Creative Writing – 129
Comprehension exercise of moderate difficulty
On the day of the BBC’s open auditions, she took a bus across town. Eight women and girls sat waiting to try out, all of them poised and evidently experienced. Faqeer read her lines, but kept shrinking away from the microphone, and the director threatened to kick her out unless she stopped moving.
Afterward, Faqeer cried as she walked back to the bus stop, cursing herself for wasting rupees on the fare. She didn’t have a mobile phone, so she’d given the director the number of the school’s crackly landline. A couple of weeks later, the principal summoned her to his office: the BBC was on the phone, and said she’d got the part.
Faqeer was offered a salary of a hundred dollars a month, and, that August, she started recording the show. Her character, Ghotai, was a struggling mother who’d recently returned to Afghanistan from Iran and was trying to start a small business to help her family, defying her father-in-law, who thought women shouldn’t work. “New House, New Life”—which became the most popular radio program in Afghanistan, with seven million listeners—was a well-meaning soap opera. Its story lines paired secret love affairs with messages encouraging women’s empowerment and participation in vaccination campaigns. “Everyone listened,” Faqeer told me. “Even the Taliban listened. They had nothing else to do.” Fans often wrote in to congratulate characters on their successes or to offer condolences when favorites died. “People thought our characters were real,” Faqeer said. “They believed that we lived in a village, and asked to visit.” Faqeer used the money to enroll in English-language and computer-literacy courses. She rented her family a house, paid her siblings’ school fees, purchased their first TV, and bought matching purple outfits for herself and her sister, Mina, who was twelve. “I loved those suits,” Mina told me. “They were a sign that our lives were getting better.”
In October, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan. The streets of Peshawar grew choked with donkey carts and refugees arriving from across the border. But the fall of the Taliban opened new possibilities in Afghanistan. The BBC studio, which had moved from Kabul to Peshawar during the Taliban’s rise, returned the next year; a few years later, Faqeer moved her family back, too. She helped Mina get a part on “New House, New Life” as a young girl fighting with her father for the right to go to school. “My sister convinced me that I had to be brave,” Mina told me. Faqeer knew that, in their home village, in the rural province of Kunduz, there were questions about how she was supporting her family. When their cousins came to visit, the sisters kept their roles on the radio a secret. They attempted to ignore how the visitors eyed the quality of their carpets and their heaping trays of rice and meat. “Men in the village were in a tough situation,” Faqeer said. “Maybe I was doing something wrong to be making that money.”
1. In the BBC audition interview, why was Faqueer nervous?
2. How did the director react to her nervous behaviour?
3. Finally, how did Faqueer get to know of the result?
4. Describe the role Faqueer did in the BBC Radio soap opera ‘New House, New Life’?
5. How was the opera received by Afghans?
6. How did Faqueer utilize her extra income?
7. How did the invasion of Taliban changed the course of Faqueer’s fate?
8. How did Mira get a role in the opera?
9. Why did her village people in Kunduz suspect her of some wrong-doing?
1. Faqueer had never faced an interview of this type before. Besides this, the other candidates seemed confident and more capable than her. So, her confidence dipped and nervousness gripped her.
2. When Faqueer involuntarily shied away from the mic, the director admonished her saying that he would show her the door if she didn’t gather herself quickly.
3. The message of her selection for the job came through the school’s landline phone.
4. Faqueer did the role of ‘Ghotai’, a poor widow refugee who had returned from Iran to Afghanistan. Ghotzai was trying to set up a small store ignoring her father-in-law’s objections.
5. The opera ‘New House, New Life touched a chord in the hearts of countless Afghans. They lapped up the story, the actors, and the opera as a whole. They wanted to meet Faqueer in person tto convey their appreciation.
6. She enrolled for a English coaching class, and bought some clothes for her younger sister Mira.
7. When the Taliban took over the administration, the BBC radio office in Peshawar relocate to Kabul because of better security environment here. Faqueer’s family also left Peshawar and came to Kabul.
8. Faqueer prodded Mira to do a role in the opera overcoming her fear and hesitation.
9. Faqueer’s life had changed for the better. She was much well-off after her stint with BBC. Her village folks had no clue as to how she was earning the income to stave off abject poverty. They felt she was possibly colluding with the western forces for doing something for them. This was never accepted as normal in Afghan society then.