“Slide your hand inside my sleeve,
Stroke a red and ripening pomegranite of Kandahar.”
The poem above is an example of what is known as a “Landay”, an anonymous folk couplet, sung by the most poor and illiterate Pashtun women in Afghanistan. Ironically, the specific Landay above refers to the city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. Under the surface of the repressive Taliban regime that banned the Landay from 1996 to 2001, and now in its aftermath, these pieces of rebel verse continue to simmer and reveal a sad yet beautiful side of the ravaged Afghan society.
“Unlucky you who didn’t come last night,
I took the bed’s hard wood post for a man.”
The Landay is not bereft of formal properties. Every Landay has twenty-two syllables: nine in the first line, thirteen in the second and finishes with the sound “ma” or “na”. They do not always rhyme and are sung along with the music of hand-made drums. Eliza Griswold, a journalist for The New York Times Magazine, and her photographer Seamus Murphy began collecting and translating these poems while on an assignment covering the life story of Rahila Muska, a Pashtun woman who wrote Landays for a literary group called Mirhan Baheer.
“You sold me to an old man, father.
May God destroy your home, I was your daughter”
The Landays are not all fun and games. They cover themes ranging from love and sex, to grief, poverty, child marriage, prostitution and Western culture. They critique in their subtle and sometimes not so subtle manner the ways of the world and cast light on the horrific conditions that people manage not only to survive but also to create. Why is the Landay relevant? In times of increasing cultural xenophobia and communal identification in Australia and the world, a poem provides a small avenue to understand another side of a culture and society that is being manipulated to suit political needs. Most of all they are a channel to empathize with and humanize the lives of others.
“I dream I am the president.
When I awake, I am the beggar of the world.”