Cover photo of 'The Taliban and I' by Sushmita Bandyopadhyay. (Image by Arrangement)
I don’t know what I should do. There’s no doubt that I could be the lamb set up for slaughter. You never know, if they don’t find Siddique they may well turn their guns on me instead.
Meanwhile, there’s the sound of firing again. Not too far away either — someone standing right next to me is firing in the air. All their attacks are being launched against the sky today. Afghanistan’s sky is riddled with bullets, it isn’t safe or intact anymore. The blue colour of the sky has vanished entirely.
Two of the militants have opened the main gate. Other militants are streaming in. Four or five of them are breathing down my neck now. One of them tilts his head, looks me up and down, and tells the others, ‘Tas tul ugra, da khaja saranga kali agusthal. Look, everyone, this woman is dressed in a shirt!’
Then they ask me directly, ‘Tu aili dagasa panjapi kali agusthal? Sarmiyeze na? Why are you dressed in shalwar-kameez? Don’t you have any shame?’
What should I tell them? Where has everyone in the house gone? Can they not see me being harassed? Am I supposed to shout for Siddique Ahmed? Why are they all hiding, why aren’t they coming together as a group to take on these men? I’m sweating profusely despite the bone-chilling cold. My eyes are filled with tears. I rack my brains, but I cannot fathom how to deal with this situation. One of them asks again, ‘Tu na wai Siddique chiroda? So you won’t tell us where Siddique is?’
Gathering my courage in my hands, I say, ‘Tas oili na maane? Ma nada maloom. Siddique sukda? Why won’t you believe me, I really don’t know. Who’s Siddique?’
I have no choice but to lie, or they’re going to pin me down again. I add, ‘We don’t live here, we’re only here for a wedding.’
Now it becomes clear why they’re looking for Siddique.
They say, ‘We’re the Taliban. Tell Siddique to come here. We have a score to settle with him. He’s been spreading lies about us.’
Taliban? The same people who conquered Urgun a fortnight ago and are supposed to be holed up here in Ghazni? The same people who say they’re willing to lay down their lives to bring peace back to Afghanistan? I am perplexed now.
They continue, ‘We’re the Taliban, we’re the real Muslims. But Siddique is telling everyone we’re here out of greed for power. What proof does he have? If he cannot provide evidence, we will shoot him dead. Tell us at once where he is.’
Shoot him dead? They’re going to kill Siddique Bhai?
When I don’t answer, one of them grabs my dupatta. Another man rips my kameez. Then someone kicks me in the back. I fall on my face and start crying in terror.
Suddenly, Siddique’s mother and wife come out of the room. Siddique’s mother starts crying too and asks the Talibani men, ‘What’s she done to offend you? She’s married to someone from a different family. Why are you beating her up?’
The Taliban pay no attention to her. They go back inside the rooms, pull out everything they can and dump it all in the yard.
Excerpted with permission from The Taliban and I by Sushmita Bandyopadhyay, translated by Arunava Sinha, published by Eka, an imprint of Westland Books
The Taliban and I
By Sushmita Bandyopadhyay
Translated by Arunava Sinha
pp. 160, Rs 399