A Short Story by PARTAW NADERI

বাংলা English

LAST FLIGHT

by PARTAW NADERI
translated by DR. SHARIF FAYEZ

Atop a mountain peak was perching an old and ailing eagle, gasping for air. Her wings, once so powerful that they could pierce the sky as a sword, were stretched out, lashing on a piece of rock gleaming like a melting piece of copper. Now and then she lifted her head and desperately stared at the sky, which was once her flying realm. She remembered that until yesterday she could dash like a shaft into the valleys and mountain peaks, splitting the sky into two. But today her once powerful wings could not flap with ease on these red crags. She was no longer pleased to watch the sky. Instead she closed her eyes and imagined herself flying over those black summits. Then furtively she opened her eyes and watched her fledglings still unable to fly.

The chicks were also flapping their wings, perhaps thinking that their mother wants to show them how to fly, but in the flapping of their mother that old pride and ardor no longer existed.  When the old eagle looked into the eyes of her chicks and filled her throat with air in order to speak, her head, full of grief, bent down on her chest and her beak hid into her chest’s feathers. Once again she lifted her head and looked into her chicks’ eyes. She remained silent, as silent as the silence that rose from the valleys’ depths to the mountaintops.

The chicks looked anxious about why their mother was so upset and not inclined to tell them a story about flying. They hoped that one day she would teach every one of to fly and show them the way to the sky. She closed her eyes again and laid her head on her chest, as if this time she wanted to thrust her beak into her heart. The chicks lost patience and began to cry, asking her tearfully: “Mother! Mother! What is wrong with you today?”

The old eagle lifted her head and looked into the eyes of her fledglings, who suddenly screamed: “What is this grief that has been burning inside you? What is this pain that has weakened your strength, with your wings stretched on the crags and your head on your chest?  Your silence is burning us. Tell us something so that our grief may go away.”

The old eagle lifted her head and looked into the sunset. Her chicks also turned their heads toward the sunset. The mother asked, “What are you seeing on the horizon?”

The chicks said, “We are seeing the sun as if it were passing through an ocean of blood so that it may set beyond those peaks.”

The mother asked, “How was the noontime?”

They answered, “The noontime was like a golden eagle soaring high in the sky.”

She asked, “How is it now?”

They answered, “She looks like a wounded eagle shot in the chest by an archer. Blood is dripping from her chest, making the horizons bloodier with every beating of her wings.”

She asked, “What would happen to the sun in a few moments?”

They said, “It will fall into the sunset’s jaw and disappear.”

She turned her head to look at her young ones. For a moment, she remained silent and a heavy stillness cast its shadow over the nest. They turned their eyes toward their mother, waiting for her to say something. After a long gasp, she said, “I am also like that sun, with the last moments of my life ending soon.”

Just as they heard these words, they began to beat their wings on their chests, screaming, “Mother!”  The fledglings came out of the nest, circling around their mother, rubbing their faces and heads on her wings and begging her to stay with them.

They thought that their mother could do what she was asked. Therefore they kept asking her to stay alive and never leave them alone. She lifted her head again and her chicks did the same thing. However this time she stared into the depths of the valley and so did her children.

The mother asked, “What are you seeing in the depth of the valley?”

“A flock of crows flying but wondering why that big bird—and what a strange bird!—is following the crows,” they answered.

“That big bird following the crows so low in the sky is an eagle,” she answered.

In disbelief, the young eagles said, “How could this be possible for an eagle to fly so low behind a flock of crows? This is below the dignity of eagles. From this nest we have seen eagles always soaring high and nesting in highest peaks. What kind of eagle is it that flies behind the crows?”

The old eagle said, “You are right, but this eagle has a long story.” They were all gripped by such a rage that they had forgotten about the dying of their mother and begged her to tell them the story of this strange eagle. The mother, breathing some air, said: “Look into this valley. Down there in lowest part of the valley is a pleasant and crystal spring.” The young eagles stared into the depth of the valley to locate the spring. Then the old eagle said, “Do you know what quality this spring has?”

The young eagles said, “We don’t know anything about it.”

The old eagle said, “This spring has a strange quality. If an eagle on the verge of death drinks from it, it would acquire everlasting life.”

The young eagles cried, “Mother, then why don’t you dash from this height into the valley’s depth, drink from the spring and live beside us permanently?”

