lead. May our society give birth to millions of you. Aameen. I won't send curses upon the killer(s) because that won't do anyone any good; but I do pray for justice, both in this world and in the next. They may kill one of us, they may kill 50, they may kill thousands-- but they can't kill all. They'll have to quit one day, they'll have to one day realize that the fault lies in them and not in the women, they'll have to one day acknowledge their weakness, and that day will not arrive until more and more of us follow your lead. This is the only way we can help put an end to the madness of killing women who leave their houses, even if in a burqa/pardah/hijab, to ensure a stronger, more stable future for our society's children. 

One last point, directly especially to Pashtun girls and women: Farida Afridi was killed today because there aren't enough Pashtun women like her. As long as this is the case, women like her will never be safe--and as long as women like her are not safe, neither are you and me and other "ordinary" women nor men, with all of us wanting justice and love and peace but only few of us working to achieve it. The murders of such women should inspire and empower us, not serve as a reminder that we are unsafe so must not stand up, or that our society is just not ready for women activists.

The writer is PhD student in Islamic Studies with emphasis on Gender and Sexuality in Islamic law and blogs at 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Interview with the woman in the mirror

 Q&A with Shukria Barakzai
by Zia Ur Rehman
Ms. Shukria Barakzai is an Afghan politician and a member of parliament. She is a prominent women rights activist and also the founder of "Aina-e Zan" (Women's Mirror), a weekly publication that focuses on women's issues. During the rule of the hard-line Taliban, Barakzai helped run underground schools for girls and women in Afghanistan. In 2003, she was appointed a member of Loya Jirga, a body of representatives from across the Afghanistan that was nominated to discuss and pass the country’s new constitution after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. In 2004, she was elected a member of parliament or Wolesi Jirga. She also headed the parliamentary defence committee for two years. At her office in parliament building in Kabul, the scribe got an opportunity to talk to her on issues relating to security situation, parliamentary development and women’s rights in Afghanistan and Pak-Afghan relations. 

Q: What brought you in Politics?

Shukria Barakzai: From last three decades, Afghans were suffered from civil war, terrorism, and bloodshed. From intervention of Soviet Union to civil war between the warring Mujahideen groups and atrocities of Taliban, every single Afghan has been affected badly. I am also one among them. I grew up in a totally different society: a society of peace, respect, human dignity and love. But unfortunately three-decade war culture has divided Afghan community in ethnic, sectarian and fractions. 65 thousands of civilians were killed only in Kabul in civil war between Mujahideen groups while the Taliban were the worst forces. Violence against women day by day was very high in these days. Taliban forbade women from working outside the home, forced women to wear burqas, punished women with a public whipping for the appearance of "immodesty" and forbade girls from attending school at all. I still remember the incident of Kabul during Taliban rule when ‘Punjabi Taliban’ were beating a young Afghan severely just because of listening music. We were astonished at that time that how the clerics and students of religious seminaries were driving tanks and using sophisticated guns. The atrocities of warring Mujahideen groups and Taliban politically and socially motivated me much. When Taliban imposed ban of girls’ education, I secretly headed a network of underground schools for girls and women and this network also helped me to form a group of social activists. Because of support of activists of my group, I was elected first as representative of Loya Jirga in 2003 and then a member of parliament in 2004. Street campaigning was key reason of my success in the election whereas my husband, despite spending millions of dollars, lost the elections.

Q: what do you think what is the solution of stable peace in Afghanistan and what role Pakistan, as a neighboring country, should play in this regard?

SB : This issue is very complicated. In the past, we, the Afghans, have defeated powerful forces like Britain and USSR for their occupations and interventions but presently, we are very confused to curb terrorism in our country. We have solid proofs of involvement of Pakistan in supporting the groups who are involved in unrest in Afghanistan but we can’t do anything. Today Pakistan is also suffering from the same terrorism and unrest. People in mosques and public places are not safe from the suicide attackers who have killed thousands of Pakistani civilians. We, the Afghans, want to see our neighbours very prosperous and democratic countries. But Pakistan also should need to stop the anti-peace elements to use their land against Afghanistan.

 Q: what challenges the women MPs are facing in the Afghanistan’s parliament?

