A Princess from Afghanistan
Yesterday, I accidently came across an article I wrote about J.D. Salinger while browsing the internet. It was published in one of Afghanistan’s newspapers. It appeared that the article was divided between two issues, and that I had found the second part. I was unable to download the first part. The article language was the same and they had put out the entire thing. It appeared that reading articles in Farsi, despite the dialect difference, was not an issue for Afghanistan’s open minded literati. Seeing the article made me want reminisce, and reminded me of an old acquaintance. I searched the internet and found a couple of her interviews. As I anticipated, they were full of confidence, and about the glorious future of Afghanistan’s art and literature, with an emphasis on the role of women in shaping it. They were passionate interviews. Although, I suspected that this acquaintance had completely forgot about me at that point. I had sent her a couple of Facebook massages but had not received any replies. A long time before that I had called the Afghan embassy, and asked for her husband, but someone in an Afghan accent told me that he has left Iran, and that they have heard no news of him other than that he might be holding a position in a university in Herat or Kabul. But time is such mysterious magic. It mixes memories and makes unfamiliar shapes with them. I don’t know the reason, but I have been thinking about this lost acquaintance since last night. I am very curious as to get a hold of her.
If I remember correctly, I met her for the first time in a writing class about ten years back. You couldn’t tell that she’s Afghan until she opened her mouth. Her face was white and beautiful, with green eyes, like a Russian girl’s, or an Italian’s. The classes were not crowded. There were about a dozen of them who sat in a small room and talked. She would sit on the front row and her face would catch my eyes. She looked as if she was curious, but would not participate in the discussions held at the beginning of the classes. I would usually encourage the attendees to share experiences from their past week; the experiences that were interesting to them and which could be stuff for future literary work. I would encourage everyone to participate, but I thought she might not know our approach, or maybe she didn’t want to participate, because she was quiet and didn’t show interest in joining. After some talking, I handed out Mariam Khoozan’s Persian translation of Raymond Carver’s Boxes so we could read it together and discuss. This was the first Carver’s work translated into Farsi; the story which made me a big fan of his. Years later, the Iranian populace discovered Carver’s work, and his stories got translated and published one by one. It didn’t end with just his stories, but continued with his biography, interviews, even his expressions. I think that this story holds a special place among Carver’s expansive repertoire. Internet had not yet become prevalent, and the country was still in distress from the eight-year war with Iraq, and what remained for the youth interested in literate was the legacy left behind from the years before the revolution. Classics like Chekov, Hemingway, Sartre, Camus, and the like. These were the biggest influences on our writing, and that’s why Carver’s anarchist use of language in Boxes, and his intuitive and mystic voice could bring about such an upheaval in all of us.
I think Carver’s story was what finally fired her up, because she started talking, and it changed all of our presumptions. She changed from being the Russian or Italian girl to the Afghan or Tajik who couldn’t speak Farsi without an accent no matter how much she tried. She said that she had liked the story and its writer, and that she was happy to attend these sessions to become familiar with the modern literature of the world. I asked her to speak about herself. This cooled her down somewhat. A cautious expression crept on her face. She said, with some doubt, that she was from Afghanistan, and a student of Farsi literature studying in Shahid Beheshti University. She added that writing was her one and only passion. She had seen our lowly advertisement on the University’s information board and that had got her excited, because she was looking for a writing class for some time which apparently was not offered on campus. Overall, our classes are friendly, unlike most others where people actively try to discourage and ridicule each other. I welcomed her and said that I was very happy that she has chosen to join our sessions. I hoped that they were useful to her. It was an effective ice-breaker. Her eyes shone with happiness. I asked her about her literary past. She replied that she was seriously active in Afghanistan before Taliban, but their incursion saw the closing of all cultural institutes. She was only able to come to Iran because of her husband’s connections with Ahmad Shah Masoud. The books that she had studied were foundational story writing textbooks. Mirsadeghi’s Elements of Story and Story Writing by Baraheni, and a couple of works by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, Darvishian, Golshiri, and some others. She came to hand over her copy of Carver’s story once we were done with the class. I told her to keep it, and that it was worth reading a couple more times when alone. With eyes shining with joy and a smile on her face she replied that she would definitely do so. She also asked if I could bring her more stories. I said I would and I did. I brought her works by various authors. Among them were J. D. Salinger, John Updike, Sherwood Anderson, Kazuo Ishiguro, Catharine Mansfield, and a couple of famous stories from Chekov’s final days like The Bride, The Bishop, and Lady with the Dog. These were the extent of our cultural and literary prowess at that time.
