I discovered the poet Sayd Bahodine Majrouh on a flight from Oakland to New York. Prepared for the six-hour trip to visit my family, I had brought along a number of magazines from my dining room table. The stack included a National Geographic magazine with an article about Afghani women. The article included several amazing landays that I learned had been translated by Majrouh that identified him as the preeminent Afghani poet of the twentieth century. The article went on to note that he had been assassinated during his exile in Pehawar, Pakistan on February 11, 1988.
What had caught my attention and led me to Majrouh were the landays, a form that I later learned means “the short one.” It is a poem consisting of two verse lines of nine and thirteen syllables. These poems are largely anonymous and meant to be sung. Majrouh had collected these verses among Pashtun women in the valleys of Afghanistan and the refugee camps of Pakistan. They were first translated into French. Songs of Love and War: Afghan Women’s Poetry published by Other Press, offers these landays in English translation.
The books’ Introduction discusses the landay and explains, “In a strict sense, they exist off-screen—off the cultural screen that is reserved exclusively for men and, consequently, off the social screen.”
Here are several examples:
My lover wants to keep my tongue inside his mouth,
Not for the delight of it, but only to establish his steady
rights on me.
Oh rooster, wait a little with your song!
I have just come into my lover’s arms.
Gently slide your hand inside my sleeves,
The pomegranates of Kandahar have blossomed and
they are ripe.
My friend, which of these two to choose?
Mourning and exile arrived at my door together.
Tears are streaming down my face.
I cannot forget Kabul’s snow-topped mountains.
Your love is water and it is fire,
Flames are consuming me, waves are swallowing me up.
The outlaws stripped everyone down to the bone.
I was plundered beneath my lover’s chest.
Young mean, defend me, defend your very honor!
My father is a tyrant who throws me in an old man’s bed.
See the dreadful tyranny of husbands:
He beats me and then forbids my weeping.
Bracelets on my arms, jewelry around my neck,
I’m leaving with my beloved, we are going home.
Majrouh collected these voices., a poet walked the way of the Sufi and the philosophers, a man who fought for the independence of Afghanistan and for a future that would respect individual liberty.
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1978, Majrouh went into exile in Peshawar where he founded the Afghan Information Center, which broadcast reports on and analyses of the resistance across the world. He is regarded as the literary heir of Rumi and Omar Khayyam. Majrouh’s three-volume epic, Ego-Monstre, sadly, is not available in English.