Bamiyan Panorama

Bamiyan Panorama

Thursday, August 10, 2017

National Procurement Commission & Authority of Afghanistan - an introduction

NPC & NPA Introduction:

About Us:

The importance of procurement processes roots from persistent connection between procurement and all other sectors in governments. Nowadays, procurement plays vital role in human society’s development at national and international levels. In addition, sound procurement system leads to economic and socio-political stability in a country. Through reasonable financial and economic mechanisms and in the light of national regulatory frameworks as well as global standards, procurement facilitates health, education and other infrastructural services for citizens, and paves the way for business development and brighter future for all. The Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan recognizes the key role which public procurement plays in a country. Based on surveys 19 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and approximately 50 percent of National budget is spent through public procurement, therefore the government took a number of reforms up to provide better pubic services, establish an effective and transparent procurement system, controlling public expenditure, and decrease corruption. Based on decree no. 16 of H.E. the President of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on 20/7/1393 the National Procurement Authority (NPA) established under the Administrative Office of the President. Afterwards through the legislative decree no. 60 on 21/11/93, decree no. 72 on 13/12/93 and decree no. 75, the Special Procurement Commission (SPC) upgraded to National Procurement Commission (NPC), Contract Management Office (CMO) dissolved, while the Afghanistan Reconstruction & Development Services (ARDS) and Procurement Policy Unit (PPU) merged to the National Procurement Authority (NPA). Then the Procurement Law was ratified by the cabinet of GIRoA by directive no. 20 on 11/6/1394, and enforced through legislative decree no. 75 on 13/6/1394, and after that it was published at official gazette no. 1186 on 15/7/1395. Based on the article 79th of the constitution, this legislative decree (75 – 13/6/1394) dispatched to the Parliament of Afghanistan for ratification purpose and ratified by the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament) on 23/10/1394. As per the constitution’s directives; the bill after the ratification of lower house of parliament (Wolesi Jirga) dispatched to Meshrano Jirga (Upper House of Parliament) for endorsement, and after ratification of both houses of parliament; it was signed and approved by the President of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan through decree no. 90, and published at official gazette no. 1223 on 27/6/1395.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Contract to design Kabul urban master plan approved (New Kabul City)

*Blogger's note - this is an article from January of 2017.  This is not new news*

Jan 08, 2017 
KABUL (Pajhwok): The National Procurement Commission (NPC) has approved four contracts, including one for drafting and designing urban master plan for Kabul city.
A statement from the Presidential Palace to Pajhwok Afghan News said the contracts worth 460 million afghanis were signed at weekly meeting of the NPC that met Saturday evening with the president in the chair.
Other contracts were about construction of roads in the 10th police district of Kabul. The contracts of Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS) and Essential Package of Health Services (EPHS) services in Kunar province were extended.
The meeting contracted a company to draft and design urban master plan for Kabul city as suggested by the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD).
The meeting directed the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) to oversee performance of BPHS and EPHS services in Kunar.
The NPC also reviewed repairing process of the Afghan embassy’s building in London.
President Ghani directed the foreign minister to provide programs for repairing of Afghanistan’s embassies in foreign countries and share progress with the Presidential Palace.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Delivering safe childbirth in Afghanistan

**Author's note - This article was written in 2011.  I'll be posting more on this topic in the near future**

Delivering safe childbirth in Afghanistan

An Afghan midwife talks with a family after a successful hospital delivery. 
Photograph: Olivia Arthur/Magnum Photos

First published on Friday 6 May 2011 02.00 EDT

Roya, a midwife in Guldara, north of Kabul, is on the frontline of what may no longer be a war zone, but is still a killing field for women. Afghanistan has the highest proportion of women who die in childbirth of any country in the world.

"It is very common that women give birth at home and either the mother or the child dies," Roya says. "Mothers at home mostly deliver in a sitting position, which can cause the baby's body to end up in the wrong position during delivery. Because the mother doesn't have enough milk in the first three days after delivery, they give butter to the child. Often when they deliver the baby, they don't cut the umbilical cord properly with a clean instrument, which means it gets infected and the child dies."

According to figures from the Institute of Health Metrics in Seattle published last year, 1,575 women died for every 100,000 births in Afghanistan in 2008 – the equivalent figure for the UK is eight. Unicef says 52 babies out of every 1,000 die within two weeks of birth and 134 before their first birthday. A third of the deaths are caused by obstructed labour, in which years of heavy toil, having too many children too young, and possibly vitamin D deficiency as a result of purdah (which forces women to stay indoors), may all play a part.