She attended later classes with the seriousness and perseverance of an interested art student. She wouldn’t read anything written by her, but she would participate in the discussions and would analyze the stories read in class, or work written by other students. Her knowledge was as much as expected from a culture-loving Afghan immigrant. She had more of a structural approach and didn’t care much for the glory of thought and hidden thinking behind the stories; something which unfortunately grips most young Iranian writers. Attending a writing class not only doesn’t help them, but rather exacerbate the shallowness of their view. An interesting thing about her was her style and demeanor. In those days there was a rigorous dressing code for students, especially girls, to follow. Code which she gave no heed to; wearing bright and happy colors despite of. She would put on makeup and her hands were full of rings and jewelry. When it got colder she would wear a white jacket which would make her face look even more Russian. I didn’t know if anybody minded or gave her trouble for it. Maybe because she was a foreigner they gave her some breathing room. But as those first years of the revolutionary extremism passed the administrative system softened its grip over trivial matters such as dressing, except when, for some political or social reason, there was a wave of austerity, which would always retract after a while. She was always a few minutes late, as if to be noticed, and she would be. Whenever she entered, all eyes would turn towards her and gave her a once over, especially girls’. As I said, my students would treat each other with respect and manners, and tried their best not to involve themselves in each other’s private matters, but this did not stop her from garnering attention. It seemed as if she took this offbeat appearance to herself to get eyes to stare at her.
After four or five sessions I got to see her husband, who came by to say thanks; a thin and good looking man who spoke Farsi in a good accent. He was a law student. It was obvious that he had a deep and educated personality. He was thankful that his wife was in an environment that nourished her love for writing. He said that she is reading and writing seriously again, and that a profound change has occurred in her mentality after a long while. He spoke a bit about the situation in Afghanistan; the problems that its people were facing and the pressure which Taliban had put on its so-called “open-minded” and artistic class; closure of all magazines and newspapers and most other forms of publication; shutting-down of radio channels and television networks; and enforcing of primitive laws in the worst ways possible. His words were impactful. He said that his wife, like most other Afghani men and women, was wasting away in the fire that had set Afghanistan ablaze, and that he had found escape the only solution for himself and his wife. He was sorry for the rest of his countrymen and that he couldn’t do anything for them. I told him that he had made a great decision. I also spoke well of his wife’s enthusiasm and talent, and told him that I was sorry that the times were wasting away talents of many others like her. He liked that very much. He showed me some arts and culture magazines from before the Taliban era. His father’s poetry was published in some of them. They were long poems, and done very well in a classical Farsi style, rigid and tender at the same time, with delicate and captivating evocations. I was impressed with how artful his father was and I told him that. I also told him that I was sad to see how Iranians, instead of being thankful for their country’s glories literary and artistic past, are adopting strange and careless modern styles, and that how empty the seat of poetry, such as those of his father’s, is in our literature. I said I didn’t know that there were such worthwhile magazines in Afghanistan. He replied, with sorrow, that unfortunately the editorial board have all been either executed, or have escaped to other countries. I don’t know why, but I wrote a story about Afghanistan that night. I wrote it in the style of Guy de Maupassant by Isaac Babel and I mostly followed the same structure. It didn’t turn out well, but somewhere in it, I said that Afghanistan is akin to a phoenix that is burning itself to be born anew, and that this is a hopeful new beginning in form of a painful ending.
