green in farsi, short fiction, and the case of the one-eyed dog

so yesterday i was contemplating the many meanings and usages of the word سبز -sabz- in farsi literature. it is amazing how a word can have all the positive connotations in one language, and yet be associated with monsters, slime, and sticky, foul-smelling, semi-viscous, repulsive stuff in another. such is the case of the word/color سبز -sabz- or green.

green is associated with all things good and beautiful and fun in farsi literature -and dastgir nayil’s essay سبز، سبزه و سبزینه bears many notations and citations in farsi literature from the classic to the modern period to substantiate this. and yet in the west, or let me limit that to the only western language that i am reasonably ok at, things that first jump to mind at the mention of green are, well, green monsters (shrek, hulk, green giant) and green vegetables -don’t forget to eat your greens. maybe not. let us throw green meadows also in there for good measure. but the point is that compared with farsi literature, green does not have as many romantic connotations in english.

which brings me to dr. babrak arghand. well, not really. there is no logical segue from a discussion of the prominence of green in farsi literature to a relatively little known figure in afghanistan’s late twentieth century short fiction scene. the only thing that connects the to in my mind is a four verse stanza from an old folk song that featured in one of arghand’s short stories:

سبزینه رنگ آمده مهمانمی
آتشکی میزنی بر جانمی
سر به قدم های خوشت می نهم
خاکِ رهت سرمه به چشمانمی

sabzina-rang aamada mihmaanomi
aatashaki mizani bar jaanomi
sar ba qadam-haayi khoshat mi-niham
khaak-i rahat surma ba chashmaanomi

(note: surprisingly d.nayil has missed out on this well known folk song in his otherwise relatively exhaustive research into the place of green in farsi literature.)

arghand probably wrote the short story in early ’70s, set in paris or another overly romanticized western european capital. don’t remember much about the plot beyond the fact that it was the typical afghan-student-in-the-west’s-fascination-with-the-blond-beauty; a pre-cursor to the modern day ‘white-chick’ worship that has many an afghan male (and more generally, south asian male and brown male) starstruck.

i read the story more than a decade ago sitting on the windowsill of our house in the short-lived isolation of my central afghanistan village. and though the song is not much and it has been brutally rendered time and again eversince with electronica music by shockingly untalented afghan wedding hall artists it has held on dearly to a corner of my nostalgia-prone heart.

and go figure. i had all but written off babrak arghand. his collection of short stories that i read those many years ago (titled marjaan, printed in a government press on yellow pulp paper that broke when you folded it, and a white cover with violet margins and marjaan spelled out in beautiful nasta’liq on the back, god i remember it so well) is the only thing i have come across from this writer to date. most do not know him. or so i thought.

i thought arghand, like many other a late 20th century writer and person of letter of afghanistan became a victim of his governmental and ideological affiliations. but no! i googled him and lo and behold, unbeknownst to me he has published a novel, no two novels, two bona fide honest to god romans (the flight of wingless birds سفر پرنده گانِ بیبال , and پهلوان برات و اسپی که اصیل نبود pahlawan barat and…) that has (or had, a couple years back) people chattering all over afghanistan’s sporadic and seasonal literary internet.

speaking of which, there will not for a long time come another writer from afghanistan who will write a piece as beautiful and heart breaking as پیشانی سپید. when people think of short stories and afghanistan, first name that comes to mind is مردا ره قول است from akram osman. which is fair, because akram osman, the old man of afghanistan’s short stories deserves all the recognition. i just wish more people had known of and read babrak arghand as well.

there have not been many writers of good short stories in afghanistan. the form itself is new. so is the novel. i once spoke to an iranian bookseller in the states who run a farsi bookshop in the netherlands, and he lamented the fact that while afghans comprised a good third of all his customers, they kept reading the same old stuff -collections of classic farsi poetry -the well known divans, the same two books of afghan history that everyone knows of, and all sorts of books by armchair analysts of afghan events. no fiction. no novels. no short stories. there is neither the demand nor the supply when it comes to fiction in afghanistan. save for, of course the high school students’ voracious apetite for iranian detective thrillers, and perhaps some volumes of smut here and there. which is a pity, because other areas of afghanistan’s farsi literature -poetry, for example- is doing pleasantly well. including surprising ventures into newer and more exciting forms. take haiku for one. now only if we could see experiments with extreme short fiction in farsi. twenty words or less, anyone?

sunny day in kabul with daffodils in bloom and lazy flies seeking out the shadows. armored vehicle ran over the one-eyed dog. empty bottle of mineral water landed near ‎the corpse.‎


~ by safrang on May 25, 2008.

12 Responses to “green in farsi, short fiction, and the case of the one-eyed dog”

  1. Actually, I think I have read that collection from Arghand too.. Father brought it for me and I remember reading the story about the Afghan student and blond woman.. and I think he fails in his love.. wow, it has been so long.. I have forgotten the details.. I didn’t know about the new novels..
    and it is nice to read about sabzi, sabz.. Akram Osman, whom I love and respect dearly too, is much fond of sabza..
    sabz bashid..

  2. I have read a lot of dr. Babrak Arghand´s novels, such as Pahlawan Morad.. (2nd press), Kaftarbazan, Safare Parendagane Be Bol. I especially loved the last one. I also read his very famous and loved short stories like Yalda, Aina wa khanjar, Sharara, Saya. I’ve found, with much difficulty, the short story Aina wa Khanjar. If you want me to, I can send it to you.
    His novel Safare Parendagane Be Bol is very popular with the Afghan women and girls, because it shows reality and people can also read about the pain the women go through. And he also explains what made these women and girls feel like they do.
    I read on the internet that the same novel (Safare…) was named the Afghan “The grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. This made me really happy. It’s nice to see that an Afghan author is being compared with a Nobel-price winner.
    You are not the only one to praise dr. Arghands novels. There are many more that absolutely fell in love with his novels and wrote about their love for it.
    From all of his short stories, from way back, I love “Churihae shekasta” and “Zane Badkara” the most. It is written in a very special and difrent way.
    I have also found out that dr. Arghand’s novels are being used for people that research languages and dialects.
    I think that Afghanistan will slowly change with the new globalisation, with the Americans there. It will probably lose most of it’s things. But dr. Arghand’s novels will be the only real Afghan things left there.
    Thank you for writing these very true things about one of the greatest Afghans authors.

  3. my oh my… we’ve got a little ‘babrak arghand fan club’ going on… i am so glad that the two of you (shaharzaad jan and sadaf jan) left these comments. the titles in sadaf jan’s comment remind me of the stories i read so many years ago and now i really want to go out and find the book from one of the bookstores of kabul and read it all over again. and yes, it would be great if you could send me that short story (aina…). i will send you my email address.

  4. […] to a previous post on dr. babrak arghand related to a previous post on dr. babrak arghand’s writing […]

  5. see more about dr. Babarak Arghans on

  6. I like this post, i was using “green ribbons” in a poem today and while i was in my creative writing workshop some girl associated green with greed and evil. The poem was iranian based but most people don’t think outside of the normal associations of words, colors etc.

  7. thanks for the comment, faisal. would love to read your poem on the theme of green ribbons… and i agree with you on the need to deviate beyond the normal associations and connotations of words…

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