The vast majority of women – around 87% – deliver with no skilled help, partly because of the paucity of health centres and midwives, partly because of the harsh terrain, and partly because male honour still demands women stay in their homes.

Just before 9/11, Brigid McConville of the White Ribbon Alliance for safe motherhood visited Kandahar province to see how women gave birth there. She visited a compound full of women, girls and babies who, from the age of 11, were not permitted to leave without a male family member as escort. "Giving birth was within that compound, with a neighbour or relative to help," she says. "They gave birth on a cloth over a dung heap, which absorbs the blood. The source of water was the stream running down the hillside behind. The toilets were also on that hillside. Women could only go there under cover of darkness. The stream was polluted. No wonder so many babies die."

The hunt for Osama bin Laden, which recently came to a bloody end, brought soldiers but also unprecedented aid to Afghanistan. The country's tragic record on childbirth triggered international support for a government initiative to train new midwives in remote rural areas. World Health Organisation estimates suggest Afghanistan needs 4,546 midwives to cover 90% of pregnancies – although USAid says it needs 8,000. In 2002, it had just 467.

Save the Children, which runs a college in Jawzjan province, says 2,400 midwives have been trained since the government launched these 18-month community courses and there are 31 schools instead of the six that existed in the cities before 2002. Linda Doull, Merlin's director of health and policy, talks of the sheer physical difficulty in Afghanistan's mountainous regions of accessing any sort of healthcare. "Some women travel three days by donkey over mountain ridges," she says. The need is to get care closer to them. "We choose women to train as midwives from the remote rural villages so that they go back there," she says.

Lima, 25, has delivered more than 600 live babies at the Uruzgan provincial hospital since qualifying in 2007. Women travel many miles, she says, and sometimes are robbed or punished for making the trip by people she calls "militants". "One of the sad cases happened last month," she says. "I received a woman who had delivered at home. When she came to the hospital she was bleeding and had lost a lot of blood. My colleague and I couldn't save her and she died. She left eight children behind her."

According to Save the Children, which published a major report, Missing Midwives, this year, there are just 13 midwives in Uruzgan province where 12,000 women deliver every year and 300 die. Afghanistan has now trained between half and a third of the midwives it needs – although there are still major issues around getting pregnant women to the clinics where they are based. But the worry now is that, as the pull-out of troops accelerates, the funding for training will dry up.

It appears to be happening already. A midwifery college in Kunar, in the heart of the mountainous, violent northeast of the country bordering Pakistan's tribal areas, has just closed. It was being funded by Gavi, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations, but once one tranche of students had graduated, the money stopped and no other donors have come forward.

Those in the field say they are aware of a "rethink" towards funding. USAid, which has supported training, is looking at how best the money should be used. Funding for one of the Merlin schools, in Kunduz, ended in April because the midwife quota set for that region has been fulfilled. It is supposed to start again in two years.

It's a sensitive issue. Nobody wants to criticise donors over decisions concerning Afghanistan, but Unicef's deputy country representative, Gopal Sharma, says the job of training midwives is far from done. "There is a big gap in funding which needs to be filled."

Provision is dire in Afghanistan, but no country has enough midwives, according to campaigners such as the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, which estimates that at least 350,000 more are needed worldwide. In some countries they have been trained but the government-run health service cannot afford to employ them. Some blame the International Monetary Fund for its past edicts on public-sector employment. Some just point to the poverty of developing countries and the low priority of health in the government budget.

The dreadful conditions in Afghanistan are a far cry from hygienic NHS labour wards, although the UK is just 23rd in the global league table. Yet Professor Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, argues that even the UK is 4,500 midwives short. Current numbers failed to anticipate the rising birth-rate of the past 10 years, nor the increasing complexities of cases, as older women and those with other health problems such as obesity go into labour – nor the need for post-birth care over breastfeeding and the risk of infection, for example.

Campaigners say more midwives are critical if the world is to get anywhere near to meeting the two most failing UN millennium development goals of reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters and child deaths by two-thirds. Every day, 1,000 women and 2,000 babies die of infections and other complications of childbirth, according to childbirth campaigners. Trained midwives can identify potential problems in pregnancy and attempt to ensure women give birth in clinics where they have a chance. But one in three women (35%) still gives birth alone or with only friends or relatives on hand.

