Some things live forever in memory. The infinitely moving dispatch by Time magazine’s John Wendle reporting from Kunduz near the Afghan-Tajik border on the post-2014 scenario in the Hindu Kush after the drawdown of the western troops, as seen by the Afghantsy (Soviet war veterans who stayed back as Mujahideen prisoners or as defectors), is going to be one such piece.
Another poignant moment is coming up for the Afghantsy as the curtain comes down on the western occupation and another foreign army is leaving the Hindu Kush. They stayed back of their own accord when the Red Army withdrew across the Amu Darya in 1989 but this time around, uncertainties are galore — “People will be gobbled up everywhere. People will start killing each other. Then what will be here? Life will be here, but it will be bad.”
Way back in the sixties, the graduate course syllabus for English Literature in Kerala University included a one-act play titled ‘The Long Sunset’ by a minor playwright by name R. C. Sheriff. The powerful passions let loose in the short work of some 50 or 60 pages remain etched in memory. The setting is similar to Wendle’s dispatch — much more dramatic, though.
The setting is southern England circa early 5th century. No sooner than word spread that the Roman Legion had given up on Britain — with the fall of Rome to the Huns, Vandals, Goths, Moors and so on — Welsh tribes and Scots and Saxons came pouring down on England. A retreating Roman officer comes to persuade his old friends (a farming family) in Canterbury to persuade them to leave Britain, as it was getting too dangerous for Romans to live in Britain.
He updates them on the bad news that Rome had been ransacked, Emperor had fled and Britain was no longer a part of the Roman Empire. He offered to his old friends that there was space for them in the last ship that was leaving later that night. Of course, they declined because Britain was all they knew, all they had, and Italy meant nothing anymore. By then they had even converted to Christianity.
But woven into the back-and-forth conversation between the protagonists as dusk was falling, there was the gloomy ‘post-2014 scenario’ in Britain at that point in time — strikingly similar to the Afghantsy narrative. Ambitious local commanders took matters into their hands once the Roman army had left. Every night, the sky was alight with burning villages and towns. Private armies were formed for self-defence against the marauding bands of Saxons who came sailing in.
The chilling words of the Afghantsy: “Karzai and everyone, they all say, “We will defend your country. No one will attack here. Everyone will stand with us. The foreigners will help us’, but on what does this depend? They say it depends on God… Everything depends on God. What he created, will be. But that’s all just talk. The tongue talks, but we”ll see what really happens.” Wendle’s dispatch is here.
– July 11, 2012