The Silk Route

This post is submitted by reader Jolly Shah

I am about to complete a year in Afghanistan this August. Before I moved here, I had decided to write about the country and my experiences here but I procrastinated until I got this urge today to write. And write first about what- women and Afghanistan! Before my first visit here in 2011, whenever I thought of Afghanistan, the image that came in front of my eyes was of women walking in blue burqas- the special burqas called “shuttle cock” burqas wore by women in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. I am aware that what Muslim women wear has come under scrutiny for all the right and wrong reasons for a while but these Afghan blue burqas, I am intrigued with and I am sure this is case with many of us.

I must admit that there is a lot more to Afghanistan than these images of blue ghostlike figures walking. The country’s history predates ancient silk route and Alexander’s conquest, is a melting pot for South Asia and Central Asia and culturally speaking- melting pot also for Indian subcontinent and Persian cultures. There is a lot more I can go on writing but I will keep that for other articles. The more I am knowing this country, the more I am fascinated and falling in love with it even when I see it more and more as a beautiful country with ugly problems and even uglier geopolitics!

For now, I will go back to my first image of Afghanistan- women in blue burqas. I have not come to terms with it and I do not know if I ever will. Wearing these burqas separate women from their environment and in some ways gives them protection as they become invisible. To me and to many others, they are epitome of suppression of women. And height of suppression would be to deny someone their identity. Few years ago when I joined international charity Oxfam that strived to work globally with one of their aims- Right to an identity. Initially, it did not impress me much, however, the more I lived, the more I learnt about the world, I realised how millions of people, especially women are denied an identity! Coming from India, like most patriarchal societies, so far, your identity was about being someone’s daughter, wife or mother. Old saying in Gujarati even proclaimed women to be source of conflict putting them at par with land and gold; thus nothing more than one of the properties of a man.

Blue Burqas


It is interesting to study Afghan culture where honour is the utmost important thing even to the poorest man. The country has endemic domestic violence and violence against girls/women in the most atrocious forms you can think of. However, what I don’t see is the regular harassment on the street or ill-treatment of women in the public that we experience in India on everyday basis. It led me to think how come a culture where violence against women is so prevalent, however, is limited to the four walls only? Ah…women are subject of man’s honour! You may kill them, torture them in private with most heinous crime you can do against women but in public they are symbol of a man’s honour and messing up with it means your generations will keep killing each other for the animosity you will saw by jeopardising a man’s honour and his property! In my genocide special class in Oxford, I remember being told how rape is being used as an instrument of war and it is a man talking to another man! Rape as an act of genocide, where a man is communciating to the other men that your women will bear our children (and not yours)! What makes Afghan situation unique is the lethal combination of Pashtunwali (the Pashtun code) and fundamentalist Islam and the relatively liberal non-pashtuns too follow similar standards for treatment of women partly due to residual effect of Taliban ruling and partly by choice, hence the ubiquitous blue burqas!

A Pakistani friend from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa told me that these shuttle cock burqas were widely seen during his mother’s day and now they see it as symbol of dumbness. He added that women wearing shuttlecock burqa are perceived to be so dumb that they can’t even cross road properly. I wanted to know more about it so I asked this friend to bring one for me. Besides my curiosity about it, it is a security/defence tool allowing me to run on the street in event of an attack. Over a social evening, me and our diplomatic guests had good go at trying it on (including one of the ambassadors of a western European country) and having a good laugh but in that process we realised there is barely 2-3 inches of netted space that is your window to the world. Of course you cant see car passing by due to limited vision and your are likely to be seen dumb while crossing road and that too with 2-3 children and some shopping that you are carrying.

And then I got invited to two different Afghan wedding parties for women. I was stunned with what I saw there! Underneath those blue burqas, there are these absolutely stunning women, they have a personality; they have an identity. My own colleagues whom I did not seen before without a hijab were without one and their hair open and flowing with smart make up on just made me feel great about who they are and they too echo similar feelings! One of them who is in her mid-forties told me that when she went to university in Mazar more than 20 years ago, she has a bob cut hair and she wore knee-length skirts! I had to remind myself that I live in a country with beautiful men and women and no doubt the first beauty cream of India was named “Afghan Snow”!

