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Book Review: ‘And the mountains echoed… ‘ by Khaled Hosseini

March 29, 2014

DEAR KHALID HOSSEINI, ‘NANG AND NAMOOSE’ IS NOT IN DRESS CODE OR  IN EMPTY, USELESS VAIN PRIDE.  NANG  AND NAMOOSE MUST BE IN OUR HEART AND MIND.   Let our actions speak for us.  Nang and Namoose you so easily talk about in Afghans sounds so hollow to me.  It’s the world that must judge us.  I was watching this drama in tv recently, aired from your friendly neighbourhood, in which a third wife who is married for the second time with two children from a previous marriage is complaining to the second wife of her husband about the abuse she is subject to.  Ofcourse, she looks the very epitome of ‘nang and namoose’ you mention with head to toe covered in burqa.  So what shall I say when I am from India whose hindi heroine you mention is drenched in rain and looks sexy from billboard in Afghanistan way back in late 1940s/early 1950s who a 10 year old Afghan boy looks at in Kabul?  Makes me angry that a Parisian has to be viewed through the Afghan glass like you did.  By the same measure, I am looking at Af-Pak through India and Hindu prism and here is what I have to say:

This is the third book of Hosseini that I have read, and the pattern-forming is already there, to the extent that i can somewhat guess what to expect next.  That way Hosseini is risking getting predictable and boring.

First of all I would like to consolidate my stance on certain issues and clarify that:

Although I did find a lot of similarities with India/Indian culture and Afghan way of life, I have to say that we have since moved on, and that Afghanistan will never be looked at with respect or awe by Indians, just as Pakistan will never be.  Af-Pak is epicenter of global terrorism and nothing Hosseini writes about will soften our view on that essential harsh truth.  I find no sympathy whatsoever for Afghans – including for those who have migrated abroad.   I do not think Afghans are burden on Pakistan either, for they all are one and the same.  In fact, after the David Headley connection with 26/11 Mumbai, I would like every Pakistani or Afghan who has migrated to the west – be it to America or UK or Australia or Canada or other European nations, brought under scrutiny with racial profiling.  100% none must be taken to be trustworthy.   Beyond a point, I find it irking that Hosseini must be thinking so much about Afghanistan sitting all the while in America.   Loyalty is not a trait to look for in Afghans, obviously.  So much for their much touted ‘nang and namoose’ .  This kind of mixing up of priorities annoys me and makes me question the credibility of the author.

In contrast I have friends who have become citizens of the US who swear their loyalty first to their adopted nation ever since.  In fact most hold dual citizenship in both India and US.  But many have stopped with adopting Indian lifestyle in their new home country, with total moral allegiance pledged to America.  The rest follow our culture doing the temple rituals and music and arts but it is easy to see their feelings for India diminishing degree by degree over time. The clinging to one’s roots and identity through classical medium has not really come to mean that India is yet their first love.  Loyalties switched gradually but steadily.  I am not saying this is wrong. Its the way it has to be.  Clearly Afghan sense of loyalty is different than ours.  Or muslim loyalty in general.  Otherwise a Shazad would not have dared to bomb New York after all that America had had to give him and his family.

So for the first time with this book, i beg to differ with Hosseini and his trademark writing fishing for sympathy.  First two books I was enamoured and now the attraction is wearing off i guess.

The telepathic connection between a 10 year old brother and a 3 year old sister as described by the author is strange, given the young age at which they have to part.  Or it is possible but has to get weaker with years.  Or atleast no emotions upto that age is possible.  Strong emotional bondingss start after some 12 years only (in my opinion) even if one might argue, blood is thicker than water.   Long-lasting, tugging emotions … do they start so soon in our life?  Attachments in such tender age if any, get eroded with time.  This is a natural, biological phenomenon.  I have not come across a single human being in my life who talks about his/her young age under 10 years – with emotional attachment or memory.  Memories do the thriving somehow but not the emotional attachment thread.   With adolescent years, come the next phase of life and an awakening.  The ‘sleeper cells’ in human brains probably get kicked in at this stage.  To my limited knowledge, we develop emotional attachments from here on.

However Hosseini comes home as a storyteller when to my utter disappointment, the brother loses memory and sense of his sister just about the same time his long-lost sister becomes aware of his existence.  While in the earliest part of their lives the brother ‘sees’ the sister, towards the fag end of their lives, the sister ‘sees’ the brother.  It is good writing here, kind of directorial touch if this should be made a picture, as well as when the kind doctor finally turns out to be the coward over his loud and wayward brother who you want to villainize.   Sometimes brash people do happen to score over the so-called ‘sophisticated humanists.’  (But one more useless branch of story.  May be the author wants to show another cruel side of Afghanistan which is pushed to the background with all the reportings on terrorism all of the times.  It is macabre to think that through portraying domestic violence, the author must try to show the world how humane and normal after all Afghan society is.).  I though justified my attraction to the author’s works with these two scenarios which I reckon as ‘strong character-forming tendencies’ I detect in Hosseini.

The story is too winding.  But why is it that authors rush up always in last 50 pages, trying to pack maximum twists and turns in that, while taking their own time for unnecessary details in the first few hundred.  The story of the plastic surgeon sounded like a justification to me, and not quite necessary.  There are hundreds of thoustand of foreign armed forces, medical workers and builders stationed in Afghanistan, all of whom are there for their paycheck and on no compelling ‘mission.’   Clearly they are no saints. The plastic surgeon background is waste of time.