She read her writing in the next class, an undoubted effect of the conversation I had with her husband and my praise. Afghan accent aside, it was the work of a beginner - a female beginner; a series of poetic phrases sitting next to each other to describe a loving relationship, a romantic setting, far from a structured story with thoughtful content. I was surprised with how different her writing was from what she had to live through. As if she had lived her whole life in rich neighborhoods of European countries instead of Taliban era Afghanistan. Of course we all praised her writing despite all of this. We praised her soft and feminine style out of my understanding as a teacher, and based on the expectations we had of a young Afghan writer. There was a young woman in that session who had crafted a masterful story, and we were supposed to follow up with that. A thoughtful tale of a family who had scaled mountains of life, only to find out that it was not their mountaintop they had reached in the end. A Hemingway’s leopard of Kilimanjaro which was developed very well and told in contemporary language; a difficult story which was told in the exciting style of Ann Taylor. Later on, this story, a whole head above the rest, placed first in the student short story contest. I spent extra time on discussing the Afghan student’s story to avoid making comparisons between the two women’s work. Of course, I felt that the author of the “Mountains” story was unhappy about that. This is one of the much depravation a teacher faces in his career. I also noticed her ridiculing scoff while the Afghan writer was reading her story. It was obvious that she did not care much about her romantic musings, none of us did. Nonetheless she kept herself and praised the positives. There was no doubt in the fanatical love the Afghan woman had for writing. She would blush with praises and her expression would get defensive with the slightest and most-thoughtful criticism. Once we were done with the discussion, I asked her to explain about her own work. Instead of talking about her writing she started talking about herself. She was full of confidence. She said that before Taliban’s reign (the Talibs in her words) she oversaw a number of literary clubs, and was In charge of story writing sessions in Kabul. She had interviews with a number of publications, and that they had called her the hope of Afghanistan’s literary future. This was stuff for praise. I was happy that she had achieved such honors, and that I was host to a talented person with a bright future. I mentally repeated my memory of that session for a few days afterwards. I couldn’t remember anything other than what she or I said. I didn’t remember anything said by others, if they said anything at all. It is true that women have better hearing. Undoubtedly others had said things, but no so I could hear them. Besides, I got a good feeling whenever I saw the happy expression that appeared on her face whenever she heard praise. This was my teacher’s instincts in work. I was glad to be able to take a step towards nurturing somebody’s talent who appeared to be so attached to her art as to guard it with her life, instead of withering her with ridicule and undue criticism, which is typical in writing classes. The rest could be fixed in time. Slowly and patiently, without cracking the young woman’s glass heart, I apologized to the other woman who wrote the mountains story, and told her that we would discuss it in detail the next session. She was more polite to show her contempt, but nonetheless I caught a shadow of feminine heartbreak in her face.
The young writer brought a companion along for the next session; a younger girl who didn’t look like she’s Afghani either. They were almost the same age, but the new girl was a little bigger, and had a round face with curious eyes. It was obvious that the last session had a positive impact on the budding writer. She was joyful, and would participate in the discussions. We were reading J. D. Salinger’s Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut. She really liked it and said that she’d like to write stories like that in the future. We discussed Eloise’s character for a while, and then talked about Salinger’s worlds of minority and majority for a bit. Her companion just looked at us the whole time. In the end, I asked her to share her thoughts, but she just looked at me like deaf and mute people. Her writer friend told me that she did not speak any Farsi; her accent was completely Afghani, and thus unable to talk. She’d rather be a listener because she could understand Farsi. I asked her, for the sake of conversation, what she studied at which university, and whether they were classmates. She said no. The new girl had only studied up to the ends of senior high school. She said that Taliban had banned girls from attending schools, and her friend who is now about 22, had to stop her studies at senior high. Well this was interesting, but in reality, it was sad to see such young, healthy, and beautiful girl fall behind the rest of the civilized convoy. She spoke a bit about Taliban’s violent ways and their restrictive laws, and then proudly said that another Afghan magazine which was published overseas has put out one of her interviews, and has once again called her the hope of Afghanistan’s literary future. We showed a positive reaction, but I guess something which shouldn’t have happened, did. I didn’t know whether it was intentional, but it didn’t have a good outcome.
