What a long journey!
"My father was illiterate, but he still made me study up to class seven despite the taunts of people. He hired a shepherd to tend our flocks so I could go to school. He told my teacher to inform him if I ever bunk school," says Soonara who is celebrated as the "first grammar writer" in Nuristani.
He was born in 1957 in Badinshah village, Barg-e-Matal district in Nuristan. His grandfather was strongly against sending his progeny to school but his father, Ali Mohammad, was in love with learning.
Soonara's uncle was the first educated man in the family but he went to a mosque school, and become a mullah. People would come to him to write letters and documents. But unfortunately he joined military service as the representative of his tribe at his father's bidding, and never returned.
At the age of five Soonara, who thinks his name has a Sanskrit origin, was sent to his aunt's house to join the school in Nekmook village. "I studied up to third class in this primary school. My uncle had pointed shoes and would kick me under the table if I did not know my multiplication tables," he recalls.
In 1965 he moved to Barg-e-Matal High School. He trekked barefoot over snow to reach school. "Only people in the cities, teachers and elders knew what shoes were," he says. "We walked in snow up to our knees. In class eight, however, we had to wear shoes, pant and shirt." The pants were full of holes. Traders who brought them had an agreement with the headmaster. "Those days there were barter deals. We would buy things in exchange for a cow or goats, cheese, butter, wheat etc. I remember I bought an old suit for 42 kgs of nuts. It had no belt. The traders would flatter the simple people of Nuristan, saying they looked nicer than the governor of Kabul!" Impressive progress At first Soonarastudied hard because he feared his father's wrath. But gradually his "good teachers" made him enjoy the hard work. "We were 10 students in the class. Good teachers were coming from Nangarhar. We were educated in Pashto language.When I graduated in 1973 I went to Nangarhar. There I passed the entrance exam and was successfully admitted to the teacher training institute." His first job was with the Ministry of Education in Kabul. Later he was assigned as headmaster of a girls' high school in Dawlatabad district of Balkh province. In 1979 he was appointed head of People's Culture Department in Ministry of Culture and Information. When he headed Nuristani programmes in the Radio Television of Afghanistan (RTA) his salary was higher than a general's or a minister's. "I earned 9,000 Afs (160 USD), half of which was overtime pay. I wrote poems in Nuristani - a language I began to love." Soonara worked with RTA for nine years. He left to return to university and was admitted in the faculty of journalism. His relatives could not understand why he quit such a well paying job to study. "I had sworn I would study further," he says. "I got licentiate degree in 1986. At the same time I fell in love with the daughter of a general from Nuristan, and married her." Proud Parent He is the father of five daughters and one son. "My elder daughter finished medical school from the private university of Abu Ali Sina. My son is a military officer. My second daughter is studying law in Khwarzami, the third daughter is in Gharjestan university, the fourth one is in class twelve and the fifth in class eight. All daughters are first class students," he says proudly.
Soonara is now an academic member in the Ministry of Education. He has compiled 16 books in Nuristani language. The grammar of Nuristani is the most popular. His writings have been published in newspapers and magazines. Qalam (pen), an association of writers, has held special sessions in his honour.
This year in Jawza (May-June) he got a letter of appreciation and a prize of 100,000 Afs (1,776 USD) from the president's office on the recommendation of the Ministry of Culture and Information. "Abdul Ghafoor Lewal, Afsar Rahbin and I were called the best writers in the country," he says.
The poet-writer stayed in Kabul through the war years. "No place was safe in Kabul during civil war but I stayed on. I was in charge of the UN habitat programme in the eastern zone during the Taleban regime. My salary was 600 USD. When I changed it into Afs it filled three bags. One day my house was looted and burned down." For the last eight years Soonara has worked for RTA in the Nuristani programmes division. He has traveled abroad to linguistic conferences in Tajikistan, Pakistan and Turkey. "I have gone to Nuristan once since 1978 because the way is blocked. I pray to God to bring peace to the whole country so that all Afghans can travel to their provinces peacefully."
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