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Remembering good and bad times in the Land of Pashtuns

Published : Aug 31, 2016, 6:30 am IST
Updated : Aug 31, 2016, 6:30 am IST

Kabul Blogs: My Days in the Life of Afghanistan is Anita Anand’s personal account of the many beautiful moments she witnessed in the strife-torn country during her visits between 2006 and 2015.

Kabul Blogs: My Days in the Life of Afghanistan by Anita Anand, Women Unlimited 226 pages, Rs 375
 Kabul Blogs: My Days in the Life of Afghanistan by Anita Anand, Women Unlimited 226 pages, Rs 375

Kabul Blogs: My Days in the Life of Afghanistan is Anita Anand’s personal account of the many beautiful moments she witnessed in the strife-torn country during her visits between 2006 and 2015.

In days not so long ago, a traveller would find a ready audience at any gathering. The word of mouth was generally the best way to learn about distant lands, their people and life styles. Today, we have a surfeit of information on every nook and corner of the world, but we can rarely ask what a place feels like. For, that is something only a human narrator can convey.

Anita Anand’s book on Kabul is interesting because it is an unpretentious chronicle of her experiences in that city. Her collection of blogs does not provide a comprehensive picture of the city or the country. Yet her narrative comes the closest to describing what it feels like to be in Kabul.

The book talks about everyday life in that conflict-prone city, about the things she saw, the people she met and the changes apparent over the years she visited Kabul.

Her perspective is from the point of view of an expatriate and not a local. The book is a collection of blog posts written by the author during her many visits to Kabul between 2006 and 2015.

The author first visited Kabul in 2004 on a short UN assignment. This was a period of great hope in Afghanistan and Anand came across many Afghans on the streets, at shopping malls and restaurants. She got familiar with some of the best-known parts of the city, including the Flower Street and Chicken Street. She left Kabul feeling excited about the possibilities of a new Afghanistan.

Anand returned to the country in 2006 on a three-month assignment to train Afghan journalists. She quickly rediscovered the city, its bazaars and cafes, and started the blog that would eventually become a book. “Fridays and Saturdays were reserved for water colouring, trips to Chicken Street, and lunch or dinner with friends. Sometimes, there were picnics and day trips out of Kabul. There was very little TV watching and no newspapers — and I didn’t miss it.”

But already the shadow of a renewed insurgency was falling over the country. “As I was enjoying my semi-idyllic life, the human security situation in Afghanistan was precarious. The insurgency was intensifying, especially in the southern provinces, which were the most volatile in the country and considered to be highly dangerous. While local and international news media focused on the insecurity and violence in the country, life went on as usual for most people in Kabul,” Anand recalls.

When the author left the country in mid-2006, majority of Afghans (nearly 54 per cent) was still hopeful about the future. That perception and much more were to change over the years.

Kabul Blogs: My Days in the Life of Afghanistan is full of little insights that nudge the mind towards new notions. For instance, a section on the psychological trauma, caused by continual violence, raises questions that transcend the situation in Afghanistan and reminds us of that country's unending tribulations.

“I have often wondered how Afghans have coped with the endless cycle of violence and uncertainty”, Anand writes, adding, “Anna Badkhen of the Pulitzer Centre, writes that in a war-wrecked country like Afghanistan, the trademark symptoms of individual war trauma — depression, anguish, and hyper aggression — leave whole populations envenomed with sectarian and ethnic mistrust, and with the belief that only violence can end violence.”

Anand goes on to quote Peter Bouckaert, Emergencies Director at Human Rights Watch, who has worked in war zones across the world: “People get used to using violence to settle their disputes, and it is difficult to find a way to unlearn those behaviours You end up with a warlord economy which is incredibly hard to break and which does lead to a constant renewal of conflict — as it will in Afghanistan.”

A sad prognosis perhaps, but the country has shown no sign of escaping its violent past. Each spring fightings resurface as does suicide bombings and assassinations.

Today’s Afghanistan has experienced almost four decades of violence, leading to a huge accumulation of grief, trauma and anger. It is amazing that Anand manages to penetrate beyond all that and reach down to the reservoir of goodwill still latent in thousands of Afghans clinging onto a semblance of normal life in their country.

As she ends the book, Anand acknowledges the generosity of the spirit of the average Afghan, unbroken by the decades of continuous violence: “The Afghans I met — in shops, markets and streets and the support staff of the organisations I was contracted by — all shared their stories, wit, and down-to-earth pragmatism, which were refreshing and heart-warming.”

This book is not for those looking for an in-depth account or analysis of Kabul or Afghanistan. Rather, Anita Anand's book is a personal window into a sad but curious city so close to the hearts of many Indians. This is what makes it indispensable for those looking for a feel of the place.

The writer is an independent security and political risk consultant