The New York Times features the life and writing of Matiullah Turab. Mr. Turab is a popular poet who performs throughout Afghanistan and works during the day as a metalsmith.
With his unflinching words, Mr. Turab, 44, offers a voice for Afghans grown cynical about the war and its perpetrators: the Americans, the Taliban, the Afghan government, Pakistan. War has turned into a trade Heads have been sold as if they weigh like cotton, and at the scale sit such judges who taste the blood, then decide the price Though poetry is loved, it seldom pays. Some writers have taken government jobs, finding the steady paycheck and modest responsibilities conducive to their work. Mr. Turab, for his part, has stuck to his dingy garage on the outskirts of Khost City. “This is my life, what you see here: banging iron, cutting it short, making it long,” he said. “I still don’t call myself a poet.” There is something else, which even the plain-spoken Mr. Turab seemed reluctant to confess: He is nearly illiterate. Though he can, with difficulty, read printed copy, he can neither write nor read the handwriting of others, he said. He constructs his poetry in his head, relying on memory to retain it and others to record it. Mr. Turab grew up in a small village of Nangarhar Province, poor even by Afghan standards. His father was a farmer, and grew just enough to feed the family. Though they had little, he fondly remembers his youth — particularly the days spent learning from the village poet, a man he grew to love for his sharp words and honesty. After the Soviet invasion in 1979, Mr. Turab, a teenager at the time, moved with his family to Pakistan. He came of age there, returning to Afghanistan only two decades later, with a trade, a wife and a modest following as a poet. He kept refining his craft after his return, cultivating a broader audience. Under Taliban rule, he dared to publish a book of his work — a grave mistake. “The Taliban beat me very badly,” he said, shaking his head, then proffering a smile. “After that, I decided publishing wasn’t such a good idea.” Though he is an unabashed Pashtun loyalist, he has no love for the Taliban, who are closely identified with Pashtun tribes. He says he loathes the terror they cultivate and the way they have destabilized Afghanistan. And he excoriates them, for being as inept and out of touch as the Western-backed government. O graveyard of skulls and oppression Rip this earth open and come out They taunt me with your blood, and you lie intoxicated with thoughts of virgins The dirt road outside his shop runs all the way to Pakistan, and its traffic is an economic lifeline. Vendors line the highway, selling everything from snow to keep the blistering heat at bay to seasonal fruit. Periodically a convoy of American vehicles passes, breaking the spell of an otherwise Afghan scene. “Sometimes I’m amazed that things aren’t falling apart,” he said, clasping his hands together as he reflected on years of war and foreign presence here. “But then I realize there is a social law here that holds the country together, even if there is no governmental law.”