The role of art in a war torn life

Two ghazals for my Afghanistan

By: Jalal Nazari

Jalal and I met at Massey College while he taught my nephew Arjan how to play pool. As he helped Arjan hold the cue, he shared how he was one of thirty thousand people at the airport as the Taliban seized Kabul. It was quite the juxtaposition to experience, one of loving mentorship and the other of war torn realities. His words below give clarity on how love and war can co-exist inside a traumatised body.  

My father left high school and moved to Iran after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan forty three years ago. He worked a full-time manual job at a quarry factory in Isfahan, not something he aspired for. He started taking Persian (Farsi) calligraphy classes after a while and mastered three types of Persian calligraphy including Nastaliq, known as the bride of Persian calligraphy because of its beauty.

He returned to Afghanistan and with some friends, established the first school in our village. My father taught me Nastaliq from a young age. He would help me hold the calligraphy pen and move it along the paper. Since Persian calligraphy deeply romances Persian poetry, I fell in love with both forms and spent a huge part of my childhood wandering among literary books and artworks. Growing up in such an environment, calligraphy and poetry began playing important roles in my life.

Art in general and calligraphy in particular is not appreciated in Afghanistan, a society which has been going through conflict for the last four decades and increasingly going through political instability and extreme poverty. It may not make sense to expect people to appreciate art while they struggle for their next meal. Even so, calligraphy is something personal to me for several reasons.  

As a person who has lost several close friends in explosions and suicide attacks, I was not able to visit my family more than once per year due to security reasons. There have been moments I found myself completely helpless and calligraphy has been one of very few sources to rely on. It helped me establish a peaceful relationship with my inner and outer world despite spending my entire youth in war. It helped me find meaning in life. My intimate relationship with calligraphy helped keep inner peace and positive energy.

My life became even more complicated when I started to report on war and got involved with small details of misery people going through. My calligraphy practice felt like a spiritual activity to help cope with the huge volumes of anxiety and depression I was going through.


روز چندین بار غمگین، روز چندین...هیچ، شاد

تا هنوز این داستان تلخ دارد امتداد

می‌رویم و زیر پای عابران له می‌شویم

برگ‌های کنده‌ایم از شاخه در دستان باد

خواهرم را انتحاری شام روز جمعه کشت

دخترم را انفجار بُمبِ هشت بامداد

منتظر بودم ولی از جنگ، بابا برنگشت

مادرم را جنگ با خود برد و دیگر پس نداد

ما شبیه پیرمردان یتیم آواره‌ایم

کودکان خسته از جنگیم در عصر جهاد

خواهر کوچکتر مرگ است این‌جا، زندگی

تو همانجا باش جانم! روزگارت بر مراد