Post by Tahir Shah
As children, my father would coax us to sleep at night with stories of magical kingdoms, princesses, ghouls and jinn. Seeping in through our ears, they became part of us, inspiring our own sense of imagination. I loved those tales conjured by fantasy like nothing else… well, almost nothing. For, there was one story that trumped them all.
It was the story of how, in 1739, Emperor Nadir Shah of Persia swept through Afghanistan and sacked the great Mughal capital of Delhi. Massacring on an unknown scale, he had the Mughal treasure vaults torn open, and the vast wealth of an empire loaded on the greatest treasure caravan ever assembled: boasting not only the fabled Koh-I-Noor diamond, the Peacock Throne, but thousands of sacks of rubies, other gems, and gold.
Snaking out from the ruins of Delhi, the caravan made its way westward towards the North West Frontier, and then on to the inimitable Hindu Kush, Gateway to Afghanistan.
The story goes that a brilliant young general named Ahmed Shah Durrani, choosing his moment carefully, overpowered Nadir Shah and took possession of part of the colossal treasure caravan. As my father used to recount at the side of my bed, Durrani hid the treasure in an ancient abandoned Buddhist cave complex. The treasure has never been found.
My father had watched how my sisters and I adored the tale. I like to think that we were his sounding board for what was to become his only novel, Kara Kush.
At the end of the seventies, when the Russians moved in Afghanistan, my father was horrified. From a distance he watched the slaughter of the land he felt so connected to, and established all manner of relief operations for Afghan refugees.
As the Soviet-Afghan War dragged on, he grew more and more concerned how the Occident wasn’t involved in stopping the killing.
‘The world doesn’t care about Afghanistan,’ he said to me one morning. I asked how we could make it care. He looked up from his newspaper and frowned. ‘We must tell them in a way that they can understand,’ he said.
My father had not written a novel before. He was a voracious reader, but even so the thought of hammering out a novel was almost too much. He amassed two hundred novels in his study. They were lined up on the floor. Over a period of about a month he speed-read them. Then he gathered up a huge amount of source material, and worked out a plot — a plot based on the lost treasure of Ahmed Shah Durrani.
He seemed anxious when I asked whether he was going to start writing the novel of which he spoke so passionately — a Trojan Horse that would be a kind of handbook to Afghanistan. My father seemed broken. ‘It’s too hard,’ he said forlornly. ‘I can’t do it. I’ll leave it for someone else to write.’
My sisters and I were shocked. Our father was the kind of man who was capable of anything he turned his mind to… not necessarily because he had the innate skill, but rather because he worked out a structure by which any problem could be surmounted.
I think our combined shock may have been the spark that ignited the engine. From the next morning, he wrote like a maniac, hardly stopping to eat or sleep. For three weeks he typed, his fingers blurring over the keys.
At the end of it, he had created a towering manuscript — Kara Kush. The book became a bestseller, and was in many ways a phenomenon. It seeded the tale of Ahmed Shah’s treasure in a great many minds, and informed people the world over about Afghanistan.
For me, it was part of my own obsession. In 2006, I set off to Afghanistan with a film crew, to root out the lost treasure of Ahmed Shah.
But that’s another story.