At the UN summit on the development goals in New York last September, government, private and charitable donors pledged $40bn (£23bn) to improve maternal and child health. "Now we have to make sure the promises are kept," says McConville, "and money goes on training midwives."

The secret behind Italy's rarest pasta

Away from its famed cerulean seas, Sardinia’s craggy interior is a twisting maze of deep chasms and impenetrable massifs that shelter some of Europe’s most ancient traditions.

Residents here still speak Sardo, the closest living form of Latin. Grandmothers gaze warily at outsiders from under embroidered veils. And, in a modest apartment in the town of Nuoro, a slight 62-year-old named Paola Abraini wakes up every day at 7 am to begin making su filindeu – the rarest pasta in the world.
For 300 years, the recipe of su filindeu has remained in the town of Nuoro (Credit: Credit: ozzadavies/Flickr)
For 300 years, the recipe of su filindeu has remained in the town of Nuoro (Credit: ozzadavies/Flickr)

In fact, there are only two other women on the planet who still know how to make it: Abraini’s niece and her sister-in-law, both of whom live in this far-flung town clinging to the slopes of Monte Ortobene.

No one can remember how or why the women in Nuoro started preparing su filindeu (whose name means “the threads of God”), but for more than 300 years, the recipe and technique have only been passed down through the women in Abraini’s family – each of whom have guarded it tightly before teaching it to their daughters.

But after an unexpected invitation to Abraini’s home, I found myself in her kitchen, watching her work.

I wasn’t her first guest, though. Last year, a team of engineers from Barilla pasta came to see if they could reproduce her technique with a machine. They couldn’t. After hearing rumours about a secret Sardinian pasta, Carlo Petrini, the president of Slow Food International, visited this spring. And this summer, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver stopped by to ask Abraini if she could teach him how to make the dish. After failing for two hours, he threw his hands up and said, “I’ve been making pasta for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Paola Abraini, 62, wakes up at 7 am every day to prepare the pasta (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
Paola Abraini, 62, wakes up at 7 am every day to prepare the pasta (Credit: Eliot Stein)

“Many people say that I have a secret I don’t want to reveal,” Abraini told me, smiling. “But the secret is right in front of you. It’s in my hands.”

Su filindeu is made by pulling and folding semolina dough into 256 perfectly even strands with the tips of your fingers, and then stretching the needle-thin wires diagonally across a circular frame in an intricate three-layer pattern. It’s so difficult and time-consuming to prepare that for the past 200 years, the sacred dish has only been served to the faithful who complete a 33km pilgrimage on foot or horseback from Nuoro to the village of Lula for the biannual Feast of San Francesco.

When I arrived, the October feast was three days away and Abraini had just finished making enough su filindeu to feed the 1,500 pilgrims expected to descend on Lula from throughout Sardinia. She worked five hours every day for a month to make 50kg of the pasta, and for the larger nine-day feast in May, she’ll prepare four times as much.

“There are only three ingredients: semolina wheat, water and salt,” Abraini said, vigorously kneading the dough back and forth. “But since everything is done by hand, the most important ingredient is elbow grease.”
The dish is so difficult to make that for 200 years it was not served to the general public (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
The dish is so difficult to make that for 200 years it was not served to the general public (Credit: Eliot Stein)

Abraini patiently explained how you work the pasta thoroughly until it reaches a consistency reminiscent of modelling clay, then divide the dough into smaller sections and continue working it into a rolled-cylindrical shape.

Then comes the hardest part, a process she calls, “understanding the dough with your hands.” When she feels that it needs to be more elastic, she dips her fingers into a bowl of salt water. When it needs more moisture, she dips them into a separate bowl of regular water. “It can take years to understand,” she beamed. “It’s like a game with your hands. But once you achieve it, then the magic happens.”

When the semolina reached just the right consistency, Abraini picked up the cylindrical strand to stretch and fold the dough, doubling it as she pressed the heads of the su filindeu into her palms. She repeated this sequence in a fluid motion eight times. With each sweeping pull, the dough became thinner and thinner. After eight sequences, she was left with 256 even strands about half as wide as angel-hair pasta. She then carefully laid the strands on a circular base, one on top of another, to form a cross, trimming any excess from the ends with her fingers before repeating the process over and over.

