9 December 2008

Atiq Rahimi and Sayd Bahodine Majrouh

It seems odd to say that someone who is called Afghanistan's 'only great postmodern writer' is obscure, but this is just what the poet Sayd Bahodine Majrouh (1928–88) is in England at least, and I suspect in many other countries too. Atiq Rahimi (winner of this year's Prix Goncourt with Syngué Sabour: pierre de patience) writes about his literary hero in this month's Magazine littéraire. He remembers picking up his Ajdahaï khodi (roughly 'The Dragon of the Self' or 'The Self Dragon') at 15 and greeting it with incomprehension, but nevertheless feeling that it had a magnetic power. He had the same feelings about the banned book after the Soviet invasion, when he was fortunate enough to rediscover it in a cardboard box of his father's: Majrouh had been an active member of the resistance against the invasion; but after being advised to read Carl Gustav Jung's Man and His Symbols, he understood that Majrouh was writing about the collective unconscious.

Majrouh was born in Afghanistan, received his doctorate in Montpellier, France, and taught Literature in Kabul before becoming Governor of the Province of Kapiça. Following the Soviet invasion, he went into exile in Pakistan, where some years later he was machine-gunned to death by Islamists in Peshawar.

Rahimi says that Majrouh lived beyond political, ethnic, linguistic or philosophical barriers. He is most noted for Ego Monstre, a large work in two volumes.

Mahjrouh first wrote Ego Monstre in Persian, re-wrote (not translated) it in Pashto, and almost completely re-wrote it in French. And the books are different, Rahimi says, 'not to adapt his writing and his thought to another culture and vulgarise it. Far from it. He was re-thinking and re-writing his texts to bring out another dimension to his works […]. His intensely visionary writings, though rooted in the contemporary history of Afghanistan, can never be reduced to present-day anecdotes. In everything he wrote, History becomes transformed into ‘epic fable’, and human tragedy into myth. In this way, his works become universal and timeless.’

Unfortunately, virtually none of his poetry is at present available in English. The Library of Congress redirects the name ‘Sayd Bahodine Majrouh’ to Majrūḥ, Bahāʾ al-Dīn, which is the only name the British Library recognises.

(My translation from the original French.)


Anonymous said...

I happened across your post and thought you might be interested in the 2009 Afghanistan calendar just printed by Rubia, Inc. which features the women's landays collected by Majrouh during the Soviet occupation.

Tony Shaw said...

Thanks for this!

lisa said...

Do you know if it is possible to find the landays in the original Pashto?