BS: Afghanistan’s parliament features a percentage of female representation at 27.3 percent which is constitutionally secured. MPs have played a great role in legislations and raising the national issues especially women issues. Some women think that the parliament is not their house but I think totally differently. A woman MP in parliament can easily and courageously ask, shout, demand and complain about rights of people, especially women and children. All women MPs have their own views and different viewpoints but they become united in pursuit of common cause. We did it very recently on issue of gender budget. I think parliament is an appropriate forum to fight against violence against women and child marriages. They are many issues, not just two or three. We, the women MPs, are not doing for ourselves but for the upcoming generation who will hold the responsibilities of ruling the country in the future. 

Q: Some circles believe that current parliament is full of former Mujahideen and warlords who were involved in killing thousands of Afghans during civil war in Afghanistan. What is your opinion on this?

BS : It is a different judgment. The parliament is a democratic institution of the community where people from different background and with different political ideologies present their opinion. But it doesn’t mean that the parliament is full of former warlords and Mujahideen. I am also against these people involved in war crimes but also think it is also a great success that today women MPs are sitting in a parliament with former Mujahideen. 

Q: How do you see the ongoing peace negotiations with Taliban? 

BS: Our doors are always open for ‘good Afghans’ for peace negotiations, but not for the foreigners. We have closed doors for those who don’t belong to us, who don’t approve democracy and constitution of the country and don’t pay respect to Afghan people. No matters, any people, with name of Taliban or democratic, don’t approve the prosperity of the country, we disapprove them. We will kill them (Taliban) and thrown them out. Peace negotiation is a process and shouldn't be a deal and this process will come from the grassroots. 

Q: Are Afghan security forces capable to oversee the law and order situation in the country after the withdrawal of NATO forces from the country? What is your view?

BS : The Afghan National Army was one among the world’s top armies without any help of foreign countries before it broke up into regional militias during the fierce civil war in the 1990s and now, it is again set to secure and stabilise its country by itself.  For two years, I headed the parliamentary defence committee and I believe that today Afghan security forces are well-equipped, well-trained and capable of launching special operations against anti-peace elements in the country. 

Q : What do you think the international forces should leave the Afghanistan?

BS : We don’t want our neighbours should dictate us in this regard. If there is a joint benefit on both sides (the international community and Afghanistan), we will welcome it. We are part of international community and we are struggling together against terrorism and extremism for last three decades. We don’t want a country should stay forever in Afghanistan. International community should rebuild the country and stay until they finish: This is payback time for the international community. We have learned much from our neighbours how they used from international community. 

(This interview has been published previously in The News. The writer contributed this interview from Kabul where he was part of Pak-Afghan Media Exchange Program. His work is archived on www.ziawrites.com )

Monday, 9 July 2012

For the love of India and memory of Tirah

by Saba

Qaimganj/Kaimganj through My Eyes…

One of the things that still fills me with amazement is when people from outside India express surprise that there are Pashtun tribes with their roots in different parts of India flourishing even today. Well, I want to announce to the world that I am proud to be an Afridi Pashtun who can trace back her family’s ancestral roots to the Tirah Valley which straddles the Kurram & Khyber Agency Nonetheless, I am equally proud to be an Indian and a diehard patriot. This may raise eyebrows but it is important that this fact is acknowledged. This country has given me everything that a person can strive or dream to have.

Brought up in a typical Muslim Pashtun household and fed on the stories of chivalry, bravery, knighthood & valor about our grandfather, great grandfather, ancestors etc. I always felt this underlying closeness towards Afghanistan its people and my heart till today weeps at the plight of Pashtun brethren that are living in such dire circumstances in that part of the world. Though I have never been to the country nor do I know much about the place, yet I feel that there is an eternal connection with the people, place and culture.

Kaimganj is a small village in district Farrukhabad, Uttar Pradesh in North India; this is the place where my father was born and had spent his early years. Though I was neither born there nor spent my initial years in my paternal house, summer vacations were nevertheless something I always looked forward to. It meant spending time in the green fields with cousins, talking, playing, long strolls, taking a dip in the tube-well learning to swim and almost getting drowned, plucking mangoes from the orchard and spending loads of time climbing trees. But equally the most fascinating thing (which is crystal clear and engraved in my mind) is seeing older cousins, my father and his cousins cleaning their guns, practicing their aim, and listening to hoary tales from yesteryear. About how his uncle fired at his nephew for a trivial matter, how one of the dacoits came to our house and how my father jumped with a gun in front of his dad and fired back at the dacoit, and perhaps the most important thing (for me) how my grandfather’s mother known as “Captani” (because her husband was a captain in the Gwalior army) used to rule the house.