First the dough is worked until it reaches the consistency of modelling clay (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)

The dough is then folded and pulled to create the pasta strands (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
The pasta is done when there are 256 razor-thin, even strands (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
When she’d formed three layers, she took the base outside to dry in the Sardinian sun. After several hours, the layers hardened into delicate sheets of white razor-thin threads resembling stitched lace. Abraini then broke the circular sheets into crude strips and packed them into boxes, ready for the San Francesco feast’s prior to place them in boiling sheep’s broth with grated pecorino and offer it as a thick soup to the pilgrims.

“No one’s really sure how this ancient tradition started, but it’s at the heart of the festival,” Stefano Flamini, this year’s prior, told me. “If there’s no su filindeu, there’s no Feast of San Francesco.”

But after more than 300 years in the same matrilineal family tree, these threads of God may need a miracle to survive for future generations. Only one of Abraini’s two daughters knows the basic technique, and lacks the passion and patience of her mother. Neither of Abraini’s daughters have daughters of their own. The two other women in Abraini’s family who still carry on the tradition are now both in their 50s and have yet to find willing successors among their own children.

“This is one of the most at-risk foods of becoming extinct, in large part because it’s one of the most difficult pastas to make that exists,” said Raffaella Ponzio, head coordinator of Slow Food International’s Ark of Taste, an initiative that aims to classify and preserve the world’s most endangered culinary traditions. Of the project’s 3,844 listed items, no other pasta is made by as few producers as su filindeu – making it both the world’s rarest and most endangered pasta.
After drying, the layers harden into delicate sheets of threads that resemble lace (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
After drying, the layers harden into delicate sheets of threads that resemble lace (Credit: Eliot Stein)

“Conserving su filindeu isn’t just a question of a culinary art form, but also a piece of cultural identity,” Ponzio added.

Recognizing this, Abraini has done something previously unheard of with her family’s tightly guarded dish: she attempted to teach girls in Nuoro from other families how to make it.

“It didn’t go well,” Abraini admitted. First, she approached the local government to see if she could open up a small school, but they told her there was no money. Then, she agreed to invite students into her home.

“The problem was that once they saw how I actually do it, they’d say, ‘It’s just too much work’, and wouldn’t come back,” she said.

Yet, Abraini refuses to let the tradition fade away, making it her mission to share su filindeu with the world. In the last few years, Italy’s premier food and wine magazine, Gambero Rosso, has invited her to Rome twice so they can film her preparing the dish. Recently, she’s begun making su filindeu for three restaurants in the area – and in the process, offering non-pilgrims a chance to taste it for the first time.

At one of those restaurants, Al Ciusa, her black squid-ink dyed su filindeu nero won Sardinia’s Porcino d’Oro prize for best dish in 2010.
In 2010, the squid-ink su filindeu won Sardinia’s Porcino d’Oro prize for best dish (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
In 2010, the squid-ink su filindeu won Sardinia’s Porcino d’Oro prize for best dish (Credit: Eliot Stein)

At another, Il Refugio, it’s the most popular item on the menu.

“We have people coming from all over Europe just to taste it,” owner Silverio Nanu told me as I sampled the dish. When I shared that news with Abraini, her eyes danced with delight.

“You know, for me it’s a blessing just to be able to make su filindeu. I’ve been in love with it since the first time I ever saw it, and I love it more each day,” she said. “I hope to continue to make if for many years ahead – but if one day I have to stop, at least I’ll have a video.”

Greece's disappearing whistled language

For some 2,500 years, residents of this mountainous village have used an astonishing language that only they understand. But there are only six people left who can ‘speak’ it.
Hidden deep in the south-east corner of the Greek island of Evia, above a twisting maze of ravines that tumbles toward the Aegean Sea, the tiny village of Antia clings to the slopes of Mount Ochi. There are no hotels or restaurants within 40km, and the hamlet is so remote that it doesn’t exist on Google Maps.
But as you travel here along a dizzying road from Karystos, through a mythical landscape of megalithic ‘dragon house’ stone tombs and giant Cyclopic boulders, you’ll hear an ancient siren song reverberating against the mountain walls. That’s because for thousands of years, the inhabitants of Antia have used a remarkable whistled language that resembles the sounds of birds to communicate across the distant valleys.
The tiny village of Antia clings to the slopes of Mount Ochi on the Greek island of Evia (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
The tiny village of Antia clings to the slopes of Mount Ochi on the Greek island of Evia (Credit: Eliot Stein)

