Identity and space are two fundamental notions, primary to the self. An individual has to have an anchor, a foothold to cling on to, roots to fall back to, a propped existence to relate to and a substantive name to be addressed. In modern times, poets and writers have articulated literary theories that throw light at what in his article “Self Identification and Disidentification”, Will Parfitt describes as the “disidentifed” existence. The dislocation that an individual faces is not merely based on an imbalanced geographical experience but also the psychological tumults that come along with it. This article carries out an exegesis into some poems by Mahmoud Darwish and Khalid Husseini’s novel The Kite Runner.
The poem “Identity Card” by Darwish is a defiant blow to all the external agencies that marginalize the refugee entities, reducing them to either “absent”, “prisoners” or the “present absent”,
I am an Arab
And my identity card number is fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the ninth will come after a summer
Will you be angry?
Mahmoud Darwish voiced this psychological turmoil of millions of individuals who were displaced from and dispossessed of their identities as Palestinians. Lurking about in liminal and heterotopic spaces, the disidentified individuals viewed poems by Darwish as being instrumental in constructing avenues for reclaiming from within the mainstream a space of their own. Darwish’s poetic sensibilities crystallize the foundations of owning an identity that is matured by liminal spaces and an aura of “in-between-ness”; the exuberance and ecstasy of Darwish’s vision highlight how an individual’s multicultural disposition offer the traction to grip his own personal roots as Darwish discusses further in the “Identity Card’,
I am an Arab
I have a name without a title
Patient in a country
Where people are enraged
Were entrenched before the birth of time
This is also true for Darwish offering his words as a force that restores a bastion of hope for all those who are snagged between two identities and are deeply submerged in a morass of subjugated existences and dysfunctional attitudes, for instance in his poem “I Come from There”, he carries out an exegesis of the weight of past memories. These memories that belong to the refugees basically are entrenched deeply within their mental and psychological frameworks because they have no conscious memory of their past—it is solely broken cries and pretty synonymous to Derek Walcott’s poem “A Far Cry from Africa”, in which Walcott also talks about the “in-between-ness” in his personality and the zest to return to his roots. Interestingly therefore, the refugee experience of the Arabs, in consonance with their cultural disintegration is pretty in sync with the Caribbean experience of people like Jamaica Kincaid and Derek Walcott, because both these groups face the same kind of alterity, or “otherization”.
Henceforth, in the post-colonial era and within this prevalent generation’s mindsets, the idea of an independent identity and the obstinate pursuit of its acquisition needs to be given veritable significance, and this is precisely what Darwish also extolls upon when he refers to the cultural alienation of himself and millions like him in the ensuing words,
And the bounty of birds,
And the immortal olive tree.
I walked this land before the swords
Turned its living body into a laden table.
I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother
The idea that the “immortal olive tree” has been used as an allegorical reference adds to the notion that as long as the memories will continue to jolt the inner consciousness of the sufferers, there will be resistance and resilience and that shall be “immortal” in its sense of the word. “Birds” as another metaphor is very sharply representative of the “birds of prophecy” that in literature is popularly used in Grecian and Elizabethan drama to signify the prophesizing of the peril that awaits nations, and here Darwaish elaborates upon how the muzzled voices of the refugees and the peripheral entities will not remain benumbed forever—for they will retaliate with dignity to claim their roots, their identity and their lost name.
Gayatri Spivak in her post-colonial theory of alterity, a concept that describes the notion of the “self and the other”, talks about how every person is entitled to exercising his right to identity and individuality. She argues that countries that were colonized in the past, happen to experience their bygone generations bearing the disturbing burden of the past within their psychological apparatuses: a past replete with haunting narratives of slavery and marginalization. The following words from the same poem are very appropriate in highlighting how for the displaced individuals, all life’s social, moral and philosophical ideologies boil down to a single theme, “homeland”:
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland…
This is synonymous to Daoud Kamal’s novel, The Meursault Investigation, a work written in response to Albert Camus’s The Stranger, in which the protagonist kills an Arab on the beach without any rational explanation; the Arab is left voiceless and nameless and no credible investigation is ever made to direct justice for him. Kamal in his novel The Mersault Investigationgives the Arab a voice and articulates on his behalf. He says, “I will take the houses built by the colonizers, deconstruct them and rebuild a new language, a new house of my own”.
Darwish offers to them a tinge of positivity on two metaphysical levels; one, he solidifies an understanding that humans are synonymous to bundles of binaries and therefore human consciousness cannot be defined in absolute black-and-white terms; and two, he portrays that it is not necessary to side with any one of these binaries in terms of racial identity, religion or language/linguistic facility, which is why in the words of Munir Ghannam and Amira El Zein Darwish in their article entitled “Reflecting on the life and work of Mahmoud Darwish” wrote that Darwish “did not like to be confined to the description of ‘The Voice of Palestinian Resistance’.
