This social history of Pashto verse from the Mughal period to the present tells the story of one of the world's great interregional communities through its most enduring form of verbal expression. Pashto poetry's thematic points of departure sit beyond state consolidation or cultural authority, and instead highlight avoidance, transgression, nego- tiation, and survival in transregional space. And Pashto poetic practices transcend time to form decentred, flexible cultural institutions, against which empires, states, and their periodisation are often traumatic yet transitory. Amid a historiography that forgets any Afghan past but warfare; and as 'knowledge' of Afghans vacillates between imperial or statist narration and clinical registers of social science, these self-told accounts and living institutions of emotion, experience, desire and potentiality are both fragile and vital as ever. If we are fortunate enough to step inside the social and temporal spaces that Pashto poetic practices have built, we find pasts, presents and futures more expansive than history itself.
James Caron (PhD) is Lecturer in Islamicate South Asia, SOAS, University of London.