This small book offers a heartbreaking glimpse inside the lives of Pashtun women, whose days are constricted by a fundamentalist society that views them as second-class citizens. From birth they are doomed, but their hearts refuse the limitations imposed by males. Their minds overflow with words of love and unrequited passion.
The crux of their suffering, as expressed by the Pashtun women, is the moral dimension of their subjugation. As women they are repressed, scorned and abused from birth to death. Their shame is that of a mother who gives birth to a daughter, passing the news to a father who mourns the birth of his child. A boy child would receive a party and a fusillade of gunshots to announce his arrival in the world, the girl child only sadness.
The girl child is destined to a life of inferiority: When she marries, her husband shall not meet with her. Still, she willingly accepts her burden, performing lifelong duties from dawn to dark. Resistance grows within her heart, expressed either in suicide (forbidden in Islam) or in song (landays). The earliest landays have three themes: love, honor and death. Landays are about physical reality, not spiritual, and they address only issues of the heart: woman as tragic heroine, destined never to know fulfillment.
If a woman falls in love, it is with the knowledge that she will never know the expression of that love, only its loss; she will be protected by the men in her family, married to the husband of their choice -- commonly known as “the little horror." This woman will never compose a landay to her husband, because love and fidelity belong exclusively to the lover. The lover may escape retribution, but the woman will feel the wrath of the men:
“By your side I am beautiful with my mouth extended and my open arms/Songs of Love and War is a stunning collection of women’s voices, each song-poem or landay consisting of a specific number of words in a formal arrangement. Pashtun women are defined by their society and its rigid structure turns them inward; but when they sing, it is not of idealized love but an earthbound one, springing from within their bodies.
And you, like a coward/
you let yourself be rocked by slumber.”
After the Russian Invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the landays take on a patriotic tone as well, as millions are massacred and more than four million seek refuge in neighboring states. The landays from the period of exile lose some of their lightheartedness, anchored by mourning and addressing instead the loss of native soil, the despair of exodus, battle and love of place:
“God, do not let any woman die in exile!/Gathered by the preeminent Afghan poet Sayd Bahodine Majrough, this wonderful collection speaks for those silent Pushtun women, the anonymous Afghanis who hold the world in their hearts, a great paean to the collective memory of time and place. Such a small but potent work of art speaks to all women who have known suffering -- in love, in loss and the terrible devastation of war.
With her last breath she will forget Your Name/
so as to think only of her native land.”