On a crisp March morning in 2020, gridlocked vehicles honk noisily at a roundabout reverse a excessive wall, guarded by a handful of uniformed males within the Afghan capital. Behind the wall lies Kabul Public Library, a easy, three-storey brick construction constructed 55 years in the past. Trapped between imposing authorities buildings, the library is an oasis within the chaotic capital – its corridors, run-down and dimly lit, lie silent, however for the faint chattering of guards ingesting tea outdoors.
“Afghan poetry is each delicate and profound, hinting at notions of spiritualism, and an Afghan sense of the transcendental,” muses 81-year-old poet Ghulam Haidar Haidari Wujodi as he hunches over his desk nestled between teetering towers of books on the library’s high flooring.
There’s a gap the scale of 1 / 4 within the giant window simply above the small pink hat balanced on Wujodi’s head, cracks extending, spider-like, from its circumference – the results of a metal ball bearing from a close-by automotive bomb the yr earlier than. It’s a jarring reminder of the realities of Kabul, and surprisingly at odds with the room’s in any other case serene environment. Past the cracked glass, town hums.
Wujodi was born in Panjshir province, within the northeastern a part of the nation, however he moved to Kabul as a younger man with huge goals of turning into a broadcast poet.
He joined the Affiliation of Poets, which was established by its members – students, playwrights, lecturers and poets from throughout the nation – in 1965. They’d come collectively for readings and to share their work and sources with each other.
It was an area full of ardour and hope, says Wujodi. “There was simply this sort of power that all of us obtained from each other and gave to 1 one other.”
The poets had by no means obtained that sort of help or skilled that sense of camaraderie earlier than, he explains.
Together with three fellow members of the affiliation, he went on to determine the Kabul Public Library in 1966. It’s the solely state-owned public library in Kabul and the oldest of the handful of public libraries in Afghanistan.
At first, Wujodi labored as a library clerk – shelving and cataloguing the books, magazines and newspapers utilizing a guide catalogue card system. Then he took cost of the periodicals part, organising them by date and topic.
Wujodi retired a number of years in the past however continues to indicate up day by day on the library which has change into his house as a lot as he has change into the library’s. He’s typically the primary to reach every morning, simply beating the early morning rush-hour site visitors, and at all times the final to go away as nightfall falls on the capital. He now dedicates his time to keen highschool and college college students searching for a serving to hand as they search for materials for his or her thesis and analysis assignments in a rustic the place schooling sources stay scarce – though his desk is open to anybody in search of recommendation, references or only a debate over some tea.
“We don’t have many libraries in Afghanistan or sources to protect books correctly,” he says, stroking his white beard and pausing as if deep in thought. “But when we wish to know our world higher and acquire information about all nations, cultures, politics and historical past you need to research and libraries are key to gaining this data – this is the reason I worth this library and why it means a lot to me.” He nods in settlement with himself as he speaks. “Our library is small and outdated however we tried our hardest to construct a group and I’m happy with it.”
Burning books, saving books
On the planet of artwork and tradition, Wujodi is each well-known and nicely revered for his writing and poetry. His work contains mystical Sufi teachings, however he has additionally tackled taboo topics, writing about lust and love outdoors of marriage. Whereas many of those works weren’t included in his 15 revealed books, he says his risque method has been counseled by his friends.
When the primary public library was established in Afghanistan in 1924, it was with the aim of preserving sacred non secular texts. However in the course of the Thirties, beneath the rule of a brand new king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, and through a interval of relative stability, the thought of libraries as a supply of public information and data took root.
However in 1996, the Taliban took management of Kabul metropolis and decreed that each one printed materials with footage or work of dwelling creatures have been non-Islamic and ought to be burned. They destroyed books in libraries throughout the nation, together with the Nationwide Library in Kabul and the Library of Kabul College. Based on one report, 15 out of the 18 libraries in Kabul have been closed in the course of the rule of the Taliban (1996-2001). In some cities, all the library books have been destroyed – 80,000 books are thought to have been misplaced throughout that point.
Wujodi says that when the Taliban got here to Kabul Public Library, the top of the library satisfied them to go away with out burning the books.
Right this moment, the library hosts a group of hundreds of books and magazines donated by worldwide donors and publishers. There are novels, historical past books, texts on social sciences and interpretations of the Quran. There’s a part for youngsters’s books and books in different languages, together with Russian and French. Compared to most Afghan libraries, which have only a few hundred books, Wujodi says it might be essentially the most diverse assortment of books within the nation.
