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The Poisoned Honey…

Heart! I know Spring has passed, and its joy too/ but how could I fly with these ripped-off wings?…

These lines were written by Afghan poet Nadia Anjuman Herawi (December 27, 1980 – November 4, 2005) in her poem ‘Daughter of Afghanistan’. Nadia, born in Herat, had to stop attending school, despite being a brilliant student, after the Taliban took over the oasis Afghan city in September 1995. Like Nadia, hundreds of Afghan girls were prevented from going to schools by the Taliban. The terror outfit used to burn down schools, poison girls, launch acid attacks, kill and kidnap people in that period of time. However, Nadia and some Afghan girls secretly continued their education even in that situation. Professor Muhammad Ali Rahyab of Herat University helped them in this regard. It was really dangerous, as this secret venture could lead to extreme torture and even execution, if caught by the Taliban fighters. At that time, the Afghan girls did not have the Right to smile loudly, walk alone or openly express their views. Girls, like Nadia, chose poetry as a medium to express their thoughts and emotions. The education system for girls was re-established after the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001. Then Nadia got admitted to the Literature Department of Herat University, although the Afghan girls have never enjoyed complete freedom.

Nadia Anjuman

After completing her graduation in 2002, Nadia published her first book of poetry, ‘Gol-e Dudi’ (‘Smokey Flower’). She used to compose her verse in Dari, also known as Afghan Persian or Eastern Persian language. It may be noted that Professor Rahyab inspired Nadia to express her views through verses in various ways, and also introduced her to many poets and authors. Gradually, her writing style became unique, as she was a very talented girl. Meanwhile, Gol-e Dudi became famous in Iran, Pakistan and many other countries, prompting the publisher to launch three editions of the book. Nadia is still considered as one of the most modern poets of Afghanistan.

Nadia got married to Farid Ahmad Majid Neia, a graduate of Herat University with a degree in Literature who became the Head of the University Library later in his life. Farid and his family believed that Nadia’s writing was a disgrace to their reputation, as she was a woman. However, Nadia continued to compose verses. The couple had one son together shortly before Nadia’s murder (by her husband) when she was just 25. Their marital relation also reflected in her poetry, as she wrote: “I wish I could be sated by the wine of his beauty/or, burned in the flames of his love, become the master of his heart/I wish I could be a teardrop blooming on the flower of his face/or a curl of his perfumed hair…” (‘I Wish’, 1999) Her husband and in-laws started hating Nadia, as writing poems about love and beauty by a lady was considered as an insult to her family in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. Still, Nadia wrote: “Do not question love as it is the inspiration of your pen/My loving words had in mind death.” (‘Strands of Steel‘) Nadia’s only crime was that she was a woman. Still, she made an attempt to break the shackles. Hence, she wrote: “The day I will break this cage,/Fly from this solitude/And sing like a melancholic./I am not a weak poplar tree/To be shaken by any wind.” (A poem by Nadia Anjuman and translated by Mahnaz Badihian)

Unfortunately, Nadia failed to break the cage and could not sing the song of spring! She had a plan to publish a second volume of poetry, titled ‘Yek Sàbad Délhoreh‘ (‘An Abundance of Worry‘), in 2006. However, the mother of a six-month-old baby boy was beaten to death by her husband on November 4, 2005. Nadia’s complete works were published in 2007 in the original Persian-Dari by the Iranian Burnt Books Foundation.

Pens of many Afghan women stopped abruptly, as many of them were forced to leave the country. Layla Sarahat Rushani (June 13, 1958 – July 29, 2004), Parween Pazhwak (b. 1967), Awista Ayub (b. 1979), Zohre Esmaeli (b. 1985) and other women authors had to leave their country. Those, who did not or could not leave Afghanistan, were either killed or committed suicide. Although their struggles helped them live a normal life for some time after 2001, the current political situation in Afghanistan has pushed them back, yet again.

In a country where women are not safe at home, society cannot provide them with security. Lives of the Afghan women and girls are surrounded by darkness even after many struggles. There will be no way for light to come in the near future. How shall they taste Freedom? That’s why, Nadia wrote: “I am caged in this corner/full of melancholy and sorrow…/my wings are closed and I cannot fly…/I am an Afghan woman and so must wail.

Daughter of Afghanistan
by Nadia Anjuman

I’ve no desire to open my mouth. What will I recite?
I who will remain despised by my age, whether or not I recite

How will I sing of honey? It’s turned to poison on my tongue —
curses upon the fist of the tyrant who crushed my mouth

Bless this world with no one to share my grief
whether I weep or laugh, whether I live or die

I and this prison: my longing cornered to nothing.
I was borne of futility, born only to be silenced.

Heart! I know Spring has passed, and its joy too
but how could I fly with these ripped-off wings?

Though silent all this time, I’ve listened closely:
my heart still whispers her songs, births new ones for her every moment

One day I’ll smash this cage, its very solitude
I’ll drink the wine of joy, sing the way a bird should in springtime.

Though a delicate-limbed tree, I won’t shudder with every breeze
I am a daughter of Afghan — I’ll sound my faghan, weave it to eternity

(A Faghan is a cry, an expression of regret and pain, retained in the English translation to reflect the wordplay in the original.)

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