An entertainer, professional blackmailer, master thief, and prolific murderer

John Lee Anderson in Guernica:

ScreenHunter_13 Sep. 04 21.13 I had thought Afghanistan’s maskhara to be an extinct species. For centuries, maskhara had entertained the country’s monarchs with their japes and buffoonery, and by lampooning them. They may well have been the originators of the European tradition of court fools, as well, for maskhara is a term of Arabic or possibly Sanskrit origin, and along with the first royal jesters, words using the same root appeared in medieval Europe sometime in the thirteenth century, ultimately seeding the English language with such exoticisms as mascara and mask.

Samad Pashean, who estimated his age at sixty, was evidently one of Afghanistan’s last remaining maskhara. He had survived the abolition of the monarchy, the Soviet military occupation, the ensuing bloody civil war, and then the Taliban years by wandering from one warlord’s lair to another, plying his prankish wares in exchange for food, shelter, and the occasional handout of money. As my friend explained it, Atta had placed Pashean under his protection, maintaining him in a house nearby and giving him regular allotments of food from his harvests. Atta bade us all sit down as boys brought in large round trays heaped with salad, pilau rice, bowls of yogurt, mutton soup, fruit, baked chicken, and lamb, and laid them on the carpet in front of us.

Over our food, which we dug into with our hands, Atta boasted proudly of Pashean’s many talents, telling me that in addition to his prowess as an entertainer, he was also a professional blackmailer, a master thief, and a prolific murderer, with an estimated fifty victims killed by his own hand.

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