Friday, January 15, 2016

“Teaching you, heals me.”

The challenges of moving countries twice in less than two years can leave you drained physically and emotionally. As much as you like being a nomad, sometimes, when you find a good spot, you just want to settle down and rest. I had just done that in Australia, when I had to suddenly move back to India. My mind wasn't at ease and I kept looking for things to do to escape my surroundings. And so I joined Pax Populi.

I thought if I met people and learnt about their struggles in a war-torn country, I might feel better about my situation. At least I didn't have to run away from home the way millions of Afghan refugees did over the last four decades. What I hadn't imagined was that I would get the most optimistic person I had ever met as my student, Jami. I wanted to hear about the horrors of the war played up by the media, he introduced me to the beauty and poetry of Herat.

We struck a deal: I would help Jami better his spoken and written English and he would teach me a bit of Dari and Farsi. We chatted about everything - monuments, treks, love, romance, marriage, relationships, Rotary, donations, domestic violence, South Asia, poetry, art, destiny, luck, French, German, Bollywood, America, degrees, universities, TOEFL, schools, friendship, religion, politics and food – using a combination of English, Farsi, Dari, Urdu and Hindi. When Jami did not understand a word I used in English, I would tell him the corresponding word in Urdu and then would ask him if the same word was there in Farsi or Dari. Not only did his English get better but also I realised that my knowledge of Urdu and Farsi wasn't as bad as I thought.

Jami introduced me to his favourite singer, Ahmed Zahir. In the 1960s and 70s, Ahmed Zahir was known as the Elvis of Afghanistan. The man even looked the part! During a session at the online Pax Populi Academy, Jami kept singing Zahir's song, Ay Jaan-e-man AsiratI loved the tune and tried to learn the words of the song after the session. I recorded it and then sent it to him on Whatsapp. He was surprised. Though there were a few mistakes in the pronunciation, he loved the effort I had put in to try singing a Dari song.


For most of us, singing or listening to a song is no big deal. But for someone who had to live without music under the Taliban for more than a decade, it's too precious to lose again. Jami and I started a dialogue with music – American, British, Australian, Indian, Pakistani, Afghan, Iranian and even Korean. These daily exchanges helped me overcome my depression. I told him, “Teaching you heals me.” He said, “It heals me more.”


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