Kaka Rostam and Shahnameh
Royesh: Ustad, it seems that your Kaka Rostam’s passion lies in the Shahnameh and related subjects, as evidenced by the name he chose for his son, Sohrab. Could you describe the physical attributes of Kaka Rostam, such as his height and build? Your uncle and his son’s names are quite intriguing, and I would appreciate your artistic interpretation of them. As your father’s brother, Kaka Rostam shares the burden of bitter and difficult memories that have shaped your family. Perhaps by learning more about your uncle’s character, we can gain further insight into both your father and yourself. Please give more details about Kaka Rostam.
Musafir: Allow me to correct one point that you mentioned. I previously stated that Sohrab is Rostam’s son, which may be the case in the Shahnameh story. However, in my family, Rostam is the elder brother, followed by Sohrab as the second brother, and then Mihrab as my father, the third brother.
Royesh: Absolutely. I had assumed that Suhrab was Rustam’s son. Nevertheless, please share your thoughts about your Kaka Rustam and Kaka Suhrab. What comes to mind when you think of them?
Musafir: First and foremost, I feel compelled to describe their attitudes and treatment towards my other cousins and me. I owe it a duty and responsibility that I must fulfill. From my early years until the passing of my uncles six or seven years ago, when they were both in their mid-eighties, they treated us with utmost kindness and respect.
I recall that my uncles treated me with the kindness and affection they bestowed upon their children throughout my childhood, adolescence, and youth. I have never witnessed them display any sign of displeasure towards me. As a child, I frequently visited their home in Poli Sokhta, as I did not have any older brothers, and my younger siblings were still very young. I would go there to play with my cousins, who were the children of my uncle and aunt, as well as other Turkmen children. We would play on a field between Poli Sokhta and Poli Dr. Mehdi.
During that period, vast fields were close to Poli Sokhta, including a significant, level lot where we often played football. Two prominent individuals would play with us – Shaheed Nasir Rezai, who was in Dehmazang, and Gholam Pundi, who served as the deputy of Shaheed Commander Shafi. They were our teammates during those games.
Whenever I visited Poli Sokhta, my uncles always exhibited impeccable behavior toward me. They even gave me money whenever they provided for their children. At that time, money was referred to as “Poli Seyah” or “black coin,” and five Afghani was considered a significant amount. Their conduct was always astute and courteous. I never once witnessed them cast a harsh gaze in my direction or raise their voice at me. They always addressed me as “Najib Jan.”
I would also like to add that my Kaka Suhrab had a vibrant personality, brimming with stories and humor, whereas my Kaka Rustam was a severe and dignified individual. Despite his serious demeanor, Kaka Suhrab was also good-natured and always wished for his family’s happiness. Whenever there was a celebration or gathering, and his grandchildren and the children of his midwife were present, he would engage in heartfelt conversations with everyone to ensure that all were content and joyous.
My Kaka Rustam used to read Hafez’s poems to us. During the reign of Dawood, when I was a teenager, we would gather around the Sandali during wintertime. Kaka Rustam would then instruct us to bring berries, walnut, raisins, peas, and tea, and he would narrate the story of Rustam and Suhrab.
Royesh: Did your Kaka Rustam recount the story of Rustam and Suhrab purely from memory, or did he read it directly from the Shahnameh book?
Musafir: He read the story from the Shahnameh book. During that time, there were no TVs or tape recorders, and the economy was weak, so tape recorders were not common. The only available recording device was a gramophone, which played disc music. Cinema was present, but children were not permitted to attend, and elders would occasionally recount stories about movies. Most of the films shown were Indian and Bollywood movies. My uncle would read the Shahnameh story beautifully and engagingly, accompanied by his performance and actions, making it very appealing and heartwarming for us.
Royesh: Did your uncle only read the Shahnameh, or did he also read Hamlayi Heydari? Since back then, whenever there was a Shahnameh book in a Shia and Hazara household, there must have been copies of Hamlayi Heydari too.