All this just had an overwhelming affect on me. And by the time my vacations were over and I came back to Delhi I used to be full of pride and vanity that I belonged to such a warrior tribe. My young mind found immense satisfaction in the fact that we were fighters and we could fight anything and everything. This is how we were brought up. I remember even at school I was quite arrogant about my connection with Afghanistan and Pashtuns. Despite being a slight young girl I did not fear anyone and it is so strange that now when I look back, I realize that even my classmates and other children at school used to look up to me as a very strong protective person who could stand up for herself and protect others. I remember standing up to a few guys in my school much senior to me, and to my absolute astonishment when the incident was reported to my father, instead of scolding me, or questioning me he was apparently quite proud of the fact, that I had stood up for myself. In a few days the story of me standing up to bullies was public and all of a sudden I became a “hero” in Kaimganj. Next summer vacation when I visited my ancestral village and met relatives this was one story everyone from all age groups wanted to know about. I made them all very proud keeping the true warrior spirit of an Afridi!

This was just a one off tale of the many years that I spent growing up amongst other Indian Pashtuns. Years have passed by, and now when I look back I feel it was like another era. As I was always interested in finding about my roots I started reading and found that the structure of houses, traditions and culture are still the same in Kaimganj as it is amongst the Afridi clans of Tirah. All houses are built with a baithak or dalaan (Hujra) where the men gather and then there are open verandahs followed by the living area for women. Women in Kaimganj are not oppressed but like most Eastern cultures are objects of pride & modesty. They are the ones who carry the burden of “ghar ki izzat” on their shoulders. They are supposed to wear a “chaddar” if and when they are going out of the “dehleez” of their premises; however I could never understand the concept because men standing out and gazing at women in “chaddars” always knew who they were and where they were going!

Another very vivid memory of my childhood is of marriages that used to take place in Kaimganj. It was such a big affair the festivities would go on forever. Of the many traditions my personal favorites were playing with colors, which happens in the groom’s house. All the girls of the family apply color to the white head cloth (sar ka salloo) for the bride and then this is presented to the bride, whereas, there is no religious significance for this ritual what I came to understood is that as colors are a way to express love & prosperity, this ritual is done to bless the bride with all happiness and colors for the new married life that she is stepping into. After the head cloth is colored the girls start playing with the colors amongst themselves. This tradition has a close resemblance to the Hindu festival of Holi. Other than this, what I really found strange was that there was no dinner or meal provided on the day of the Nikah ceremony. It was only the next day that guests were invited by the groom’s family for reception (dawat-e-walima). Instead the girl’s family would host a dinner a day before the Nikah. But these are not the only two occasions where large feasts are involved in fact the day the guests start arriving the feasts start. Instead the formal marriage dinner, (which is not so formal), which may occur on the day of the Nikah elsewhere is considered as if for these two days. There are large tandoors set up in the open area, there are no banquet halls or hotels for the ceremonies everything is done within the house and if required the nearby fields are made ready to accommodate a large number of men by covering the area with a nice marquee.

Another interesting tradition, which was practiced in Kaimganj and is supposed to be an Afghani tradition, is of tying multiple hair plaits for the bride which the groom has to untie. Quite fascinating! The dress worn by the groom is also something that is an old Afridi traditional dress called the “Jama” the tradition of which, with the passage of time is now dying down. The dress is made of fine muslin chikankari cloth usually white in color.

The language spoken in Kaimganj still has some Pashto words. As a child I used to pick up these words but I didn’t know at that time that these are words from the Pashto language. It was much later that I discovered this fact. Sadly, the language died three or four generations ago and now there are only few words here and there left of the Pashto language.

Times have changed, as have the traditions. People nowadays do not have enough time to invest or think about our long lost culture and roots. However, few things will remain alive in our memories forever. The closeness that I personally feel with Afghanistan and the people is just platonic and cannot be well expressed in words.