Once again the old eagle, without looking at her chicks, gazed into the valley’s depth. The young ones thought that their mother was about to fly into the valley to drink water from the spring, but no movement was noticed in her wings. For a moment they remained silent until their mother said, “I haven’t finished the story of the eagle. When I am done, then you can tell me what to do.”

“I heard from my mother that one day at sunset the eagle was sitting next to its chicks. Death was weighing on its wings and the sky looked depressing. She had a hard time stretching her wings on a piece of rock. Her chicks began to screech when they saw their mother suffering so painfully. They begged her to find a way to remain alive and take care of them. Then their mother told the story of this spring. They all begged her to fly there and drink from the water of the spring so that you may live with us forever.  

Shaking her wings, she stood on her feet, gazed into the sky, turned her head toward her chicks and into the deep valley where the spring glistened like a mirror. Then she stood on a rock, mustering all her vigor in her wings and began to fly—this time not high into the sky but deep into the valley and darkness.

She flew lower into the valley until she reached the spring, drank from its delightful water and scanned the mountain peaks, thinking she could still capture those heights and fly high into the sky. A vague delight ran through her veins, thrilling her with excitement.

Remembering that her chicks were waiting for her, she hurried toward the peak where she had built her nest. Before reaching the nest, she encountered a flock of crows. When trying to take her own way away from the crows, she realized that she could no longer fly higher than the crows, not even ahead of them. She had acquired everlasting life but in the depth of the valley always following a flock of crows away from eagles. For her there was no height, no peak, and no sky. She was now destined to fly behind the crows in that deep valley. She was no longer able to think farther beyond the valley and watch from the peak and the sky the grandeur of the mountains. Now it was the crows that determined the course and height of her flight.

For a while she remained silent, with her chicks also sinking in silence. Darkness and silence were also rising from the heart of the valleys toward the peaks, which were being abandoned by the last glimmer of light.

The young eagles were silently watching their mother, perhaps thinking that she was not finished with her words. However the old eagle had no more words to say. Gazing into the sky, without looking at them, she asked, “Should I fly from this peak into that dark valley, drink from that spring and then fly behind those crows or lay my head on this red rock on this peak, where the sun kisses my wings, and die?”

The young eagles flapped their wings, thrust their beaks into their chests and screamed: “Mother, we don’t want you to fly for the rest of your life behind those crows in that dark valley. We don’t want you to be a disgrace for the eagle’s race.”

These words opened for the old eagle a window of hope into the sky. She laid her head on a rock near the nest, with no more words coming from her mouth, and the sun also set behind the peaks. The last rays of the sun were rising into the sky from the wings of the eagle, as if this were the great and free spirit of the eagle flying to capture the everlasting skies.

December 20, 2011,
 Qargha Town, Kabul  

PARTAW NADERI
Partaw Naderi, as a socio-political activist and poet, has more media and public visibility than any of his contemporaries in the country or abroad. To a large extent, his poetry is also a reflection of his social and political views. In the media and public arena, he is often seen as a literary authority and spokesperson of the second generation of modern Afghan poets. Perhaps more than any poet of his generation, he has used blank verse, with a strong satirical tone, to express his socio-political views and visions. He has also used fixed poetic forms, such as quatrains, couplets and odes, to express his inner feelings, but the modern blank verse remains a major medium of his poetic views and expressions.   
  
 Like many other Afghan artists and intellectuals, he was arrested by the Communist Regime in Kabul on charges of anti-regime activities and imprisoned in the infamous Pul-i-Charkhi Prison in the fall of 1984. He remained in prison until the end of 1986. In September 1997, he fled to Pakistan, where he worked for the Dari program of the BBC World Service until 2002.  His cultural reports for the Dari program of BBC Radio enjoyed popularity among the educated Afghans in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and the Gulf. Since the establishment of the Transitional government of Afghanistan, he has worked as a civic education manager for the Afghan Civil Society Forum in Kabul. Naderi is also a leading member of the Afghan Pen Association based in Kabul 
  
 Born in 1952 in an idyllic village in Badakhshan, one of the most beautiful mountainous provinces in northeastern Afghanistan, Naderi in his poetry expresses his deep love for nature, rural life, and simple mountain people. To escape the suffocating dust, pollution and chaos of Kabul city and perhaps to recreate his nostalgic village life, he has built his own house on the hillside of a small valley in Ghargha in the western part of Kabul, where he lives with his wife and children.   
  
