Adelaide Writers' Week - Book Relaunch event

By Durkhanai Ayubi

Part of Adelaide Writers’ Week was to create space for authors to launch (or relaunch) their books, many of which had missed out on official book launches during the COVID-19 lockdowns. 

 

It felt special to have a chance to relaunch the book, in the beautiful Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens, when coincidentally the evenings were balmy, amongst other authors, family and friends. I invited my family onto the stage with me, to share in this moment.

This is my speech for this relaunch event:

 

"Thank you for this re-launch event, and for the opportunity to participate in the joy of this shared celebration of writing – and I would like to congratulate all the authors on this stage for the publication of their own books, for their courage in putting forth a piece of themselves into the world. 

I am sure we all acknowledge that though often writing can be a solitary act, creating a book is rarely a solitary process. Before I share with you a little about the lessons imprinted upon me through the process of writing Parwana: recipes and stories from an Afghan kitchen into being, I would like to thank those who were part of piecing this book together. 

First my parents who are standing here beside me. Without their great act of love and kindness, to face the abyss of the unknown and abandon all that was familiar to them as they left Afghanistan in the 80s during the height of conflict, so that we, their children might have a more peaceful tomorrow, this very moment would not have materialised. My mum, Farida Ayubi, the recipes passed down to her through her foremothers and forefathers form the crux of Parwana and of this book. It is my mum’s intuition and love for the food that has shaped her childhood and that is encoded into her essence, that is the undercurrent that helped Parwana spread its wings. My dad, Zelmai Ayubi has always encouraged my sisters and I to reach above and beyond, and it is his handwriting in Farsi you’ll see through the pages of this book. Thanks to my sister Fatema Ayubi, who worked alongside my mother as they recorded and put together the recipes you’ll find in the pages of this book. Thank you to the rest of my family – my husband Richard and his children, all of my sisters, their partners and their children, whose support, essence, auras and love are infused into the words that take shape in these pages. 

I want to thank the team at Murdoch Books, here and in the UK, and also the Interlink Publishing Group, our publisher in the US. But in particular I want to thank my publisher Corinne Roberts at Murdoch Books here in Australia, who I worked with closely, and whose trust and knowledge allowed the book to unfold. 

And the rest of the team Justin Wolfers, Alison Cowan, Jane Price, Krishna Mathrubutham, Madeleine Kane, Lou Playfair and Sarah Hatton and perhaps others I did not have the good fortune to meet. I also want to thank the brilliant photographer and food stylist team that was Alicia Taylor and Deb Kaloper, who with their skills combined, generated the breathtaking images throughout this book. I also want to thank James Brown for his artistic guidance and contributions to the book. 

In just a few remaining minutes, I want to share with you the process that infused into the creation of this book. 

When my family and I first voyaged out into the process of creating this book – it was mainly driven by a recognition that, after decades of ongoing violence and instability, knowledge of the culture and cuisine of Afghanistan was at risk of being scattered or lost. Yes, it continues to be practiced within Afghanistan and also in large diaspora communities globally, but it has rarely been collated and shared, in ways that extend beyond the trappings of the superficial externalities, the imposition, appropriation, pathologizing, the militarisation and language of war and conquest that surround it. When I began writing, I was deeply cognisant of the need to bring Afghanistan out of this isolation from within our global imagination, and into the centre, into a space of our shared collective consciousness, to tell its stories from within not above and through sets of its own eyes. 

And what unfolded from this vantage point shifted me, progressively stripped bare and unmasked, the story wrote itself as I travelled deeper into my own depths, reaching into and beyond normalised accounts of history, my dreamscapes and waking hours filled with lessons and words from my ancestors, floating from feeling as though I was meeting with the people now long gone by who had been eviscerated from their own histories. 

I was, I realise now, in a process of reconciling seemingly disparate binaries and drinking from the rivers of transcendent knowledge this process surfaced: I saw the neglected story of cross-pollination that is embedded into Afghan cuisine through long histories of cultural exchange; through knowing these histories of interconnection the constructs of East and West dissolved into one; through recognising the patterns of dogmatic control in the region, whether it was British colonisation, Soviet communism, Islamic fundamentalism or American militarisation, the insignificance of their content became abundantly clear as each one vapourised always leaving behind only the common poison generated by their feeble- minded bids for authority. 

And I tunnelled through, past any remnants of intergenerational and intercultural schisms with my parents, as we spoke, they recollected their past and their story in closer detail than they ever had before, and I listened to the stories of a generation who are the last to remember Afghanistan at a time of peace and as a place where they had imagined their lives and that of their children would unfold, and we sat in their memories together, and as the slow dawning of exile settled into their bones like a heavy fog, we traced their steps together and I felt the imprints of their loss and the shape of their fears, and I recognised it as a familiar passenger that had been beside me my whole life – creating ruptures, yes, but also emblazoning within me the gift of inquiry, denying me the false luxury of stagnation, making lucid the impermanence of all that seems solid, and propelling me to voyage. 

And it was in this way, from this realisation of the intermingling and inseparability of joy and loss, of sorrow and hope, of agency and tragedy, of simplicity and complexity, of yesterday and tomorrow – this reconciliation of all that the pantomime of order in our world keeps apart, that Parwana and this book, have crystallised into being. 

And so it is that if you chance upon this book, alongside the spreading of Afghan food across more tables, I hope that you feel the boundedness etched into the pages, that you see if not a reflection of yourself then at least a glimpse – for in the same way that the ingredients and rituals encoded in Afghan food melt away ideas of disparateness into oneness, so too are we ourselves vessels of a story of inseparability from one another and the natural universe that begins with a single moment, and though we have long been induced into a forgetting, it beckons us to return. 

I again thank you for joining us in this act of celebration and reconciliation, as we relaunch Parwana."