Titanic Fever Hits Talibanistan, 2000

From A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini (Riverhead Books, 2007), pp. 269-270

In the summer of 2000, the drought reached its third and worst year.

In Helmand, Zabol, Kandahar, villages turned into herds of nomadic communities, always moving, searching for water and green pastures for their livestock. When they found neither, when their goats and sheep and cows died off, they came to Kabul. They took to the Kareh-Ariana hillside, living in makeshift slums, packed in huts, fIfteen or twenty at a time….

That summer, Titanic fever gripped Kabul. People smuggled pirated copies of the film from Pakistan—sometimes in their underwear. After curfew, everyone locked their doors, turned out the lights, turned down the volume, and reaped tears for Jack and Rose and the passengers of the doomed ship. If there was electrical power, Mariam, Laila, and the children watched it too. A dozen times or more, they unearthed the TV from behind the toolshed, late at night, with the lights out and quilts pinned over the windows.

At the Kabul River, vendors moved into the parched riverbed. Soon, from the river’s sunbaked hollows, it was possible to buy Titanic carpets, and Titanic cloth, from bolts arranged in wheelbarrows. There was Titanic deodorant, Titanic toothpaste, Titanic perfume, Titanic pakora, even Titanic burqas. A particularly persistent beggar began calling himself “Titanic Beggar.”

“Titanic City” was born.

It’s the song, they said.

No, the sea. The luxury. The ship.

It’s the sex, they whispered.

Leo, said Aziza sheepishly. It’s all about Leo.

“Everybody wants Jack,” Laila said to Mariam. “That’s what it is. Everybody wants Jack to rescue them from disaster. But there is no Jack. Jack is not coming back. Jack is dead.”

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