 From his early age, he loved reading literature, particularly poetry. The beautiful mountainous setting of his village inspired him to write his own lyrics. After graduating from Kabul Teacher Training School, he wished to study journalism at Kabul University, but, as a graduate of a government-funded teacher training school, he was required to study either social or natural sciences at Kabul University. Despite this restriction, he believes his study of geology and biology has enriched his poetry and sense of realism. 
 In addition to poetry, he has published a large number of articles on literary, political and social issues. His published collections include: 
 ·        An Elegy for Vine,
 ·        Leaden Moments of Execution, 
 ·        A Lock on the Gate of Ashes    
 ·        The Big Picture, The Small Mirror 
 ·        The Other Side of the Purple Waves 
 ·        The Bloody Mouth of Freedom
 ·        PartawNaderi Poetry
 ·        شعرهای نا سرودۀ من 
 ·        ... و گریۀ صد قرن در گلو دارم
 ·        دهکدۀ بی بامداد
 ·        با گام‌های نخستین
  
  
  
 Images of poverty, imprisonment, drought, Taliban-style tyranny and obscurantism, destruction and death abound in his poems.  Like many of his contemporaries, he is haunted by the Taliban’s reign   of terror, whose images recur in most of his poems. In his poetry, he sees the Taliban movement as a diabolic force bent on destroying or disfiguring what is best in Afghan arts and culture. He often associates the movement in his works with what has been most decadent, chauvinistic, and barbaric in the history of Afghanistan and Islam.  On of his famous poems titled “The Other Side of Purple Waves” is an expression of his poetic rage against the savagery of the Taliban. In this and many other poems written since the rise of the Taliban movement, the poet has used images of war, obscurantism, religious ferocity, drought, famine, and destruction caused by the rabid fanatics of the Taliban movement. 
  
 LatifNazemi, a known Afghan poet and critic, in an introduction to Naderi’s collection of poems titled Leaden Moments of Execution writes: 
                    
           You are a kind country man, coming from a distant village to Kabul city. For several years, you had breathed the prison air, and then exile swallowed you, the way it swallowed me. 
           When there was a “Lock on the Gate,” you wrote the “Elegy for the Vine” and from “The Other Side of the Purple Waves” you opened two windows before you -- the window of life and the window of nature -- and from behind these windows I have known you without having seen you. 
 In the poem “The Big Picture, the Small Mirror” you wrote the life story of a mother, like many other mothers in villages and cities – the mothers whose bitter destinies are inscribed by the … history, as you have written – women from the green tribe of nobility who speak the language of the people of paradise.
 …
 You think that poetry is a kind of crying, crying with one’s fresh and crystal words. Your voice is the imaginative voice of an affectionate villager bringing to one’s ears the fragrance of wheat, rice fields, and the songs of sparrows from the orchards of the north.  
  
  
 Naderi, like many other Dari poets, wrote the bulk of his poetry when the Taliban were threatening to destroy the artistic and literary heritage of the Dari-speaking people of the country. Indeed, this cultural genocide by the Taliban is a dominant theme and obsession in his poetry during and after the Taliban era, and this must not be interpreted as an anti-Pashtun trend in his works when considering the relentless tribal, ethnic and religious ferocity of the Taliban movement in the second part of the 1990s. In many of his poems translated in this selection, particularly in “The Idol-Breaker’s Calendar,” “Auction,” and “In the Frozen Streets of Eclipse,” the poet expresses a haunting preoccupation about the Taliban as an anti-culture movement threatening to destroy the literary and historical legacy of his people. In his public life, he has also defended this legacy as part of his larger continued campaign for democracy and human rights.         
  
 Most of the poems translated in the following selection are recommended by the poet and reviewed by him for accuracy and quality. He considers “In the Frozen Streets of Eclipse” and “The Other Side of the Purple Wave” as two of his best poems. “The Big Picture, The Small Mirror,” a more popular poem celebrating the purity, devotion, love, humility, patience, forgiveness, and sanctity of mothers, depicts a patriarchal society ruled by a dominating father who symbolizes male chauvinism, dictatorship, and lack of all the virtues epitomized by the mother, but he is survived by his wife, the mother and the son, who symbolize life and freedom. In this poem, Naderi presents a sentimental, but true, picture of the motherly side of the Afghan society often ignored in many books and studies on Afghanistan. 
  
By Dr. Sharef Fayez 

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