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Kabul Press/11/January/2003



The silk route of Poetry in Octavio Paz

A poetic description of Paz, India and Afghanistan

Bashir Sakhawarz

It is a full moon and I am walking in Lodi Garden in the footsteps of Octavio Paz.  The night has mixed fragrances of Raat Ke Raani (the queen of the night) and the two stars shining from above in the clear sky of Delhi, one is Octavio Paz and the other is Pablo Neruda.

It was a year ago when my wife took me to the rooftop of our house in Delhi and poured me the wine of poetry. She was reciting Ocavio Paz and Pablo Neruda.  I was intoxicated, the power of wine was taking me higher and higher until I reached the two shining stars of Octavio Paz and Pablo Neruda.

I had come to India, the dreamland of poets and writers, after much anticipation. India had always been to me my image of motherland.  I was at home from the moment the plane touched the ground.   Now, walking in the Lodi garden I was inviting the stars and the moon to join me in the celebration of life, with the melody of birds, the perfume of raat ke raani and the stillness of quiet moments.

The black, pensive, dense

domes of the mausoleums

suddenly shot birds

into the unanimous blue (P179)

Octavio let me just address you the way a poet addresses a poet. We are people of the same skin, drinking the same wine and living in the same house. Many nights when I felt far away from friends and family you have been there watching me from the top of the book shelve, waiting to be asked to join me.

 Octavio you have been to my country, Afghanistan, and you have written poems about a country of mystery and mystiques.   You read Hafiz, the Lisanul Ghaib and Maulana Jaluldin Bakhi and now I am here in the very place walking the routes of the great poets in Lodi Garden.   A garden built by an Afghan king, as a monument of thanksgiving to India.  A gift from a cultured king who must also have thought of India as his motherland.

Lodi road is a home to artists and writers alike.  Some evenings I encounter Mrs Rajan, an elderly lady and gifted poet who lives not far from Lodi Garden and sometimes my friend, the ambassador of Mexico, invites me for a night of cultural experience.  His house was once home to you.   The Mexican Ambassador to Indias residence is always frequented by writers, poets and musicians.   He is also himself an elegant poet with excellent taste. His evenings of poetry are dedicated to you Octavio with introductory memoirs such as friends, this huge tree under which we are sitting is named after Octavio Paz and I recite his poetry and mine under this very poetic tree. The tree is huge and its magnificent leaves and branches provide shelter to many poets and writers.  The Ambassador recites poetry and I watch the moon through the leaves and towards those shining stars.


in the middle of the night

not adrift from centuries

not a spreading out


like a fixed idea

to the centre of incandescence


        Two tall syllables


Lying on the green grass of the Lodi garden I listen attentively to the soft and gentle sound of the sitar played by my friend Khalil Gudaz.  He is a student of Ustad Amjad Ali khan.  My eyes wonder the silky patches of clouds and I imagine one patch of cloud resembling the map of the great India, the motherland, the India of Ashoka.   I desire the cloud to produce gentle raindrops over Afghanistan and India.   I want only one sky over the two countries.  My friend Khalil says: you know sarood was developed from the rubab musical instrument of Afghanistan.   I feel that Afghanistan and India play the same music.  We have always played the same music until a man called Mahmood of Ghazna divided us.  I dislike his savageness of destroying Somnat and yet I am proud of Lodi who has created this wonderful garden to become a sanctuary for poets, writers and musicians.

Talking about poets and music I remember when you met Amir Khusru in his white marbles. His soul was piercing the cold stone and reaching your soul. Next to him lies the soul of souls, Abdullah Kabuli, today known as Nezamuldin Aulia. It was Nezamuldin the great Sufi who prevented khusru from serving the king and advised him to serve the people. A simple Sufi was challenging the most glorious kingdom of the world the Mughal emperor, showing that there was another court at the heart of muddy houses.

Trees heavy with birds hold

the afternoon up with their hands.

Arches and patios. A tank of water,

poison green between red walls.

A corridor leads to the sanctuary:

beggars, flowers, leprosy, marble.


Tombs, two names, their stories:

Nizam Uddin, the wondering theologian,

Amir Khusru, the parrots tongue.

The saint and the poet. A grim

star sprouts from a cupola.

Slim sparkles in the pool.


Amir Khusru, parrot or mocking bird

the two haves of each moment,

muddy sorrow, voice light.