She didn’t attend the next three sessions. We guessed that she might have an exam or something alike. But it wasn’t exam seasons. We thought it may be that her studies have gotten heavier, or that she might have been traveling. We didn’t follow up on it in either case. Finally, at the end of the fourth session, I was told that a man wants to meet me in private. I went to my office and saw her husband waiting besides the door. We went inside and I poured him some tea. We talked a bit about secondary topics such as the cultural situation in Afghanistan. It was as if he was looking for a suitable ground to talk about his real issue. Unlike last time he seemed a little held back. He finally relented, and said that he wanted to say something, but that he would appreciate it if it would remain between the two of us. I asked if anything serious had happened to his wife, or whether she was ill. It wasn’t that. He paused a bit. He asked whether I had noticed anything peculiar about his wife during the classes. He said that she had certain personality traits. She was excessively proud, just as much as she was sensitive. I told him that I had in fact noticed, to an extent. He told me that she had come home crying and had continued to cry until the next morning. She had passed out near dawn and they had to admit her to the hospital. She had suffered a mental breakdown and it was necessary for her to stay there for a few days, and then at home, under supervision. This was very strange. I was sad and surprised at the same time. I told him that I did not understand. As far as I remember, nothing had happened which could cause such a reaction, not even in the slightest sense. I assured him that our classes are empty of tension, and that there weren’t even verbal arguments over preferences. He said that he was aware of that, but that the problem was in his wife’s horrible sensitivity. It appeared that she had heard some quiet comments; some kind of ridicule or slight that had angered her to the extents of madness. I told him that this was strange. I hadn’t heard anything like that. I asked whether he knew the exact words. “Mocking things”, he replied. It was about the whole “hope of Afghanistan’s literary future!”, “Really?!” and the like statements. They had called her writings as below basic level. I asked whether these were said inside the classes. He didn’t know. It might have been told outside, or might have been relayed to her by her friends in the college. He couldn’t get a clear answer out of her the whole time. Just an explosion of anger and screams, and cries, weakness, and passing out. He explained once again that he knew that this was an excessive reaction, but minding the hard period and the mental torture they had endured in Afghanistan, it wasn’t entirely unbelievable. I told him that I was deeply sorry. I was not aware of this and I was ready to apologize to her. He was thankful and politely asked whether I could explain this to the other students and asked them to tolerate her excessive sensitiveness and her fanatical ambitiousness. This was what had enabled her to endure the horrible hardness of those days. Otherwise, someone of her mettle would not be able to survive in the extremist environment of today’s Afghanistan. I assured him. I asked him if he could convince her to attend the next class. He laughed and said that she had vowed to put away writing for good, but that he would try his best, but knew that it wouldn’t be easy with the understanding that he had of her extend of stubbornness. We said our goodbyes. I thought about the matter for a while. It was probably simple girly sarcasm. Or it might have been others who didn’t appreciate her proud demeanor and wanted to retaliate. These things are common in a university. Information passes around faster than speed of light.
She did attend the next class but brought with her a wave of tears and woe and bitter words. I understood that the young were sensitive, and would experience real tensions based on a single comment or look. But I had never met anybody so sensitive during all my years of teaching in School of Sciences, nor in Faculty of Literature. Her face was red. She had no makeup on (which didn’t detract from her beauty). Her eyes were red too, and she had thinned. All of this because of some murmurs? She quietly sat down and didn’t pay much attention to my excessive attempts at welcoming her back. We started with Isaac Babel’s Di Grasso; a short story masterpiece and a wonderful specimen of reduction, and incredible contracting of deep human understandings in limited space. Every single word had to be accounted for. We read through the story, and before asking about the opinion of the students, I talked about Isaac Babel’s sad ending; something which shouldn’t have happened, and did. The room was filled with the sound of cries which distressed us all. I asked one of the girls to take the Afghan woman outside and help her as gently as she could. There was deep silence as they were walking out. I didn’t know what to say. I walked for a bit and then asked if anybody knew what had happened. One of the Farsi literature students said that the news of her calling herself Afghanistan’s hope and being really bad at writing has spread everywhere. The first couple of days, wherever she went, people would say that Afghanistan’s hope has come, and would then laugh. Another student said that her behavior is very cold and arrogant and that’s what causes the spite. Even the way she dresses is different, as if she want’s everybody to know that she is better than them. I asked what’s wrong with the way she dresses. They replied that she wears colorful scarves instead of hijab. Security can only give her verbal reprimands – which she ignores – to avoid making a political mess. They had asked for her husband a couple of times, but she wouldn’t listen. She is keen on proving herself being different, as if she needs it. Yet another student said that she had told everybody that she is from one of Afghanistan’s aristocratic families; things like her grandfather being minister in the court of Davood Khan and her grandmother being born in Missouri, United States, etc.
