Excerpt from email dated 16th July
I am reading The Wasting Vigilante , oops sorry the actual title is the Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam, a fiction about Afghanistan but very well written actually. I don’t usually read fiction. But this is a lyrical piece of work, beautiful writing that its taking me time to read it because I want to digest each nuance, language and allegory. He writes about Afghanistan with such mystery and fascination. Let me quote you one paragraph:
This country has always been a hub of things moving from one point of the compass to another, religion and myth, works of art, caravans of bundled Chinese silk flowing past camels loaded with glass from Ancient Rome or pearls from the Gulf. The men and women of Afghanistan share between them a store of tales so extensive, so rich and ancient that it has been said it is unrivalled by any other land.
Do you know Afghanistan was the 2nd home to Buddhism at one time?
It was here in Afghanistan that the Buddha had received a human face, the earlier representations of him having been symbols, a parasol, a throne, a footprint. A begging bowl even. The greeks in Afghanistan gave him the features of Apollo, the God of Knowledge, the God who repented. The Asian addition to Apollo was actually a dot on the forehead and the topknotted locks.
I once wrote an email to my Professor, Ahmad Ayaz about Bamiyan and Mazar; that I had come to Afghanistan to look for Buddha. It was after my most recent trip there that I discovered the meaning of insignificance and what it means to give yourself to the people; to love and to love and to love. Actually whilst in Afghanistan I had not realised what I was learning and how I was changing. And then one night in Delhi, I received a realisation in an instant. I was changed. To some extent the man I was staying with in Delhi had triggered this, he being a man for the people himself in his own ways.
Sometimes of course I falter or am less inspired, but at least for 2009, I feel within me love surging and I am making so many plans for my child-friends in Afghanistan; for them to learn English but more importantly for them to feel loved. Many of the street-children I work with never had a childhood. There was no time to play, no time to languish in affection, – by the age of 7-9, they had to go out to work, sell meager items like matchsticks and plastic bags, look after their siblings, and genuinely worry about bread for next day. It makes them so happy when I take them in my arms and kiss them and spend time with them, especially because I am adult and also I am foreign (foreigners are a novelty in Afghanistan.) They show off to their other friends that I take interest in them, saying ‘Natohsha is my Inglisi Ustaz (teacher)’.
I am reading Aslam whilst travelling through the border between Italy and Switzerland; in between the hills and mountains, my eyes searching for the green lakes in between trees. A clandestine tryst it is, between man (me) and nature. How tempting it is to search and wonder what else is there. Much like a man in love with a woman so inaccessible but he searches for her nonetheless.
The landscape is sooo sooo sooo beautiful. As I am reading and glancing out, I feel as though I am travelling within an enchanting fairytale. Then I get a poetic impulse so I rummage through my bag for a pen and on the last pages of this book scribble out words. They are incoherent, messy, struggling with other words for space. But I never deny a poetic impulse. A moment can come and pass, as many moments have.
Paradise is found between words and the mountains.
Interlaken in Switzerland has enchanted me, and now I have no care for God’s paradise (jannat).