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Interview: Abdul Samad Haidari talks about The Unsent Condolences





Abdul Samad Haidari is a Hazara writer, journalist and published author with a unique journey as a former refugee. His journalistic career in Afghanistan led him to be subjected to assassination attempts, and he was forced to seek asylum in Indonesia in 2014. Having first experienced displacement at the age of 10-11, during the Hazara cleansing in the 1990s, Abdul endured the loss of family members and separation from his parents. At 11, he became a child labourer on construction sites in Iran and survived a shooting in Kand-e-Pusht, Afghanistan. Despite his challenges, he authored two books as a continuation of his journalism: The Red Ribbon in 2019 while still in Indonesia, and The Unsent Condolences nine months after arriving in New Zealand.


Tell us a little about you poetry collection.

The Unsent Condolences is a collection of my autobiographical poems in the form of resistance against the confiscation of our lands, culture, religious beliefs, language, and history, as well as the systematic genocide against my tribe, the Hazaras, who are the indigenous people of Afghanistan. These poems bear witness to the bitter affliction of persecution, colonization, discrimination, and dehumanization faced by the Hazara people. They reflect upon a history marred by tragedy, including the near annihilation of our population, with over 4.8 million Hazaras killed from 1888 to 1893.

 

What inspired you to write this book?

The inspiration behind writing The Unsent Condolences comes from a deeply personal and collective experience of enduring persecution, discrimination, dehumanization, and violence as a Hazara individual. Witnessing the systematic oppression and genocide against my tribe, along with the confiscation of our lands and the erasure of our culture and identity, convinced me to use poetry as a means of resistance and advocacy. The purpose of this book is to bear witness to the suffering and courage of the Hazara people, to give voice to our struggles, and to preserve our history for future generations.


The Unsent Condolences

is not a collection of poems

but parts of me–

is not just words

collated into a quilt of rhymes   

but a jar full of fresh scars.   


What research was involved?

The research for The Unsent Condolences involves a deep exploration of historical records, accounts of Hazara persecution and genocide, and the ongoing oppression, discrimination, and sectarian violence faced by the Hazara community. In addition to that, it carries the reflection of my own experiences as a Hazara child born and raised amidst war, as well as stories passed down by my parents and grandmother. My grandmother, a profoundly inspiring storyteller, instilled in me a greater understanding of Hazara history and courage. Given my personal experiences and familial narratives, I crafted words that interwoven broader historical and cultural contexts within the poems, forming a collective voice in the collection with a deeply personal perspective on the Hazara experience.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

When writing The Unsent Condolences, my routine involved a blend of introspection, research, reading Persian and Urdu literatures, critiques and other creative expressions. I reflected on my experiences as a Hazara individual, delving into historical accounts and cultural studies relevant to Hazara history. Getting inspiration from these insights, I would then sit forming words into poems through self-reflection, drafting, and revising, often finding comfort and inspiration among people, seeking their refuge to write about difficult experiences. Throughout this process, I remained open to feedback from my mentors, editor, and supportive individuals, all encouraging me to speak out - particularly PEN International.


If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

I would select songs that evoke emotions of resilience, reflection, and cultural identity. Alongside "Oud" by Negar Bouban, Amer Ammouri, and Farid al-Atrash, I'd include "Sarzamin-e-Man" and "Biya Ya Starge Saray Dey Moraya Mayara Da" by Abdullah Moqori. These artists and their compositions authentically capture the depth and beauty of Afghan music, reflecting themes of grief and separation from my homeland.


If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

If my book, The Unsent Condolences, were adapted into a movie, I would envision actors who could authentically portray the complexities and emotions of the Hazara experience. For the lead character, representing my own journey, I would envision an actor with the ability to convey depth, agony, separation, massacre with refugees scattered across the barbed-wire fences with naked chests pleading for safety while the border forces shoot them in the mouths.  Above all, I would prioritize casting the actors who can embody the spirit and dignity of the Hazara people and their struggles.


What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

The most enjoyable aspect of writing The Unsent Condolences was giving voice to the experiences and resilience of the Hazara community. It was cathartic to connect with others who shared similar experiences and shed light on untold stories while advocating for justice and recognition. However, it was also painful to write about the un-returnable losses, traumatic experiences, family separation, and the refugee experience, which often felt like rubbing salt and chilli against fresh wounds in my chest.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I chose to honor the journey and the stories shared within its pages, reflecting on my survival across borders, valleys, and dark seas where even God feared to help. This celebration brought a joy that touched my heart in my lonely room, devoid of immediate family, friends, or social connections. It was a moment of quiet satisfaction and gratitude for completing a project that held deep personal significance. However, instead of solely reveling in this achievement, I took the time to complete the application for the evacuation of my mother and siblings, who are under immediate threats due to the content of this book and my past work as a journalist.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

1. The Prophet by Khalil Gibran - a collection of poetic essays that address various aspects of life, spirituality, and human nature.

2. Mohammad Jalal-uddin Rumi Balkhi, commonly known as Rumi - a Persian poet, Islamic scholar, and Sufi mystic whose works, including the Masnavi and Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi, have had a profound impact on Persian and world literature.

3. Hafiz Shirazi, often referred to simply as Hafiz - a Persian poet whose lyrical poetry explores themes of love, spirituality, and mysticism.

4. Pand-Nama or Pandnama or Book of Wisdom, by the Persian poet Saadi Shirazi. Pand-Nama is a collection of moral stories, anecdotes, and wisdom tales that offer profound insights into ethics, human nature, and the pursuit of virtue.

5. Firdausi, also known as Ferdowsi - a Persian poet and the author of the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings), an epic poem that recounts the mythical and historical past of Iran.

6. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill - a self-help book focused on personal development and achieving success, based on principles of motivation, mindset, and goal-setting.


Because these works have each left a significant mark on literature, philosophy, and personal development, and they continue to inspire readers around the world.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

Working on a novel that tells the stories from a diary gifted by my grandmother and parents.



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