She came back after 15 minutes, calm and quietly cold. She went and sat at her seat without looking at anyone. I stared at the girl who had taken her out. She nodded as if to tell me that she was able to contain the situation a little bit. I wanted to let the matter pass and continue the talk about Isaac Babel but the Afghan woman started talking loudly. Her voice was clear. She wasn’t crying either. Her words were solid enough, raised from a boiling nervousness. Her accent was totally Afghani, and you couldn’t understand some of her words. I still somewhat remember them, even after so many years. I just can’t put them down exactly as they were. Explaining what they were about would only diminish them, because she was talking from her heart. Like an old wound opening and pain and blood pouring out. She said that the fact that life behaves some people with injustice and burns them in fires of unkindness, should not be deemed as permit for others to say whatever, and judge them however they want. She had passed her life with the dream that one they she would be Raymond Carver, or Ann Taylor; to write for The New Yorker. She said that it’s not her fault that her youth, along with her hopes and dreams, was wasted away, and that she could only feel regretful. She said that Iranians are not grateful for what they have. They should have lived in Afghanistan to understand the meaning of a government of fear and terror. To have to tremble out fear of Talibs, every time they heard the sound of a car, or footsteps, while being forced to walk to from street to street for three hours, wearing hijab and holding a book, just to attend a literature session. Have to wait for half an hour at each intersection, looking everywhere carefully, and walking like an ant with cold sweat covering their bodies, just to wait another half an hour at the end of a street or next to a house. She said that you Iranians probably think this is all nonsense, but you hadn’t been there to see for yourselves. Being caught with a story book would cost you eighty lashes at the best of times. The whips were thick and woven, scarring your body for a month so you’d have to spend the time in your house, and in pain. Iranians can get whatever book they wanted from any bookstore. Of course they wouldn’t understand that in Afghanistan carrying books, even the most basic ones, is worse than carrying drugs, and that they had to hide books in strange hiding places, so Talib spies couldn’t find them and get them in trouble. How was it her fault that she had to live and die through every second in such a world, when her dreams were the most natural for boys and girls elsewhere? Instead of understanding them, and trying to help, they only ridiculed their abilities and break their hearts. How is it possible to nurture your talents and get better in a society where radio, television, and all publications are banned, and people are punished in the most horrible ways for artistic expression? She said that it’s a dream for Afghani youth to be able to attend classes such as this. Iranians, who can attend them very cheaply, only think about having fun and wasting their time away. The only thing that they do is ridiculing a foreigner, their guest, without understanding her. Would they be okay with being treated the same way if their situations had swapped? She then said that this would be her last session in a literature class in Iran; that she was sorry because she was finally able to overcome her fears after years, and be calm enough to believe in herself without having nightmares of being caught by the Talibs every night. Now, she was totally heartbroken, and would prefer to do things alone, and only for herself. Only God could help her now, and there maybe changes in her country, so that she could help the numerous others like her in her homeland.
It was natural to cancel the rest of class following these words. And more natural than that, was to never see her again; almost was. Our classes went on and we continued our discussions of the world’s literature masterpieces. What else could we do? We decided to remain silent about what had happened. Life makes people forgetful. I would think of her every once in a while based on some occasion, especially her final words. I even tried to write a story about them. I would definitely write it in dark naturalist style if I ever did. How history and geography burn people in the worst ways. “A Princess from Afghanistan”; this was the title which I had in mind; A princess who had to show up in the courts of French Louis, Russian Romanovs, or Ottoman Sultans. She always had to wear beautiful clothing and expensive jewelry, and show off to everybody. This was a kind of justice. The injustice was where a princess being infinitely arrogant, sensitive, and ambitious, and yet being stuck amongst a basic populace who couldn’t see the difference between people and animals. If this wasn’t the cruelty of the natural system, then what was? I never wrote the story. People hate having to write about painful reality on paper. As if the paper would reject the man to put the real world down on.
