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Reading Poetry In Kandahar

Groups of Afghans regularly meet for poetry-reading sessions.
Despite its status as a war zone, life goes on in Kandahar. Although beset by conflict for more than three decades, one activity has survived: poetry-reading sessions.

Such gatherings usually attract dozens of poets and enthusiasts from the southern Afghan city and the surrounding area. Poets typically read out their new writings, sometimes encouraging participants to criticize their poems before submitting them for publication in Pashto-language magazines.

Many of the readings are packed with people, as the city's population has bulged since NATO's offensive displaced many farmers in the surrounding districts -- many of whom moved in with friends or relatives in Kandahar city to escape the fighting.

I went to one such gathering this week held in a sprawling mud compound on the eastern edge of the city. More than a hundred poets and their fans participated in the 232nd weekly gathering of the Rohi Literary Movement -- Kandahar's largest independent literary organization.

The most striking feature of such a gathering is the discipline and rituals passed down through generations. The gathering I saw was masterfully managed by two smart presenters who kept the audience engaged and read famous poems from classical Pashto-language poets.

The poem I most enjoyed was read by Ghulam Nabi Saeed. Now 45, he told me that he started writing poetry after his beloved wife died five years ago. He read a short Ghazal poem. Ghazal is a genre of short lyric poetry in which every couplet, though sounding similar, has a different theme. Unsurprisingly, love reverberates as a dominant theme in his poetry.

A sample of Saeed's poem:

I fear that love will be wiped from the world
I fear that the whole world will turn into hatred

I fear a father's cry in despair
I fear beloved children turning into anguish

-- Mohammad Sadiq Rishtinai