"I have written my own gravestone".
On Nawruz Day, the New Year Day, I went to picnic with friends to Shuhada-e-Saleheen in the southeastern Kabul where several cemeteries have mushroomed over hilltops. It is an Islamic tradition to pray peace and amnesty for the souls of the dead when you cross a graveyard, and so was I doing on Nawruz. As I was praying under my lips, my mind was busy thinking on a hypothesis: what if all the dead in the cemetery could arise from their graves and I interview them? What kinds of questions would I ask? And most importantly, what answers would I hear?
Walking across the graves, I noticed the gravestones and the lines engraved on them. If the dead are unable to talk, why not talk to a person who makes gravestones? I asked myself. The next day I headed to Kota-e-Sangi in the south of Kabul city where I met an old man.
White and softly brushed marble stones were placed everywhere across the walls and broken pieces of stones were scattered around the inner surface of a large shop. An old man with strange protective glasses was sitting over a long marble stone and was drawing skillfully with an electronic drill on what appeared would be a gravestone. The drilling sound was loud and disturbing but the man was all busy as if he was listening to his favorite song. He was surrounded by marble stones different in size, shape and color - some had engraved writing on them, some had the holy verses and others even had dates.
In a minute the man looked up, cleaned his glasses with his dusty hands and we greeted. "Salam Alaikum!" Immediately after the brief greeting phrase he whispered in my ear politely: "Is everything okay?" meaning whether I needed a gravestone. He then recited to me a poem which he said was written by a poet called Khyber Afridi: "This is the graveyard, this is a site for the exhausted people, here Kings settle their caravans."
Although his old hands were trembling, the man was a professional and was fully in control of his job. He was writing the brief biography of a dead person on a gravestone. His face was full of wrinkles but also had clear signs of long years of experiences.
His simple and polite question scared me but I said yes everything was fine and that I was a journalist from Killid Magazine and wanted to interview him. Perhaps my answer was strange for him as he paused for several seconds and then said: "Well, this is my situation, from morning until evening these stones and me are eating each other!" Saying this, the man walked away and erected a tall marble stone near a wall.
This is a short life story of an old stonemason, who has passed most of his life working hard to earn a living for his children. Too often in Kabul, you may come across some people who would look so destitute and wretched that looking at them would drop tears from your eyes and their painful figures would stick to your mind for long.
"My name is Abdul Karim and my father's name is Muhammad Sarwar and I have been doing this job for almost fifty years." His father was a hardworking farmer but could hardly earn enough to feed his extended family properly. Karim's father was so tired of farming that he had told his sons to learn a lucrative profession or study hard in order to make a better life. He was twenty when he started learning stonemasonry and soon managed to pick up the profession for the rest of his life. "My father would always remind us that only people with a profession or good knowledge would have a prosperous life."
While he learned stonemasonry from a good tutor, Karim learned humanity, honesty and loyalty from his beloved father who passed away about 14 years ago. "My father always told me that nothing could be learned without passion and interest," he said adding that it was his passion to become a good stonemason.
Karim also engraved his father's gravestone and that was the most difficult work in his life. "I put the gravestone on my father's grave."
When Karim started engraving gravestones decades ago, he never thought that he would produce gravestones for his loved ones. "It's like the last gift you give to a person," he said.
Unsure about the longevity of his own life, Karim has already made his own gravestone. "Abdul Karim son of Muhammad Sarwar" is written over the white marble. However, there is one big gap in his gravestone which would need to be engraved by someone else - the date of his death!
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