I also find mother and daughter in Paris having physical and romantic relationship with the same man revolting.  I have this suspicion whether Hosseini wants to show his readers how worse foreign culture can get.  Only reason I give him the benefit of doubt is for his portrayal of a weak, helpless, homosexual Afghan/muslim character in the fiction.

Oh yes, and the servant-loyalty in the Indian subcontinent (sorry I include Af-Pak into this geographic area):  It is something I agree with and have seen to some extent until my teens in India.  But that’s it.  That kind of mentality is ever since waning in India – seeing slow demise since my grandparents’ times.  Probably this also reflects a strategic shift in Indian way of thinking where there is more equality in the society now than ever before.  But I do agree that Hosseini is referring to a similar bygone generation when talking about this unflinching loyalty of our domestic workers.  It is sad really and reminds us of the BritishRaj days.  I hope this kind of subservient culture no more prevails in Afghanistan.  Despite some reported cases of domestic worker abuse in Indian media, by and large, they are treated well and would slap a civil suit on you if they must think you are taking them for granted (as has recently happened with diplomat Devyani Gobargade in the US). But I can relate to such a defeatist ‘salaaming’ attitude from illiterate rural workers for their masters because I have grown up listening to such tales in my family.  Finally Land Ceiling coupled with more drastic, efficient and quick legislation on partition got India rid of the ‘zamindari’ or landlord kind of elite and made the farm labourer and the farm owner one and the same under the constitution at the stroke of midnight.  Every citizen on equal footing – right on Aug 15, 1947.  May be this is what turned India away from toeing the Af-Pak path of self-destruction.  After all, we can assume we started around the same time so one expects a reformed society in this 2014.  (although Afghanistan was always out of the loop for the British)  (this assumption is just to give an idea of what could have been).

So reading Hosseini makes me think, how until as late as in 1970s and 80s we were somewhat travelling the same road – India, Paksitan and Afghanistan if I may include.  I can see where we switched paths though a defining moment is not possible.  I guess with India, the maneuver started with the onset of the ’80s.  The basis was in 1950s, strong and solid.  The signs were through out there in every sphere, every decade.  The strategic shift probably happened or became evident in ’80s.

But I can see how Afghanistan is already boiling by this time.  I can only blame lack of leadership and vision among warlords for whose ancestors conquering Delhi with bloodied hands in the 16th century AD was sweet and easy.  World has since changed a lot dear Afghans and muslim brothers.

Hosseini’s fictions remind me of the brutal destruction of the world-renowned Nalanda University always:

I didn’t want to spell this out for being mistaken for a hatred-monger (may be i am one).  But I have scantiest respect for invaders of my nation and entire Indian subcontinent and for their horrendous ‘belief system.’  I give respect only because I have to be polite and civil.  To me, Turks and Arabs are none but butchers and rapists and looters.  Does not surprise me why Af-Pak and rest of the Arab world like Syria and Egypt and even Iran and Iraq are in this sordid condition today:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nalanda

This is the reign of terror that once bled India and is now bleeding Af-Pak.  Hosseini will do well researching what were Afghans upto until the 7th century AD.  How about a pre-islamic story on Afghanistan and Pakistan.  I will settle even for a non-fiction.

So on Afghanistan being the battleground for anyone and everyone drawing mujahideen from world over – it has to be that way and what else given its location.  Landlocked nation Afghanistan fell away first from Akhaand Bharat or Greater India centuries back with the advent and onslaught of Islam. The same passive Buddhism and Hinduism made the native Afghans yield without a fight to marauders and invaders who later converted them into hardcore mullahs and fundamentalists.  To me and rest of Indians, Moghuls are always yesterday’s Taliban. Look what they built maximum:  Mausoleums over desecrated Hindu temples everytime and all times.  Even the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum, supposedly built over desecrated marble Hindu temple ‘Tejo Mahalaya’  When will Indian government muster courage to come out with exact and true historical facts and re-write history.

So in a way as a Hindu, i could be enjoying Afghanistan and Pakistan’s turmoil, you bet!

And would I continue to read Hosseini?  Ofcourse, because curiosity kills the cat.  I want to know what Af-Pak is upto in the social front than in much-visible political front (difficult for me to think of Af-Pak as two separate entities – after all they are brothers in terror).

It is remarkable that even after book after book of Khalid Hosseini, how it is possible for us to retain what we originally think of Afghanistan and Afghans and Paksitan and Pakistanis.  I would have wanted to think he’s making an impact but I can see he is not.  Still Hosseini comes across as a breather for the only reason he is different and tells me a story which sounds familiar to my ears always.

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments
  1. I am smiling as I write is. I truly enjoyed reading The Kite Runner, but not A Thousand Splendid Suns. I thought the latter was a contrived in its emotions because Hosseini tried to write from the point of view of a lady. Like you I finished reading And the Mountains Echoed, but there was a sense of letdown….. How much can he flog the same story?

    From the assorted stories I have heard about afghanis, they are a resilient lot… And they would have to be to survive under the brutal natural and man-made conditions they are subjected to…..

    Hosseini writes for the western audience as do many Indian-English writers, and peddle the reality as the west wants to perceive it. If we are not a land of snakes and tigers then as having a pseudo-western younger generation fighting the entrenched orthodoxy…..

    Good fiction is hard to find these days….

  2. Valid point Aruna and you are very generous with Afghans 🙂

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