Musafir: Yes, Hamlayi Heydari was also available, but to be honest, we did not find it as interesting. Although Hamlayi Heydari was a valuable and significant book, the story of Rustam and Suhrab captivated us more. My uncle would act out the story while recounting it, such as mimicking Rustam’s sword strikes.
Full-fledged Jowali (Porter)
Roysh: Can you tell me more about your other sisters? Do you have any other siblings in Kabul?
Musafir: Certainly. I have an older sister named Fowzia, two years older than me. She resides in Kabul with her husband, two sons, and four daughters. Her sons and daughters are married. My sister has several grandchildren who also live in the city, just like many of our fellow citizens and loved ones currently facing harsh, challenging circumstances in Kabul.
Royesh: Could you please provide me with some details about your brothers? You mentioned having two brothers. Where are they currently located, and what do they do for a living?
Musafir: I am grateful that both of my brothers are still alive. One lives in Kabul, while the other resides in Islamabad, Pakistan. My brother in Kabul attended Military University and earned a degree in logistics while serving in the army during Babarak Carmel’s time. However, when the Mujahideen came to power, he left the military and focused on reading books.
Royesh: That’s interesting. What is your brother’s name who lives in Kabul?
Musafir: His name is Homayun Ershad.
Royesh: How old is your brother? Is he married, and if so, how many children does he have?
Musafir: Homayun is four years younger than me. He is married and has five children; three daughters and two sons. One of his daughters is already married, while another is studying engineering. The third daughter is also pursuing her studies. One of his sons lives in Kabul, while the other resides in Virginia, USA, with his aunt. He has been in the United States for over fifteen years.
After arriving in America, I visited my nephew for the first time after the film shows. Since we lived in the same place in Kabul, in my father’s mansion, my nephew was like one of my children. His aunt is also my uncle’s daughter and works as an engineer. They graciously showed me around during my stay with them and took great care of me. They knew of my appreciation for nature and beauty and took me to various sights. Although I am not overly concerned about my dietary needs, they were attentive to my meals and provided appropriate food.
For me, natural and artistic beauty must be preserved and maintained. Nothing brings me greater pleasure than observing a well-groomed and aesthetically pleasing environment. I delight in hearing beautiful sounds and music, which nourish me mentally and spiritually. Individuals must prioritize nourishing their bodies, stomachs, souls, and spirits. We must consider the importance of feeding our souls, as well as our physical bodies.
My nephew was well aware of my interests and passions. He made it a point to take me out to explore Virginia’s natural and picturesque landscapes whenever the weather was favorable. I took numerous photographs of the stunning scenery. Fortunately, another one of my uncle’s daughters resided nearby. As I mentioned previously, I have two uncles: Rostam and Sohrab. Rostam was my older uncle, and his younger brother, who was older than my father, was named Sohrab.
Royesh: Ustad, you talked about your brothers and mentioned Humayun. But you did not speak about Farhad in detail. Where is he now?
Musafir: Farhad Jan resides in Islamabad, Pakistan, with his two sons and daughter. However, unfortunately, in 2015, before I moved to Canada, his wife fell ill and passed away. This issue had a profound impact on me and caused great sadness.
Farhad Jan used to work as an English teacher at the Abdul Rahim Shahid school. After I moved to Canada, Farhad Jan secured a job at a small carpet company. One of my nieces, currently living in Vancouver, Canada, opened a company in Afghanistan. He appointed his sister’s husband as the head of the company and offered the position of Vice President to Farhad Jan due to his proficiency in English.
Hussain, my niece’s sister-in-law’s husband, who is alos my sister’s son-in-law, is not well-educated. As a result, Farhad Jan was responsible for managing all the administrative tasks and overseeing the production of hundreds of meters of handwoven carpets, which were then shipped to Canada. Even when the company participated in international carpet exhibitions, such as in China, Europe, and America, Hussain, the company president, was always the one who attended. My niece did not feel the need to send his uncle on any of these trips.
The company’s management and key decisions were made by my niece, Nasim, who was based in Vancouver, Canada. He provided guidance and did not deem it necessary to send Farhad Jan, who served as the company’s Vice President, on any business trips.
