This is probably the first of its kind that I write in my blog but not writing it was not an option.
Upon stumbling upon a page for SAYC-2017, Kabul in my search for scholarships, I could not resist but read through the page followed by hopeful submission of application to attend the conference.
A letter of acceptance and invitation to SAYC-2017 was emailed to me on 21st of March, 2017. After the letter of invitation followed a series of email exchanges regarding travel and logistics which called for me to fly out to Delhi on 8th of April for acquiring of Afghan Visa at the embassy based in New Delhi.
The two delegates from Bhutan, me and my colleague entered the gates of Indra Gandhi International airport on 14th of April to catch our flight to Kabul, Afghanistan.
As I sat there near the boarding gate, with the ticket in my hand I had a rush of emotion I cannot explain. A mixture of excitement and fear and rebellion.
“Afghanistan” when you hear the name a mental picture does not need a painting, the color of the image in itself rejuvenates as we hear the word. A picture painted by the news and the reporters, the images we see on the networks we trust, it is never once pretty.
As we landed at the Hamid Karzai international airport in Kabul, I could not keep up the pounding of my heart. With a scarf around my head and a bag in my hand, my colleague and I lined up at the immigration counter where we met two other delegates, from India. It was a relieve to find them, honestly.
We were received warmly by the welcome team, perhaps the first warm feeling that spread across my chest after landing in Kabul.
The airport is not as fancy as the others I have been to. It has a fairly simple architecture with a sense of being old and worn out. By the walls that holds it up, you can tell that it had been through a lot.
I rolled down the car window on my way to the hotel. We were to be hosted at Intercontinental hotel, the oldest luxury hotel in Kabul. All I had ever known about Kabul was the image of it from the books I read, the idea of it from the news I have heard. The houses were build on the mountains, small and scattered just as I had read. The streets had men in uniform with one had on a gun, the buildings were worn out and the security was tight on every corner. It came as a surprise to me when I saw how normal the lives of the residents were. There were shops open with various goods to sell, street vendors with fruits and smell of newly roasted kebabs filling the streets. The heavy traffic as in every major city, children coming back from school, a group of boys playing soccer in a field in the middle of the bustling city, ads displayed on huge bill boards. It was as if the city and its people never went through a rough phase. It was Kabul and it was filled with life and that went against everything I had ever known about the place. It was overwhelming.
Once we reached the hotel, at the entrance were the rest of the welcome group. Their hugs and greetings made me feel less of a stranger in a foreign land.
The best part about my room was the view, day in and day out, I had a magnificent view of the city. As the sun broke through the white curtains and fell on the sheets of the bed, I laid down and in my aching joints I felt peace. It was overwhelming, the feeling of uncertain euphoria, and in that moment I let go of all my inhibitions and doubts, because I could.
The next day we were taken out of the hotel, first stop was at the ART LORDS office. It was small and homely, undoubtedly creative and every frame hanging on the wall was worth the time taken to absorb its beauty. It is perhaps one of the wild flowers blooming in between the cracks of a concrete wall, beautiful and strong. Irresistible. The thing with ART LORDS that struck me the hardest was how mundane and usual it looked on the outside. The walls were of dull color, the street was dry and deserted, the sun and its heat was at its peak but once the doors opened and I stepped inside, it was a whole new world. It was like finding Narnia, only better.
Later, we drove towards the Qargha Lake. Every inch nearing it, the air became cooler and mountains, vibrant. As bad as I am at naming places, as good were the view. Streets dotted with carts, vans loaded with worn out students, men in circles smoking with a chat, all of which slowly faded into empty streets and barbed gates, only to morph into slopes dotted with purple flowers. Clouds dancing on about behind the mountains holding homes of many, the bright blue sky, clean white clouds and fresh air, what more could anyone ask for?
The lake was a scenery worth being labelled “breath-taking.” Magnificent coral blue water guarded by snow speckled mountains and silence so rare. I sat there, on the wall over looking the lake and just was, it was the calmest I had been in months.
Dinner that night was the one we all had been looking forward to, everyone was present and so the introductions began. What a surprise it is to see people from supposedly, two “opposite”countries sit down and laugh over the differences and share the similarities? One would never think it would be possible but there it was, people of different race, religion and nationalities, people who are not “supposed” to be friendly to one another, defying all acceptable norms and being happy. All they needed was a chance and this was it. A chance.
The first official day of SAYC-17 started off with a message from the First Lady herself and an outstanding theatrical performance. Over the course of next few days, there were discussions on topics we are otherwise considered too immature for, on topics that we are told not to concern ourselves with. We all had our differences but we shared very common issues and that was enough to get us all together and work our way into a better future.
How often do we use art as a means to relay a global concern, as a means to make a change? Art, for me personally, has always been about expression of individuality and about connecting with the world. But I never thought of it as a means to change the world for better, to let the world know of the pain it suffers and the scars it hides. Art, to change the world. It was new, it was better.
In a world run by prejudices in minds of cynics, it is hard for the truth to see the light. Nothing good ever gets a chance, and even if it does, it lasts for a split second. Sad.
Better than the Kabul city itself was the meet with honorable First Lady. She bathed in an aura of humility and grace, an audience with her was a moment of a lifetime. She spoke to us like she would to a friend. The tour of Haram Sarai was another memory worth being cherished. The courtyards, the walls and the antiques within. Each corner of it resounded powerful history, one silenced over time.
On the very last day, while running a personal errand I had to walk the streets of Kabul. I walked in an attire that no one else around seemed to be wearing and without a headscarf. I was worried a little at first, without my headscarf I felt so vulnerable and easy. But as I took a step and then another, it did not matter to anyone who did and did not see me that I wasn’t wearing a scarf or was in a proper attire. They were busy with their own lives, going through the day. My sense of fear was in an instant transformed into a feeling of calmness and enjoyed the smell from the kebab shop by the road as I chugged down gulps of fresh orange juice. It didn’t matter.
Notions and ideas I bore about how the place and its people should be, all that had been instilled in me by everything around me was a mere delusion.
A whip or two maybe, I deserve for having failed to see the truth as it was. I have talked, dined and traveled with people and in a place that was always said to be unsafe. I have shared my room, time and emotions with people who were said to never have any. I have seen all the norms being defied and boundaries been broken, experienced a sense of unison greater than the one I feel when at home, heard and will be telling tales of the support one had for the other. We worked and we enjoyed.
After events of the day, I was tired to my bones but satisfied, every single day of it. Never did I know we were all the same. It was just the labels and boundaries that separated us, differentiated us. In the end, we were one and the same, we were home.