There are lot many interesting things about Afghanista and women in Afghanistan. I hope to tell more and more stories of it in coming days.

34 thoughts on “The Silk Route

  1. Niceqpost…Afghanistan is a patriarchal society. Lack of empowerments of women’s in Afghanistan is due to the instability of the country by continuous war and annexation .
    “Women struggle and fight for freedom of an identity.”
    Thanks for sharing.


  2. This is beautiful write up. Often the reality is very different than what we can see as visitor to a culture. e.g. last paragraph. And there are many more interesting aspects of Afghan culture. What is important is to become part of the culture and explore the variety that nature has.

  3. Dear Shekhar ji, by reading the blog i thought i stall aground the Afghanistan, I likes your way of writing. I have got some idea that how women are leaving in Afghanistan. I think one day women of Afghanistan will succeed to get her identity, she will work freely for all round development of her country. So hope for the best.
    Sharad Pant

  4. Dear Shekharji,

    Thank you for sharing the ‘Mickey Mouse In Mumbai’ video. It has a funny resonating feel to it, which is very entertaining and enjoyable at the same time.

    The use of ‘animals’ (even for Elephant God) in this allegory will hopefully not be misconstrued as derogatory offense, but as a freedom of expression for harmless humor. The same argument perhaps applies over the censoring debate on permissiveness in cinema. Usage of puns is a similar style of expression, and should be read in a contextual basis. Simulated intercourse on screen or other such permissiveness is hardly a higher form of art with sociological significance. However, an artist cannot marginalize the power of suggestion, be it for the sake of humor or any other purpose.

    There is no denial that eroticism has its own market. It thus easily pervades into our commercial entertainment space, just like any popular publishing house cannot neglect the economic consequences of not having gossip columns in daily tabloids. However, overdose of eroticism often skews the mindset of general audience leading to objectification of women as ‘sex objects’ in an inherently patriarchal society. This invariably leads to increased sexual violence and abuse against women.

    And we thus arrive at an ironical corollary. If the purpose is to entertain for a profit, then it is logical on the part of investors to succumb to current market demands and play to the gallery. But should that be done at the cost of ‘content’?

    This is not a question of ‘individualistic’ freedom on artistic expressions and creativity. It rather needs to be probed with the perspective of social influence. Film is a versatile form of art that cuts across all layers of society. Consequently, it bears the responsibility of taking our society forward, rather than maintaining status quo.

    Ideas are always difficult to explicate without bringing them to fruition. Hence, prototyping is the nascent step towards any product development and realization. However, pilot consumer programs cannot be conducted without specifications. It is absolutely essential to tailor such efforts based on product design and platform features. There is bound to be an increasing gap between design and advertising if product specifications are not clearly communicated nor documented. The product cannot be customized to consumer needs unless marketing team passes on their survey results to the designer in a timely manner.

    The recent coverage on Google Glass, perhaps serves as an appropriate case study. A poorly conceived pilot consumer program can easily go haywire while exploring consumer interests. This can lead to many app developers pulling out at an early stage of product launch. Such bad taste left in the mouths of investors, customers and developers alike, is usually due to poor specs and lack of proper marketing strategy.

    Our PM Narendra Modi is undoubtedly enthusiastic and passionate about his ‘Make In India’ pitch. However, he first needs to fly a few projects off the ground, in order to make it a reality. The other areas of focus need to be on Education and Healthcare sectors, for a brighter future. And he needs to move on from words to action.

    I would like to end this note by quoting Ray – “The rude fact is, cinema has never been saved by writers. We may have more of them now than ever before, but at the same time there are more and stronger shoulders now to shrug them off. No. Words are not enough. Words need the backing of action, or there is no revolution. And the only action that counts is that which a film maker calls into play by snapping out his word of command in his own particular field of battle.”

    ~ Anupam

    #Pun #Permissiveness #Content #Marketing #MakeInIndia

  5. Dear Shekharji,

    Thank you, Sir! If I get a chance to contribute to MakeInIndia, I will give it my very best.
    Please summon me when you need me.

