Kabul during the Taliban regime was like a funeral house. It was a city of sorrows, darkness and pain, with old people, kids, everyone living in fright. Life was not guaranteed, not even a single day. Women were like prisoners inside the boundaries of their home, while men fought for daily meals with their heads in the palms of their hands.
Even the kids were not spared. I remember during those times I used to jump rope or play hide and seek. When we heard the Taliban everyone ran to their houses.
One day I was playing with my doll, Nono, the thing I loved most in my life. She was bald. I had cut her hair, thinking it would grow back stronger and thicker. My friend came to me and said the Taliban were checking houses for dolls and they would kill the owner and set the doll on fire. Burning my doll? My God! That was my one and only personal property. I had to give Nono to my mom to hide someplace safe. It was a matter of her life.
There were no picnics, no wedding parties, no television, no music, no parks. Anything that comes into your mind regarding fun, just put a “no” in front of it.
But we had an old wooden radio. My dad used it to listen to BBC on it. My sisters would listen to All India Radio. It was their favorite radio station and they were obsessed with it. It was them and their All India Radio.
We also had a 21-inch Toshiba color TV. My dad had bought it in the times before Taliban, and then hid it safely in a closet. TV was a mystery to me. I would always think to myself, “What kind of vegetable would a TV be?” Sometimes I would sneak a peek and touch it. I thought it was a machine people used to talk to people on other planets, face-to-face.
My two older sisters were really into Bollywood. Trading any kind of pictures was banned, especially pictures of actors and actresses, but they bought hundreds of postcards of movie stars from the street vendor next to our house who used to sell them secretly. They collected about 500 Indian movie star postcards in a notebook.
If the Taliban found out that a house had a television or video players or tape recorders, or cameras, the entire family would be jailed and this would continue until the Taliban were tired of abusing and torturing them. Then they would be beaten to death.
They say there is a devil in everyone’s heart who always tempts us to do things that are prohibited. Besides the postcards, my sisters would buy video cassettes of Indian movies secretly imported from Pakistan and sold at a high price. My sisters were constantly asking my dad for a video cassette player. He refused because he knew the consequences of getting caught, but after so much begging and days of crying and nights of whining, they finally convinced him.
My whole idea of TV and movies changed when my dad actually bought us a video cassette player. We were so happy. I couldn’t wait to start talking to the aliens on other planets. My dad made the rules right away. His rules are written on stone and if you break them, you are so in trouble. He said, “You are only going to use it when you have my permission and in my presence and only once in a while.”
Prior to watching a movie, you had to set up the environment for it. We put thick, dark blankets on all the windows and turned off the lights because the Taliban would take turns searching all the houses for these things. Of course we had no such thing in our house, except for that “old house of rats,” I mean the TV hidden under a mountain of house appliances and clothes.
But our poor next door neighbors had not only a TV, but a video cassette player with a bunch of movies and a tape recorder. Gosh, I wonder what were they thinking while buying all these things. They dug their graves with their own shovels. When it was their turn for a house search, the father of the house put all the cassettes in the toilet and seated their 7-year-old daughter on it so when Taliban came they ignored the toilet. They put a large tablecloth over the TV so it looked like a table, and put a vase on top of it. After all this effort and hard work, the poor fellow got caught. The Taliban beat him until he was unconscious. He was in bed for four months after that incident.
During that time a new movie with Indian movie star Shahrukh Khan came out. The movie was the talk of the town. Everyone wanted to see it, including my sisters. They were building a castle in the air of watching the movie. My sister asked my older brother to somehow find the movie so she could talk my dad into letting us watch it.
Weeks passed, but finally my brother got the movie from one of his friends. We were so eager that day. Everyone did their work with so much pleasure as we all waited for the night. My brother had to return the movie early the next morning, so watching it couldn‘t be delayed. We all cleaned up the house and did all the other work around the home and cooked my dad’s favorite dish. We were trying to indirectly bribe him so he would let us watch the movie.
We waited until he returned in the evening from work. When he arrived we all looked at his forehead to see his mood, the weather forecast for the night. The weather seemed to be very cloudy and a storm was waiting. He was mad, so pissed off, he entered the house without saying a word. He didn’t even have dinner. The silence took over the entire house; nobody was talking. He mumbled something to my mom and went off to sleep.
We ran and asked my mom what had happened, and she said somebody had robbed his suitcase with all his documents and money in it. What were we going to do now? First, my dad is so angry and sad, and second, the TV is in his room. My God! Everyone was “Oh man, how are we going to watch the super-hit movie.” All our hard work was in vain. We didn’t know what to do when suddenly my brother said, “Guys I have an idea.” Everyone gave him a skeptical look, we looked at each other, but we couldn’t wait to hear. He went on, “Let’s take the TV from his room! Since he is sleeping he won’t know. We will watch the movie, and put the TV back in its place early in the morning before he wakes up.”
Continue to the second and final part of the story.
photo: Shahrukh Khan in Om Shanti Om
very well written i feel as if i was among you guys and struggling to have a glance of that movie. I haven’t been in Kabul during the war time but i salute all the people who have lived their life’s in Kabul during such hard moments.
This is another experience on mine from the taliban time
Wish you success in all your writing.
Fantastic writing, off to read part two. As above I also salute all the people who lived life in such terrible times.
THANK YOU SHARNI,
THANK YOU PAKIZA JAN.
A wonderful story of survival under the Taliban. Now why would they confiscate dolls and kill the owner? One would think that as they wanted women to stay strictly in their houses and raise children that they would encourage dolls. This is the first I read about confiscation of children’s toys! I love the ingenuity with which you managed to watch the Bollywood movie. Your father sounds like a kind man as in the earlier story about going with your mother to the Taliban stronghold to visit your uncle’s family.
What a thrilling story!! I think it must be so hard as a writer to write about your personal life. But these are the best and most important stories to read. Thank you so much for opening up and sharing this beautiful story about endurance (and sibling relationships) with us. Even the smallest details you used about your brother and sister really drew out their characters, as well as the emotions you all felt that night. The images you selected were just terrific, especially the legs poking out from under the blanket, that was just wonderful. These details brought your characters and story to life. Thank you so much for sharing these details and this amazing story, it is the kind of story and characters that stay with a reader (myself included!) for a long time.
Best wishes to you,