A year passed and impactful events happened. The most impactful was probably September 11. Naturally, it shook the world. Following that, George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Another page turned, and our ever chaotic region engaged in new crises. In Iran, we still live with the side effects of war, and the following financial crisis. Fear of another war took hold of the country; especially after the American army captured Iraq and Afghanistan. Everyone thought Afghanistan would be another Vietnam, but it fell much easier. I had just got connected with the story writing community of Chicago University, away from the fanfare of the times. I sent them three stories which they liked overall. They had welcomed them and their reactions were mostly positive. I sent them an email after September 11, and told them that I was sorry for what had happened. I told them that they had to separate us from the fanatics; that we hated terrorism, whether in religious forms, or otherwise. They weren’t so angry, and if they were, it would be natural. They talked a bit about the fear and nervousness that came after the explosions and what had made the atmosphere fearful. Even though the political and cultural landscapes were fervent for us and the Americans, what had happened was infinitely heartwarming for others – for the Afghans, especially those who lived in Iran who we talked to every once in a while. The Americans were their savior angels. When the news of Taliban’s defeat broke out, they were ecstatic. They would embrace and kiss each other as we looked in wonder. They would cry in each other’s shoulders for long whiles out of joy. It was very affective. Taliban – or the Talibs – had done such horrors to these quiet and oppressed people. In those times, our radio and television would continuously play a song in which the singer, who had a burning voice, would sing of the injustice that was tearing Afghanistan apart: “Oh my homeland, you are tired of injustice… you are tired of injustice…”. The events in Afghanistan had a much larger impact on Iranian people than Saddam’s defeat and the dismantlement of his government, even though his eight year war had done irreversible damage to our country. I think much of this was due to the environment the media had created, and seeing the tears and laughter of the Afghanis. As if their happiness and excitement was infective. I saw the Afghan writer’s husband at the time. It wasn’t accidental. He came to see me, and brought flowers and a box of confectionary. He had shaved and his eyes shone with happiness. He had brought me an invite for attending the celebration of Afghanistan’s freedom, which Afghan students were holding in one of the university’s atriums. Talks, poetry, music, and things like those. His wife would of course read something. I told him that I was honored and would definitely attend. I gave him hearty congratulations, and due to the excitement of the days, instead of asking about his wife, I asked him of Afghanistan. I told him that I had heard things, and that it appeared that the situation had been much worse than I previously imagined, without saying anything about his wife’s goodbye words. I explained some of the Afghan students’ reactions as well. He had a smile on his face as he listened to my words, and would nod his head in agreement every once in a while. He said that nobody could truly understand the bitterness of those days unless he had tasted them himself. He said that he wanted to go back to Afghanistan to visit his mother who was sick, and was grieving that he had to not shower for a month, and not shave, so his beard would grow all the way to his chest; as if this was a requirement for Afghanistan’s visa. He hoped that no nation ever has to experience what Afghanistan experienced in those years. I said the Afghan people must be experiencing real joy now. He said that it was really so. The only bitter thing was Ahmad Shah Masoud’s death. He was assassinated in a bombing a week before Taliban’s fall. He said that it was because of him that he and his wife and numerous others were able to escape Afghanistan, and seek refuge in other countries. I asked about her wife – very carefully. He said that she is better overall but she could never forget those blows to her pride. She was happier for the developments in Afghanistan, and that she is to read something in the celebration. She was working on the text. We ended the meeting after talking a bit about Afghanistan’s future. He wasn’t certain, but he said that he wanted to return to Afghanistan after he is done with his studies, to pursue cultural activities. This was the last time we met. Unfortunately, I could not attend the celebration. I can’t remember why. Was there something I had to do instead? Did I not want to meet the writer woman? Did I get there late? I can’t seem to recall no matter how much I try. I think it was one of those strange decisions which their motives make sense only at the time they are made.