    Best Regards and Warm Wishes.


  6. Dear Shekharji,

    Fall of Berlin Wall is a historic moment. However, for real Development, we need to play our cards well.

    We will need funds and resources to do so. It is best that you leverage on our brand name and go for mergers and acquisitions with key players right away. We will need strategic partnerships with the right people for everyone’s benefit.

    I think I can help you in choosing partners, if only you allow me. Cant see any harm in chatting outside the limitations of Twitter at this point.

    Best Regards and Warm Wishes.

  7. Dear Sekharji,

    I hope you had some fun listening to the birthday song on our platform. That mathematical cake was for you only 🙂

    Best Regards,

  8. Dear Sir,

    My book has finally come to an end. And yes, I slept very well last night.

    As for ‘What Happened Before Big Bang’ – that question is perhaps not important, specially when you can shape the current world instead. If you choose to accept me as your extended arm, then perhaps slight atrophy of your muscles is no longer a limiting factor for another decade of work.

    If you need to insist on background check, then I may take the privilege of suggesting you to view Becket (1964).

    “Where Lies Becket’s Honor?” Perhaps, you always had the answer.


  9. Dear Shekharji,

    Congratulations on the tie-up of Qyuki with Fullscreen!

    Very happy with such an venture for content creation. Would have been really nice to receive an official invitation for screening of Sulemaani Keeda – but I guess its not meant to be.

    Like you always say, I too believe in quality of content over budgets. Nolan learnt the basics of filmmaking by shooting a no-budget film (Following) on 35 mm format, without much privilege of resources. Dats the way forward I guess, if I dont get your direct reply.


  10. Interesting read…what I want to know is what do women think of this blue prison shaped burqua really? Do they accept it out of fear or would they chose to wear it if never forced to?

    And do most men out there think it is honorable and manly to treat women like property. It always confounds me how women let freedom slip out of their hands time and time again over the ages….

    Maybe I feel it starts with women wanting to belong to someone..and the seed that you ought to be somebody’s property starts there…you may prized and displayed or discarded and ignored but your will is out of the way once you accept that your worth is attached to man’s claim upon you…maybe that is why women spend so much time decorating themselves and being eye catching..maybe to catch the eye of someone who will value them better..but almost always their value is decided by someone else. Or maybe that is too simplistic an understanding.. I can’t believe at times the story of Afghanistan….I read articles that show that back in the 70’s and 80’s Afghanistan was a liberal modern society with beautiful independent women living and walking about freely and then this dreadful horror that it has now become…a deserted concentration camp, where women’s very dress is like a prison…if the Fundamental of Islam is so oppressive then it is fundamentally not good. I mean even the goats and sheep etc. can walk about in their own skin but not women!

  11. Dear Shekharji,

    Here is an interesting trivia I wanted to share with you …

    At the age of 69, Terrence Malick had directed only 6 feature length films.

    However, currently at 71, he has directed 2 films back-to-back and both scheduled to release next year; along with a documentary film (Voyage of Time) as well. He has also been producing ‘The Better Angel’, which will again release next year.

    Here is the trailer of his first film ‘Knight of Cups’ –

    And here is the trailer of ‘The Better Angels’ that he is producing –

    Best Regards,

  12. Dear Shekharji,

    My interests encapsulate film-making, education & research. And I regret to inform that I am neither an expert nor Knowledgable about patients of intestinal cancer or any other forms of cancer.
    My sincere apologies.


  13. Dear Shekharji,

    Its not often, that one gets an invitation to meet his most respected director at his fav writing den @ Palo Alto. Unfortunately, I was not around Bay Area at that time to make most of that opportunity.

    However, that invitation itself deserved a special Thanksgiving this year. May I be presumptuous enough to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson on the meeting that never happened but yet was relived on social media?

    “Tis the good reader that makes the good book; in every book he finds passages which seem confidences or asides hidden from all else and unmistakably meant for his ear; the profit of books is according to the sensibility of the reader; the profoundest thought is discovered by an equal mind and heart.”

    Wishing you a Merry Christmas!

