How does the war change the life of the rich and the poor in Afghanistan?  

‘The Kite Runner’ is a contemporary novel about the war-torn Afghanistan, focusing on the life of a young Afghan boy, Amir and his growing up process from living a lavish and sheltered life in Kabul to moving to a lower-middle class lifestyle in America. Through Amir’s experiences and the transitioning to a new life, Hosseini presents the extent of the effects that war had caused on the lives of Afghanis, how turmoil had placed everyone on the other side of the table, where their differences as aristocrats and servants were obliterated just as war had obliterated the exuberant lifestyle of the former Afghanistani elite lass.

Afghanistan has always been portrayed as a very divided country, with a borderline among the rich and the poor in the days of Amir’s childhood. This division is identified through two religious groups with the Hazaras and the Pashtuns, where the Hazaras belonged to the Shi’a sect and the Pashtuns, the Sunni. The conflict between the Pashtuns and the Hazaras are vividly represented in the Afghan society, particularly in the social hierarchy where the Pashtuns act the role of masters and the Hazaras are mere servants. The Hazaras are a marginalised religious group, where Amir reads in a book that the Pashtuns had ‘killed the Hazaras, driven them from their lands, burned their homes, and sold their women’. He also highlights that the Hazara class was not only physically hurt, rather demeaned as well, where Hassan is called different degrading names, ‘mice-eating, flat-nosed, load-carrying donkeys’, even by Amir himself as well, ‘What does he know, that illiterate Hazara? He’ll never be anything but a cook.’ Sanuabar, Hassan’s mother, despite not even appearing in the novel, is also demoralised by the Afghan society for not succumbing to her social duties as a servant and a woman, where in an episode where Amir and Hassan take a shortcut to their home from the cinema, they meet a soldier who talks about sexually abusing Sanuabar as a crude joke. Ali is also nicknamed ‘Babalu’, which translates to the Bogeyman – a demonic monster – because of his arthritis.

The servants are also required to devote and sacrifice their lives serving their masters, something that has been a recurring notion among both Ali and Hassan, where Ali has to live his life knowing that his master, his Agha, had borne a child with his wife, and accepts it. Hassan also doesn’t fall short in his sacrifices for Amir, where we see him defending Amir to Assef and not doing anything when Amir plummets pomegranates at him, even picking one up and smashing it against himself to present the extent of selflessness he was ready to go for Amir. This is epitomised when Hassan is raped and eventually killed for Amir – the most heightened level of loyalty that can be presented in a human being, as well as the most fervent example of the distinction between the poor and the rich, where the poor will give in everything ‘a thousand times over’ for the rich, while the rich will stand by on a window and watch them go away, doing absolutely nothing to save the ones who’ve given up their life for them.

Yet, the barriers between the poor and the rich are broken in small instances, even before Afghanistan was taken over by the Soviet Union and then the Talibans, where we see Amir and Hassan surpassing their differences in wealth and class when they are playing. They are allowed ‘brotherhood’ as Ali says that there’s a ‘a brotherhood between people who had fed from the same breast, a kinship that not even time could break’. Amir and Hassan call themselves the ‘Sultans of Kabul’, and Amir even calls Hassan a prince when Hassan tells Amir that his story was the ‘best story he’d told him yet’, “You’re a prince, Hassan. You’re a prince and I love you.” But, apart from these moments in which Amir and Hassan intertwine their lives, moving above from the titles of rich and poor, we still see this barrier integrated in them, where Amir gets away at lying about the actual story of Rustom and Sohrab, one of Hassan’s most favourite stories in the Shanammah, and then the fact that he had actually hid the money under Hassan’s mattress – something that costs Hassan his entire life.

The rich, however, in Afghanistan is extensively rich, where Baba is seen to tour many countries and have great parties where other affluent individuals come. Assef also boasts to have dinner with Zahir Shah, the king’s brother. We see Amir receiving a lot of gifts for his thirteenth birthday and piles them up in the morning after. We also see Baba acting as the typical rich man, someone who smokes and drinks in his study while talking about politics with his friends. Amir has a very sheltered childhood that results from his father’s wealth, as he calls himself the ‘half that represented the riches that he had inherited and the sin-with-impunity privileges that came with them.’ His affluent lifestyle is a source of guilt within him, and thus when he goes to America, this is broken and the differences in both social and religious aspects are completely torn apart.

Turmoil begins after Hassan leaves the story, taking with him all the moments of love, loyalty, beauty and peace. Hosseini transcends through time and we see Amir and Baba escaping Afghanistan as the Soviet Union takes over. This rears up the gradual disintegration of the affluence that Amir and Baba had enjoyed in Afghanistan, as during their escape, we see them facing horrible conditions, being in stuck in a basement room with a lot of people overcrowding it, and rats running around. Hosseini also presents how the rich did get what they should have, where Kamal, one of Assef’s trio and also the one who participated in molesting Hassan, was also molested by a group of four men. They have to travel in an oil tank, where Amir describes the episode chiefly through olfactory senses of excretion and vomit to present the repulsive state in which they were in. Kamal, eventually dies after the journey and then his father kills himself – where Hosseini points how completely the tables have turned against them.

America epitomises the change in lifestyle of the rich, where Amir and Baba live in a run-down apartment in San Francisco, when they previously lived in a mansion in Afghanistan. They also have a Sunday market, where Hosseini devises a stark contrast between the lifestyle the Afghanis had to what they have now, where Amir juxtaposes inferior jobs with superior professions to truly highlight the change of lifestyle, ‘mechanics and tailors selling hand-me-down wool coats and scraped bicycle helmets, alongside former ambassadors, out-of-work surgeons, and university professors’.

The disintegration of power also takes place when Baba dies, where a man who had beaten a bear in a fight and lived with scars to prove it, was taken away by cancer – something that has a greater power over even the most powerful. This symbolises the fall of Afghanistan, where the richest and most extravagant people were nothing compared to war and the disasters that come with it.

The main difference that war had with the rich and the poor was that the rich lived, while the Hazaras were massacred, killed or abused because they couldn’t leave. War had no effect on people like Assef, who excelled in their power and sadistic behaviour, only to be killed when the Americans bombed Afghanistan and rid the Talibans – commenting on how people who are malignant in their power can only be defeated when another more malignant force comes in and takes them up, as represented by Kamal as well.

War was horrible to Afghanistan, where streets that would have smelled like lamb kabob now smell of diesel and have dead bodies hanging outside shops, but to its people, war was justly served, excluding the Hazaras. Hosseini underlines how something so disastrous could result in justice, where the rich and affluent understand the hardship of being treated the way they treated their inferiors. And war brings peace, where Amir relieves his inner demons after engaging in the fight with Assef, to prove how this act of violence could redeem the sins of his past. Yet, Hosseini uses contemporary issues and describes Afghanistan in the most poignant manner, where war has led to orphaned children being sold off to be abused, where fathers were ‘a rare commodity’ and people sold their legs to feed their children for a week or so. Hosseini including these episodes make general readers aware of the truly disastrous nature of wars and thus, identifies a very universal issue that still is present to this day.

 

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