NOVEMBER 2002




NOVEMBER 2002 Contents


 South Asian Travels


 Arrival in Kabul
 Spirit of the city
 Cultural Suicide
 Panjsher Valley 


 Natural Heritage

Sundarbans of Bangladesh


 Recognising Depression

 Real Issues

 Bonded Labour of South Asia


 Letter from Pakistan

 From the pages of History

 Maldive Islands - in 1884


 'Rudraksha' - a review
 Artiste: poumi

 Around us

 Coffee break



 South Asian Events in
 London & Washington DC

 November   8 - Nov 14
 November 15 - Nov 21


 the craft shop

 the print gallery


 Silk Road on Wheels

 The Road to Freedom

Enduring Spirit

 Parsis-Zoroastrians of

The Moonlight Garden

Contemporary Art in Bangladesh





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Page  5  of  6


- Panjsher Valley


Akhil Bakshi


panjsher valley - refurbished soviet tanks.JPG (73272 bytes)
Photo courtesy: Alexander Merkushev

Speed lifted a curtain on the wall, exposing shelves full of books. "Farsi Shayari – by Iranian, Tajik, Afghan, Pakistani and Indian poets. I have several books of Mohammed Iqbal. We don’t consider him as the national poet of Pakistan. For us he is an Indian." He got out a musical instrument. Not wanting to expose my ignorance, I didn’t ask him what it was. A label stuck on the gadget said "Banjo". I had never seen a banjo like it. Its exposed strings extended only over its small mouth, the rest of them being covered in a case that had a confused row of round metallic keys pouring out of it. With his shoulder-length hair and a full brown beard and a walrus moustache, Speed looked like an American rock star. He strung the banjo with passion and delivered sentimental songs at the top of his voice, which was cracked beyond measure and delivered four false notes out of every seven, ruining my meditations under the soft Panjsher moonshine. Wisdom demanded that I pay full attention to the cacophony created by Speed. I didn’t want him to increase his tally of 500 – at least not tonight. I nodded my head and clicked my fingers and tapped my feet, making sure he noticed my enjoyment and appreciation. Unfortunately, my conduct only encouraged him to continue his discordant performance with increased alacrity and heightened fervor. Fearing that a quick-tempered neighbor, provoked by the disturbance, might take a pot-shot at us, I slipped down from the window sill and stretched myself on the floor. After Speed had exhausted his anthology of songs, he retired for the night, indicating that if I needed to answer the call of nature, I was azad, free to go out into the open. Enveloping my suffering ears in a blanket, I slept on the carpet in fits and starts, disturbed by the rustlings of a restless bird nesting on the other side of the thin mud wall.

Speed appeared at six in the morning and said we must move on for a wash to the river. In the compound of his house, he introduced me to John, his black-and-white bull, whose services were utilized to cross the village cows. John did not seem to be overworked for this time of the year and had a satisfied look on his face. Speed tried to be familiar with his flock of hens, calling out to them in their own language. But like good Afghan women, they shied from strangers and were led away by a conservative, fundamentalist cock. We tumbled down over pebbled walls bordering jowar fields till we came to the edge of the river. Inside dug out earth was placed a rusted turbine that had been salvaged by Speed from elsewhere. A channel had been burrowed to divert the river water. A lone man, an "engineer", with a rifle placed within easy reach, was lifting and throwing rocks to line its bed. Later, the channel would be cemented and the system would generate 750-kilowatts of electricity, enough to light up the village. We wandered through the fields of Rokha village for a good thirty minutes, stopping to examine several kinds of weeds to which Speed attributed medicinal properties for countering coughs and colds, diarrhea and aches. Soviet tanks and armored carriers that had been obliterated by the stubborn resistance during the occupation, lay strewn across the fields like battered toys. I was amazed at how the Russians could bring such heavy equipment to this impossible terrain and still manage to get out-maneuvered and out-weighed by the US and Chinese-armed Afghans guerillas. The bloody nose given to the vanquished Russians was to be seen everywhere and it was no wonder that they beat a retreat out of the country. The lethal signatures of Russian firepower were visible on devastated houses, blackened trees and the deep troughs made in the rolling land. Two bright-faced boys, not yet in their teens and armed with rifles, sat sedately on a Russian tank fallen over a hillside and hanging precariously on a sheer drop of at least a thousand feet. They looked down upon the wide bed of the river, which, at this time of September, was covered with grass and grazing cattle, goats and sheep.

Collecting our baggage from Speed’s house, we trekked to the road-head to meet up with Faisaluddin. Driving down to a picturesque hamlet by the river, we stopped to allow a herd of stampeding Badakshan goats, troubled by Faisaluddin’s incessant honking, to pass us. Making a sharp ascent, we came to the top of the Martyr’s Hill that held the tomb of Ahmad Shah Masood, ‘The Lion of Panjsher’, Afghanistan’s man of destiny who hounded the expansionist Russians out of his country, fought other warlords for control of ruined Kabul, and militarily challenged the fundamentalist Taliban. A doughty general, he found deep joy in having others implement his battle plans. A pious Muslim, he never failed to thank God five times a day, even in the middle of a battle, for delivering tanks, rockets and rifles to him whenever he needed them. A far-sighted visionary, he gave as much attention to the development of his people as he gave to keeping his tinder dry. "Great" Masood’s pictures hang on the walls and doors of every home and shop from Kabul to Panjsher. Large, colorful hoardings of Masood are placed on all prominent roads and crossings, demonstrating the genuine love and respect the people of Afghanistan – at least the Tajiks – have for him.  

One day, while sitting in the garden, Masood challenged his young son to climb a nearby hill in one breath. The boy ran and reached the summit in one breath. After he had come down, Masood hugged his son and said, "when I become a martyr, put me to rest on top of that hill, and whenever you miss me, come running to me in one breath". When two Al-Qaeda assassins, posing as photographers, shot Masood with camera-guns on September 9, 2001, two days before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the chivalrous and charismatic leader’s body was buried at the top of the hill in accordance with his wishes. We walked up to his modest tomb, a round structure with a green dome and arched windows. Two green Islamic flags fluttered noisily in the wind. An impotent battle tank that had seen better days was parked near the tomb. Picking up a spent cartridge, I took off my shoes and stepped inside the well-lit tomb. Standing over the black marble grave, I prayed with open palms for Afghanistan’s peace and prosperity. Sayings from the Holy Koran are framed on the walls. The tomb commands a 360-degree view of the naked, smileless, tortured mountains and the narrow Panjsher Valley hemmed between them. Several work gangs were engaged in landscaping the Martyr’s Hill.


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