However its most spectacular sections, and Wujodi’s favourites, are the “literature part” with hundreds of poetry books, and the “newspaper part”, the place salvaged newspaper clippings from as early because the Nineteen Twenties are lovingly sure collectively, rigorously saved on cabinets lining each wall.
Although outdated, the library at the moment gives a vital archive of the nation’s historical past as recorded by the Afghan press. It’s one by which many are illiterate and have had no entry to an schooling.
In Afghanistan, 3.7 million kids are out of college – 60 p.c of them women, in response to UNICEF. Within the hardest-to-reach areas, and battle zones, round 85 p.c of out-of-school kids are feminine. Makes an attempt by the worldwide neighborhood to extend literacy and schooling within the nation haven’t included the renovation and upgrading of public libraries and their collections. Wujodi and the librarians at Kabul Public Library met with authorities officers to ask for a funds for renovations and new books and useful resource supplies however he says no help, monetary or in any other case, has been provided.
The library has few books on the themes that a lot of its visiting college students are learning, akin to enterprise, administration or financial system. In a constructing the place there isn’t any heating or air con, and the home windows and doorways aren’t insulated, many of the books have been broken by the new summers and harsh winters, whereas others sit coated in a slick of mud, untouched.
“We’ve round 70,000 books however they’re outdated and there’s no funds for brand new books,” Wujodi laments. “We’ve no books on the nation’s trendy historical past and tradition. Our books of geography are outdated and ineffective,” he provides, pulling some from the cabinets and flipping by means of them.
And so, because the outdated library stays standing, its shabby and easy exterior unimpressive at a look, it has taken on a brand new function – as a gathering level for quite a lot of intellectually hungry Afghans, from completely different backgrounds and of various ages, to share in every others’ information by means of exchanges of Sufi poetry and readings.
A Sufi resistance
Sufism is a mystical type of Islam, which has been a part of Afghanistan’s cloth for nearly so long as Islam itself. Many Afghans respect Sufis for his or her studying and imagine they possess “karamat” – a non secular energy that permits Sufi elders to carry out acts of generosity and bestow blessings.
The nation has been house to Sufi sages and students who made important contributions to Islamic literature. It’s also the birthplace of a number of Sufi orders or “Brotherhoods”. For greater than 1,000 years, a lot of its cities and cities remained among the many most vital centres of Sufism.
These mystic communities have survived the upheavals of the final half-century and at the moment, Sufism lives on throughout Afghanistan – in, amongst different folks, the scholars who huddle round their trainer after hours in Herat metropolis, their rhythmic chants echoing down their faculty’s corridors, and the ladies’s solely group that gathers in a darkened Kabul basement cafe to debate Sufi poetry over tea and shisha.
Sufi practices emphasise the inward seek for God. Sufism’s poetry, primarily written in Persian, consists on Islamic mystical themes. The earliest Sufi poetry usually consisted of brief ascetical laments on the human situation. Right this moment, some, like Wujodi’s, embrace the concepts and language of affection.
For years, Sufism has performed a job within the Afghan resistance – to occupation, civil warfare and Taliban rule – its poetry generally used to disguise political messages, Wujodi explains. It nonetheless does so at the moment, he provides. Though the setting and contributors have advanced, the message stays. “To be particular person and to do good to others, it’s actually simply that,” says Wujodi, adjusting his spectacles, which have been slipping down his nostril as his arms have been enthusiastically dancing together with his phrases.
Wujodi transfers these Sufi values into his old flame – his poems. “Like a father who loves his sons equally, poets additionally love their poems equally. My poems are what I’ve to indicate for my 80 years and I like all of them,” he chuckles. “We will critique poems in response to technical weaknesses nevertheless it doesn’t imply that we don’t love all of them, actually.”
Wujodi doesn’t take his expertise evenly or with out accountability. With 65 years of expertise in writing poetry he has additionally made a dedication to educating it and has tutored college students and poetry fans in Kabul for greater than 30 years. “My college students study from me and I study from my college students. Even at my outdated age, I’ve a lot to study,” he says. Books stacked on his desk have been rigorously chosen, with notes scribbled within the margins, for some college students who will go to later.
