At the end of 2015, the global displaced population stood at 65.3 million as per UNHCR. To put things in perspective, this is the highest recorded number since the World War II. Of the top ten, Afghans are the second most displaced nationality.
Living in Europe since last year, one word that I have read and heard more often than not is “Refugee Crisis” as termed by western countries. What I often wonder is not about the “refugee crisis”, but the crisis that has created refugees.
As we stand at crossroads today, where we are very close to repeating the historical tragedies of Komagata Maru and others, we must not forget that once it was our grandparents on the move – from Pakistan to India, from India to Pakistan, from Germany, Holland, Poland, France or Britain to whatever land that gave them hope for peace. Lest we forget, the stories of refugees need to be told. Nadia Hashimi says the story if a fiction, but it only takes a grain of empathy to know that the struggles are real.
Fereiba Waziri is forced to flee her home in Kabul, Afghanistan when she learns that the members of Taliban have killed Mahmoud, her husband. Saleem and Samira are still young and do not yet grasp fully the circumstances that have been forced upon them. They do, however, know that life will never be the same again. Fereiba, tucks Aziz under her Burkha, grabs the handful possessions, false Belgian passports and the tiny hands of her children and embarks on the treacherous journey to England, where her sister lives with her family. We follow Fereiba and Salem on their perilous journey across Iran, Turkey, Greece, France and Italy. The struggles of the family in terms of lack of money, food, shelter are coupled with internal conflict.
“In the last year, as I’ve tried to give my children a safe life, I’ve felt more like a criminal than anything else. Even righteousness is an ambiguous thing.”
……. If only Mahmood were around to tell me I was doing the right thing and that I was no less of a mother for mothering him less.”
The Waziri family makes their way to Greece. Every checkpoint is a series of prayers and bated breaths. The fear of getting caught and sent back to Afghanistan has seeped in deep and lurks at every corner. Saleem tries to keep the family fed and comfortable but everything is so expensive and money is scarce. He struggles internally but has no choice. He must steal food, or they will go hungry. The last words of his father haunt him. “Saleem-jan, my son, reap a noble harvest”.
Saleem is separated from the family and must continue on his own journey. The journey is not just physical but and internal one too. He has to learn to fend for himself, living in the refugee park, sleeping on cardboard sheets, protecting himself from brutes and the law. He cannot get caught with his guard down. He struggles to cross the borders, the grumbling stomach and the leaping heart. He struggles with his love for his father. He struggles some more.
Home is no longer home, and nobody wants you – this is the sad truth of the life of a refugee. The book picks you up from the comfort of your own home and puts you on the path of Fereiba and Saleem to witness the horrors of everyday struggle, the great optimism that guides men, women and children through choppy waters and rough terrains to seek a better life, to seek peace.
The only thing that soothes the callused souls of the Waziri family is the random acts of kindness by complete strangers. They bring small joys and momentary respite from the reality. They also restore faith in humanity.
Nadia Hashimi is a Doctor in America, and lives with her three children and her husband. Her parents migrated from Afghanistan to America in 1970s. Her Afghan roots are easily recognizable in her style of writing. The eloquence, the ebb and flow of the story, the complex yet vivid emotions of the characters are presented with grace, tenderness and eloquence only an Afghan can do justice to. The books is strewn with gems like –
“There are truths and lies and there are things in between, murky waters where light gets bent and broken.”
“ The handwoven carpet in the living room had watched us grow from bride and groom to a full family, and then bore witness to the night we were undone. Tears of joy, tears of heartbreak had melted into its pattern”
The Verdict: A must read