Known as sfyria, it’s one of the rarest and most endangered languages in the world – a mysterious form of long-distance communication in which entire conversations, no matter how complex, can be whistled. For the last two millennia, the only people who have been able to sound and understand sfyria’s secret notes are the shepherds and farmers from this hillside hamlet, each of whom has proudly passed down the tightly guarded tradition to their children.
But in the last few decades, Antia’s population has dwindled from 250 to 37, and as older whistlers lose their teeth, many can no longer sound sfyria’s sharp notes. Today, there are only six people left on the planet who can still ‘speak’ this unspoken language – and one of them recently invited me to Antia so I could meet the last whistlers of Greece.
When I arrived, a 45-year-old farmer named Yiannis Apostolou was waiting for me outside the village’s lone store. After greeting me in Greek, he gazed out onto the rolling chasm below the village, tucked his tongue under his bottom teeth and fired a fluted melody into the abyss.
“Koula? Tsipas? We have company!” he said, by way of a translator.
Soon, Koula, a slight 76-year-old woman emerged from a stone dwelling high on the mountainside, popped in her dentures and whistled back, turning this jaunty solo into a duet. “Well, what are you waiting for?” she responded over a clanging chorus of goat bells. “Come on up here!”
As two other villagers descended from the hills to join us, Apostolou asked each of us if we’d like something to drink and then whistled a string of chirps toward the store’s open door. Moments later, owner Maria Kefalas came out with a bottle of water, two cups of tea and a glass of sour cherry vissinada juice - arranging each perfectly on the table in front of us.
Aristi Tsipas (left) used to whistle to her family from across the valley (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
Aristi Tsipas (left) used to whistle to her family from across the valley (Credit: Eliot Stein)
No-one can recall exactly how or when the villagers here began using sfyria – which comes from the Greek word sfyrizo, meaning ‘whistle’ – to communicate. Some residents speculate that it came from Persian soldiers who sought refuge in the mountains some 2,500 years ago. Others claim the language developed during Byzantine times as a secret way to warn against danger from rival villages and invading pirates. There’s even a belief that in ancient Athens, they’d post whistlers from Antia on the mountaintops as sentries so they could signal an imminent attack on the empire.
Remarkably, sfyria was only discovered by the outside world in 1969, when an aeroplane crashed in the mountains behind Antia. As the search crew went out to look for the missing pilot, they heard shepherds volleying a series of trilled scales back and forth across the canyons and became enchanted by their cryptic code.
According to Dimitra Hengen, a Greek linguist who accompanied me to Antia, sfyria is effectively a whistled version of spoken Greek, in which letters and syllables correspond to distinct tones and frequencies. Because whistled sound waves are different from speech, messages in sfyria can travel up to 4km across open valleys, or roughly 10 times farther than shouting.
Zografio Kalogirou says she used to be the best whistler in town (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
Zografio Kalogirou says she used to be the best whistler in town (Credit: Eliot Stein)
“As a girl, I’d practice deep into the night with my head buried under the covers,” remembered Zografio Kalogirou, a 70-year-old villager with lace-white hair. “I used to be able to whistle across the mountaintops when I had my teeth. I was so proud. Now I’m so ashamed. All I can do is eat.”
For those with a strong bite or modern implants, this ancient form of wireless communication has remained especially useful over the years in a far-flung place like Antia.
“Roads, water and electricity only came here 30 years ago, and there’s still no mobile phone service,” said Yiannis Tsipas, a 50-year-old goat herder and the youngest whistler in the village after Apostolou. “Until 1997, Koula had the only phone in Antia, so whenever anyone would go to Athens, they’d call her to say that they arrived safely and she’d whistle the news down to the family.”
While I sipped my vissinada, Kefalas’ face lit up as she told of how sfyria can also be used to coyly court other villagers.
Aside from Antia’s shepherds and farmers, few people can understand sfyria’s notes (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
Aside from Antia’s shepherds and farmers, few people can understand sfyria’s notes (Credit: Eliot Stein)
“One night, a man was in the mountains with his sheep when it started snowing. He knew that somewhere deep in the mountains there was a beautiful girl from Antia with her goats. So he found a cave, built a fire and whistled to her to come keep warm. She did, and that’s how my parents fell in love.”
Today there are as many as 70 other whistled languages in the world, and they all exist in remote mountain villages like Antia. After all, it’s easier to purse your lips than to scramble up and down the mountainsides whenever you want to invite your neighbours over for a glass of ouzo.
Yet, not only is sfyria believed to be older and more structured than many other whistled languages, it’s also the most critically endangered. In fact, according to the Unesco Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, no other language in Europe – whistled or not – has fewer living speakers than sfyria.
Yiannis Tsipas (right) hopes to one day teach sfyria to his son (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
Yiannis Tsipas (right) hopes to one day teach sfyria to his son (Credit: Eliot Stein)
“By nature, a whistled language is already much more threatened than a spoken language because it’s much harder to reproduce," Hengen said. “Unless something drastic here changes, I foresee sfyria vanishing in the very near future, and it’s a tragedy.”
While many of the elderly whistlers here have died or lost their teeth, the younger ones have moved to Athens. And today, several of the last whistlers of Antia – like Apostolou – no longer live in the village.
A whistled language is already much more threatened than a spoken language because it’s much harder to reproduce
“I tried to stay until last year, but there’s no way to earn a living or raise a family here,” he said, staring out over a cluster of abandoned homes with roosters squawking on the roofs. “Today, there’s only one child left here.”
After ringing through the rugged landscape for dozens of generations, sfyria may well fade into the foggy depths under Mount Ochi with the two Yiannis. Apostolou doesn’t have any children, and while Tsipas hopes to one day teach his son the unique language of Antia, he lives an hour away by the nearest school.
Panagiotis Skopelitis is one of only 37 people left in Antia (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
Panagiotis Skopelitis is one of only 37 people left in Antia (Credit: Eliot Stein)
“When I was a child, we had to learn sfyria with Greek to survive,” said Panagiotis Tzanavaris, a soft-spoken 69-year-old and Antia’s best whistler. “It’s our way of life, and if it disappears, so does the cultural identity of this village.”
So, in 2010, Tzanavaris set out on a quest to resuscitate the dying language, establishing the Cultural Organisation of Antia in the village’s closed-down, one-room schoolhouse.
Three years ago, he welcomed a team of linguists from Harvard and Yale universities to come record the whistlers’ notes for future generations. Last year, he and Apostolou were featured in a documentary that was screened at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. And most recently, he kindly invited me to Antia.
Panagiotis Bournousouzis, 31, is the youngest speaker of the village’s ancient language (Credit: Credit: Eliot Stein)
Many of Antia’s younger residents have moved away; Panagiotis Bournousouzis, 31, is the youngest speaker of the village’s ancient language (Credit: Eliot Stein)
Tzanavaris has also been doing something previously unheard of with his village’s tightly guarded tradition: teaching someone from another town how to whistle sfyria. After seven years of lessons, the youngest speaker of Antia’s ancient language is now a 31-year-old courier who lives 40km away in Karystos.
“For years, the people in Antia have been talking about a disappearing language,” Tzanavaris told me. “But with your help, maybe we can start talking about a language that survived.” 

