IN AFGHANISTAN (Part One)

Downstairs in Kandahar, the Ramadan festivities are on. Set out from a corner of
the room, the musicians, tablas, a sitar, harmonium, and tamboura and an old man
with a short white pointed beard and a blue tin dish turned upside down, staring
and nodding he taps with his fingertips occasionally using his fingernails for a
high ticking sound.

A blind man is sitting cross-legged in the midst of the musicians singing at the very top of his voice, stretching his neck, with those strange half-tone and quarter-tone wailings…the instruments and tablas keeping a free yet disciplined rhythm. The old man is nodding and staring into a middle distance as if acknowledging someone in the audience only he can see. I can follow his hands through the whole stanza always the same, fingertips here
now fingernails…perfect! He seems unaware of his hands, only his beat.
The sitar is racing racing in some other dimension than speed.

Seated on a ledge all around the dusky room are men in baggy pants and long shirts and
turbans, eating grapes and pomegranates. A swarthy youth has a water-pipe and a beautiful chain-mail pipe bowl which he fills with a hash and tobacco mixture,
lights it, sucks…blows out a plume of smoke, smoothly, lifts the long pipe
stem and blows up it…another plume of blue – pooff and offers it to a customer
who takes a couple of tokes and hands the swarthy young man an Afghani –

The music rises and dives for several symmetrical stanzas which seem to
take the shape of a shining mosque with minarets, the blind singer sits between
verses, on the bridge, eyes closed nodding his head to the resting rhythm, right into it
of course, like Ray Charles, a brother, a musical brother, with all the
soul in the world. At the end of the set his friend comes to lead him from the
stage, and he is smiling, the whites of his eyes rolling, the open smile of the
blind man…

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