Millennium Post

Verses of Curses

The charred bodies and broken limbs too have a voice. Down the trenches lie the stories of the decapitated, the ones targeted and branded as ‘terrorists’ who became the enemy of the West by the political terminology such as perpetrators of ‘mass destruction’ and ‘collateral damage’. The land of their dreams became the battle-torn dry land of emptiness. When vultures swoop over them, the sky which was weaving the dreams and passions of yesteryears turned out to be the zone of war planes. Devoid of dreams, lambs and ancient tales, some of them still try their art to narrate what they were. This is what
Poetry of the Taliban
gives us. Sidelining the contradictions and doubts apart, this collection offers insights into the present context of a group of divided selves- both in their attitude toward the Western world and in the articulation of what they are in narrating.

In his forward to the book Poetry of the Taliban, Faisal Devji clearly brings the relevance of the poems with the Pashtun tradition and language. The poems in this collection, needless to say, transcend the Pashtun tradition and many times show affinities to the other cultures of Islam from the Middle East. The geographical and spatial notations are challenged and by doing so a more distinct and yet dissociated picture of Afghanistan arises. Taliban poems are not merely Afghanistan poems. The relationship with
and other fighters of Islam, at its very thrust toward a creative expression, therefore needs to be seen bracketing the concern of reading only the poetry of terrorism. The question, therefore, is what is the religious element that stems from these poems; a question which the Western reader shuns answering before her/ his breakfast at a coffee table.

Outlined into six sections starting from ‘Before September 11’ to ‘The Human Cost’, the Taliban poetry speak about the pre-terrorist phase of Afghanistan and the Islam world, the love and hatred within the tradition and more importantly, the existential and diminishing aspects of the war-torn Afghanistan. In the sections ‘Before September 11’ and in ‘Love and Pastoral’, the treatment of history is the unveiling of the garb of illusions. Poets such as Abdul Basir Ebrat and Farah Emtiaz bring the great tradition of culture and other confluences by invoking the histories of the tribes, Pashtun rituals and oral traditions. Separation and reunion often figure in these poems. When Shahzeb Faqir writes, 'the village seems strange; this is separation/ as if my beloved has left it', the nostalgia of the land and other associated paradigms before a war inflicted land light our minds. The common thread that runs these sections is the love of the beloved and the land; both systematically removed in the recent history of Islam.

The sections - ‘Religious’ and ‘Discontent’ have some thematic similarities with a whole array of poets of anger and spiritual quest expressing their concern. One serious problematic that arises here is the mismatching of the poems, some of them of course, taken from the blogs without fixed identities and details. The term Religion for Taliban is always the stringent and cut-throatish way of expressing their beliefs. The beliefs that made thousands suffer on this land and made the sculptures collapse to the ground are not the themes here. Same is the history of the ban of the music. When a poet like Habibullah Haqiqat asks: 'Where did he go? The one who was much loved by God.', what emerges clearly is the pathetic cry of the uncompromising Taliban to fight. More than the tradition of Ghazals and other folk elements, these poems where we have both a war cry and an invocation of cruelty, situates the Taliban as the branded terrorist in our time, though we claim more often that who is a terrorist is a big construct. The constructed spaces of worshipping are also constricted. We come across the low-bred friendships, the cheaters, pious God and decision makers here. In a poem titled 'Selling the faith', Abdul Halim moans that 'Muslims be granted dignity of all things' and in 'Separation', Nadir asserts that 'I am the Afghan of the moment and I am hiding'. Mustafa Hamid too shows his patriotism when he writes 'Our spirit, our body! Our life, O Afghanistan' and in the poems on the Homeland, other poets follow his suit. The spirit here is the one of assertion; all after thoughts are denied or rather, not given a space to coexist.

In sections such as ‘The Trench’ and ‘The Human Cost’, the aftermath of the war-torn Afghanistan is portrayed. The soldiers have their due and a journey back to the places for them is either rendered shame or suicidal. In some sense, these sections clearly reflect the post- September 11 scenario of the Islam world and the U. S. invasion of Afghanistan. An anonymous poet mentions that the country would be freed as the ghazis are fighting and takbirs will be heard. Though a wish fulfillment of the separated and devastated people from this land, the amount of suffering they encountered wells up here more than in any other war poems recently published. Some poets such as Zahid ul-Rahman Mukhlis and Mohammad Stanikzai believe in the rise of a new group of warriors. This may not be Taliban; yet the Talibanesque quest is not overthrown at any cost. The shame of being branded as terrorist resonates in many poems and the anger against US is projected. Dost Mohammad Zondai’s queries, 'My God! Tell me, hasn’t the sun risen there yet?/ Your graveyards weren’t full with the dead yet?' is another representation of what Afghanistan or the Islamic world may look like in our time. 

The glossary of names and terms provided after the end of this collection is a brilliant pathway into the culture of Afghanistan and its history of great warriors and singers. The Persian and Arabic lineage in some poems are a reflection of the alternate way of producing the Islam poetry in the more modern times. The resonance and reflection of these poems with thousands of minority problems of Islam in India need to be specially studied. These poems map a particular time in history, but other histories of the past are also embedded in it. The political spectrum of writing in this collection is a cornucopia of assemblages without sacrificing the element of resistance. We always used to claim the Afghanistan pastoral as our brother’s songs at one point of time. The jingling bells of the goats and the early morning songs were all our heritage too in the times of yore. The disjunctions of what happened in Islam and the world order lies at the heart of Taliban Poetry. If there is no poem that talks of the remorse and retribution, mind you, it is because of what you are made into or constructed by the weapon makers of the West. Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn in their editing have done a good job of appropriating all social web sites to make an alternate platform of resistance.

Poetry of the Taliban has been edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn and has a foreward by Faisal Devji.

Krishnan Unni P teaches English at Deshbandhu College, Delhi University.
Next Story
Share it