    Best Regards,
    ~ Anupam

  14. Dear Shekharji,

    I believe Rajkumar Hirani’s strength lies in satirical comedy, strong content & emotional connect. And he keeps doing it over & over again. Loved PK!


    ~ Anupam

  15. … And he brings out the best from Aamir.

    Aamir once acknowledged that after watching Munnabhai films he was determined to work with Rajkumar Hirani. Great choice imo.

    Best Regards,
    ~ Anupam

  16. Very glad to see PK’s box-office collections in the highest bracket so far. This puts our faith back in mainstream commercial films.

    It will also give Rajkumar Hirani and his team more scope, as far as future work is concerned.

    ~ Anupam

  17. Always good to see good films doing well at box-office – adds some meaning to all the number crunching and accounting imo.

  18. Dear Shekharji,

    The glass of life is never completely full. We are freezing all operations at midnight (as per as I am concerned).

    Best Regards,
    ~ Anupam

  19. … Also, I think BJP is in best position to form a strong opposition at J&K, to achieve their long term goals. The party’s focus shud now move on to Delhi & Bengal.

    ~ Anupam

  20. Dear Shekharji,

    Thank you (as always)! I will be submitting my entry for sH2Orts and hope for a masterclass with you.

    Best Regards,
    ~ Anupam

  21. Dear Shekharji,

    Wishing you a Happy 2015! Keeping myself busy shooting some short films till I get to hear from you. A couple of them are dedicated to World Water Day.

    Best Regards,
    ~ Anupam

  22. Dear Shekharji,

    Nothing like starting a new year by shooting a short film … Now on to post productions.

    Best Regards,
    ~ Anupam

  23. Wonderful post. I have heard that the life of Afghan women are very terrible. They struggle at every point for their life and freedom. Thank u for the share of the originality. Keep posting with lots more.

  24. Hello Shekhar sir, sorry for posting it here…You are one of few film-makers with whom i really want to work…Here is a short note about myself…There is only one thing i love about this world and that is cinema…Its the only reason i am still living in this world…I don’t know any other thing apart from making movies..I wanted to be in films since i was 13 or 12…I watch all types of movies and from all over the world…I love all the genres but personal fav, are are science fiction dystopian stories, fantasy and simple drama…My Fav. film are Lost in Translation by Sofia Coppola, A Bittersweet Life by Jee Kim Woon, BlueBird by Mijke De Jong, Dil Chahta Hai by Farhan Akhtar…My Fav directors are Terrence Malick, Mike Leigh, Francois Truffaut, Akira Kurusowa, Stanely Kubrick and Satyajit Ray and Many more…No Matter how much i write words can’t fulfill my love for movies….

    1.The Last Sunshine – – Selected for screening at Portobello Film Festival 2013 in Video Café Section at Westbourne Studios, London, Selected for Screening at Forest Hill Film Festival, London 2014.

    2. Gunjan By The Way –

    3.Being Educated – Saurav’s Journey –

    4. Being Educated – Vijayvaral’s Story –

    5.On Road- Xomic Book Version… –

    6. On Road Pepsi Ad Ver 2.0 ……..The Original –

    7. Abstract – – Officially selected for Screening at 2nd Antalya Lemon Short Film Days – Turkey..

    8.Making of On-Road Pepsi Commercial –

    Rishi Goswami

  25. They say Life is a Circle … While that is of course true, there is another parallel geometric entity that has been equally relevant through ages … And that is a ‘Triangle’.


    And as an elusive Santa said – “HOHOHOHOHOHOHOHO!!!”

  26. Dear Sir,

    In our Age of Information, it is no good to ignore rare & vital information (specially contact information).

    With all due respect and sincere regards, you have my contact information – yet you choose to only converse with Anupam Kher.

    ~ Anupam Kundu

  27. Abstraction & Precision – Play of Duality … Double attempts from me for sh2orts … All focus on to meet the deadline now.

  28. Dear Shekharji,

    Low-end consumer cam & iMovie can only suffice Rough Cuts.
    Adobe Premier Pro is the answer for Final Cuts. Expertise is a growing process, has its own built-up with time. #ObamaInIndia

    Happy Republic Day!

    Best Regards,
    ~ Anupam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.