Below is a translation (from Dari to English) of the first three pages of Qassarikh-e Malalay.

Chapter One: Definition and Description of the Project and the Book

Definition of the Book

This “qassarikh” is a collection of short biographical sketches of students and employees of the first modern high school for girls in Afghanistan. Located in Kabul it was called Malalay High School. All the students who went to Malalay even for one year, all the teachers, all the employees, all the rank and file, boys and girls, men and women, dead or alive, from the first day until its doors closed to female education in 1996, are taken into consideration in this book. Those who are alive wrote themselves; for the departed, a member of their families has written. The writings are based on a common questionnaire and have been published in the book verbatim. The writers have participated in this project on their own accord and voluntarily authored their own stories. However, no one knew who else had written and what else had been written.

To explain the book better, the word “qassarikh” has been coined from two words of “qessa” (story) and “tarikh” (history) to make it clear that this collection is not history because it is written from memory and not from official documents, but it is not a story or fable either; rather, it is the reality of our lives.

Section One: Why This Book?

1. Personally, I wanted to create the history of my school with all the joys of my worry-free youth; this school that housed our laughter-filled memories, and, molded our beings with the Afghan learning and the perfume of eglantines.1 I wanted to recall the beauty of every person of Malalay, from its loyal guards, janitors and water bearers to its kind and learned teachers; from its awe-inspiring and experienced administrators to its happy, bright and non-antagonistic students. I wanted to rebuild Malalay in memory, brick by brick, each one washed, cleansed and polished. I wanted to leave for eternity of history Malalay’s scented gardens, its innocent young cheers and its lessons of promise and meaning. I wanted to declare that for me Malalay has value, Malalay will never die, and I am proud to be a daughter of Malalay. I hope that “Qassarikh” will bring this souvenir of the mind to other friends of Malalay as well.

2. I wanted to demonstrate that perhaps peace and laughter are also contagious. Psychologists say war is contagious and brings separation and alienation. I am not a psychologist and speak only from observation that in the last 20 some years we have been in so much mourning, of not only the loss of individuals but even the trees of Afghanistan, that we have actually forgotten that that ancient land of ours with its mature traditions and its proud ways steeped in thousands of years of culture, was a poor country but had a peaceful society. Intentionally, I wanted to force the writer to think about laughter and happiness and therefore about peace and harmony and remember Afghanistan in a positive and happy state. I wanted them to especially forget for a brief moment all its suffering and errors. By remembering the happy moments of Malalay, I wanted to wash out the depression that I and others feel towards our cherished homeland and our beloved people; and show that in my mind, Afghanistan has not always been this land of sin and sorrow, but rather had corners such as Malalay, full of wisdom and peace. I hope that by remembering the happy moments of our youth in a school that was also young, a little peace and harmony can take hold, at least, in our minds and we remember that living in peace and reconciliation is also a legitimate solution and a valid choice.

3. I wanted to trace what the Afghan woman did in Malalay; how she created Malalay and Afghanistan, and how Malalay created her. And perhaps this would help in the reestablishment of Malalay again as a successful Afghan social institution. In addition, I think that analysis of “Qassarikh” may result in the development of a model of modernization which will demonstrate in a practical manner the positive and negative qualities of such an institution and thus serve as a road map for the rebuilding of other institutions of Afghanistan. I hope that “Qassarikh” presents the strongest data in this regard.

4. I wanted to see for myself, in some way, the effect of modernization and modern education on the 20th century Afghan society. For myself who until the age of 18 was an eyewitness to this new education and then later in life was far from it and could not absorb it through osmosis of living with it, the 20 years of war has peaked my curiosity to know what stage of evolution this new society had reached before the war? Can some things be learned better by analyzing aspects of it? I know that political events and personalities of this society have been somewhat studied. But I personally am interested in sociological issues such as the effects that schools, literacy and education have on creating and changing the feelings, attitudes, interests and mentality and consequently on decisions and actions of people. Questions such as what was the impact of all these social institutions and education on the individuals who were the results and products of all this modernization? Or, what was the reaction of the traditional Afghan social institutions towards all this modernization? Or, to what extent were the new education’s aims effective and developed the kind of Afghan that was the goal? Or, today, how does this new education help Afghans in exile? All these are fundamental, difficult, and to me, interesting questions. At the same time, if we can find their answers through research and analysis, I think the results will be very educational, useful and perhaps surprising. I hope that “Qassarikh” has collected for the first time such information and contains very reliable and valuable data in this regard.

5. For the daughters of Malalay who are now refugees, I wanted to create a document that would provide information on their past, and in front of their children, show these mothers with roots and weight. In Afghanistan these women devoted their lives to their country and were important, respected, well-known contributing members of their societies and communities. Unfortunately many of them left Afghanistan on an emergency basis and therefore could not bring any of their life’s documents with them. Now that their children and grandchildren are grown up and ask about the past identity and life, there exists nothing that in the eyes of the progeny would give this bygone existence, validation and authenticity. I hope that “Qassarikh” can help in restoring and reiterating the dignity of the past identity of these refugees. As far as I can tell this is the first project in the history of refugees of the world that restores a refugee’s identity in such a manner. I am proud that it is my own Afghan people who lead the way.

6. I wanted to create a primary source of knowledge; I mean a first source of study and primary materials and raw data of research, not aggregated information and final results of analysis. Primary materials of Afghanistan in the last 20 years have been either destroyed, or not written down, or often developed by non-Afghans in non-Afghan languages. I wanted to create a primary source of Afghanistan for Afghans by our own Afghans in the Dari-Persian language.

Because a large part of the knowledge repository of Afghanistan during this generation of war is lost, in a way, at present, the collective knowledge of Afghanistan resides in the minds of all Afghans who at the time of their exit from Afghanistan were at an age that remember something. Assembling the information and compiling collections of “Qassarikh” related to every square foot of our homeland can serve as the foundation of basic knowledge in the areas of society, economy, culture, arts, etc. of Afghanistan. And, with the use of the fundamentals of scientific method, we can validate this knowledge, analyze it, and based on it not only leave the gift of the past to the future and evaluate our shortcomings in a just and scientific manner. But we can also savor our beautiful and unique qualities, and, verifiably and consciously without feelings of superiority and exclusivity, be proud of them. I hope that “Qassarikh-e Malalay” is a good beginning in this area as well. But for this we must hurry and collect the information before it is forgotten.

7. At the same time, this compilation is the start of a personal journey of self-discovery and self-knowledge. From the very beginning of youth, for more than thirty years, I watched the culture, arts, history and society of my fatherland from afar. But in the mid century of life, I felt deep inside a yearning, present since childhood, now beckoning me towards a real world. Alas that from that world only its corpse remains and I must search through burnt libraries, looted museums and schools without students for the correct, authentic and pleasing roads and find myself. It is said that the path to self and wisdom is always confusing, uncertain, scary and unknown. I do not know the truth of this; come what may! But that day in 1996 when I began the “Qassarikh” project so that Malalay would once again with its past become the teacher of my today and tomorrow, was for me a springtime full of cascades of eglantines in bloom!2

1. The school had several gardens where in springtime large eglantine bushes blossomed profusely and created a lingering sweet scent and an awesome cascade of white roses.

2. Reference to the Dari saying “a year’s good tidings show in the bloom of its spring flowers”.

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