The vision portrayed in the poems by Darwish is coupled with a strong linguistic facility, which is an all-encompassing descriptor for a consciousness that is endowed with richness of its own sense—it is not borrowed or contrived, but is colored by a unique combination of cognitive and psychological activity, and the motives of imagination and experience.
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule.
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland…
In the aforementioned lines from the poem, “I Come from There”, Darwish articulates an appalling sense of desperation to hold on to an anchor that could give him a veritable identity. Having moved consistently from Lebanon to Moscow and from there to Cairo and then finally to Beirut, all of this hints at the shuttlecock existence that Darwish must have experienced.
The sound of birds, the tombstones, the handkerchiefs, the boundaries, shadows and the passports all amalgamate the beauty of symbolism with that of truly felt pain. These natural images represent a “void of conceptions”, in order to display that the experiences of refugees and dislocated individuals go beyond empiricism in order to ascertain the knowledge of identity. It hints at the collective consciousness of these dislocated, alienated “absents” that flexes itself to create a metaphorical and creative space for nourishing the soul that thrives merely on the idea of resilience and resistance.
In the poem, “Passport”, Darwish talks about being “stripped of [his] name and identity?/On soil [he[ nourished with [his] own hands? /Today Job cried out /Filling the sky: Don’t make an example of [him] again!”, this carries out an exegesis into the idea that the refugee experience takes a shift from the sway of identities to the sway of what theLoukia K. Sarroubdescribes in his article entitled “In‐betweenness: Religion and conflicting visions of literacy” as “in-between-ness”.
Don’t ask the trees for their names
Don’t ask the valleys who their mother is
From my forehead bursts the sward of light
And from my hand springs the water of the river
All the hearts of the people are my identity
So take away my passport!
This fosters within the diasporic peoples whose families have witnessed the atrocities of dislocation, a communal taste as well as garners for them the strength to articulate their existence and their essence. Darwish, through voicing the concerns of the marginalized, has created a world that transcends beyond hard-stone set patterns of psychological and conscious frameworks delineating liminality and an identity outside the theoretical confines.
Furthermore in the poem, “Pride and Fury”, Darwish establishes the concept of “homeland”. The home is where the heart is, and this idea is philosophized in the poem by Darwish by juxtaposing the idea of homeland with the “eagle”. The eagle is a bird replete with the traits of “pride and fury”. This is particularly the idea intensified by Khalid Husseini in his novel And the Mountains Echoed, in which Nila Wahdati describes to Saboor how the people in the countryside are raw and have “dignity”. This idea of rawness and the connection with roots and identity is being crystallized by Darwish in following words,
O Homeland! O Eagle,
Plunging, through the bars of my cell,
Your fiery beak in my eyes!
All I possess in the presence of death
Is pride and fury.
The idea of pride and fury has been put next to the idea of “death”. It basically hints at the fact how millions of Palestinians who lost their lives fighting against the Israeli oppression, put their inclinations for their homeland as a primary individual duty to them.
Analyzing Khalid Hosseini’s work, throughout the first few chapters of The Kite Runner, Amir constantly feels diffident about his identity and how others view him. He is especially concerned about how Baba, his father, treats him and sees him as his son. Since Amir is far from Baba’s expectations, Baba always seems to be disgruntled and disillusioned at Amir. Baba was a man full of allure, esteemed by the entire city of Kabul. No one dared to stand up against him and his repute is well established. On the other hand, Amir was the far-reaching opposite, a weak 12-year-old quitter who only likes to read books and write stories, which were not signs of masculinity. Amir wants “to be good again” and wants to redeem him in order to receive Baba’s unfailing love, to repair their relationship between father and son. Above all, Amir may have dominance over Hassan in eminence, but he actually lives in suspiciousness and shame in the presence of Hassan. Amir often feels mortified when Hassan can see through him and receives the same amount of love from Baba. Meanwhile, Amir lives a life of culpability because he did not have the audacity to stand up for Hassan while he was raped in the alley. He even frames Hassan of theft in order to find a way to be “good”. Ironically, the departure of Hassan and Amir’s betrayal still haunts him 25 years later.
It can be analyzed that this dissatisfaction and uneasiness in the lives of the characters is a result of the social constructs that have been engineered by the tumultuous state of unstable identity and space that the characters are fronted with. Hosseini might have not veritably stated the existence of this problem of identity and the ransacked double consciousness of the individual characters as directly being a result of the situation in Afghanistan, but it is highly relatable to the concept of the refugee experience that Darwish experienced as well, because no matter how much one tries to snap the relationship that he has with his roots, it is not a hundred percent possibility that the memory agents containing that part of one’s experiences will be eradicated.
