Saturday, September 7, 2013

Book Review: Afghan Rumour Bazaar: Secret Sub-Cultures, Hidden Worlds and the Everyday Life of the Absurd by Nushin Arbabzadah

On the jacket:

Ironic and humorous, witty and self-deprecatory, The Afghan Rumour Bazaar reveals the quotidian absurdities of lives framed against the backdrop of a savage war. Offering daringly new perspectives on a country readers may erroneously assume they know, Nushin Arbabzadah delves into the unacknowledged but real secret sub-cultures and hidden worlds of Afghans, from underground converts to Christianity to mysterious male cross-dressers to tales of bacha-posh girlboys.

Among the individuals, fables and dilemmas she confronts are 'Why are Imams Telling Us About Nail Polish?', 'Afghanistan's Rich Jewish Heritage', 'Kabul Street Style', 'The Resurgence of Afghanistan's Spiritual Bazaar', and not forgetting Malalai of Maiwand, who turned her headscarf into a banner and led a successful rebellion against the British. Arbabzadah reveals for the first time Afghans' own vibrant internal deliberations - - on sex and soap operas; conspiracy theories; drugs and diplomacy; terrorism and the Taliban; and how a long-dead soothsayer from Bulgaria accidentally shut down a newspaper.

Many different Afghan sensibilities are presented in her book, yet together they offer an unvarnished, at times heartwarming, at times tragic, insight into one of the most complex and fascinating countries on earth.


Even though pretty much a country in the neighbourhood, Afghanistan is a different world altogether for us, in India. For me, it's a mystery. I haven't read much about Afghanistan and Afghan Rumour Bazaar proved to be a fine sneak peek to a whole new world.

There are times while reading the book, I would sit back and wonder, this country is quite near to my own country; yet we are so world's apart. As of today, my own country has less running for it's favour, but life in Afghanistan is a different realm, a different era altogether.

Very varied in the way the plot goes, the book is an eye opener. When I say eye-opener, I mean it. While I learnt a lot I didn't know, a lot of my misconceptions were also cleared. The book opens with the night when there was a party and the author's father had no one to drive his guests back, as all were drunk. The author's 12-year-old brother is entrusted with driving the guests and he take his little sister, the author along. It was a shocker for me to read of such an unsafe condition, until I realised we ourselves live in conditions unsafe to people from the west, maybe. The author also talks about how careful one has to be about what they say in public, specially about the government. Spys are all around and it's very easy to be mistaken as a spy and punished or have to flee like the author's family had to.

A very very good and treasured read; my talking about the plot in the book won't give you any clear picture of what is inside it. One has to read it to let the heartwarming, fascinating aspects presented in this book, soak in. It's a turmoil, and there are people living it. People and lives we should know about.

Rating: ****.5/5

[This review is for Hachette India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

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