Farshad Returns To The Cinema
The Taliban have gone – left Kabul. Some enterprising local, remembering the old times reopens an old cinema and starts running Hollywood and occasionally erotic films. First he puts on Hollywood classics, then some old films of Emmanuelle and softcore eroticism from the seventies and eighties, which have somehow survived the bombardments of the city and the searches of the city, which some mujahadeen groups, and particularly the Taliban, conducted, in which much of the ancient heritage, particularly of the older religions of the region, were wiped out.
Anything which showed pictures of female bodies, and even female faces, was proscribed and torn out or burned. Feminine beauty in those days disappeared from the streets and shops and went underground. But there could never be much of an underground! The consequences were too frightening – a beating or a whipping, or imprisonment or death, as the Wahabi extremists tried to enforce their own way of thinking on a cowed population, who had only just begun to grow away from centuries of tradition and see a wider world of understanding and feeling.
Liberators from the north had come, kinsmen, comrades, fellow Afghans from different tribal regions, with tanks and guns, and with Americans and other foreign allies. Suddenly everything was open. Women stepped out from their homes, in which they had been incarcerated for so long, but they did not dare take off the veils and burkahs that the crude Taliban had forced upon them. Not just yet, not until they were certain their enslavers would not return!
Farshad Returns To The Cinema
To his surprise Farshad saw the cinema shutters had been raised. He had walked past here many times in recent years, but this was the first time he had seen the old cinema opening. Could the cinema be open, so soon after the fanatics’ downfall? There were many who remembered the cinema from the times when it was possible to go here and not feel afraid. At one time even women had come here when all the family came to watch the films from America, Britain and France, or the Soviet Union. In times of instability or religious control, when women had to be careful to go out in public, men had still ventured here at one time, to see their favourite Hollywood films and the beautiful actresses from over distant seas or land. Farshad himself had fond memories of evenings spent here in his younger days absorbing the culture of the West and of the Soviets, and enjoying the gloss and beauty of the foreign women, so much more alive and alluring than local Afghan women were ever allowed to be. He had loved their poise and elegance, their dangerous independent ferocity. Despite their being actresses he had always known that these women were being their real selves. They had character, were allowed to show their beauty, and they controlled or inspired men, in ways their Afghan counterparts had rarely been allowed to.
He went to the door, which was open in the afternoon sun. The reserve he would have felt in the recent past was gone today. Once he would have been scared to investigate for the fear of being reported to the Taliban police or the militants of other previous warlords. The reports of enemies could so easily be embellished, and it was always better to avoid creating suspicions. To stay in your own house or apartment was always the safest plan. But he had seen the northern fighters returning to the city under the leadership of their warlords yesterday, with their tanks and with American allies. He had seen the Taliban peasant warriors and their Arab fanatic allies fleeing the city just before, as they set torch to certain buildings. The men of the city were out in the open today, laughing and joking with their liberators, the returning exiled soldiers of the city and their northern allies.
To a man who had loved Hollywood and all it represented so much it seemed so marvellous to see the American tanks and to welcome them as liberators. How long had he prayed for Hollywood to liberate his godforsaken country. He had spoken to Americans in his broken half learned and long unused English language about his favourite films and actresses. He felt as if he was in Europe after their massive war which he had seen in films so often before, welcoming the generous heroes from the West. Together the Americans and the Russians with their allies had defeated the intolerant Nazis. He had heard the Russians were now at peace with the Americans again, past differences buried, allies again, as it should always have been. The rivalry of the superpowers had caused the country to be torn apart, but now they were together against the religious fanatics who had so rudely been able to take over the land in the civil wars. Now the Taliban fanatics had gone and because he saw Americans with their tanks here at last he believed it would be forever. He fervently hoped so. All would be healed and the country could at last be at peace.
Farshad entered the old cinema through the old door, and to his surprise could hear music along the corridor. He had not heard music in a long time. Music had been banned by the Taliban, and certainly the listening of European or American music had been punishable with strong deterrents. He had heard of neighbours whose musical equipment had been destroyed when the Taliban police had searched their property. They had taken his own record player away a long time ago, but it had not been working at that time. Frequent power cuts prevented most people from listening even if they had managed to hide equipment from police or neighbours. Those caught actually playing music had faced beatings and even imprisonment. The music sounded like rock’n’roll. He hadn’t heard that for years, but loved it when he was younger. He liked all the music of America and Europe. He loved the great musicals, the classics, jazz, rock and soul. He had been deprived of all of it, like all of his countrymen. All of the good things in life, all of the things that should have made life good!
The ticket kiosk was open. An older man, the same cinema proprietor from all those years before, was there with his adult son. Recognition flickered in the proprietor’s eyes as Farshad approached.
“I can’t believe it,” said Farshad. “You are trading again? I thought the cinema was gone for good.”
“It’s good to see another old customer back,” smiled the proprietor. “We have been here all the time in Kabul, but of course there was no way we could open for business. They would have come in and smashed all the equipment, and burned the films, if they had known it was all here.”
There was something different about the proprietor, but Farshad could not be sure what it was. He was unmistakably the same man, just quite a few years older than when Farshad had seen him last. Then it came to him. The proprietor had used to peer at the customers with his bright lively eyes through a beard. He had hidden himself behind its anonymity with a friendly welcoming smile. He never questioned or pried into the lives of his customers. That way he had always deserved their confidence. After the false morality and fear of recent times that confidentiality would be appreciated more than ever. But now the beard was gone; only a bushy Indian style moustache remained. Most men still sported their beards. Beards had been obligatory during the years of the Wahabi fanatics. Farshad had heard that many Kabul males were shaving away their beards as a statement against the Koranic terrorisers of the recent past. He contemplated whether he should perhaps do the same. Probably the proprietor had done the same, as a silent form of political statement.
Farshad wished him well and paid his entrance fee, which was no more than he could afford, even in this disaster zone which was his country. He went forward down the steps and into the cinema. It remained unchanged from his memory of the place. How could it be that so little in here could have changed inside when the city outside had been to hell and back more than once in the intervening years.