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Vasef Bakhtari’s final days: Nostalgia for Balkh in Los Angeles

The influential Persian poet, Vasef Bakhtari who passed away on Friday, has left behind a legacy of poetic brilliance, but his family has now shed light on his private life during his exile, especially his health condition during his last days.

Maryam Hotaki, Vasef Bakhtari’s granddaughter, shared a glimpse of his life in America, where he often dreamt of his homeland, Balkh. She fondly remembered her early interactions with him, mentioning his “study room and library in Block 21 of Macroyan Third” in Kabul.

In 1996, with the Taliban’s rise in Kabul, Vasef Bakhtari bid farewell to the city and sought refuge in Peshawar, Pakistan. There, he surrounded himself with a “rustic library” and a “grey blanket with green edges,” finding comfort in the midst of turmoil.

Five years later, on a warm day in 2001, after half a decade in Pakistan, Vasef Bakhtari packed his bags and set his sights on the United States, continuing his journey from one exile to another. However, post-2001, his literary output dwindled, with only a few poems and articles being published, and the public rarely caught a glimpse of him, except through sporadic interviews with Afghan media in America.

Manijeh Bakhtari, Vasef Bakhtari’s daughter, pens poignant words about her father’s last days in the hospital: “Your hands were beautifully swollen, resembling two full moons resting upon the bed, radiating their light. Smooth and unblemished, they stood in contrast to the band and your slender arms. Like radiant full moons in the dark of Dijor Hospital, they shone and stirred restless and angry moths within me – moths that will forever haunt my heart. My heart, like a fallen pomegranate from a tall tree, now lies in pieces, scattered and wounded on the ground.”

As he lay on a hospital bed far from Balkh and Kabul, Vasef Bakhtari felt a deep yearning for his distant homeland.

Manija Bakhtari recounts an emotional encounter, “I asked him if I should read the well-wishes and prayers from his friends. With effort, he replied, ‘Read them, my child, read them.’ I opened Facebook and began reading the messages from friends under my recent posts. Each time I mentioned the name of someone he knew closely, he gently blinked his eyes in confirmation: ‘Ah, Hamid Mehrvarz… Ah, Najiya Farhad; you surely remember Najiya, don’t you?’ He nodded in approval.”

With memories of his family and homeland evoking tears, Vasef Bakhtari asked his daughter, “I’ve become a lute, what should I do? Tell me, my child, what should I do?”

In response, Manija Bakhtari said, “But what can we do? Life and exile show no mercy.”

A teardrop fell from the poet’s eyes as he said, “I know. Sacrifices. I am aware of all the stories. I know. My heart bleeds for them.”

Vasef Bakhtari spent his final days, after years of exile and solitude, as he described it, with “silence carved on his lips and turmoil in his heart.”

On the evening of Friday, 29th of Cancer (July 29th), Manija Bakhtari announced on her Facebook page, “Our master Vasef Bakhtari, our father, our elder, our sage, our soul, our world, embraced eternity last night. In his final days, we sang lullabies, recited poems, and tenderly caressed his ailing hands.”

According to her, “His life was magnificently lived, and his memory shall remain splendid for eternity, with death forever indebted to him.”

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