The friendship that survived the division of a nation

The friendship that survived the division of a nation

Agha, Amar and Rishad
Image captionAgha Ahmed Raza, Amar Kapur and Rishad Haider grew up in Lahore, Pakistan

Seventy years ago, in August 1947, British colonial rule in India came to an end. The country was divided into two independent states - Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Using letters and diaries sourced from the world's first Partition Museum which opens in Amritsar on 17 August, Soutik Biswas pieces together the extraordinary story of four friends who were separated by the traumatic event and reunited 30 years later.

"Our country has been broken; the great, sound pulsating heart of India has been broken," a young man in Lahore, Pakistan, wrote to his best friend in Delhi, the capital of India, in the summer of 1949.

Writing in elegant cursive and turquoise blue ink, Asaf Khwaja had poured his heart out to Amar Kapur. Barely two years had passed since they had been separated by the bloody partition which split the subcontinent into the new independent nations of India and Pakistan.

"We in Lahore, your friends and former playmates, those who were in school with you and in college and whose first 25 years of life, are inseparably linked with those of yours assure you with the utmost sincerity that distance has not made the slightest difference in our love and affection for you; that we remember you, and remembered you often, with the same brotherly feeling that for so long characterised our relations," wrote Asaf, who had just joined the Pakistan Times newspaper as a journalist.

"We have spent good times, Amar, grand times, together."

Amar Kapur, Asaf Khwaja, Agha Raza and Rishad Haider were like a brotherhood of friends.

They lived within a three-mile radius, visited each other's homes, shared street snacks on the way home from convent school, studied in the same college and played soft ball cricket with twigs for stumps. From innocent boyhood to callow youth, they had shared the good times.

