Zaryab And Today’s Afghan Society

by Esmat

I recently watched an interview of Rahnaward Zaryab, the famed Afghan literary giant, conducted by Armanshahr. The interview is about 47 minutes long and you can watch it here (understanding that you can comprehend the Dari language).

Zaryab looking frail, smoking thin-long cigarettes, talks about how much things have become superfluous in the life of Afghans – how it’s all appearances and nothing real and significant is under that appearance. He vents continuously on how much there is this void of culture and artists and no one has really been replaced from the old time by new artists. He gives countless examples of how much the politicians of Afghanistan have been flawed at their understanding of political ideologies, and ideologies generally. I love the part that he busts the myth of rights for women in Islam. You see how openminded he is about religion and how ferocious he is in his criticism of religion. At an end point he says, “We don’t really understand anything about Islam! Just like we didn’t really understand Communism back then.”

Why I admire such kinds of criticisms? Because, before any ideology we as humans beings ever conceived of; or we follow or try to impose on our fellow species, we are human beings. We must not forget that universal truth, however much that certain ideology is important to us. In many ways, I see people being lost in the blackhole of religion instead of being enlightened.

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Zaryab a veteran of the golden literary age of Afghanistan, reminisces about how much society was honest and, “At that time, every street in Kabul used to be a big family in a way…shopkeepers weren’t always into looking how much money they could get from you.”
Which reminds me of how recently a shopkeeper in my neighbourhood stole 10 Afghanis from me, I knew that he was overpricing, and I asked him twice about it, then he said the same thing and I, disgusted at the moment, paid the cash I was carrying with myself and left the shop with a feeling of despair, not for the 10 Afghanis I had stolen from me, but how a shopkeeper whom I have known for more than half a decade was trying to steal from me. Where is the decency? Where is the moral of this wrecked society? Where is the sense of community? This is what Zaryab vents about, this is what he calls, “The biggest misery of our time.”

A few days ago, maybe this Saturday, I went to the central office of Afghan Post in the city to receive a parcel. I climbed the stairs leading to the postboxes where a rude and mean lady was sitting on a chair registering each visitor, she asked for an ID, which I had forgotten to bring with myself, I asked if I can show my ID on my phone, she turned her face, her body still facing me and said, “Just bring me an ID then I can register you!” in a very rude way that I did not appreciate.

I went all the way back  to the other side of the city, photocopied my passport, drove around the city in traffic jams, then got there and handed my ID to her. She registered me on the damp log book sitting on the scratched table.

Inside the area where I would receive my parcel, sits two old aged employees of Afghan Post, one of them very overweight and the other adequately well dressed (which is hard to find in a low-level government employee), but both of them have no manners whatsoever. They certainly qualify to be called low-life. I pushed my head inside the opening of the wall where they were both sitting and having green tea, and handed my receipt of the item I was to collect, this well dressed one looked at me and asked, “What is it?!”

I said, “There is a parcel here that was sent for me, could you please see that?” 

He snatched the receipt, took a look at it, and then went to the closet that was in the corner of his office and took out my parcel. He gave it to the overweight one and asked him to open it to check what’s inside it, which is a huge invasion of my privacy. Then he looked at me and pointed to the parcel and asked, “What’s inside the parcel?” I just shrugged my shoulders.

I mean is it any of his business to know what’s inside the parcel? If it’s because of security measures they should scan the parcel. Not open it. It’s my business if I want to open the parcel or not. I am sure that they do this to satisfy their personal curiosity.

Then this overweight one, who was slower than a turtle, handed me the opened parcel.  I left the building furious of how much inconsiderate and rude the employees were. Again, where is the decency? Where is the kindness? Where is the niceness? Why do they have to be so rude? Why?

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Zaryab knows that society has become corrupted to a level that the only way for remedying that corruption is starting over with a new generation. He considers this generation lost, and without any meaningful achievement. There is this notion of nostalgia that fills him. I know it’s unbearable for him to see how much everything is going in the wrong direction, for a place that he loves and wants to bear the pain. He is choking with agony and so should everyone else who is conscious of this situation.

While driving to the Afghan Post offices on Saturday, I thought how much despite all the billions of dollars in aid, there is no such significant achievements accomplished in the city  and the country as a whole – there is no central transportation system, there are no good hospitals, there are no good universities, there are no good schools, there are no…
There are only these buildings, which are uprooted by the same corruption Zaryab talks about.

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Zaryab says that we, Afghans, lack culture – poetry, literature, art and such. It’s the void of those elements that makes a society not so different than those living in caves.