Afghanistan has of course changed these days. Although Taliban has regained some of its strength, and has recaptured parts of the land, and there are still news of their atrocities. But the majority of the country is maturing in terms of culture, and personal liberties are returning, especially for women. Its ruling system is moving gradually towards democracy amidst the unfortunate chaos and terror which continues to this day. I sometimes see Afghani women dress like Iranians, which is not comparable to before. I have even seen clips of Afghanistan’s senate, where female representatives work among males, and try for women rights. Things are better overall. I sometimes think of the Afghani princess. I called the embassy a couple of years after our last meeting. Two calls in the distance of a year, in fact. I had heard that her husband had become then cultural advisor in the Iranian embassy. He wasn’t present the first time I called, and had returned to Afghanistan the second time. I think that they have forgotten the past with marvelous speed and have started new lives. A while ago I had messaged the woman who wrote the story about the mountains on Facebook. She was doing her doctorate in Germany. I don’t know why but she asked if I remembered the Afghan woman. She had used her name, which I wasn’t used to. In fact, I didn’t know her name at all, which is not so weird for someone like me. It was strange having to get used to it instead of just calling her the princess. In any case, I said that I remembered her well. She said that they had shown a movie in one of Germany’s networks about Afghanistan’s culture after the fall of Taliban, and that part of the movie was an interview with her who was talking about Afghanistan’s female writers and poets, and their activities, and future plans for Afghanistan’s cultural institutes. I said that it was interesting. She replied that she was just as she was when she attended our sessions: proud, and full of confidence. I said that I remembered that she wanted to be different from everybody else. Both in the way she dressed, and the way she acted. I said that I remembered. I also said that some things are just instinctual to some people. In any case, I was happy that she had found the opportunity to pursue her dreams, and satisfy her ambition. At bedtime, I though how happy she must have been when watching her movie being shown in Germany. The princess might have come alive for a few moments.
Well, I don’t think anybody has ever provided a model of life for humans anywhere in history. That who, on what basis, gets to be born at what time or in which specific place, and how life is determined based on this inheritance. Nobody gets to choose. The Middle East is in chaos these days, and it may be for a long while. There is no a single day where media doesn’t report of some explosion, or assassination, or sectarian, religious, or political killing, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, or other countries. Some countries, like Syria, are doing much worse. The only thing that matters in the heart of brutal killings is survival, and nothing else. I think that is the most important art and objective for the Syrian people. It is quite difficult to be able to discover your inner talents under flight of bullets. This would be painful for anybody, but especially so for those who are instinctually proud, ambitious, or sensitive. An introverted person who defines life in their inner world, and whose spirit yearns to reach specific heights, can now only think whether or not he gets to live tomorrow, and whether he would sleep hungry. Is his family or close ones are to die under airstrikes or not? Ordinary people, the masses, get used to it. Good or bad, they adapt, and try their best to preserve themselves, and their family. Can a poet, a writer, painter, or sculpture accept this fate? Life conditions (or fate?) of course forces itself over us no matter what people do. There have been numerous artists who had died in the two world wars, or had to sacrifice their art for the sake of their survival for a long time. Their suffering can be painful depending on the depth of their sensitivity and ambition. If you are a princess, and horribly proud, and the praises of others being your most important lifeline, then life would be worse than burning in any fire. I’m not surprised that she didn’t reply my kind messages in Facebook. I know that such things should not be expected of her. Connecting with me would remind her of painful old days; days of ridicule, suppression, having your dreams crushed, and days of being mentally crumbled. Few would want to have to live through them again, even if through narrow tunnels to old memories. That I see beautiful pictures of her on the internet, or interviews and talks on websites, speaks of rejuvenation. This time, in a world where her dreams have the chance to take flight, and drag her out of a swamp, and allow her to feel the wind and the joy of movement in a beautiful and clear sky; to allow her pride to come out of its cage and roam around in the green woods of freedom; feel the breeze; smell the flowers and the grass; hear the shuffling of leaves in the wind; and of all this, drown in indolence.
Author Notes: Shadman Shokravi
Professor of Biology
Head of Creative Writing Research Center
Shahid Beheshti University.
Translated from Persian : Shahab Shokravi
Literary Works: 57 papers, 7 books, 8 Conference, 12 lectures, 6 stories in USA journals.