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A moment of standing: A feminist lens on the stories of Taqi Wahedi

The writer and journalist Taqi Wahedi stands out as one of the most successful Afghan refugee storytellers in Iran. He has primarily focused his writing on short stories about migration, social and cultural issues, war, and women’s issues. 

By examining the stories in the collection “A Moment of Standing,” published by Amu in 2019, one can observe Wahedi’s concerns about women’s rights, his critical perspectives on the traditions, beliefs, and anti-women laws in 1990s Afghanistan, and immigration issues in Iran. 

In the story “Shirin,” a young immigrant girl by that name works and lives with her family in a brick kiln neighbourhood. A fellow immigrant worker named Qadir, who resides nearby, has proposed to Shirin. Although Shirin is interested in him, her brother, Safdar, strongly opposes their marriage. As she’s religious, Shirin only talks to Qadir, yet Safdar beats her for that action, claiming she has become impure for interacting with him. 

Finally, as her family is on the verge of relocating to a nearby area, Shirin bravely decides to escape with Qadir. Among the female protagonists created by Taqi Wahedi in his stories, Shirin is the only character who decides for herself regarding marriage and her future and boldly stands against unjust laws, her family, and society. 

In other stories of the “A Moment of Standing” collection, we see women who endure the constraints of moral, religious, and traditional norms imposed on them by family and society. 

In the story “The Last Wednesday,” set during the previous Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan (1996-2001), a vibrant young girl named Zarmina is allowed to shed her burqa only one day a year. On that day, she can freely see her surroundings and breathe the spring air in the courtyard of the Sakhi Shrine in Mazar-i-Sharif. She is content with this level of freedom on the day allocated for women at the shrine, and she doesn’t dare insist on staying longer with her grandmother. Zarmina’s childhood excitement and joy resonates in the reader’s heart.  

Alongside addressing the difficulties and hardships of war, migration, and cultural, political, and economic dilemmas, Taqi Wahedi does not overlook the deprivations of women, the violation of their rights, and the misfortunes that grip them. 

In the story “A Moment of Standing,” a migrant family passes through a river on their forced return from Iran to Afghanistan. The wife says she has never seen such a large river. Her husband mockingly asks, “What have you seen that makes this river seem big to you?” She angrily responds that he never allowed her to leave the house and that when she asked to go outside, he would say, “A woman’s place is at home, not outside.”  

In the story “Ambaq,” Taqi Wahedi addresses the dilemma of polygamy, which is prevalent in Afghanistan. The narrator, the first wife of Commander Sheerdil, shares the experiences of cohabitation and companionship with his second wife, Mahtab. After the commander’s death, poverty and loneliness force these two women into bitter cohabitation. 

The narrator and Mahtab weave carpets to cope with the heavy expenses of their lives and their children during the dark years of the Taliban’s first rule. The writer vividly portrays the hatred and animosity between these two stranded and helpless women, skillfully illustrating their world filled with resentment, suffering, anger, and resignation.  

Through his stories in the collection “A Moment of Standing,” Taqi Wahedi sheds light on the people of Afghanistan’s dark points of life, culture, and beliefs with artistic observations and meticulous details. He warns about inequalities, unawareness, and oppressions that squeeze various segments of society – both residents of Afghanistan and immigrants in Iran – especially women from underprivileged backgrounds. 

*Rayhana Bayani is a writer and literary and cultural critic.