Then, in the tumultuous summer of 1947, hard times arrived with a vengeance.

Amar's separation had hurt the most. He was the only Hindu in the group, and his friends called him Punditji, which means a Hindu priest.

Three weeks after the partition in August 1947, Amar and his family abandoned their sprawling family home and 57-year-old printing business in Lahore, and joined the millions of refugees that crossed the border in what was one of the greatest migrations in human history.

Two years later, in Delhi, they were still trying to salvage their lives from the detritus of partition.
Asaf KhwajaImage copyrightCOURTESY OMAR KHWAJA
Image captionAsaf Khwaja worked as a journalist with Pakistan Times
Image caption..and kept in touch with Amar Kapur through letters

Back in their severed homeland, Asaf, Agha and Rishad had entered adulthood and were starting to earn a living.

Asaf's mordant wit was on magnificent display as he shared the news about their friends.

"Agha and Rishad have entered into business - the swindlers. They are running an agency for Burmah Shell Company and minting a good bit of money. I wish you could see [Agha] Ahmad. He is (sic) grown so fat and bald that you would find it hard to recognise him - signs of prosperity!" Asaf wrote.

Asaf was a pragmatic idealist. He loved cricket, poetry and the mountains and developed a love for contract bridge in his later life. He would sometimes spend his summers with his grandfather on a houseboat on Kashmir's Dal Lake or visit the unspoilt mountains of Swat. He was also hopeful about a brighter future for both nations.

"Much suffering has been caused and much bitterness engendered," he wrote to Amar. "But what is done cannot be undone. All we can do now is to make amends for our past mistakes and work wholeheartedly for the restoration of peace and goodwill among the divided sections of the people."

But Amar was less buoyant. Riots had broken out in Lahore - a Muslim-majority city where businesses were dominated by non-Muslims - in the months before partition. Under the smoke-filled skies, Hindus and Muslims had turned on each other, burnt down properties, and looted shops and homes.

His father had forbidden the children and women in the house to step outside. When his family finally left Lahore in September in a convoy of cars, led by his father's grey Opel, he hid a .38 calibre revolver in the door lining.

"It was madness, complete madness," Amar Kapur, now 94, told me recently.

He kept a diary after migrating to Delhi following the blood-drenched summer of 1947 via the border city of Amritsar, where the family spent three months on the veranda of a house. In Delhi, the Kapurs then lived without electricity for three years in three rooms in a disputed house.
Amar KapurImage copyrightMANSI THAPLIYAL
Image captionAmar Kapur left his Lahore home and came to Delhi a month after partition

"On 3 June 1947 it was decided that India would be partitioned and Pakistan would come into being. On that day was India doomed," Amar wrote in his diary. He wrote that violence hadn't stopped since the announcement.

"Religion, which should be a strictly private affair and the concern of the individual, was being used to cover up beastly acts of murder and other inhuman acts," he wrote.

Asaf, in Lahore, believed none of this would affect their friendship. "We have common memories and common experiences that bind us so closely together that no adventitious circumstances can wrench us apart," he wrote in one of his letters.

But separated by distance, experience and time, the four friends did get separated. For three decades, they completely lost touch. Keeping friendships alive in rival, hostile nations was difficult, not least because it was hard to get visas to visit each other's countries. They also lost each other's addresses.

A simple twist of fate brought the four together again, however.

In the summer of 1980, an uncle of Agha Raza visited Delhi to attend a conference. Before he left, Agha had asked him to try trace Amar and his whereabouts. He told him that his family owned a printing press business in Delhi which bore the Kapur family name.

Agha had been the maverick of the quartet. He had worked for an oil company, joined the Pakistani navy as an officer and then worked for the labour department. In his thirties, he retired to the countryside to look after his family farm, some 120km (74 miles) from Lahore. His friends called him the agriculturist.

Now, he was on the hunt for his long-lost friend.

In Delhi his uncle, a former diplomat, looked up the telephone directory and began calling all the Amar Kapurs. He got lucky with the fourth call, and returned to Pakistan with Amar's address and phone number. Soon the friends reconnected, speaking on the phone and writing to each other.

