........................................................................with words, with issues!!!

Apr 4, 2012

A Devilishly Compelling Read: THE KITE RUNNER

  Just when the whole world was celebrating over the death of Bin Laden, a man often portrayed as an incarnation of evil, I was flipping through the pages of ‘THE KITE RUNNER’. And no wonder, where I found myself was in the midst of all those harrowing tales of inexcusable Talibani crimes backed by same Laden. Yes, for now, Laden is gone; but the deep psychological trauma will never cease to haunt those ill-fated Afghanis. With somewhat playful a language and its fingers on the pulse of readers; this runaway best-seller by Khaled Hosseini shows us what life is like in Afghanistan. Himself an Afghani physician now taking political asylum in the US, Hosseini however has multitude of theme to offer to the readers from this book. Afghanistan is just one of them. You will fathom out the innocence of childhood days, childhood friends, the puritanical society, the tribal discrimination and what not. 

Amir and Hassan are two central characters in the novel. They grew up together in Kabul much the same way as an ordinary child does here in Nepal. They played together, ran kites in the streets together, jumped helter-skelter together, watched movies together……and sure the list goes on ad infinitum. They even had the same plight to share- mothers taking last breath barely a few days after their birth. One thing was very uncommon though for these motherless boys: Amir belonged to the dominant Pashtun tribe and Hassan to a minority Hazara. Fate had it that way for them and no force, however hard it may try, could change that. They were seemingly the best of friends, but this one uncommon stuff put paid to that. Inferior as his tribe was, Hassan with his father Ali had their role as the servants in Amir’s house. And it needs no mention that to convert a servant-master relationship to that of ‘friend-friend’ would really be a task of Herculean proportion. More so in a society like Afghan that is cut across on rigid religion and caste lines.

Besides, another stuff uncommon in them was that while Hassan was gallant, Amir was a timid chicken-hearted chap. Each time the local goons intimidated Amir, Hassan was always there by his side; always ready to save Amir, even at the cost of his life. Hassan was in fact not a type of guy to give in to such bullying and threats. Nevertheless Amir was the just opposite. All his character exhibited was that – “Getting born to a dominant tribe, to a well-to-do family is one thing, mustering up the courage to fight back the goons is a different ball game altogether.” I would like to narrate here a particular event to this regard which would later go on to mark a watershed in the whole plot. It goes like this: “One fine day, Hassan encounters a gang of local bullies- all of them Pashtuns. They are, for long, in search of an opportune moment to teach this Hazara a lesson. As it used to be always this Hazara that came in their way of dealing with Amir; this time they are in no mood to leave him just like that. And yes, they teach him the worst lesson ever by raping him; yes those sociopaths rape Hassan. But worst of all, there in the corner was Amir witnessing all this and doing nothing but mutely watching the high-voltage drama. Shortly after, may be as an after effect of the scene, the cowardice inside him gets even more emboldened and so he takes to his heels and runs out of sight. Poor Hassan is left to his fate.”

This incident made Amir to think of ways to get rid of Hassan and his father. Because; on the one hand, Amir’s father, Baba as he used to call him, was being too loving and caring to Hassan for all his bravery; and on the other, Hassan’s bravery was more or less adding insult to the vanity of Pashtuns, no matter even if it had saved his life. Of course, he was feeling guilty and was full of remorse for his inability to help Hassan at those needy hours and out of embarrassment had not even gathered the guts to see him eye to eye. But he chose to right his wrong by committing yet another wrong: forcing Baba to make them leave that house. The remaining part is all about how Amir struggles to redeem himself from these sins.

He flees to the US with his Baba when the monarchy in Afghanistan gets consigned to history and the Soviet Union invades it. In fact, the red terror seeps into this land thereafter, and thousands of Afghanis become condemned to lead a life of refugees in Pakistan and the US. While in US too, he helplessly watches his country lurch from one crisis to another in the march of time. Once the ‘red terror’ comes to its end after the Soviet Union withdraws from there; it so happens that yet another dark blot in the history of Afghanistan was awaiting them. This time in the guise of Taliban. Talibans- remember the destruction of Bamiyan Buddha statues! In the meantime, the plot takes a dramatic turn when one of Baba’s old friends calls Amir back to Kabul and spills the bean. He feels betrayed by his own flesh and blood when he comes to learn that Hassan was the son of Baba, not Ali ( but no doubt of Ali’s wife, Sanaubar). The line in the book “Sanaubar’s suggestive stride and oscillating hips sent men to reveries of infidelity” explains much of this. Now, he understands why his half-brother was getting so much of Baba’s love and care. But, this revelation had come already much late, for there was no Hassan in this earth to know this real lineage. He is already shot by the Taliban. Amir then proceeds in a path he sees as an only way to redemption- a path toward adopting Sohrab; Hassan’s son; his nephew, who was languishing in one of the orphanages in Kabul. And with this comes a full stop in the storyline.

Having said that; I can now add with aplomb that this book has indeed reinforced my understanding of Afghanistan. The Afghan I heard right from my childhood days was that of the devastated land, rocket attacks, suicide bombings, brutal killings and so on. Now, the Taliban rule has certainly ended and so has the rule proclaiming ‘every man needs to have a fist sized beard at the bottom of his chin’, thanks to the post 9/11 scenario. However, let’s not mince words: the country is sinking into the morass ever deeper. At times, the depiction of Talibani brutality in the novel perfectly dovetails with what happened in Nepal in the 10 year long bloody fracas. Over and above that, of particular poignancy is also the way Hosseini has woven the tales of discrimination on the basis of tribes. By birth, someone is a Sunni Muslim, Pashtun tribe and some other a Sh’ia Muslim, Hazara tribe. While reading the sufferings of the Hazara, I tended to juxtapose them with the maladies afflicting our own ‘Dalits’. Yet another significant truth it exposes is that forgiving oneself is a thousand times harder job than forgiving others. Had it not been the case, Amir would have never returned to linger in the dangerous Talibani streets of Kabul under the Damocles’ sword just in search of Sohrab. Take it, it was his honest bid to atone for his sins.

Anyway, I bet once you start the book, you won’t want to put it down without completing. At least for me, it went that way. It’s simple, it has every recipes needed to hold its readers spellbound. With plenty of strong points and a very few weak spots, I’m sure it’s going to leave on you a lasting impression. Plus, to those who fall short of time to read, there’s nothing to worry. You can go for its movie version; the Kite Runner has already been adapted as a motion picture.


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