i am willing to testify that the word “discount” is every bit as magical as crucio or imperio,EVEN if the discount is on books not embroidered chiffon …so it was little surprise that i found myself expelliarmus-ed the day i read about discounts on OUP books and accio-ed towards their store the next day…i bought 15 books, 13 of which have one thing in common; they have extremely absorbing (content &) titles like; Issues in Pakistan’s Economy, The Genesis of South Asian Nuclear Deterrence, Crossed Swords , Military Inc. etc etc..The remaining two, i only bought bcoz they were so cheaply priced that i thought better them than the loose change i was gonna get after paying for the other 13…great piece of  logic,right? as it turned out, it was RIGHT!!

One of them was THE GUN TREE by B.K.Zahrah Nasir..its by a British woman who undertook a journey to Afghanistan when it was in the middle of Russian invasion and she herself was at the receiving end of a messy divorce which involved losing custody of her two kids….She had been told/warned that Mujaheddin would never take a female with them..even she herself experienced serious second thoughts when she actually met a group of them in Pakistan but gave it a shot anyway..

“Can we discuss now if you will take me with you into Afghanistan? I asked him,my heart in my mouth, my soul in my sandals.i had to ask.

Then, at least, i could go home and honestly say they’d refused.

There was fathomless silence.

He didn’t move and the silence turned icy.

Then, slowly stretching a leg, obviously immersed in thought, he lifted his head and looked straight in the eyes.

I listened to his voice,not his words, after all, he was refusing wasn’t he?

No, he wasn’t.

‘Okay’, he nodded, with an almost imperceptible tightening of his lips.”Okay, pack your bags.We leave in ten minutes.”

I died a thousand, ten thousand deaths in that second and knew he saw every single one of them flash through my eyes

uff, my favourite line, this! other words could convey what these did so effortlessly yet accurately..

i had thought that i was going to be smuggled into Afghanistan through a quiet mountain pass, but this particular pass resembled Piccadilly circus at rush hour.

Going down,injured,legless, armless, men, women and children wearing their grief and desolation for all the world to see,if it dared to look, or, if it cared to see.

Going down, the resistance fighters,the Mujhaideen,facing death with smiles of pride carrying, along with their guns and ammunition, a raging fire of burning anger.

–Within seconds, their eyes scanned the sky.

Horses whinnied and laid back their ears.

The stream of refugees heading for the border paused momentarily, then trekked on.

Then i heard it too.


MiGs to be precise.

It was a bombing run.The whole mountainside exploded around us.

Giant cedar trees disintegrated into matchwood.

The horses galloped onwards.

The refugees walked towards safety.

The border was an endless mile away.

There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

Everyone continued towards their destination.

Some to Pakistan, some into Afghanistan and some,I saw, to their eternal abode.

It was over as fast as it had begun.

The acrid smell of explosions, the flames of burning trees, the crying of terrified children, the wailing of new widows, the sobbing of bereaved men…But no one stopped, everyone kept moving.

I was in shock.

I kept moving too.

this conjured up an image so vivid that i am still struggling to believe that i wasn’t there when the bombing took place. How on earth she managed to portray such a scene, complete with details, while using only staccato sentences?!

The women in the remote mountain village and their children are long since dead.

They died three weeks after i last saw them.

The Russians came but this time they couldnt find any men left alive so they rounded up the women and children, hereded them into a circle, covered them n their carefully collected winter stock of dry grass,threw patrol on them and struck a match.

They burnt them alive.

The commander wrote and told me.

He thought that, as a journalist, I could tell this to the world.

I phoned the Times, the Telegraph.The editors said, “Where is your proof?”

‘There is a pile of bones in Afghanistan,do you want me to go get them for you?’

‘This is Christmas,’they said. ‘People only want good news at Christmas’.

–My chimney went on fire and i thought it was a reminder.

The falling soot was shards of blackened clothes.

The sparks were the souls of those  couldnt help.

The express roar of hungry flames were the screams of people no one else could hear.


war waged by those who are threatened or provoked, is fathomable…but war imposed upon people, just because you can, is the worst form of war…



3 responses »

  1. yeah, it changed me a bit…the cold blooded ulloo that i am, i always thought of Afghan refugees as a bunch of parasites (and thankless ones at that)..concerned about their impact on Pakistan’s economy, i never bothered to empathize with their acute misery..this thin book sparked a belated sympathy within use to the innocent dead, but merciful for me..

  2. At first i thought What a Crazy Girl you are… I couldnt even digest myself looking at those books lying in a shelf.. and you went and bought 13 of them :|… but after reading the excerpts I felt dumbfound.. No wonder how she would have felt while writing this and remembering each detail as the events occurred….

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