They shared notes about themselves and their families - all of them were now married with children - and work. There was lot of catching up to do.
PicturesImage copyrightMANSI THAPLIYAL
Image captionAmar Kapur has many memories of his old friends
Agha Raza and his wifeImage copyrightMANSI THAPLIYAL
Image captionAgha Raza and his wife visited Amar Kapur in Delhi after partition
LettersImage copyrightMANSI THAPLIYAL
Image caption...and wrote frequently to Amar Kapur

Rishad Haider had become one of Pakistan's most successful banking professionals. Agha was looking after his farm. Asaf continued to work with the Pakistan Times, and chaired Pakistan's National Press Trust until he quit after a run-in with military leader Gen Zia ul-Haq.

Amar was ensconced in the family's thriving new printing business in Delhi and Agra.

They spoke of their joys and sorrows: the marriages of their children, the death of relatives. When Amar lost his family home in a posh Delhi neighbourhood due to a dispute with his brother, Agha wrote to him:

"I was shocked and greatly distressed to hear about the sale of your house. I felt as if my own house had been sold. How very unfortunate that it had to come to this. But who knows. It might turn out to be good for you and the rest of the family."

In January 1982, Amar returned to Pakistan to attend the wedding of Agha's son, Qasim. Since getting a visa required submitting the wedding card well in advance as proof, Agha got a special card made months in advance and sent it to his friend in Delhi.

Since Amar only had a visa to visit Lahore, the others came to visit him from Karachi and Islamabad, where they were working. Over the next decade the Kapurs visited Pakistan three times, once availing of an easier visa given out to Indians to watch a rare cricket Test against their arch rivals.

In Lahore, family members remember night-long conversations and days-long marathon contract bridge games when Amar came visiting.

"They were like blood brothers, like a family. I found it interesting that all the four men were dynamic, successful individuals. But when they met they kind of merged into each other and became completely childlike. The intensity of friendship was something," Cyma Haider, daughter of Rishad Haider, told me.

Amar would often pick up the phone and invite Agha to visit him in Delhi. One day, he wrote to him, saying he hoped to visit him soon.

"Your repeated invitations to visit you all are so full of love and kindness that I feel very guilty in not having been able to make it so far. But sooner or later, Inshallah, we will and I hope in the not too distant future."
Amar Kapoor's diaryImage copyrightPARTITION MUSEUM
Image captionAmar Kapur maintained a diary in the days after the partition
Amar Kapoor's diaryImage copyrightPARTITION MUSEUM
Image caption...where he wrote that India was "doomed" after the traumatic separation

As winter approached in 1988, Agha promised Amar that he would see him in Delhi in the new year. But in December, he collapsed in his home and died of a heart attack, aged 67.

Rishad was the next to depart, in 1993, also aged 67. Feeling rather unwell, he was admitted to hospital a few days before his death, telling his family, "I think my time has come."

In June 1996, an unusually despondent Asaf wrote to Amar:

"How saddening is to lose lifelong friends. It is as if a part of you dies. Both Agha Ahmed and Rishad have left a void in my life, a void that can never be filled. I have myself been keeping indifferent health for some time now, and it may not be long before I join my departed friends in their eternal abode."

"My only wish is that I should die as they died - suddenly and without lingering pain."

Asaf wrote about "leading a lonely life, with both our children away in the US". He said they did meet on short visits to each other's countries every two to three years, but these "short visits only sharpen the sense of loneliness".

"Sometimes I feel that life has become meaningless."
Amar KapurImage copyrightMANSI THAPLIYAL
Image captionAmar Kapur took this picture of his wife Minna before they got married in 1955

Asaf contemplated a future where their children would continue the friendships forged by their parents.

"If you and I cannot meet, let our children get together if they can and carry on a friendship which their fathers have been able to retain only flimsily due to a tragic quirk of history," Asaf wrote.

A month later, on 29 July, Asaf Khwaja woke up in the morning, showered, had his breakfast and began reading the morning papers when he suffered a heart attack and died. He was 71.

At 94, Amar Kapur is the only survivor of the brotherhood. He sold off his business some 20 years ago and continues to lead a busy life with his wife, Minna, in his two-storey home that he built in 1986 in Faridabad on the outskirts of Delhi.

He is remarkably agile for his age, and lives with his pencil drawings, paintings, photographs and a boxful of memories. He is rather stoic about his past, taking more pride in his wife's work with the Rotary Club, than anything else.

I ask whether he misses his old friends.

"I miss them," he says. "I loved them and I love them even more now."

"They are the only real friends I ever had."

Pictures by Mansi Thapliyal. Archive pictures provided by family members. Interviews conducted in Delhi, and by phone to Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and California.