Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Book Review- ‘Dear Zari’

Title:          Dear Zari
By:             Zarguna Kargar
Publisher:    Vintage
ISBN:          978-0-099-54218-6
MRP:           Rs 399/-
I am more than happy to present the review of my latest read, ‘Dear Zari’. This book presents the heart rendering cases and real life stories of Afghan women (pre and post war). The book starts with an introduction describing why and how a once beautiful country like Afghanistan has become a victim of war, crushed between two superpowers, the USA and Russia. It has now become a war torn and starving nation, much to the horror of its innocent citizens. The introduction also presents some information regarding the Taliban, Mujahiddin and the Afghan government. The book brings out cases and stories of helpless and hapless women from deep inside the country. The author, Zarguna Kargar has been a victim herself. There are 13 stories in total that throw light on pathetic living conditions and the very culture of Afghanistan that is not at all favorable for women.  

The first story is of the author herself. She describes how despite being an educated and working girl, she was trapped in a bad, violent and loveless marriage at the age of 21 and the kind of shame and opposition she had to face when she decided to call it quits. Also, about her life as a refugee in Peshawar (Pakistan).
All the stories will touch the reader somewhere deep inside and I am sure most of us will stop cribbing about our lives and families. These stories were telecast on the BBC’s show ‘Afghan Hour’ that was, interestingly, produced by the author herself. I was surprised to know the limits of a woman's endurance.  (pic: An afghan woman begs in Kabul)

Some of the stories moved my heart and even made me cry, literally. The stories of Sharifa, author’s school friend in Pakistan to Nasreen from Kabul show how the feelings of a girl hold no relevance to the family and society. Both were married to much older men at a very young age (early teenage). Other woman Shireenjan who was interviewed directly by the author, was given away as a payment by her parents to settle a long standing family feud (Dukhmany). That ten year old girl suffered more than most of us can even imagine. From being raped to being forced to live with cattle, her life has been a hellish one. (Pic: an Afgan victim of domestic violence)

Afghan carpets are famous around the world and are sold at exorbitant rates but have you ever wondered how much darkness and suffocation lies behind that lovely design and embroidery. Samira is one such little girl of nine years who lives in a shanty house in Shiberghan province of Afghanistan. Her family is too poor to afford an education for her so the whole day she weaves carpets along with her mother in a dusty room of her small house. Her brother however, goes to school since her parents think he will carry the family name forward unlike Samira. At this age, she is struggling with health issues like cough, joint pains, body aches and headaches. Her life is confined to that loom, many times bigger than her. (Pic: A little one weaves carpets)

Virginity is also quite overhyped in Afghan society. As a custom, the bridegroom visits the bride’s family the next morning with the white blood-stained hanky, as a gesture to thank them for raising a cultured girl who has maintained her ‘purity’. Girls who do not bleed are often given quick ‘Talaq’, branded as sluts or are ill treated by everyone around. Ilaha’s story is one such that will make you wonder about the deep roots of this old and illogical custom in Afghanistani society.

There are many other stories too that makes us ponder about life and society. However, I would like to mention two stories that I can never forget. One is of Layla and another is of Bakhtawara. Layla, a war widow lost the rights of her children after the death of her husband and is now working as a servant in her own house (her brother’s).

Bhaktawara, a Pashtun woman from Khost province, has a sad and peculiar story. She was forced to act and dress like men since she had had only one brother and her family needed the security of a ‘male’ to save their land from scheming relatives. She was not allowed to marry and instead of colourful bangles, a heavy AK 47 gun now adorns her rough hands. Instead of salwar kamiz, Bhaktawara dresses up like a Pathan man and is a part of the village ‘Jirgah’ or ‘Panchayat’. She is the head of her family just as a man would have been. However, there is another aspect of her life too. Whenever she goes out to her farm for work, on streets and especially on weddings and local functions, she is often teased as ‘narkhazak’ or eunuch. Bhaktawara ignores these dirty remarks she is now used to and carries on the duties of a son as usual. Behind her brave front, there is a woman, who wants the care and protection of a man, a mother who wants to bear her own kids, a girl who dreams of her prince to arrive one day and ask for her hand in marriage. Sadly, she knows that her destiny has been sealed and there is no option left but to kill all her girlish dreams and bear this long painful life the way it is going. Unfortunately, like many other girls forced to become the ‘son’ of their families, she too has reached a point of no return.

This book reveals a lot about Afghan traditions and culture particularly with reference to women. I applaud Zarguna Kargar for presenting such a wonderful work. 
(Pic: Zarguna Kargar)

 I cannot agree more with author Khaled Hosseini’s remark on this book

‘A poignant celebration of human resilience’