When I was in the United States, my niece Nasim traveled from Vancouver to Seattle to participate in film shows. On this trip, he was incredibly pompous, and I witnessed a new side of his character that I had not seen before while he had grown up in our home and under our care. Back then, Nasim was studying at Jihadi Danesh.
One day, I realized that Nasim was absent from class. I went to speak with him at Poli Sokhta and asked why he was not attending classes at Jihadi Danesh. He responded that he did not have the necessary funds to pay for the course. I spoke to the financial manager, Ali Alavi, and requested that Nasim no longer be charged for his classes. I promised to pay for his tuition myself. This was a case he mentioned to me several times in Vancouver.
Anyway, during my time in the United States, I observed that he was pretty pompous, even though, for me, he was my little niece. Upon arriving in Canada, he contacted me multiple times, urging me to come to see him. He told me he owned a carpet store and suggested I join him to work in the shop. He told me he had a shop and several employees. “Just come and get the key”, he said. “open up the store whenever you wish”. You don’t have to do anything else.
Additionally, he mentioned that Vancouver is an incredibly picturesque city with plenty of photogenic spots. I expressed my interest in visiting such a place. Despite the reservations expressed by my daughter and son-in-law, Rahmat, who implored me not to go, I ultimately decided to make the trip as I needed the money.
Upon my arrival at the shop, I discovered that it was pretty sizable, housing over five thousand handwoven carpets from Afghanistan, Iran, and India and machine-made rugs from Turkey. My niece, Nasim’s wife, is from my mother’s side, my father’s great-grandchild, and Tajik on the other side through her father.
Indeed, my niece was also part of our family, and I often liken her to my daughter, Freshta. While working at the shop, I pondered why Nasim had claimed to have a family carpet business, even though he had not worked in the industry in Afghanistan. This implied that he was from a long line of carpet and rug merchants stretching back through the generations.
Nasim’s mother, who was my older sister and had passed away a year prior, once called me to inquire about Nasim’s purported shop in Canada. I confirmed to her that Nasim indeed had a shop, and in response, she expressed her belief in the veracity of my statement.
In short, my niece had recruited his other uncle, an English teacher in Kabul, to work at his company. When he invited me to visit, his intention was not me, simply open and close the shop. Initially, he was very hospitable toward me. However, I eventually took photographs of all five thousand carpets and edited them in Photoshop. I then used the images to create advertising brochures and distributed them tirelessly in all kinds of weather, whether it was hot, raining, or snowing.
While working at the shop, I was accompanied by a friend of my niece, Hamid. Hamid was the brother of Farhad Violin, a renowned musician in Afghanistan, and was known for being a kind and amiable person. He had studied agriculture at Kabul University. Hamid and I would spend our days distributing approximately 1,200 advertising brochures door-to-door in a van to attract potential customers to the shop. On one particularly grueling day, we tracked the distance we had traveled on our phones and discovered that we had walked approximately thirty-five kilometers.
Royesh: So, it seems like the task was much more than just opening and closing the shop.
Musafir: Yes, that’s correct. He had a plan in mind. He knew I was trustworthy and a close relative and that having me in his shop would make him proud to claim he had given a job to his uncle. He thought I took pictures of his carpets, helped him create and distribute the brochures, and opened the shop when he visited exhibitions.
Sometimes, we had to unload a truck full of carpets and pack them back up after exhibitions. He had turned me into a full-fledged Jowali – porter. Despite this, I didn’t say anything because he was my niece, and financial support was also important to me.
Royesh: How much did he pay you, Ustad? I want to see if the amount of hard work you put in was worth it.
Musafir: He paid me around fifteen hundred dollars per month.
Royesh: So, that’s around fifty dollars a day if you worked all thirty days of the month without a break?
Musafir: Yes, exactly.
Royesh: That’s quite challenging work for that amount of pay. Did you at least get a day off?
Musafir: In the beginning, I stayed at his house for about the first five or six months. In the early days, I requested my housing unit so that both could be more comfortable.