Meditating in the Ruins
I was. Standing with my recently acquired Afghan friend in the
hall of Kabul Theatre that was. I say 'that was' because the space
I was standing in was once a theatre hall. A fantastic one at
that. It had all the paraphernalia of a theatre that would make
any theatre centre, anywhere, feel proud. The rows of iron lattice
on which the cushioned seats used to be are still there. But gone
are the cushions. The skeletons of the boxes made for the exclusive
audience are still there but the seats aren't. The steel structure
of revolving theatre without the platform, the huge passage way
to roll in the sets, the light and the sound consuls, the box
offices all stand in a desolate state. Only that they have all
been reduced to near rubbles.
on my arrival I had met a number of Afghans; both educated and
not so educated; and all of them, while talking about their country,
ended their discourse with a sigh. I knew, within a few days,
why in Afghanistan, 'sigh abound'. Later while talking to friends
and colleagues in Afghanistan, we named it the “Afghan sigh”.
had been to Kabul on a very short trip. Like every visitor to
a new and war-ravaged land I had started the tour expecting nothing.
In fact, I was even crestfallen to have found that the city did
not have a good enough place to stay. We were recommended some
Guest Houses. These are more of a middle class type hotels that
have sprung up after Kabul became open to outsiders.
a matter of habit, I had felt uncomfortable at the prospect of
living in such a hotel. These rest houses usually have a common
bathroom for every two/three rooms. This reminded me of my dormitory
days when one would have to wait to do the necessary until someone
else occupying it was through.
usually had two meals a day in the Guest House --breakfast and
dinner, the lunch being had at the place of work or in a restaurant,
whichever was convenient. A typical Afghan meal usually comprises
whole wheat bread and whatever one chooses to eat. You have the
option of meat and a kind of daal, with salad. Salad, I was told,
is a recent innovation, introduced after the foreigners kept coming
to Afghanistan. I took a liking to the Afghan bread. It looks
like naan but quite different from the conventional naan.
It should be four times the size of the naan that we
know. The Afghan bread is very well done and is, therefore, hard
like biscuits. There is no special reason for me to fancy the
bread, but, I suppose you may at times like something even without
any particular reason. In my meals, with a health restriction
on consumption of meat imposed on me, I used to chew on the bread
and try to relish its taste, which must have been intrinsic to
it and let it be the main dish on an Afghan table from time immemorial.
My colleagues asked me how such an apparently bland tasting thing
could entice me so much. Good question, I thought. Then it dawned
on me that the Afghan bread, like Afghanistan itself, grows on
you. Just as its perched earth, scorched buildings, dusty roads
and the inquisitive eyes of its children.
first sight of the place, its facilities and utilities are deceiving
unless you have been around for a few days, met with the people,
talked to them, visited their homes and endeavoured to have a
“feel”. I learnt from them how miserable were the days of the
infighting Mujahedeens and how torturous were the days of the
Talebans. I went through the streets in west Kabul. It is like
a ghost town being inhabited by the poverty stricken masses. Each
building is a skeleton of what it used to be. Each individual
is muted by the events that have ruled over them for past so many
years. They look almost with absurd disbelief at the visitors.
They hardly trust anybody, especially after so many years of inhuman
existence caused by human beings, some their own and some invading
was amply reflected when young boys, ill-clad and gloomy, stuck
their heads into our car offering something to sell and said in
almost perfect American accent “wanna buy?” They would even respond
to your bargaining, be it the city map of Kabul or an antique
piece but their pensive eyes, however, would give away their inner
self which is one of uncertainty and fear.
friend who had taken me to the Kabul Theatre took a speck of dust
from the wall of the destroyed building and said, “no Afghan could
do such a heinous deed of destroying a property which was their
pride, these must have been the enemies of the Afghans”. I only
wish to God that he was true and that, at long last, the Afghans
would emerge as a nation under some leader who would be given
an unperturbed lease of control all over the country for a logical
period of time.