Wujodi believes that younger Afghans aren’t inspired sufficient and so he has devoted his time to sharing his ardour with others. “Nobody is encouraging younger Afghans to learn any extra. The schooling system is missing and there are different considerations for folks however I would like younger folks to really feel inspired to learn extra and at all times study extra. I would like them to really feel somebody helps them and can be part of them of their studying,” he says, including with a bit smile: “That’s what I’m right here for.”
Thirty years in the past, Wujodi additionally shaped a Sufi poetry group that meets at Kabul Public Library twice per week. Misplaced in a trance, its members sway in rhythm as he sings out his poems. On the centre of the room stands an iPhone on a tripod, from which he stay streams the category on Fb.
“Some folks can’t take part particular person, so we go to them on social media and with on-line broadcasting. I additionally share my classes on-line for college students who can’t attend in particular person,” he says. As soon as the pandemic started, he took his lessons solely on-line.
“Poems have the facility to steer society, poems can enlighten the thoughts. Poems can inspire folks to do good in society and be good regardless of the warfare that surrounds us. That is the facility and impact that poetry has on our lives.” Wujodi stops speaking as he spots a younger Afghan woman who has been lingering within the doorway listening in. He invitations her to take a seat with us, earlier than persevering with.
“Forty years of warfare has drastically impacted cultural affairs,” he explains. “Earlier than warfare, we had a giant affiliation of writers, its members got here from all throughout the nation they usually have been female and male poets. Sadly in the course of the warfare, many writers escaped Afghanistan, many others have been killed and in the course of the Taliban regime which began within the early 90s, girls who have been lively have been pressured to stay at house.”
By means of the Soviet regime, the civil warfare that adopted its collapse and the rule of the Taliban, Wujodi and his fellow poets remained devoted to their artwork type. But it surely didn’t come with out its challenges. They needed to go underground, poetry teams not met in public and plenty of stopped publishing their work.
However after the autumn of the Taliban in 2001, they resurfaced as a bunch stronger and extra inclusive, he says. Public poetry readings resumed, drawing new audiences. “After the US-led forces toppled the regime in 2001 we started establishing poetry associations once more for each female and male members.”
Poets, who wrote in secret beneath Taliban rule, got here collectively to share their new work, he remembers. “Afghan poetry goes again so far as Afghanistan’s historical past and we needed to see this Afghan custom which had already survived a lot, come out strengthened by the warfare.”
The lengthy historical past of Afghan girls poets
Wujodi passes his arms rigorously over the cabinets and pulls out a small, inconspicuous quantity. The primary version of “Shariat”, a month-to-month journal revealed on March 22, 1998, by the Taliban. Inside, an article praises the expertise of Persian and Pashtun girls poets. Wujodi highlights it as an exception to the Taliban’s broader beliefs in regards to the function of girls in society.
“Ladies have at all times had a job in Afghan poetic historical past,” he explains, including that he sees the library – the place ladies and men can work and study collectively – as an emblem of progress in direction of gender equality.
He delves into the historical past of Afghan feminine poets.
“tenth century Rabia Balkhi is the nation’s most well-known feminine poet – writing about love,” he explains. “Rabia Balkhi was imprisoned and killed by her brother for falling in love with a slave.”
Many imagine that she wrote her final poem on the wall of the bathhouse she was imprisoned in, utilizing her personal blood.
“I’m caught in Love’s internet so deceitful
None of my endeavours flip fruitful.
I knew not after I rode the high-blooded stead
The more durable I pulled its reins the much less it will heed.
Love is an ocean with such an unlimited house
No clever man can swim it in anywhere.
A real lover ought to be trustworthy until the top
And face life’s reprobated pattern.
Once you see issues hideous, fancy them neat,
Eat poison, however style sugar candy.”
To know why women and men have largely been separated in Afghan society, notably in rural contexts, you have to return to the start, says Wujodi. Each genders differ drastically from one another in how they relate to their feelings and the way they’re anticipated to precise them.
“The principle qualities for Afghan girls are struggling, acceptance and persistence,” says Wujodi. Such values have been enshrined in tribal customs for hundreds of years and supply a context by which girls, who in any other case have restricted voice within the public sphere, can specific their hardships and emotional ache. Cultural norms encourage girls to precise such feelings amongst each other by means of storytelling and poetic verse, he says, including: “Ladies acquire a degree of recognition and understanding inside their feminine friends by expressing their struggling publicly.”