The majority of the world’s refugees are from Afghanistan, their projected number was 2.1 million by the end of 2006 which highlighted roughly 130,000 internally displaced persons.Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner communicates the story of a two young Afghan boys who grow up pebble-dashing the results of the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy due to the Soviet Union’s intervention, the mass refugee movement to Pakistan and the United States, and the rise of the Taliban regime. The story illustrates the “immigrant experience” that comes from parting from home and starting over at new places. Afghans undertook dangers to escape, sometimes dying along the way, being perceived as traitors in their very own homeland, and at times maintaining their culture/traditions in a foreign land.
In the novel, Hosseini establishes how without making peace with your past, you cannot essentially carve a future for yourself. “Something is missing in that boy…A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything”. Finally Amir, as the book continues tries to figure out his identity and stop running away from who he is and what he has done. Without fixing the past, the present cannot be lived in pleasure. This hints at the jostling of the past with the present and the future, in other words it also juxtaposes reality with idealism, because the pragmatism of life needs to be realized in consonance with the past memories and the future prospects. The problems that the characters in Hosseini’s novels face, particularly that of betrayal and a guilt-ridden conscience, hint at the transgenerational trauma that has seeped within the mental sensibilities of these characters due to the age old witnessing of traumatic instances with regards to societal incongruities and discrepancies.
This transgenerational trauma that has become a part and parcel of the lives of young minds in Afghanistan, is something that Hosseini explores through very intelligently incorporating within the novel, characters who are in their formative years. He goads the readership into questioning as to what the psychological state of affairs of children like Amir would be “whose ears know nothing but the sounds of bombs and gunfire . . . Huddled together in the dining room and waiting for the sun to rise, none of [them] had any notion that a way of life had ended”.
In the novel, Amir says:
Our way of life. If not quite yet, then at least it was the beginning of the end. The end, the official end, would come first in April 1978 with the communist coup d’état, and then in December 1979, when Russian tanks would roll into the very same streets where Hassan and I played, bringing the death of the Afghanistan I knew and marking the start of a still ongoing era of bloodletting.
This puts into light the idea of how the narrative is embedded in key historical events. This reflects that the historical events in Afghanistan have been such that they have rendered a brusque impact upon the mental faculties of the inhabitants. The refugee experience and the cultural assassination that the people of Afghanistan have borne witness to, has dominated their cognitive schema.
Before the intervention of the external agencies, the Russian Army and the American and British forces, Afghanistan was what was known as a minimalist state, farmers had crops to look after and the businessmen were happy with their work, education was being provided in institutions. But after the intervention from the side of external agents, it got reduced to lapidated existence. The Afghan generations not only experienced the wrath of the Special Forces, but also economic dissatisfaction and this leading to social depravity.
Hassan and I looked at each other. Cracked up. The Hindi kid would soon learn what the British learned earlier in the century, and what the Russians would eventually learn by the late 1980’s: that Afghans are an independent people. Afghans cherish customs but abhor rules. And so it was with kite fighting. The rules were simple: No rules. Fly your kite. Cut the opponents. Good luck.
This evidences how the transgenerational social haunting that has become deep-seated in the fabric of the Afghans, has educated them on the strategies of an eye for an eye: the politics of retaliation.
Critic YinCaiPing Zhang in his article entitled, “An Ecocritical reading of Khalid Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runnerand A Thousand Splendid Suns”, explains how landscape and geographical spaces impact upon the psychological frameworks of the characters. The refugee experience, the war period, and the relationship between war, nature and humanity when people struggled to be alive to make a living, is precisely what Zhang highlights as a veritable factor in understanding the psyche of the characters and their depraved and disenfranchised lives.
Conclusively, the geographical spaces are responsible for shaping an individual’s formative experience, this formative experience then defines the individual. The massive stimuli ascertains as to what kind of an individual will be formed by the impact that they have had upon his finer sensibilities. For Darwish, coming out of his cocoon and then voicing and articulating himself would have been synonymous to the raindrop that is taken in by the oyster shell and formed into a pearl, and Darwish is undoubtedly an immortal one. He not only narrated his experience for a purposeful catharsis, but also to help foster within the millions like him a sense of self-reliance and the motivation that they too can articulate themselves despite the interminable obstruction and marginalization that they have received. On the other hand, Husseini has on an individual basis carved immortal characters that will stand the test of time to keep reiterating the narrative of trauma, psychological mortification and the disintegrated self, amidst the horrors of political instability and a constantly displaced existence. The narrative reflective of themes like betrayal, spiritual dissatisfaction and a guilt-ridden conscience highlight how the displaced psyche is not only snagged between identities but also individualities and potentialities.