Syllables, wondering fires,

Vagabond architectures:

every poem is time, and burns. (P174)

It was the monuments of Delhi built by the Afghans, including the Qutab Minar which influenced you to go to Afghanistan and see this land of mystic and mysterious by himself.   However, you must have been

disappointed to see the diminishment, for even in those days very little was remaining of the glorious civilisations of the different eras and religions that had existed.   Afghanistan of the Zorastrians, Afghanistan of the Buddhists, Afghanistan of the Hindus and Afghanistan of the Muslims.  Some of our cities destroyed by the barbarians of the times such as, Chengiz Khan and Timor the Limb.  They were never rebuilt even after the passage of a thousand years.  There is no sign of Shahre Ghulghuleh (the city of sound and light), in Bamyan.   It was in this city that under the eyes of its great Buddha, in Bamyan, Chengiz decided to destroy the entire city of Ghulghuleh and not only that but to kill all its habitants.  And to make it even worse killing all the animals, including the dogs, cats and mice.   History recalls that after the complete destruction of the city, Chengiz went to inspect the damage, his happiness of the loss of life and destruction of the buildings was momentarily spoiled when he spotted a mouse running amongst the ruins.  He told his soldiers I want life to be completely eradicated from this country.   And the truth is that life and respect for civilisation within the Afghans stopped after being invaded by the Arabs in the name of Islam, the Mongols in the name of barbarism and the British in the name of acquiring their share of the Eastern Wealth.   It was the British, the civilised invader, that finally destroyed whatever remained of Kabul.   But the culture of destruction also has been adopted by the Afghans themselves.   Alaudin Jahan Soz , set Ghazni on fire and extinguished its civilisation completely and he was not the only one because the trend continued.  Only recently the communists, the Mujahideen and the Taliban all have had their fair share in the destruction of their own country.   When nothing remained they put their own symbol of history and pride to death.   They turned their guns toward peaceful faces of Buddha.  Bang.   Let there be darkness.

Octavio you must have been deeply disappointed after reading the poetry of Amir Khusraw, the sweet parrot of Persian poetry, about the country of old civilisation and a country of enormous wealth of history, Afghanistan.   You could not find many historical evidences of that when you were there.   You did not have time to dig the ground but you smelled the soil even when you could not find Abu Sina the Alchemist.  You saw the desert of Bagwa carpeted with red tulips to welcome the great poet.   You expressed as long as this soil produce such flowers, it will also produce poets, writers, philosophers and alchemists.   Maybe you were right but it has been years since great poets and writers of Afghanistan made an impression.   Poets and writers need to be supported by governments and their people.   For the past 400 years there hasnt been a cultured Afghan king who loved books.   Whatever Poets and writers wrote became dust.  The kings were simple warlords and the people were taking shelter running to the mountains for safety of their lives from the warlords and invaders.   Enemies within and enemies from without.

The present is motionless

The mountains are of the bone and of snow

They have been here since the beginning

The wind has just been borne


As the light and the dust

A windmill of sounds

The bazaar spins its colours

                                    Bells, motors, radios

The stony trot of dark donkeys

Songs and complaints intangled

The tall light chiselled with hammer-strokes

In the clearance of silence

                                        Boys circles


Princess in tattered clothes

On the bank of the tortured river

Pray                 pee                   mediate

                                                            The present is motionless

The floodgates of the years open

                                                            Days flash out




The present is motionless

                                    June 21st

Today is the beginning of summer

                                                Two or three birds

Invents a garden




The present is motionless

                                    The mountains

                        quartered suns

petrified storms earth-yellow

                                    The wind whips

                                                            it hurts to see

The sky is another deeper abyss

                                    Gorge of the Salang Pass

black cloud over black rock

Fists of blood strikes

                        gate of stone

Only the water is human

in these precipitous solitudes

Only your eyes of human water

Afghanistan is a traveller like you and me. It has travelled through the course of history. Through happy period when it was touched by Buddha, when it was lit by the light of Ahura Mazda (the ultimate truth), when its temples mushroomed in the hills, mountains and deserts, when it woke up with the recitation of Khayam, with the beat of Sufi soul on drams, with people in the farms growing food of love. Afghanistan invented a face for itself, travelling deep into history:


He invented a face for himself.

                                                Behind it,

he lived died and resurrected

many times.

                   His face now

has the wrinkles from the face.

His wrinkle have no face (P187)

On the road to Kabul and then Balhk there was nothing but the natural and stunning beauty of the country in front of you and you were too late by many years to see the magnificence of the caravansaras of the silk rout.   I too wish I had lived in that era. Perhaps Octovio, myself and Ibne Batuta would have become friends travelling together. We would have gone to Kabul on the silk route, where we would have passed the Kabulis in the market speaking at least four different main languages in order to facilitate their business.   We would have seen the Charbaghs, the copies of the Mughuls gardens built in India.   We would have listened to the sound of music coming from the streets of Kabul.   Kabul was full of professional musicians, dancers and storytellers, but today there is nothing left but just a footprint on the few surviving history books. 

Now here in the Lodi garden I am thinking about you and my country and I come to conclusion that at least India has kept its charms and beauty.   It is a country of many religions and many sects and it is a country of tolerance.   It is here that I can discover my own motherland, by walking the Qutab Minar, walking in the Charbaghs or simply the Lodi Gardens.   Here I discovered you and poetry.


All poems are taken from the collected poems 1957-1987, Edited by Eliot Weinberger, HarperCollins Publishers, India




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