A widely known Pashto proverb says, ‘A girl is born with sorrow, married with sorrow, and can die with sorrow’.
For males, the qualities of masculinity are fairly the other. Masculine honour is centred on prowess and endurance of ache with out displaying it, which is all to do with nartob or “manliness” which incorporates possessing delight, braveness, power, fearlessness and assertiveness. “For Pashtun males, a public show of feelings, akin to disappointment, concern, jealousy or tenderness, is taken into account to be an indication of weak spot and demonstrates an absence of self-control,” says Wujodi, flicking by means of the pages of a well-worn little poetry e book, trying to find one thing.
As a substitute, males share such feelings by means of verse privately, says Wujodi, having discovered the poem he was in search of.
‘If it’s your hope by no means to be shamed earlier than anybody.
It’s best to maintain in your coronary heart even the least affair…
Let your coronary heart bleed inside itself, if bleed it should.
However maintain your secrets and techniques nicely hid from enemy and good friend.’
They’re the phrases of seventeenth century Pashtun warrior-poet Khushal Khan Khattak, says Wujodi, illustrating historically key traits of what it means to be a Pashtun man.
Right this moment, such values proceed to prevail, however Wujodi says that new qualities in each genders have additionally arisen, that they’re turning into interchangeable and that Afghan society is adjusting. “Poetry is altering, the verse of males and the verse of girls are each altering, each are publicly sharing their voices in areas collectively and society as an entire is discovering its personal path to fulfill these adjustments.”
Preserving and getting ready for an Afghan renaissance
Throughout our final assembly in Might 2020, Wujodi explains that his Sufist poetry group might not meet throughout lockdown, however this didn’t cease him from coming to work on the library day by day. He had lived by means of restrictions earlier than, beneath Taliban rule, and continued to live-stream his Sufi poetry classes in the course of the pandemic. As a protector of Afghanistan’s poetic previous, he won’t let the books collect mud. He’s preserving the nation’s wealthy historical past for its function in its future renaissance, he explains.
He shares a poem he wrote for a previous lover. Scrawled on a scrap of paper and at all times pocketed … “near my coronary heart,” he laughs. “She by no means learn it. I used to be only a younger man and it wasn’t acceptable of me, however it’s a particular poem to me.”
‘I like your black eyes at all times looking round/ I like the waves that come out of your eyes when you take a look at me.
Just like the solar shining on silken material/ I like your physique and what you put on.
Like a lamp which burns on a tomb at midnight/ I like to be burnt by your methods.
you unfold gentle throughout the sky/ I like your shining, my moon.
my good friend, you noticed the shining of that physique/ I like her the whole lot.
You have been burnt due to the unfairness of somebody/ I like your tears and sigh.
You went and kissed somebody’s toes/ Oh! my good coronary heart, I like your sin.’
‘A brand new technology’
A month after our final assembly, Wujodi handed away from COVID-19 on June 10, 2020.
One among his college students has taken over the accountability of main the lessons by means of which Wujodi’s legacy lives on.
Afghanistan stays a cradle of poetic expression and for Wujodi’s college students, Sufism stays a sacred fibre. Each Kabul Public Library and Wujodi have acted as vessels carrying Sufi poetry by means of the years.
Right this moment, know-how gives Wujodi’s college students a safer and extra personal technique to share their work with each other. A newfound love of poetry has taken maintain of the nation’s capital, pushed by younger Afghans searching for new methods to work together with each other and specific themselves in areas the place gender is not an insurmountable hurdle.
On April 14, President Joe Biden introduced that he would finish america’ longest warfare and withdraw the remaining 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan by the twentieth anniversary of the September eleventh, 2001, assaults, overstaying a Might 1 deadline that had been agreed by the Trump administration with the Taliban in Doha final yr. About 7,000 NATO troops may even be withdrawn by September. As Afghanistan enters a brand new period, it should stay to be seen if Wujodi’s teachings can survive one other hurdle.
“Poetry was gifted to us and it’s the obligation of each poet to share poetry and the which means and the essence of poetry with others,” Wujodi advised me. “We can’t perceive one another, the human thoughts, why we do what we do, the great, the unhealthy … we can’t attempt to perceive humanity with out verse. And now we have to see it transfer ahead with a brand new technology.”